Kobo Writing Life Podcast (general)
KWL EP 059 - Tom Vanderbilt

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”



Tom Vanderbilt's website

Tom Vanderbilt on Twitter



Direct download: KWL_Podcast_059_TomVanderbilt.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:20pm PDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:36pm PDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:42am PDT

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

Twitter:  @dsawyer       

Direct download: EP_056_JDanielSawyer.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:36pm PDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 10:41am PDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 3:23pm PDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 8:30am PDT

There has never been more opportunities for writers and storytellers than ever in the history of publishing, and Episode 52 of the Kobo Writing Life Podcast demonstrates yet another amazing opportunity that exists for writers.

KWL Director Mark Lefebvre interviews Jean Leggett co-founder of One More Story Games, a company from Barrie, Ontario that has developed a storytelling platform with a team of gamers, geeks, storytellers and programmers that creates a community for collaborative story game opportunities.

In the interview, Mark and Jean discuss:

  • Jean’s background as a recovering Haiku addict and recovering stand-up comedian
  • How Jean’s love of storytelling combined with her husband’s similar love and a computer science background and background working in the games industry led to the formation of One More Story Games
  • The underlying concept of bringing more reading into the game space
  • How the experience of these games is similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” branching narrative experiences
  • StoryStylus – the story creation platform that helps creators break down the elements of story (such as people, places, things, relationships, conversation and dialogue, etc) that publishes to an interactive games marketplace
  • The fact that you don’t need to be a programmer to be part of creating an interactive story game and how virtually any writer could participate in this process. (With a reminder that “Beta” means “patient, early adopters”)
  • A writer, photographer and graphic designer in Tillsonburg, Ontario (Dan Wilkins) who is writing an 8 part series for One More Story Games and involving real people, such as the town’s mayor as characters in the story   
  • The manner by which a platform like this seems ideal for mystery stories, but the manner by which science fiction and adventure stories have already been built for it
  • The exciting announcement that One More Story Games will be working with New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sookie_Stackhouse - novels which have been adapted into the True Blue television series) to adapt her novel Shakespeare’s Landlord
  • How the Charlaine Harris project will include a “behind the scenes” look at breaking the book itself into various plot points and how it was developed into the interactive storytelling experience (https://onemorestorygames.com/2016/02/16/lily-bard-online/)
  • The idea of making smarter more casual games available to the growing demographic of women consumers in their mid 30’s who are interested in and playing these types of games
  • The concept of how a game like this demonstrates the progression of writer to narrative designer for a storyteller
  • Recommendations on how authors who are interested in exploring these opportunities might get started



Links of Interest:

One More Story Games

One More Story Games on Twitter

One More Story Games on Facebook

Story Stylus FAQ

Charlaine Harris Website


YouTube Tutorial Videos from One More Story Games

Direct download: EP_052_OneMoreStoryGames.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:56am PDT

Known as the “Wizard of Storytelling,” David Farland (who also writes under the name David Wolverton) is the author and editor of more than fifty books, including his Philip K. Dick Award winning novel On My Way to Paradise and the well-known Runelords series. A long-time mentor to writers, David spend many years teaching writing at Bringham Young University and has also mentored such writers as Stephanie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Eric Flint and James Dashner.

KWL Director Mark Lefebvre had the chance to sit down and chat with David about these things and much more at the 2016 annual Superstars Writing Seminars conference in Colorado Springs where David is one of the founding faculty members of a group of international bestselling authors who spend several information-packed days teaching newer writers the business of writing and publishing.

In their conversation, Mark and David discuss:

  • David’s love of writing, which started when he was nine years old and had his first writing published in a local newspaper
  • The fact that David had planned on becoming a doctor and was taken aside by a very astute teacher when he was seventeen who told him, “Dave, you’re a writer. You don’t it yet, but you’re a writer and you can’t get away from that. It’s going to come out some day.”
  • When he was studying pre-med and spent three days working on a poem that just wouldn’t leave his mind.
  • Winning third place in a college writing contest for a short story and how that inspired him to write more and submit them to other contests, where he won first place in all of them, including first prize in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest
  • How winning that contest led to a three novel contract with Bantam right there at the Writers of the Future ceremony
  • David’s current role in helping to kick-start new writers careers as the lead editor for the Writers of the Future annual contest
  • Tips on what David is looking for when reading submissions to this contest
  • David’s role as a writer coach and how, as an advisor to Scholastic Books in the United States, David had suggested they take a serious look at a then-unknown author of the Harry Potter series
  • The secret to how David can intuit a writer’s chances of success without even having to have read any of their work
  • How his real name of David Wolverton became associated with his science fiction novels (starting with his first award winning novel, and how he landed on the pseudonym of David Farland by standing in a bookstore and looking at the placement of books on the shelves and determining the best “eye-level” last name to employ
  • David’s natural storyteller ability as a Dungeon Master taking care of twenty to thirty people at once for role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and how that led to his interest and participation in game development
  • David’s work doing screenplays and movie production, and the difference and similarities between writing novels, writing video games and writing screenplays
  • David’s work writing in the Star Wars universe, including The Courtship of Princess Leia as well as the YA and middle grade books for Scholastic
  • The collaborative spirit and mentality required when working on licensed properties, video games, etc
  • The differences between “Hollywood” and “New York Publishing” for a writer
  • David’s advice for writers and on being a professional writer: Deciding what you want to be and then beginning to live and BE that part


As part of his dedication to helping other writers, David writes the David Farland’s #WritingTips, an email bulletin for writers. Many authors rave about how it has helped them. Out of devotion, he provides his #WritingTips for free. You can subscribe to David’s #WritingTips here.


David’s Website: http://davidfarland.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/authordavidfarland

Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidfarland

David's Great Resources for writers, including a signup to his “Daily Kick in the Pants” emails: www.mystorydoctor.com

YouTube Video mentioned in the podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWEP3aBVpAw

Direct download: EP_051_DavidFarland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:45am PDT

For our 50th episode, we're featuring over a dozen all-star indie authors offering an amazing wealth of information about publishing and writing. Tune in to hear from HM Ward, Diane Capri, Melody Anne, and more! You'll learn:

  • How this multi-author signing event came together
  • What Diane Capri has learned while serving on the board of the International Thriller Writers
  • Ruth Cardello's tips for becoming a successful author
  • How Melody Anne got started as an author, and why she loves this job. "If somebody ticks me off I get to kill them in my series! So my life is awesome."
  • Raine Miller's tips for translating your novels
  • Why Michelle A. Valentine works with a literary agent
  • How HM Ward manages to write over books per month. “I always have multiple books in the pipeline at a time. So I’ll come up with an idea and I’ll start a book, and then when I’m not really feeling it anymore I put it down and then I pick up something else.”
  • Why CC MacKenzie joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
  • Steena Holmes describing what ALLi has taught her about marketing to a UK audience
  • Chris Keniston's "pantser" writing method
  • What Fabio Bueno has learned while writing from both male and female perspectives in his SINGULARITY series
  • How Lee Strauss found her German translator
  • Rebecca Donovan's thoughts on working with a traditional publisher, Grand Central. She's also heavily involved in the production process turning her BREATHING series into a movie

The KWL team is always on the road attending writer's conferences and publishing events, so Christine lists off just a few that we have coming up in the next few months. We hope we'll have the chance to meet you in person soon!

Direct download: LBF2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:50am PDT