For Writers, By Writers: Kobo Writing Life
Self-publishing has a stigma surrounding it that is always changing, if not yet gone. Whether one is an avid reader or only has time to pick up a new book sparingly, there is something comforting about knowing that the book in hand has been vetted by an editorial team. Yet, as time progresses and we’re more acclimated to digital media, self-publishing is becoming recognized as a valid choice rather than a last ditch effort. It is a way for authors to keep full control of their works, produce fresh material that may not seem marketable enough for a larger publisher, and can be more profitable than traditional routes.
I spoke to Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo, to hear more about the company and their recently opened self-publishing division, Writing Life. For those who are unfamiliar with the company, Kobo started in 2009 with the intention of providing consumers with the freedom to read any book on any device. They now offer over 2.5 million eBook titles including both traditional and self-published titles, in addition to periodicals.
Their new Writing Life division was announced at BEA in New York early this June. “We were in beta development for the first month and then we launched it in early July. It’s been live for just over six weeks now,” says Lefebvre, “It has been a blockbuster success from the very beginning.”
One self-published author that has already started using the platform is Hugh Howey of the Wool series, whose works were popular in mobi format, but can now be bought for eReaders globally with Kobo’s epub format. “All the writers we were talking to said nine times out of ten, ‘I want to know how my book is doing,’” says Lefebvre, “A lot of effort was focused on creating an easy to use dashboard interface.”
Some of the features include a map of the world that shows how your works are doing in each area which helps to see how sales relate to interviews, articles, or signings. Additionally, the selling price is controlled by the author and can be set in seven different currencies. It is this level of control that Lefebvre really highlights, citing that “If a cover [the author] had designed isn’t working so well, now they can change it,” and that they can alter prices to relate to promotions or long weekends where more people may be reading.
“One of the mandates from writing life was that it was built by writers for writers,” he says, adding that much of the team including himself are writers. “When we were putting together the platform, we looked at the tools we ourselves were using.”
We also discussed the way in which many authors, both self-published and with traditional publishing houses, have to handle or contribute to their own marketing and publicity to get the push they really want. “Part of what we offer is the ability for self-published authors to get physical copies [of their book] in major retailers,” says Lefebvre, which is an important part to any self-published author that struggles to attract the attention of readers in brick and mortar stores, “It may only be stocked for the event, but it is a chance to draw in customers.” When it comes to selecting who they’ll work with for in-store events and additional opportunities, he says that authors who “treat it like a business” do best.
When asked about the stigma surrounding self-published titles, Mark says that his answer is much different from what it would’ve been five years ago, “In the last two years, the stigma has dramatically lessened.” He cites the popularity of self-published authors such as Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, and Hugh Howey among others. Although, he mentions that “there is still the perception that [self-published authors] couldn’t get a publisher and that’s why [they] self-publish.”
“Some publishers find a [self-published] book that has already proven itself in the market and focus on those titles giving it a whole new platform,” he says, adding that it is furthering the legitimacy of these self-published titles, “As time goes on, you realize that there is a lot being published.” One interesting note he makes is that the model between self-publishing and traditional is essentially the same: 20% of the titles will do really well.
It becomes a matter of the quality of the writing, the popularity of the topic, and the marketing push for the book that will determine its success. With the ability to scour sites like GoodReads and see numerous reviews from peers, readers are able to find novels easier that relate to their interests. As Lefebvre states, “Quality will float to the top regardless of where it comes from.”