Mon, 18 July 2016
In a KWL Podcast first, we checked in with an editor from a major publishing house, Tessa Woodward from HarperCollins. In her eleven years at Harper, specializing in editing romance, women’s fiction, and historical fiction, Tessa has seen the industry go through the parallel changes in the emergence of eBooks and self-publishing. Tune in to her Tessa and KWL US Manager Christine Munroe chat about:
- The range of genres Tessa edits: women’s fiction, romance (historical and contemporary), some mystery and non-fiction. She is specifically always looking for great romance, especially historical
- What the submission process is like at HarperCollins. Avon Impulse has an open submission policy – it’s one of the few remaining imprints that offers that opportunity for authors without literary agents. They receive 100-400 submissions a month
- What Tessa looks for in a new submission: a great voice
- She had no background in romance before she started at Avon. How she fell in love with the genre, and the “classic” romance authors she read first in her self-education when she first started: Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Rachel Gibson, Stephanie Laurens, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Now, Tessa is a big-time romance book lover who rarely reads outside the genre
- During a typical workday, Tessa doesn’t have time to do much reading or editing. She reviews covers, marketing and publicity, writes and approves copy, takes editorial calls with authors, and answers a lot of emails
- Why Tessa doesn’t expect an unpublished author to have a social media platform established when they approach a publishing house
- Her one big pet peeve when it comes to authors who do have social media already in place
- When she’s looking at self-published authors interested in a traditional deal, she’s much more interested in the potential of this specific story than eBook sales track record for previous books. She still has to pitch the new book to bookstores, who won’t be very interested in hearing just about eBook sales or free download numbers
- The main benefits, from Tessa’s point of view, of working with a publisher today. You get an experienced support team who share the publishing burden with you, so that you can focus on writing your next book.
- Tessa joined HarperCollins 11 years ago, and has seen the industry undergo changes in digital publishing and self-publishing, particularly in romance. She thinks new digital opportunities have opened up the chance for publishers to experiment and publish a lot more books, and a wider range of voices
- How she feels about hybrid authors – “As long as we’re working together, I think it’s great!” Hybrid authors bring new insights, and can create opportunities for new hybrid marketing models and more
Senior Editor Tessa Woodward edits a wide array of romance, women's fiction, and historical fiction. On the romance side, she edits authors across all genres, including the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers Tessa Dare, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Jennifer Bernard, and Maya Rodale. Her women’s fiction titles range from USA Today bestseller Shelley Noble’s beach-set novels, to Molly McAdams’ New York Times bestselling New Adult stories, to Lisa Turner’s psychological mysteries, and the darker, historical ORPHAN #8, a debut from Kim van Alkemade. She is the US editor for international bestseller Paullina Simons. On the nonfiction side, she is publishing THE WORLD OF MR. SELFRIDGE. She is looking for more women's fiction with strong characters, both historical and contemporary, as well as all genres of romance.
Direct download: Ep_62_Tessa_Woodward.mp3
-- posted at: 9:00am PST
Tue, 5 July 2016
Episode 61 features an interview with Peter James, an international best-selling British writer of crime fiction, which took place at Kobo in June 2016 in front of a live audience. Peter is interviewed by Kobo Writing Life director Mark Lefebvre.
In the interview, Mark and Peter discuss:
- Peter’s work on the Canadian television program POLKA DOT DOOR in Toronto in the 1970s where he worked as a "gofer" and was asked by a producer, when a regular staff writer called in sick, to write an episode. After that he ended up writing for the show for a year.
- The original “Agatha Christie” style crime fiction that Peter was weaned on which had very strict rules and conventions: A dead body in chapter one; preferably in a country house; a bit of culture; a bit of sex; a little bit of violence and the hilariously fitting opening line that he has come up with which inserts all those elements
- How Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (one of two of the best crime novels ever written, in Peter’s eyes – the other one is Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs) is a book that changed Peter’s life, because it threw all of those rules out the window.
- How Brighton Rock taught Peter 3 important things about novels: A great opening line. Where the central character is a villain that you can care about.
- How some of the most enduring characters in all of literature have been villains.
- How the villain in LOVE YOU DEAD was inspired by a woman Peter met on a prison visit
- How having his house burgled let to Peter finding great friends from the police force who have invited him to learn directly from them for the past thirty years, inserting the authenticity that he so carves in his crime fiction
- The dedicated police officer who, upon first meeting Peter, pointed to a mountainous stack of crates of manila folders and introduced them as his “dead friends” and how he eventually became the inspiration for Roy Grace
- Two traits that really good detectives have: They are incredibly anal and capable of incredible out of the box thinking
- Peter’s belief in the inseparable trinity of character, research and plot in creating writing
- The great extremes that Peter has gone to in the name of research for his books, including being locked in a coffin for half an hour, held a live scorpion in his hand, been submerged in an overturned van
- The book DEATH COMES KNOCKING: Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton that Peter is co-authoring based on long-running respect for the real police and the many years of research he has done with them
- The haunted house that Peter lived in which partially inspired his novel THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL
- The real character (Hayden Kelly) from Peter’s last three books who is a real guy and came up with forensic podiatry, the measurement of the unique gaits of different people
Mark then talks about the great ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) that he received from Peter’s Canadian distributor (see blog post here) as a great example of author branding and grabbing a reader or reviewer’s attention as well as another important resource that authors can rely on for digital branding: PERSONALITY. He uses the example of Peter’s YouTube channel and how it helped add a new layer a new dimension to Peter’s author brand, and how watching several videos of the author helped Mark, as a reader, feel connected to the author. Mark discusses the importance of that connection which can be achieved through digital mediums.
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_061_PeterJames.mp3
-- posted at: 8:12pm PST
Mon, 20 June 2016
In this week’s episode, we’re focusing on book blogging. Vilma Gonzalez, the all-star blogger who runs Vilma’s Book Blog, shared her journey with us, along with tips for how authors and bloggers can work together to help one another succeed. Tune in to learn:
- How Vilma developed the aesthetic and brand of her blog. She is a marketing expert by day, so she knows the importance of a website that is easy to use, clean, and represents her
- The growth of the blog over three years, growing her audience from 100 followers to over 33,000 today
- How did she make that happen? Hard work, dedication, time. She applied the rules of business, being professional and staying focused on what readers want to see, and who she wants to be as a blogger
- Vilma targets various social media outlets differently based on the typical users for each – for example, Snapchat and Instagram skew younger than Facebook – so she tailors posts appropriately
- Her typical day: she essentially works two full-time jobs. She’s worked in marketing and technology for 20 years, and still does that full-time. Then she comes home, takes care of her kids, and works late nights on the blog, reading books, scheduling social media posts for the next day, often until 1am
- How to monetize a blog. Affiliate links and ads are the primary ways to build steady income, but the affiliate side especially recently has been unstable
- On average, Vilma reads 3 books a week plus an audio book. She keeps things on a very organized schedule – one book Monday-Wednesday, one book Wednesday-Friday, and one on the weekend.
- What is the value to authors for building relationships with bloggers? You’re getting access through a trusted source to a dedicated audience. Bloggers have built a level of trust with their followers, so that recommendation is a powerful tool. Authors can also use the opportunity to learn about how readers are reading and connecting with bloggers
- #1 advice for authors approaching bloggers: pay attention to what they’re looking for. Understand who they are and what they like. #2: don’t approach too aggressively and come in with big expectations. For example, Vilma’s review schedule is booked 4-6 months in advance, so there’s not much she can do for an author hoping for support for a launch with short notice
- How she balances her friendships with authors, and what she’s trying to accomplish on the blog, for example if she reads a book by a friend that isn’t a good fit for her
- Why she has a policy to only post positive reviews (3-3.5 stars or more) on the blog. She wants to remain focused on sharing books that she loves
- The parallels between bloggers and authors, including struggling with breaking through the clutter of volume and staying focused on a strong brand and solid marketing
- The benefits to bloggers of attending conferences and connecting with authors and industry professionals in person
- Advice for bloggers wanting to start today: figure out who you want to be, and keep everything centered on that primary value or identity
Vilma Gonzalez is a marketing professional by day and book reviewer by night. She's been devouring books since she was very young and in early 2013, created Vilma's Book Blog, a website dedicated to reviewing books of all genres. In addition, she also writes for USA Today's HEA blog, penning a column entitled Love In Suspense, which focuses on thrillers and mystery novels. Vilma also blogs about fashion and style trends and is determined to own every Alex and Ani bracelet every made. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their two young sons.
Direct download: Vilma_Gonzalez.mp3
-- posted at: 7:28am PST
Tue, 7 June 2016
Nathan Maharaj, Kobo’s Director of Merchandising, interviews Tom Vanderbilt, the best-selling author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, about his latest book You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice which is an interesting exploration of our personal tastes and what it says about us.
During the interview, Nathan and Tom discuss:
- The role that red pants came to play in Tom’s book when he was living in Madrid and how that relates to the “mere exposure” effect
- The role of context in how we experience things
- The language element involved in a dining experience (and a callout to Dan Jurafsy’s book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
- The effect by which the guided “headphone” tour through an art museum can alter the user’s experience within a gallery, including the cognitive tunneling that can occur
- A unique book that was created with a built in camera and facial recognition software entitled The Cover That Judges You that was designed to only open if the person looking at the cover displayed a completely neutral face.
- The effect on social liking and music, musical tastes, how the long tail got longer and how popularity has gotten more hierarchical rather than less so
- The phenomenon of “guilty pleasures” and the difference between guilt and shame
- How taste can be a more taboo subject than sex or money
- The idea of not trusting the “easy like”
- The interesting juxtaposition between “freedom of choice” and “freedom from choice”
KWL Director Mark Lefebvre then speaks about the concept of reviews and refers to something Tom mentioned in the interview regarding how both five star and one star reviews are sometimes interpreted by consumers and the importance of having a wide spread of reviews to make the product reviews seem more “natural”
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Tom Vanderbilt's website
Tom Vanderbilt on Twitter
Direct download: KWL_Podcast_059_TomVanderbilt.mp3
-- posted at: 3:20pm PST
Tue, 24 May 2016
Episode 58 features an interview with Kobo Merchandisers Liz Hilborn (Manager of Merchandising) and Sarah Smith-Eivemark (Canadian Merchandiser).
In the interview, KWL Director Mark Lefebvre, Liz, and Sarah discuss:
- What a merchandiser is and what they do at Kobo
- How merchandisers work with publisher sales reps to determine which books get featured in different lists such as “New and Hot”
- A look at the daily, weekly, monthly schedule and routine that merchandisers follow
- How merchandisers in different territories connect, collaborate, and share best practices
- How the merchandisers work with the Vendor Managers in various countries
- The benefit the merchandising interns have in of hearing about global publishing trends and activities during the daily merchandising team meetings
- The preferred timelines that merchandisers need in order to plan out a promotion or feature and how that might be different in various global territories based on how much progress that country has already made in terms of digital publishing
- The average number of books that a merchandiser might look at on any given day
- Solid book cover design advice from a merchandiser’s perspective
- The important role that a proper price (and a flexible price) plays from a merchandiser’s perspective
- The pricing promotion sweet spot (anywhere between 99 cents and $4.99)
- How not rounding your pricing up to .99 in a local territory means you’re leaving money on the table
- Recent publishing trends that Liz and Sarah have recognized and are excited about
- The WRONG things to do (AKA Merchandiser pet peeves or, the right thing to do if you never want to get a book featured on Kobo)
Mark then talks a bit about the Alliance of Independent Authors “Indie Author Fringe” events and why they are important and then reflects on how the Kobo Writing Life team are internal ‘sales reps’ for KWL authors at Kobo, working collaboratively with the merchandising team and always looking for new opportunities to help authors find new customers at Kobo.
Direct download: EP_058_KoboMerchanderInsights.mp3
-- posted at: 6:36pm PST
Tue, 10 May 2016
Christine Munroe interviews Helen Hardt, an author and editor, about her publishing journey in terms of both sides of her career. This month, Helen launched the Steel Brothers Saga series with Waterhouse, an "untraditional" publishing house headed up by indie author all-star, Meredith Wild. Christine and Helen discuss:
- Helen’s publishing path, starting with small presses, and most recently with Waterhouse Press.
- She became an editor before she became a published author.
- Her work editing Meredith Wild, starting with Hardwired.
- “In this industry, it’s all about making contacts” – Meredith later started Waterhouse Press, and hired Helen as Managing Editor and took her on as an author.
- Waterhouse describes itself as an “untraditional press.” From Helen’s point of view, they focus on building the author and brand, more so than on each individual book, which she appreciates. They have a virtual office, with a small staff and authors spread out across the US.
- The Waterhouse team is very accessible to their authors, and open to author feedback on all aspects of the publishing process.
- Helen’s advice: write the best book possible. Learn, learn, learn about the art and craft of writing. Then hire a professional editor.
- She wishes she could have known that there’s more to writing fiction than just knowing your grammar. It would have saved her a lot of heartache in the form of rejections and bad critiques from contest entries.
- Is it harder for Helen, as an editor herself, to find an editor for her work that she can trust?
- “You can’t have an ego in this business” – there is always so much you don’t know about.
- The Steel Brothers Saga, which just launched starting with CRAVING and is heating up the bestseller lists. The next book, OBSESSION, comes out July 19th. This is Helen’s first series in which she’ll stretch the story of her characters across multiple books.
- “All of my heroes are a little bit tortured – this one more tortured than most!”
After the interview, Christine talks about the huge success of small independent publishing houses like Waterhouse in recent years. Another great example is Bookouture, based in the UK. They're bridging the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and maximizing the best opportunities offered by both paths. We will likely see more and more of these presses emerge, and it will be very interesting to watch authors navigate these new opportunities.
Direct download: Helen_Hardt_-_57.mp3
-- posted at: 6:42am PST
Tue, 26 April 2016
Mark Lefebvre, Director of Kobo Writing Life, interviews, author, podcaster, film-maker, photographer and audio-book producer, J. Daniel Sawyer. In the interview, Mark and Daniel discuss:
- Dan’s publishing production schedule which include 5 books currently in the queue, 8 mysteries in a single series (The Clarke Lantham Mysteries) 6 science fiction books spread across two different series (The Antithesis Progression & Suave Rob’s Awesome Adventures) and stand-alones, a couple of short story collections and two long form writer’s guides (Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks and How to Produce Them and Throwing Lead: A Writer’s Guide to Firearms and the People Who Use Them)
- How four of the books in Sawyer’s Clarke Lantham series started off as short stories, but then “escaped” into full sized novels
- Dan’s book Idea’s Inc. that was inspired by science fiction legend Harlan Ellison’s snarky response to where he gets his ideas from.
- His goal to write 3000 words each and every day
- Dan’s Nanowrimo Daily Podcast project Nanowrimo Every Month
- The three pillars of writing: Craft, Business, Law
- Examples of incorrect weapon use in stories, which Sawyer addresses in his book: Throwing Lead: A Writer’s Guide to Firearms and the People Who Use Them
- How poorly researched use of something like weapons can kick a knowing reader out of the story
- The differences in weapon terminology use, such as a clip and a magazine, an automatic and a semi-automatic
- The Weaver stance, originally created in the 1950’s and how it remains one of a number of popular shooting stances in handgun training today because it taught police officers how to shoot quickly, accurately and without accidents
- Why the “clicking” of a gun when it is out of ammunition is an inaccurate Hollywood convention when it comes to most modern firearms
- Why Doc Brown would NOT have survived the AK-47 attack in the movie Back to the Future, even with a Kevlar vest on
- Why being shot typically won’t send someone flying backwards or even stop them while rushing forward
- Dan’s life-long passion for theatre-radio and audio-books
- How Scott Sigler inspired Dan into podcasting his fiction.
- A look at the minimum standard equipment an author would need in order to produce their own quality audio book
- How Dan has created full-cast / multi-voice audio productions
- The rough number of hours it takes to produce each hour of finished audio product and the differences between single narrator recordings and full-cast productions
- The importance of learning from one’s own blunders while finding your way through the business aspect of writing
Daniel Sawyer’s Website
Direct download: EP_056_JDanielSawyer.mp3
-- posted at: 5:36pm PST
Mon, 11 April 2016
In this episode, Christine takes you behind the scenes at Kobo to hear from colleagues on five different Kobo teams who each play a different role in getting eBooks to customers and analyzing data post-publication. Tune in to hear from:
Chris, KWL Development
- “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for our users to publish their content, and then after that do as much as possible to drive the success of those published titles.”
- How does the dev team manage to wrangle KWL’s seemingly never-ending list of features and ideas we want to implement? He has to balance new projects with maintaining and testing the current platform, and evaluating the necessity and value of each new idea.
- With each new to-do item, he needs to collaborate with the rest of the broad Kobo team to make sure we can support these changes from a data and software perspective.
Sarah, Content Analytics
- Why and how you should measure the halo effect of promotions and price changes.
- Learning what prices sell well in different countries - certain geos are more price-sensitive than others, and you can adjust your territory pricing accordingly. For example, US and UK shoppers are used to paying less for eBooks, while readers in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are more willing to pay more.
Ben, QA & Content Display
- Ben's main responsibility involves seeing content coming in and deciding whether or not it's ready to go for sale to customers. When the answer is no, his team works to problem solve, find bugs, and support fixes.
- Common errors found during the QA process: all content lumped in chapter 1; mismatched file uploaded for the title (ex Book 2 in a series instead of Book 1); missing or out of order chapters; low image quality.
- Ben's favourite QA lingo. Aren't you dying to know what an obfuscated font is?
Patricia, Publisher Operations
- The detective work of PubOps, who are always working to answer a question from a publisher, another internal team, or retail partner. Why hasn't a price changed? Why isn't a book for sale? Why has this eBook failed QA testing?
- Why Patricia likes projects that involve launching in a new territory - a large cross-functional team basically gets to recreate Kobo, and rebuild the catalogue, in a short period of time.
Jared, Big Data
- Reading data that Kobo collects and analyzes. How we're currently using it for our readers - to show them patterns in how they read, when they read, and help them set reading goals.
- How we hope to share it with authors and publishers to help improve content and sales.
Do you have a question about what it takes to run a digital retail company that we didn't answer here? Leave a comment on our blog at www.kobowritinglife.com
Thanks for listening!
Direct download: Episode_55.mp3
-- posted at: 10:41am PST
Tue, 29 March 2016
Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre interviews 6 of the 7 writers who make up the core writers of the Uncollected Anthology project: Phaedra Weldon, Leslie Clare Walker, Annie Reed, Leah Cutter, Dayle A. Dermatis and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. (Absent from the interview, but a core member is Michele Lang)
The Uncollected Anthology of Urban Fantasy, is an ongoing project where, every three months, the authors pick a theme and write a short story for that theme. But instead of bundling the stories together, they each sell their own stories. So you can buy any one of them, or all of them. No fuss, no muss. But the tales are packaged using templates that bring them together thematically, and the authors have found the anthology as helpful for new readers to discover these books.
In the interview, Mark and the writers discuss:
- How they get together annually for a meeting and have planned the themes out until May 2018
- How the idea was born out of the Fiction River anthology workshops that Kris runs with her husband Dean. Dayle looked around the room at the talented authors and knew there were enough who wrote urban fantasy to put something like this together
- The process which includes deadlines for when the stories, the blurbs, the covers are all due each quarter
- The cross-promotional aspect of marketing each “issue” or theme of this ongoing series that includes the website and links embedded within each author’s books
- How, even though they are calling them “short stories” some of the stories go as long as 20,000 words or novella length
- The way Allyson Longueira of WMG Publishing designed the cover template for the group for them to have a consistent brand, look and feel (such as the consistent color that each of the themes employ)
- The inherent trust each writer has to have, above the existing contract which includes terms such as the fact that each author owns all the copyright on each of their respective stories
- The common request from readers about how they might be able to get all the stories together
- How every Feb the theme is urban fantasy romance
- How Leah doesn’t enjoy writing romance and yet, facing the challenge of that theme wrote a story that she loves the most – “The Midnight Gardener”
- How the themes help the writers explore different concepts and stories they never knew they had in them
- The brilliantly organic meeting that was the genesis of this collective, and the importance of community and an in person presence at writer events.
- How Kris is sometimes known by the nickname “Tom Hanks” derived from the movie “Big” because of the storm of ideas that she has
- Emails, yearly meeting and a closed yahoo group they use to communicate and share files
- A discussion of some of the challenges that have faced the group
- Some of the guest authors which include Dean Wesley Smith, Anthea Sharp, Rebecca Senese, Ron Cillins
- May's “out of the woods” theme . . . .
- The Fiction River workshops, how they originated based upon what used to be called the Dennis Little workshops at conventions
- The Importance of being with other writers, the support they offer one another, the pep-talks, the understanding . . . .
After the interview, Mark talks about the importance of what can happen when writers come together to share, to communicate and to network.
Links of Interest
Uncollected Anthology Main Website
Uncollected Anthology Books at Kobo
Click here to subscribe to the Uncollected Anthology Newsletter
Direct download: EP_054_UncollectedAnthology.mp3
-- posted at: 3:23pm PST
Mon, 14 March 2016
Have you ever worked with a literary agent? What benefits can an agent offer to authors navigating their options: self-publish, sign a traditional deal, or take a hybrid approach? We delve into these questions and more in this interview, our first on the podcast focusing on literary agents. Amy Tannenbaum from the Jane Rotrosen Agency offers the agent's perspective, chatting with KWL Manager Christine Munroe about:
- Amy's background as an editor at Simon & Schuster for many years. She had begun to acquire self-published authors, but they always asked her if they should work with an agent. When she replied yes, they always asked for a recommendation. Eventually, she decided that she wanted to fill that role.
- As part of a bigger full-service literary agency, Amy is able to offer her clients support in pursuing opportunities in foreign, audio, and film and TV rights.
- The majority of new clients she takes on are self-published authors looking for a traditional deal. That's how she started out building a client list as an agent, and she takes on most of her new authors through recommendations from her existing clients. That being said, the industry changes constantly so the picture may look different a year from now!
- Does she approach working with authors different based on their publishing path? No - it's all about career management, and what the right option is for each book. "Most readers don't care about whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. They just want to read a great story."
- A few years ago, publishers were hungrily acquiring self-published titles, and you could more easily sell a book based on sales track record. Now, publishers are more selective, and the emphasis has shifted back more to the quality of the voice and writing. Sales numbers and social media presence certainly help, but they're not enough.
- That being said, if your ultimate goal is to be traditionally published and you're having difficulty getting the attention of an agent or publisher directly, then trying to build your own successful sales track through self-publishing will definitely help build your case to make it happen.
- With every author looking to switch from indie to traditional, Amy extensively discusses the pros and cons of that decision. Authors won't be able to use their cover designer, choose their editor, set their prices, set a release schedule, etc. On the plus side, though, they're gaining a support team taking the business side (and the pre-publication costs) off their plate.
- The major thing traditional publishers still offer is print distribution - this is the typical tipping point for indie authors wanting a publishing contract.
- In the reverse direction, traditional authors often go indie when they have a book that their traditional publisher isn't interested in publishing.
- Christine's experience working as an agent before self-publishing became a viable option for writers, when a publisher saying "no" was potentially the end of a writing career. We're in an exciting time now, when authors have many options.
- When Amy is looking at a potential new client, she looks primarily at the writing. Then, she looks at social media - and not necessarily just reach, but engagement level with fans.
- Most common error to avoid: submitting to an agent who doesn't represent the genre you write in.
- Most successful way to get an agent: get a recommendation from one of their current clients. So make friends with other authors, engage with them, check the acknowledgements of similar books where authors will thank their agents.
Direct download: Full_episode.mp3
-- posted at: 8:30am PST