Mark Lefebvre is an author and editor; he serves as the director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo, one of the top eBook retailers in the world.
This fantastic interview covers a wide range of topics. We talked about traditional publishing and self-publishing and the true value of both. We also discussed emerging global markets for eBooks and how to take advantage of them, plus the difference between Amazon and other online retailers. Finally, we talked about the steps any author can take to sell more books.
Mark’s first love was his mother’s Underwood typewriter. He found it in her closet when he was 13 and made his first attempt at writing a novel that summer. That was when he caught the writing bug.
From that first attempt, Mark continued working on his craft, going on to publish short stories published in science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines.These limited-edition magazines were hard to find and they limited his audience-building efforts.
In 1992, Mark decided to change that. His first self-published book was One Hand Screaming, a collection of short stories he self-published through Ingram Spark so that he could do book signings and have his work distributed worldwide.
Mark is a hybrid author. He is traditionally published through some small publishing houses, but has self-published other books. Kobo hired him in 2011 to come up with a solution for self-published authors who wanted to put their work on Kobo’s platform.
Mark launched Kobo Writing Life, Kobo’s answer to Amazon’s KDP Select program without the exclusivity clauses.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: The Stigmas
Mark’s job (and his writing career) puts him in between the worlds of traditional publishing and self-publishing. There are two damaging stigmas he sees coming from both sides, and they both deal with not recognizing the value of the different marketplaces.
Traditional publishing views indie-published works in the same sort of “vanity press” light they have for the last 60 to 70 years.
Indie publishers fail to recognize that traditional publishers still offer tremendous value propositions, especially when it comes to the print market.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Publishing with KDP Select
If you sign up with KDP Select, you are guaranteed to have access to Amazon’s customers. You aren’t guaranteed to make any money, but you’ll have special access to Amazon’s customer base in several ways.
1. Á la carte customers
These are people who just browse Amazon and buy your book.
2. Kindle Unlimited
These are the customers who have signed up for Kindle Unlimited and want to read books for free.
The major drawback if you sign up for KDP Select is that you are guaranteed to have no visibility beyond Amazon’s ecosystem. If you’re an American author, you may not even realize that there are other stores where eBooks are sold.
The Benefits of Dealing with Kobo
Kobo is the number one seller of eBooks and e-readers in Canada. But its reach doesn’t stop there: Kobo is partnered with the American Booksellers Association, an organization of 600 independent booksellers in the United States.
You can buy eBooks on those booksellers’ websites and Kobo handles the distribution and delivery. If a customer decides to buy directly from Kobo, the independent bookseller that sent them the customer in the first place will continue to get payments based on the customer’s purchases.
Kobo is not as well known in the US, but it is known very well around the world. Kobo has partners in quite a few countries and is often the first stop when customers globally are looking for eBooks. The major benefit to publishing with Kobo is that you can find audiences that would never have read your work if it was only on Amazon.
Some Kobo Stats
51% of all indie-published sales on Kobo come from Canada. This makes sense: Kobo was founded in Canada and it’s partners with Canada’s largest book retailer, Chapters Indigo.
The next biggest markets for indie-published eBooks on Kobo are Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the United States. These countries all speak English, and eBooks gained popularity in America first. So it’s no surprise that these are some of the biggest markets for indie-published books on Kobo.
Non-English Markets for Kobo
France is the biggest non-English market for Kobo right now. It just recently overtook New Zealand in total eBook sales.
Italy is another big market for Kobo.
The Netherlands, Germany, and Spain are where Mark expects to see the largest growth in the next year.
Kobo just launched Kobo Plus for the Netherlands, which is a program similar to Kindle Unlimited, except that you don’t have to be exclusive to Kobo to take part in it. The company realized that in the Netherlands, there is a large market of people who want an all-you-can-read model. If the program does well, it could expand to other markets, helping bring your Kobo-distributed books to even more readers worldwide.
Kobo recently acquired Tolino, a company that has about the same market share in Germany as Amazon does in the US. Tolino was started because a group of booksellers wanted to have the same competitive ability to sell eBooks as some of the bigger online booksellers.
Kobo vs. Amazon Market Strategy
When Amazon enters a market, its goal is to dominate that market.
When Kobo enters a market, its goal is to partner with local print book retailers and help print stores sell eBooks.
Some Historical Perspective
If you’re publishing eBooks today, you’re among the pioneers of the eBook industry. Today, print books still make up the majority of sales worldwide.
The invention of eBooks is the greatest innovation in the publishing industry since the invention of the Gutenberg press. The only other event that comes close for booksellers was the invention of the mass-market paperback 70 years ago.
How to Sell More Books
1. After you publish your first book, start working on your second. The vast majority of successfully indie published authors are people who have multiple books available for sale. That’s because readers are voracious, and if they really like you, they want to read the next book of yours as soon as possible.
2. Authors who have series do better on average than authors who don’t. A series acts like a funnel and each previous book sells the next book.
3. “Your book cover is a billboard.” Jim Bean, a US science fiction publisher, made that astute observation. Be sure your cover is genre-specific and appeals to the type of reader you want for your book. You’re not always going to get it right, but have that guiding principle in mind.
One thing to keep in mind about your cover is that different audiences in different territories expect different things from book covers. So if you’re going to market your book internationally, it might be worth looking at the covers in the online store where you plan to sell your book to see what kinds of covers are selling well in your category.
With Kobo, you can see all the different storefronts in different territories at kobo.com.
4. Offer multiple links. If you’re going wide with your distribution, you’ll want to have an individual link for every online retailer where your book is available. To make this a little easier, you can use a service like books2read.com from Draft2digital, which will create a universal landing page for your book.
5. Pay attention to price points in different territories. One major difference between Amazon and the rest of the world is that where Amazon operates primarily by algorithm, other online retailers have many more human touch points when it comes to selling books. That means humans are deciding what books go on the front pages of those online retailers, not an automated formula. If you price something at $2.99 on Amazon, chances are that in foreign markets, you’ll need to tweak those prices so that your books look like they belong and aren’t over- or underpriced for the market.
The 3P’s of Publishing
In order to succeed in indie publishing, you need three things:
1. Patience. It may take you a while to gain traction and build an audience, especially if you’re an unknown author.
2. Practice. Write more books. This is the number one thing you can do to get better as a writer and to build an audience.
3. Persistence. Don’t give up. It can take a long time, but in the end, it’s worth it. What a lot of new authors don’t understand is that the publishing industry runs in cycles. There will be times when your genre is hot and times when it’s not. Vampire books are just one example of this. In the last 20 years, there have been two or three major spikes in demand for vampire literature.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview
Kobo.com: Canada’s largest retailer of eBooks and e-readers
One Hand Screaming: Mark’s first self-published book
Kobo Writing Life Support: Here you can access technical FAQs, as well as a community forum to help you with any issue you might have publishing on Kobo.
Kobo Writing Life Resources: Kobo’s writing life podcast and blog
Books2Read: A website that allows you to easily make a landing page for your book that has all the places your book can be downloaded
Ways to Advertise Your Book
5. Free Booksy
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