How this interview came to be.
I’ve been in touch with Kobo’s team on and off for a few months. It all began with my Aunt, to be honest. She had a kobo reader and wanted to know when she could get my book through Kobo. At the time, the only way to load my book to Kobo was through Smashwords. I tried it for a time, but I ran into a few problems: mainly that I didn’t like the way Smashwords formatted my book–or rather, forced me to format it. I understand it might be nice for some people, but I have this REALLY AMAZING book formatter. He is, hands down, THE best at what he does–better than the formatters that work for major publishing houses, or at least in my experience so far. So the Smashwords format was simply incomparable, and, in the end, not good enough. Why? Because my customers deserve the best, so I wanted to find a way to give them the best. I didn’t feel comfortable selling something that I knew wasn’t done right. Finally, the answer to all of my problems came in the form of an email from one of the many pleasant staff members of the Kobo Writing Life Team (Chelsea–who eventually put me in touch with Mark for the purpose of this interview). Long story short, they told me all about Kobo Writing Life, and when I saw it with my own eyes, it was love at first sight. Kobo, I knew immediately, must REALLY love authors and small presses! So I just had to get them over on my blog to ask them a few questions and introduce all my followers to the best thing since hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.
Before we hop into the review, I want to go over Kobo Writing Life and what they have to offer.
-Free to use!
-Highest Royalty payouts–40% on books under $1.99 and 70% on oboks $1.99-$12.99.
-Conversion of your Word documents, Mobi files, and ePubs to get your book “Kobo-Store-Ready”.
-Freedom! Take the ePub they make you and put it anywhere you want–you are free to sell your eBook the way you want.
-International audience! E-Readers all over the world can download your book!
-Get your book in with MAJOR retailers worldwide, such as Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Angus and Robertson (Australia), Whitcoulls (New Zealand), FNAC (France), and WH Smith (United Kingdom)!
-Track ebooks sold by current month AND also TOTAL ebooks sold to date!
-Track countries purchased in.
-Look at sales by title or for all titles combined.
-Track tons of data, such as your personal top sellers for the current month or for all time as well as your purchase activity per region!
-Fast! Kobo says it may take 24-48 hours to get your book like, but I found it was more like 4-6!
-Easy, clean, well-organized user interface.
-Dashboard shows you which books have published, which books are publishing, and other statuses on your ebooks. For small presses, it also separate titles by author! It does this in a visually appealing way, too! You really gottah check it out, because it’s amazing!
Interview with Mark Lefebvre
Mark, I really appreciate you taking the time for this short interview. Thanks to top-of-the-line Customer Service, I recently learned that Kobo had added an author/publisher portal for submission of ebooks. I immediately ran to check it out! I’ve wanted my books on Kobo for a while now, but previously the only way I could figure out how to do this was through Smashwords—which is an excellent solution if you aren’t as picky about book formatting as I am.
Once I visited Kobo’s Writing Life portal, though, I realized I hadn’t only found a solution; I’d found something special. Your team has created the most user-friendly interface I have seen on any publishing platforms. And not only is it easy-to-use, there’s some added benefits as well! I want to talk with you a little bit about that today.
First of all, it appears you offer a higher royalty on books prices under $2.99 than other publishing platforms. Do you see Kobo Books being a friendly home for indie authors and small publishing houses?
[Mark Lefebvre] Yes indeed. We did our best to design Kobo Writing Life from an author’s perspective and to listen to what authors desired from the moment we first conceived of creating the portal. (I should pause to explain that I am an author and one of the reasons I was hired by Kobo was to be a champion for authors as Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations – talk about a dream job)
One of the things we did was look at all the other options and tools out there and tried not only to provide the standard expected services, but make sure we did whatever we could to give just a little bit more to authors, such as the global map dashboard showing real time sales and the more generous/flexible range on pricing that you mention – (we offer the 70% terms for titles priced between $1.99 and $12.99, recognizing that sometimes authors want to use a lower price for promotional purposes and some titles, such as omnibus editions, require a price point higher than $10.00 – we did, however, want to encourage indie authors and publishers to keep their price point within a range that offered a decent balance between unit sales and margin earned)
When we originally drafted out the requirements for Kobo Writing Life, our internal development team came back with an estimate that it would take about 18 months to fully build. Since we wanted to launch KWL in 6 months, we scaled back the initial development with plans to continue to upgrade it in 6 to 8 week cycles. We launched in July 2012 with what I feel is a solid and leading platform, and have made about half a dozen upgrades to it since, with even MORE upgrades continuing, which are all based on a combination of the original design/plan plus feedback from our existing user base. We also intend to continue to listen to the author community to ensure that Kobo Writing Life offers useful and valuable information and tools to help them be successful.
Are there any additional features we can expect from Kobo Books in terms of helping get quality indie books into the hands of the right readers?
[Mark Lefebvre] Yes, we plan on continuing to expand the tools and analysis options available to authors using Kobo Writing Life. We are also (in the same great spirit of Kobo’s “partnership” deals around the world), in discussions with various different service providers (related to both the craft and business of writing), to find discounts and deals that KWL can take advantage of both to help write/create the best possible product, and also share/promote those products to readers.
Your website indicates that readers can buy Kobo books through other online retailers, including a few well known chains, with a list that is continuing to grow. How will this benefit both readers and authors?
[Mark Lefebvre] Kobo has, from the very beginning, embraced a “Read Freely” philosophy. Our partnership with local retailers in territories all around the world illustrates Kobo’s desire to work WITH rather than against or in competition with local retailers. There is more to be gained by working with people and combining our mutual strengths to offer customers the best of both worlds – For example, since our partnership with the American Booksellers Association in the US, for example, there has been a wonderful way to help strength our presence in the United States. Unlike the other options out there, Kobo allows customers who truly value their local indie bookstore a way to purchase eBooks without abandoning the support that is critical to keep that local bookstore operating in their community. I also feel that there are interesting synergies between indie booksellers and indie authors/publishers that Kobo Writing Life can help bring together.
Kobo Writing Life offers some pretty neat features, which include showing purchase activity by region (which is a neat tool when your books are available in over 200 countries!) But I think what all writers want to know is, how can they improve their sales through Kobo Books? Any tips you can offer someone just getting started?
[Mark Lefebvre] This is likely the toughest question to ever answer. And I say that since I am also an author. What works for one another doesn’t necessarily work for another, so just doing something that another author found successful is never going to be the only answer. Experimentation and persistence are important. I also strongly believe that patience is one of the first things authors need to have when it comes to building an audience on any platform. Perhaps this is something that stems from the fact I have been writing since the early 90’s and have gotten used to being patient with the various ways the publishing industry operates. But that being said, just because you can publish a book in 24 to 72 hours doesn’t mean that the world is automatically going to KNOW that book is out. Sometimes building and FINDING an audience for that book takes time. When you have a book listed at Kobo, just like in any other environment, you’re one of millions of titles – the real question is: what can you do to ensure that your target audience is AWARE of your book, no-matter which retailer they happen to find your book listed at? What can you do to find the READERS who would most be interested in finding your books, and letting them buy your books available every possible retail channel possible? What can you do to strengthen and solidify your author brand?
I’ll pause to point to a good example of an author website that is inclusive and allows customers to select the local retailer of their choice with THE FOREVER GIRL (website link below)
What I love about this is that you allow customers links to as many retail channels as possible in a very inclusive manner. This is a brilliant and really great long-term move that an author can make allowing the optimal flexibility with customers (since you never know where your potential readers are coming from nor what platform they might already be a customer of.
That all being said, the Kobo Writing Life team has been working within the internal merchandising teams to look for ways to spotlight various authors from different regional territories, looking for interesting stories that highlight interesting stories about authors and their works via the Kobo Writing Life blog (with a focus on the craft and business of writing) at http://kobowritinglife.com and also working with third party companies that offer PR opportunities and professional services (ideally at a reduced price or discount) for authors.
Thanks, Mark! Always nice to hear when you are doing something right
One More Question for you. It’s clear your publishing platform stands well above the rest; how do your e-reading devices compare? Tell us about some of Kobo’s key features. What do you think makes readers chose a Kobo device over the other devices available?
[Mark Lefebvre] I’m not the best person to spotlight the devices, but I’ve been reading on eReaders since owing a second generation Sony reader about 4 years ago. When that reader died, I purchased a Kobo Touch (this was prior to me coming to work for Kobo) and I fell in love with the experience. The Kobo Touch remains the most popular device for us (it did win WIRED magazine’s Editor’s Pick for eReader last year), however, just before Christmas I started reading on the newly launch Kobo Glo (it has all the features of our popular eInk device, but with a built-in light), and the experience has been truly phenomenal. For example, last night at bedtime when I was reading a print book to my son for bedtime, I kept looking for that handy little button at the top that would turn on the “Kobo Glo” effect to give me a more crystal clear reading experience – I suppose I have been spoiled by my Kobo Glo.
Kobo and Kobo devices are not only user friendly and intuitive to use, but they use industry standard ePub files which are transferable across many of the major retailers out there (with the exception of one retailer which is named after one of the world’s longest rivers). IE, so long as the publisher hasn’t placed intense DRM on an ePub, you should be able to buy an ePub from another retailer and read it on your Kobo eReader (and vice versa)
Of course, Kobo also has free apps available on virtually any computer or smartphone out there, so customers needn’t feel tied to a single eReader. However, if they want a device, the family of Kobo readers – from The Kobo Touch, the Kobo Glo, the Kobo Mini and the Kobo ARC (tablet) offer virtually something for everyone.
Anything else you would like to add?
[Mark Lefebvre] The only thing I like to tell writers, since I am a writer myself is don’t give up, keep writing and hang in there. Patience and persistence are your best allies. Make your work available in as many places as you can and keep writing – one of your best methods of selling more of your existing work is to keep writing your next best possible work. If a customer readers one book from you, the best thing you can offer them is the NEXT book and the NEXT one. Those who like your writing will come back to it. Writing and making a living off of writing has NEVER been easy –it is a lot of hard work, but it can be really satisfying. Remember, if you want to self-publish you’re taking over all responsibility for what a publisher does and you have to wear many hats and understand where you might need professional assistance (ie in editing or formatting or design – whether it is through payment or through networking and partnering with other professionals) Work hard, believe in yourself and keep putting forth your absolute best work. Invest in yourself, invest in being the best writer you can be.
Thanks again for taking the time to share with us about Kobo Books. I’ve already gotten my books loaded and I’ve been telling everyone I know to check out your amazing new Writer’s Platform. It’s refreshing to see some competition in the ebook world, and I think Kobo so far has been forward-thinking enough to really lock down a corner in this lucrative new ebook business.
Thank you, Mark, for doing this interview me! The more I learn about Kobo, Kobo Writing Life, and the people behind it all, the more I love you guys!
I’m now opening the comment section for anything anyone wants to say about the article, or if they want to discuss any of the following:
Readers: Have you had a chance to check out the Kobo e-readers? What do you think? Can you easily locate all your favorite indie authors on their site?
Writers: Have you tried Kobo’s Writing Life? What do you think? If you haven’t tried it yet, how likely are you to try it in the near future?
Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!