Wed, 18 January 2017
Instead of the regular interview with an author or industry person, episode 75 of the podcast features Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre pausing to look at some of the most successful Kobo Writing Life authors on Kobo for 2016.
He compiles a list of the top 5 things that the most successful authors in terms of both unit sales and net sales all have in common, and tries to break them down into things that you as an author might consider in your own business plans for success.
The items are:
1) Genres / Genre Fiction - the top authors are all writing books in genre fiction, with Romance and Mystery/Thriller/Suspense being consistently in the top
2) Series - many of the top titles are either books written in a series, or, if not, involve an aggressive production schedule far quicker than traditional publishing schedules
3) Targeted and Appealing Visuals / Covers - the covers for the books aren't just professional and attractive, but they're attractive to the right audience, to a very targeted audience or demographic that drills down, even into the sub-genres within a category
4) Author Branding / Series Branding - directly in line with the visuals, the author brand on a book makes a particular promise to a particular type of reader based on the way it is presented.
5) Inclusive Publishing/Promoting / Going Wide - obviously, the authors who were most successful at Kobo published to Kobo. Seems obvious, but drilling down into some of the more subtle ways not just to "go wide" but to "be wide"
Lefebvre then wraps up by taking about, particularly to insiders at Kobo, the important different between Unit Sales and Net Sales and why booksellers like Kobo might have a preferential lean towards one over the other.
Tue, 3 January 2017
Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations for Kobo is the host for this episode, and introduces a memorable clip from Episode 279 of The Creative Penn Podcast where Joanna Penn talks compares walking the 100KM "Race to the Stones" with writing.
In her talk, Joanna goes into the details regarding 9 Lessons Learned About Writing from Walking 100K in a Weekend:
- Deadlines and specific goals help you achieve more
- It’s good to have a goal, but training (and the journey) is the point
- Stamina builds up over time with practice
- You need a support team, but nobody can do the steps for you
- There are fun parts, but some of it will be hell
- Don’t compare yourself to others. The race is only with yourself
- Follow the path others have set before you
- It’s worth spending money to get the right gear
- A lot of people give up along the way – persistence is the key to success
Mark then talks a bit about the beginning and end of the year as common goal-setting times for writers, and shares 5 of the bigger writing goals he had set for himself in 2016. He goes into detail, explaining the highs of meeting deadlines and goals, and the struggles with not achieving a goal (including his own 10 year struggle with getting his novel A Canadian Werewolf in New York published - he started working on it on a series from The Writing Show Podcast back in 2006) - something likely every writer faces.
Links of Interest from this episode
The Creative Penn Podcast
Episode 279 of The Creative Penn Podcast with Roz Morris
Joanna Penn's books on Kobo (About Writing)
Joanna's J.F. Penn novels on Kobo
KWL Episode 32 - Interview with Dan Rubinstein
The "Getting Published with Mark Leslie" episodes of The Writing Show
Mark's A Canadian Werewolf in New York on Kobo
Wed, 21 December 2016
Colson Whitehead, is the author of Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award.
Colson is interviewed by Kobo’s Nora Parker about his latest book, The Underground Railroad, which is an Oprah's Book Club pick.
- Whitehead’s decision to play with the quirky premise of “what if the underground railroad was a real railroad?”
- The navigation of research and how it gets interwoven into the fiction; but the fact that this is not a historical novel and that it doesn’t stick to any real world chronology
- The freeing aspect of not being beholden to reality when crafting a novel
- The manner by which the novel addresses the two opposing viewpoints and biases that take the same passage(s) from the bible and use it to either oppose or support slavery
- The choice of the opening setting in North Carolina and the different arenas for Cora to be tested, and how that allowed for the examination of different types of racism and social structures
- The concepts of racism in pre-Civil War America to the concepts of racism as it exists today in modern America
- The historic use of rendering of dialect in the dialogue between white and black characters compared to how it is done in this novel
- The music Whitehead listens to while writing, when he listens to Purple Rain from Prince and Debut Nation from Sonic Youth and how David Bowie is in every book
- How Whitehead felt about being selected for the Oprah Book Club
- The adept characterization and relationships of the kids in Whitehead’s novel Sag Harbor and how the characters evolved from inspiration from real people into their own unique fictional characters within the novel
KWL Director Mark Lefebvre talks about the concept of writers listening to music while working and then asks KWL listeners to share their own habits and practices when it comes to listening to (or not listening to) music or other ambient noises while writing.
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_EP_073_ColsonWhitehead.mp3
-- posted at: 3:12pm PDT
Tue, 6 December 2016
Described as “One of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year” Affinity Konar’s MISCHLING is a novel about twin sisters fighting to survive the evils of World War II. As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.
Affinity is interviewed by Kobo Merchandising Coordinator, Nora Parker during an intimate Kobo Café gathering at Kobo just a few weeks ago. During the interview, Nora and Affinity discuss:
- The genesis of the story and how it was in the author’s head for at least 10 years before she wrote it
- The intersection between research, historical accuracy and the creativity of the fictional writing
- How many times Affinity had “put the book down” and then other elements in her life kept bringing her back to it
- How Affinity struggled for a long time on the manner by which to depict Josef Mengele in the novel
- The question of justice which both twins end up struggling with at various points throughout the novel and the role that memory plays in that
- The manner by which beauty figures as an antidote to the horrors of the world and how the author spent a lot of time dwelling on what exactly beauty was and is
- Concepts of how language might be able to express, or perhaps even fail at expressing the atrocities and the author’s desire to have the reader consciously quibble with the particular word or words that she chose within particular passages as a way to illustrate, in a concrete way, that challenge
- The origin of the title (Mischling) as a word Affinity came across when she was young, thinking it was a very pretty word and then, later, learning it’s horrific definition and use
- How the book began with the voice of Stasha, and, when Pearl, her twin came along later, how conscious Affinity was regarding her voice and the satisfying challenge that came from that
- How the moments of light and joy within the darkness of the novel came quite naturally to Affinity while writing the book (and the manner by which they both add to the experience of reading novel and were among Affinity’s favorite moments to write)
- The real-life twins, Eva and Miram Mozes, who were very inspirational to the author
Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre then talks about two specific points from the interview that he wanted to draw attention to for writers. First, he draws attention to the mention of the use of humor in this text and then outlines some things to consider when implementing humor into an overall serious or dark and disturbing narrative.
Next, Lefebvre talks about the “ten years” that were behind the creation of this novel and reflects on the fact that there is no one way for authors to write. That some writers can write a book in an extremely short time period while others might take a significantly longer amount of time to write a book. He reflects on the writer ailment of “comparisonitis” (as described by Joanna Penn) that can happen and cautions writers not to feel bad if their own process or timelines are different than other writers. There’s no one answer, there’s no one solution, there’s no single path to one’s own personal goals or successes in a writing career, and different books might call for different approaches. They key is not to compare and despair, but to discover what works best for you to make it the best possible book that you can.
Affinity Konar’s Books on Kobo
Affinity Konar on Instagram
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_EP_072_AffinityKonar.mp3
-- posted at: 3:58pm PDT
Tue, 22 November 2016
Executive Vice President of Publisher Relations and Content at Kobo, Pieter Swinkels introduces a live on stage at Kobo “Kobo in Conversation” interview of Robert Harris about his latest book, Conclave. (As an interesting aside, Pieter was, at one time, Robert’s publisher in the Netherlands). Robert is interviewed by Toronto pop culture columnist, film journalist and television personality, Johanna Schneller.
In the interview Johanna and Robert discuss:
- Brexit and how, though the public events surrounding Brexit are possible fodder for a forthcoming Robert Harris novel, he prefers to wait perhaps 10 or 20 years after such an event, because after such time, you can more properly see the patterns a lot more easily when you’re not as involved in them
- The research involved in writing about a papal conclave, the oldest, most secretive election in the world, starting with the request for permission to see the places that aren’t normally open to the public
- The overwhelming majesty of the setting of the Sistine Chapel and the Apostolic Palace
- The bunker-like setting that the cardinals are sequestered in and the similarities to an Agatha Christie cottage mystery setting
- The enormous power of the internet when it comes to researching a book such as this one, and how the entire process of gathering that research being hugely sped up
- The writing routine that Robert Harris employs, starting with research
- How this particular novel was written between January and July of this past year
- Harris’s daily writing routine of starting sometime around 7 or 8 AM and then finishing at about half past noon, and his belief that one can do only about four hours or so of hard creative work
- A reference to the Stephen King quote about the “boys in the basement” who are hard at work for a writer when the writer is not sitting at their writing desk
- Harris’s strong belief in deadlines and how the fear and adrenaline helps him produce
- A look into one of Harris’s earliest books, the non-fiction title Selling Hitler, an investigation of the “Hitler Diaries” scandal, which was published in 1986, and how it led to the author’s evolution into writing novels
Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre then talks about something Robert Harris mentioned in the interview – the concept of the deadline and how he saw that fear and adrenaline as important elements in the creative process for him as a writer. Lefebvre talks about his own experience writing to deadline on his own non-fiction works and then considers the concept of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and that 30 day deadline to write a prescribed number of words (50,000). He talks about the critical nature of that imposed “deadline” and how it can help a writer actually sit down and get words written.
LINKS OF INTEREST
Robert Harris's website
Johanna Schneller on Twitter
Robert's books on Kobo
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_071_RobertHarris.mp3
-- posted at: 8:44pm PDT
Mon, 7 November 2016
In episode 70, Christine Munroe interviews bestselling romance author Melissa Foster. Over 7 years of self-publishing, Melissa has tons of insightful advice to offer, including why authors should stick to their passion instead of chasing trends, and why she will always manage her own social media and all public-facing marketing efforts. Tune in to hear them discuss:
- Melissa published her first book in 2009. She’s now released over 50 English-language titles, including 15 last year, and 13 in 2016
- She started by approaching agents, and could paper her walls with rejection letters
- Her first published book was Megan’s Way, and she sold over 100k copies of it over the first year
- Today she works with a literary agent for her work in translation. She submitted one book for traditional publishers recently, but decided to not make a deal because they couldn’t offer more than she could accomplish on her own. “I’m pretty much indie to stay now unless something fabulous comes up”
- One major concern about using a traditional publisher is the high list price – she wants to keep her readers happy with a price they can afford. That’s more important to her than getting a traditional publisher. They also can’t keep up with her publishing schedule – the best publishers could offer is once every 4 months, which isn’t enough for all of her series she has going right now
- She’s a “chat-a-holic” on social media and does all of her social media herself
- EverAfter Romance is handling her paperback distribution for her into bookstores
- She works with a developmental and copy editor, then a group of 5 copyeditors, to make sure every book is clean before it hits the market
- Why and how she has incorporated LGBT romance into her Harborside Nights series. There’s a lesbian couple and a gay couple – it never occurred to her to separate out a couple because of their sexual preference. Some authors warned her that she might alienate her core audience but that hasn’t happened
- “I would encourage any author who feels passionate about a story not to hold back on writing it simply because other people think it’s not a good idea…my thought going into this is that I trust my readers”
- Best advice for launching a new book: 1) Be everywhere. 2) Advertise outside of the typical avenues for your genre – look to the subthemes of your book and get a wider audience
- Think of branding in a broad way. For example, imagine your covers being identifiable by site on a shelf. Also, brand at a price bracket - don’t start by putting all of your books at $.99; brand at the price where you want to end up
- What she wishes she would have done differently along the way – she handed off managing her social media to someone for a little while, but that did not go well. She gets significant value from connecting with them directly, herself
- She also doesn’t advise trying to chase trends and figure out what made other people successful. Publishing changes so quickly that if you’re writing for a trend, it may have shifted by the time your book is ready to publish. Also, often marketing efforts are happening behind the scenes, and you can’t know from external research what went into making a book or author successful
- “Every authorship is different…. You have to figure out your readership and how you fit with them”
- It is absolutely essential to get your book edited – you are a representative of independently published authors and books. Don’t rush to publish; if you can’t afford a good editor, wait to publish until you can
- Your best marketing plan is always writing your next book
Melissa Foster writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance, new adult romance and women's fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Readers adore Melissa's fun, flirty, and sinfully sexy, award-winning big family romance collection, LOVE IN BLOOM featuring the Snow Sisters, Bradens, Remingtons, Ryders, Seaside Summer, Harborside Nights, and the Wild Boys After Dark. Melissa's emotional journeys are lovingly erotic, perfect beach reads, and always family oriented.
Direct download: Melissa_Foster_episode.mp3
-- posted at: 9:00am PDT
Wed, 26 October 2016
In a slight twist to the normal format for the podcast, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who is interested in getting involved in podcasting interviews Mark Lefebvre, Joanna Penn and J, Daniel Sawyer about podcasting for authors.
Some of the questions that Kris asks in the discussion, are:
--> How did you get started in podcasting?
-->What schedule(s) do the podcasts come out on? Monthly, Weekly, Daily.
--> Has podcasting interfered with writing or has it augmented it?
In the course of the discussion, Kris, Mark, Joanna and Dan talk about:
--> How podcasting allows them to network, learn, and connect with others
--> How the podcast needs to become a "habit" for listeners. Joanna, for example, shares stats about how moving to a weekly format increased her listener engagement
--> the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) value when you add a transcrpt of the show on your website
--> How Joanna almost gave up podcasting a couple of years ago because of the time it took away from her writing and how having a monetization strategy helped with that
--> Authors like Scott Sigler and Terry Fallis who used podcasting to build their audiences and kick-off their writing careers
--> Time management challenges, tools used and how the use of "batching" (pre-recording a number of episodes in a single sitting) has benefited Joanna Penn and J. Daniel Sawyer
--> The value of adding a personal side to a podcast, and the way that has benefited The Creative Penn podcast
--> Bundlerabbit- a service that allows people to curate their own bundles
--> The use of ad space swapping with other podcasts in order to expand one's audience
--> Podcast distribution options
--> The importance of listening to a podcast before pitching yourself to them as a potential guest
In the wrap-up, Mark talks about the importance of constantly learning. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an industry veteran who teaches and mentors writers directly and on her amazing blog "The Business Rusch" But even after all those decades of experience, she still has an open mind and is willing to learn, because the publishing industry is constantly changing and evolving.
Links to other interviews with the same guests:
Episode 16 - Joanna Penn
Episode 29 - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Episode 54 - The Uncollected Anthology (with Kris)
Episode 56 - J. Daniel Sawyer
Other Links of Interest:
Joanna Penn's HOW TO PODCAST
The Creative Penn Podcast
J. Daniel Sawyer's Full Suite of Audio/Podcasts
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_069_PodcastingForAuthors.mp3
-- posted at: 5:42am PDT
Mon, 10 October 2016
In Episode 68, we check in with Ethan Jones, a spy thriller author who decided to go wide with his novels and focus on growing his Kobo sales. His 2015 sales were up 260% over 2014, and every month has broken his sales record from the preceding month. Kobo is now Ethan's leading retailer, bringing him healthy four figures each month and rising. How did he accomplish this? What advice does he have for authors considering publishing to KWL, or just starting out? Tune in to find out!
- Ethan has three spy thriller series currently on the go
- His inspirations: Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, Baldacci, Tom Clancy, Bourne series
- He feels it’s important to not only know the market, but to know the basic story lines of major authors in his genre and not repeat them; “Readers are more likely to believe that Ethan Jones copied Brad Thor than the reverse.”
- Why he switched from exclusive with another retailer to wide distribution. Since then, his Kobo sales have grown in a big way. He saw a 260% increase in sales for 2015 over 2014. Every month is higher and higher, now bringing in healthy four figures per month, more than all other retailers combined. It took perseverance in terms of both time and effort
- When you upload to Kobo, give the books time. Inform your readers that they are available in that channel. Think of your career as a marathon – you are laying the groundwork to establish a readership globally, across multiple retail channels
- Sold books in 30 countries so far through Kobo, including Fiji and Turks and Caicos
- Ethan still works a full-time job, and does his writing during his commute and lunch break. He catches up on email and marketing on the weekend
- Connects with the writing community through online forums, cross-promotions, and attending conferences
- On Mailing Lists: he manages two lists. 1) 2 emails a month, goes to everyone who has expressed interest in him and his books. Brief update, new releases, any deals, offers that include cross-promoting 2-3 other authors. 2) ARC readers, 1 email a month about review copies and a reminder about posting reviews
- Releases a new book every 3-4 months
- Average cost of producing each book: $200-$300 per book for editing/proofreading. $200 for a cover. Under $500 per book total
- Beyond BookBub, his promotional strategies include: tell readers about all new books, price pre-order lower than launch price. Send occasional flash sales to his mailing lists. Hit some of the smaller promotional website opportunities beyond BookBub
- Something his readers might not know about him: English isn’t his first language (it’s Albanian), and Ethan Jones is a pen name
- A few overall words of wisdom:
- Start right away with building a mailing list. Invite anyone and everyone you know – it might surprise you to learn who is interested in your writing.
- Distribute widely; think about your career as a long-term gig, and give yourself 18 months to work on promoting new channels.
LINKS OF INTEREST
Author Ethan Jones on Facebook
AuthorEJones on Twitter
Ethan Jones is the author of the wildly popular Justin Hall spy thriller series, featuring Canadian Intelligence Service special agents operating mostly in the Middle East. This series has nine books so far. The first four books in this series have reached the Amazon’s Top 10 Best Sellers lists. Ethan has also started a new spy series: Carrie Chronicles, which features Justin Hall’s partner, Carrie O’Connor, in solo adventures. The first two novels in this series, Priority Target and Codename: Makarov have already come out and more are expected to be released in 2017.
He is also working on a romantic suspense series, featuring Jennifer Morgan, set in New York. The first book in this series, The Secret Affair, is already out and the second and the third will be published in fall and winter 2016. Ethan is a lawyer by trade, and he lives in Edmonton, Canada, with his wife and son.
Direct download: Ethan_Jones_ep_068.mp3
-- posted at: 9:00am PDT
Tue, 27 September 2016
What if some of the artists we feel as if we know – Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Bill Murray – turned up in the course of our daily lives?
That’s the basis of this collection of linked stories that follow Rose McEwan, an ordinary woman who keeps having extraordinary encounters with famous people.
Nora Parker, Merchandising Coordinator at Kobo, interviews Marni Jackson, author of Don’t I Know You? Published by Flatiron Books in New York.
In the interview, Nora and Marni discuss:
- Marni’s turn to fiction from her previous books such as Pain: The Science of Why We Hurt and Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest
- The accidental manner by which these stories ended up converging into the linked-stories novel that it became, starting with a short story Marni wrote called “Bob Dylan Goes Tubing” which was originally published in The Walrus in September 2012
- How that same “Bob Dylan” short story was inspired by a painting that her son created one afternoon when they were at the cottage
- How Jackson choose who to include in the stories and how Rose McEwan’s relationship to celebrity evolves throughout the tales
- How Bill Murray is a great character in the book because of the carefully curated and crafted persona of “Bill Murray” that he deftly manages and uses to connect with his fans (or, to use a very Canadian term, as Marni does: “Stick-handles” his fame in a really interesting way
- The interesting relationship between celebrity and audience and how the audience or fans actually “author” a celebrity’s fame
- The manner by which celebrities don’t necessarily exist “out there” in the distance, but that they are very much a part of our creative lives (ie, we may put on one of their songs while we are having sex – a perfect example of how they are incorporated into those intimate moments)
- The juxtaposition of the journalist in Jackson who enjoyed documenting real elements from the celebrities in this book with the fun and fictional encounters with Rose
- Jackson’s interest in our relationships with celebrities and our relationship to fame rather than in the cult of celebrity
- The Al Purdy stage show project that Jackson is currently working on based on the film al purdy was here which she co-wrote that her husband, Brian D. Johnson, directed
- The concerns regarding the mention of famous people in the book and the fact that Jackson’s lawyer went through it with her line-by-line to ensure there was nothing that could be construed as libelous or defamation of character
After the interview, Mark Lefebvre, Director of Kobo Writing Life and Author Relations, shares some thoughts regarding Author Branding, outlining some ways in which an author can ensure that they are curating and presenting a consistent author persona or brand out into the world. He draws upon a couple of examples that, like in the Bill Murray reference Marni Jackson uses, are Canadian. He uses his own example of the use of the life-sized skeleton Barnaby Bones that he employs for his Mark Leslie horror/paranormal/ghost story author persona. He also explores Hugo and Nebula Award winning science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer who uses the “Dean of Canadian Science Fiction” element throughout his persona, including the name of his website: SFWRITER.COM. As a final example, Mark looks at the fonts uses in the title for the Netflix original STRANGER THINGS and how that makes a promise to potential viewers.
Other links of interest:
Marni Jackson's Website
Marni Jackson's Books on Kobo
The Walrus Magazine
Branding for Writers – from Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_067_MarniJackson.mp3
-- posted at: 11:34am PDT
Mon, 12 September 2016
Recorded at Kobo's headquarters, this episode features Toronto-based literary agent Sarah Heller, from the Helen Heller Agency. Why did Sarah become an agent? What are some benefits to being an agent in Toronto? What are some key tips for authors planning to query an agent? Tune in as Sarah and US Manager Christine Munroe discuss all of this and more.
Sarah has a background is in fine arts, but her mother (Helen) started the agency in 1988 so she grew up with publishing in the background. Sarah joined the agency 11 years ago.
Growing up she always loved reading, was surrounded by books, and all of that fell into place when she started agenting.
Why Sarah loves working in Toronto; it offers the benefit of being easily accessible to other international publishing centres, New York, and London, but is separate enough that there’s a vibrant Toronto/Canadian writing and publishing community.
Why she loves being an agent. She can wear many hats – introduce people and projects to one another, dig into the creative process with edits, negotiate contracts.
“With the advent of being able to publish quickly online…it’s a very viable way of publishing your book and doing well with it financially and critically.”
She helps her authors make best use of all of their work. Many authors have projects stowed away that haven’t been published, or have gone out of print, so there’s great new potential in digital publication.
Their agency manages a KWL account and helps authors publish digitally to Kobo. “The landscape is so fluid that you can publish a book online…that can then retroactively be picked up by a publisher if that’s ultimately what an author wants… There are also cases of certain territories not having access to a book that now they do.”
They want to take advantage of all opportunities to help their authors advance their careers.
How to stand out when querying an agent:
Get the name of the person you’re addressing your query to. Never, “Dear Sir or Madam” (no “sirs” at their agency, for example!).
Research what kind of books the agency handles – and does not handle.
Brief and to the point query letter, synopsis and your background.
No gimmicks necessary.
Sarah Heller has developed an internationally and New York Times bestselling list. She specializes in establishing new authors with a focus on front list commercial YA and adult fiction. Sarah received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University, and is a graduate of the Advertising Design program of the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Direct download: Sarah_Heller_interview.mp3
-- posted at: 9:00am PDT