Introducing Red Door Reads and WHO’S BEN SKREWD?

Who is Ben Skrewd? Who is Red Door Reads for that matter, you might be wondering. The 21 bestselling authors who make up Red Door Reads offer romance in all flavors and genres – contemporary, historical, YA, western, sports, etc. – with new releases popping up and topping the charts all the time. So that’s Red Door Reads. Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 3.09.04 PM

But WHO’S BEN SKREWD? Well, that’s a little bit of a story. You see, last year, a number of the Red Door authors met at the RWA National Conference for a chance to bond in person vs. online. This group of ladies were discussing what sort of project they could do as a group. They didn’t want to do a holiday theme or something that had been done already, but they did want something universal. Someone posed the loaded question, “So who’s Ben Skrewd?” Though, in all honesty, it might not have been spelled the same way. Or maybe it was. After all, the question wasn’t written down, but posed verbally. But we digress… Red Door Reads 'Ben Skrewd' Novella Banner

Anyway, after a few chuckles, we all realized that everyone has had the feeling of “Ben Skrewd” at one point or another in their life. Story ideas began to flow, and it didn’t take long for half of the Red Door authors to decide to take those story ideas and create a novella series like no other. There are 11 different novellas in the collection, and it is comprised of stories set in 19th Century England to present day Milwaukee and Ireland. Heroes who are cops and some who are aristocratic lords. Heroines who slay demons and some who see ghosts.

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Each novella is as different and diverse as our membership, but each story has two things in common. One – A red door on each cover outside, and Two – a mysterious character named Ben Skrewd somewhere on the pages inside. And, of course, the novellas can be found here at Kobo. Naturally.

We have had such a great time working on this project together and might be planning something surrounding a certain unscrupulous beach house owner – though that’s another story for another day. Do stay tuned, however.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll all be able to join us as we celebrate the launch of WHO’S BEN SKREWD? For a short period of time, each Who’s Ben Skrewd novella is on sale for $0.99.

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And beginning this afternoon (April 15th at 2:00pm Central Time) we start celebrating our launch with a Facebook release party. (Confetti is most definitely allowed.) There will be all sorts of prizes/giveaways and the opportunity to talk to your favorite Red Door authors. Please join us – https://www.facebook.com/events/798282543534467/

Also starting today, we’re sponsoring slightly different kind of contest that runs through April 22nd. Each Ben Skrewd novella author has hidden a silhouette of “Ben” somewhere on our websites. Can YOU find all of the missing Bens? If so, submit your answers Here – for a chance to win an iPad mini!

 

 

Without further ado…

The Red Door Reads ‘Who’s Ben Skrewd?’ Novella Series – click each link below to buy the eBooks on kobo.com!

Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness by Deb Marlowe, A Half Moon House Series Novella

 Hexed by Andris Bear, A Deadly Sins Novella

Dances with Demons by Lori Handeland, A Phoenix Chronicles Novella

Firebird by Linda Winstead Jones, A Columbyana Novella

In the Stars by Ava Stone, A Regency Encounter Novella

Her Muse, Lord Patrick by Jane Charles, A Muses Novella

 

Opening Up To Indie Authors

When The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) was founded in 2012, the idea was to create an association that not only provided education, support and promotion for self-published authors — but also to campaign on their behalf. The Open Up to Indie Authors campaign is our latest author advocacy programme, aimed at book fairs and conferences, award bodies and libraries, festival and event organisers, retailers and reviewers, and anyone who acts as a bridge between writer and reader.

And at self-publishing writers too.

Such author-publishers have now proven their commercial and creative worth. Many ALLi members have sold more than 100,000 copies, and some have sold millions. They are also publishing books of niche reader interest and outstanding literary quality too.

Agents and publishers are waiting in the wings to jump on the latest self-published hit but if we look to the wider world of books, we see self-publishing writers largely excluded on dubious grounds.

Which is where our Open Up to Indie Authors campaign comes in. Our aim is to challenge and debunk some of the popular myths that may stop players like libraries, reviewers, bookstores, festivals and prizes from embracing self-published work. And to provide ways they can incorporate self-publishing into their shelves and schedules.

Take the often mooted “problem” of discoverability, the idea that the number of books published has grown to such slush-pile proportions that it’s hard to discover good books among bad. Unpicking this argument takes but a simple change of mindset: from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking; from commercial imperatives to creative.

Trade publishing has long worked from a scarcity model, grounded in commercial principles. Now we write and read within an abundance model, grounded in creative principles.

In an abundance model, excess and redundancy are no cause for concern.  It is true self-publishing is enabling more poor-quality books to be published than ever before but what’s important in an abundance model is not how many bad books are enabled — they quickly fall out of visibility — but how many good books are enabled.

The fears surrounding discovery often come from those who are invested in an older order, who don’t seem to understand how it now works for readers, who are increasingly buying and researching books online. Online algorithms are very effective — and getting better. Book search through categories and keywords offer tailored discovery that is far more nuanced than browsing a bookstore.

Readers can access book descriptions, independent reader reviews, and samples before they decide to buy. In short, good books are actually easier to find than they have ever been.

And when viewed through a creative, rather than critical or commercial lens, we see a publishing world that is colourful and chaotic and kaleidoscopic and all the richer for it. The challenge here is not so much discoverability, it’s actually enabling the publishing industry to acknowledge and reflect that truth.

The Open Up to Indie Authors campaign includes a petition, a hashtag (#PublishingOpenUp), lobbying of the industry, education seminars and a guidebook,

The guidebook Opening Up to Indie Authors by Debbie Young, ALLi’s blog editor, and Dan Holloway, an ALLi community builder, aims to do three things:

  • equip self-published authors with the information and attitude they need to collaborate successfully with other players in the books and literary ecosystem.
  • tackle the challenges of incorporating self-published books into literary organisations and events.
  • raise awareness of the high quality and professional standards offered by the best self-publishing authors — and encourage their inclusion.

Opening+Up+To+Indie+Authors The guidebook is the first of its kind and the launch marks another publishing first for The Alliance of Independent Authors. In association with Kobo Writing Life, the self-publishing wing of Kobo Books, and harnessing their links with retail partner bookstores all over the world, we are simultaneously launching this guide in bookstores around Europe, the US and Canada as well as across the UK and Ireland.

To be able to work with Kobo Writing Life (KWL) is a publishing pleasure, and has allowed ALLi to launch our campaign on an unprecedented scale.

We greatly admire the close links Kobo has fostered with their global retail network and directly with people like you; and their ability to transcend the borders of online and off. We see in Kobo a huge success story of how the industry does not need to be divided and how we all benefit when seemingly disparate strands are brought together.

Come to our launch: If you are attending London book fair we’d like to invite you to the launch at the Kobo Booth, Earl’s Court 2 on Tuesday 8th April, 2.00pm, where you can purchase copies of our guidebook, Opening Up To Indie Authors, with 50% off.

Find us at Author HQ (at London Book Fair), on Tuesday 8th April, from 1:00 –2:00 pm, where Diego Marano, Kobo Writing Life Manager, UK, will lead a conversation with Orna Ross, Founder & Director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and author Ben Galley entitled “Breaking through. What independent authors know about reaching readers.”

  • Join ALLi If you are a self-published author, we’d like to invite you to join ALLi so you can avail of this opportunity.
  • Read An Indie Author: If you are a reader, we look forward to bringing you an exciting range of books in all genres through this campaign.
  • Sign Our Petition: Finally, if you agree that all other things being equal, a self-published book should be treated equally, we’d like to invite you to sign our petition: .

 

 

KWL Director Chats With Joanna of The Creative Penn Podcast

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KWL Director Mark Lefebvre is a guest on the latest episode (Episode 178) of The Creative Penn podcast hosted by author and professional speaker Joanna Penn.

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Joanna and Mark at the Kobo booth at London Book Fair 2013

You can listen to the podcast online, download the mp3 directly or listen to it through your favourite podcaster (iTunes, etc). If you haven’t listened to Joanna’s amazing podcast, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour by checking it out. And the great news is that there are over 175 episodes to listen to on all kinds of amazing topics that writers will benefit from. The video of the interview appears here for your convenience if you prefer to watch it online.

Joanna is also part of an amazing bundle with 11 other authors, and it’s called Deadly Dozen.  It has hit the USA Today Bestseller list and is currently trending in the #2 and #3 spots at Kobo Canada for sMystery & Suspense / International Thrillers and Mystery & Suspense / Police Procedural respectively.  The bundle is still only 99 cents (as of March 6, 2014) but will be going up to the regular price of $9.99 USD soon.

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Kobo Canada screen shot of Deadly Dozen, a collection of mysteries and thrillers by J.F. Penn and 11 other amazing authors.

Check out Joanna’s books (Written as J.F. Penn) at Kobo.

Indies for Indies: My Partnership with My Local Bookstore

By Robert L. Slater

Bellingham, Washington, has as many bookstores as many small towns have churches and bars. You can literally have a top ten… I frequent many of them, but the one I know best has become a great friend—Village Books. VB did a lot for me as a reader and community member. I saw Terry Brooks, Neal Stephenson, and many more folks at VB events.

As a customer in their original location, an old building in underdeveloped Fairhaven, I joined their Reader Rewards Club.  Every year on your birthday month, club members receive a coupon for a discounted book, your age up to 39 as a percentage discount, and a cup of coffee. Eventually the costs of maintaining an awesome local brick and mortar bookstore took their toll and everyone got 25% off no matter what their age. In addition, at 20 purchases customers get a cash voucher for the average price of those books. I’m a cheap and careful shopper, so mine was never big, but always more exciting than the free haircut or coffee punch card.

Village Books offers customers a savvy reminder they have access to Kobo’s giant catalog of eBooks.

Village Books offers customers a savvy reminder that they can access Kobo’s giant catalog of eBooks. Learn more here!

Over the last year VB became more of a place to go see ‘friends.’ The past year has been a series of synchronicitous events in my writing. I wrote my third novel for NANOWRIMO 2012. Soon after I opened an email from Village Books announcing a Speculative Fiction Writer’s Group. I went and met Paul Hansen, their General Manager. He read from his own work in progress. Two weeks later, I returned and soon volunteered to manage the group mailing list and reminders.  I met other local writers, now  friends, whom I hope to see in print someday.

Then I was chosen with five other writers to write a Speculative Fiction Serial Story for the local newspaper, The Bellingham Herald, set in Bellingham 100 years in the future. One of the first questions from editor, Dean Kahn, was, “Do you want to read at Village Books?” I wholeheartedly agreed. My theatre background would come in handy. When Dean had to opt out, I stepped in to be master of ceremonies.

The evening came. I dressed for success, imagining what a professional writer might wear and say and do. We went from empty to a crowd in minutes. Sam Kaas, another fabulous VB employee, introduced us and we were off. The evening went well. I handed out postcard promos for my collection: Outward Bound, (already on Kobo) and for my soon to be released debut: All Is Silence. New folks signed up for my mailing list. I thanked Sam. He asked for some cards and asked if I would like to be featured in an eBook newsletter as a local author using Kobo. Of course, I said yes.

All Is Silence by Robert L. Slater

All Is Silence by Robert L. Slater

As a local teacher at Windward High School, I partnered with Village Books in printing WHS’ first annual book of poetry, art and fiction, Whispers in the Wind, using their Espresso Book Machine [EBM]. When it came time to talk about publishing my own book I knew I wanted to partner locally if I could. My initial plan was to have Village Books print my Advanced Reader Copies [ARCs] using the EBM, but unfortunately, the EBM had become unavailable. Brendan Clark, the ever-helpful arm of Village Books’ publishing forays, told me cryptically that I should wait and see what else was in the works.

I had done my homework. I had a plan. VB would print ARCs, then pro-printing with Lightning Source. When I sat down with Brendan and talked about my vision, it turned out what was in the works was a VB partnership with Lightning Source to print books. Turnaround time was longer, but the book cost was better for short runs. Best of all, Brendan Clark would be my go between with Lightning Source.  When I printed 500 copies, the books would be more expensive than going with Lightning Source direct, but only by about 8%. That trade off was perfect. I could partner with Village Books, get the quality I wanted without LS’ legendary lack of author-friendly support. That 8% into my local community and the extra help made it an absolute win-win.

When I got the call from Village Books that my ARCs had arrived, VB personnel and patrons ooed and ahhed as I grinned like a monkey and set my book on the shelf to see what it would look like. The cover wasn’t quite popping so Brendan changed to high gloss for the second set of ARCs. When they came in, the cover popped!

Author Robert Slater promotes All Is Silence at the KWL-sponsored Village Books event in January 2014.

Author Robert L. Slater promotes All Is Silence at a KWL-sponsored Village Books event in January 2014.

I worked on getting final edits in and my cover artist made adjustments. My goal was to have people’s jaws drop when I told them it was self-published. After sending off the ‘final’ edits, I settled into all the other prep work for releasing a book. Then I got an email from Sam. Would I be interested in doing an ePublishing workshop with Kobo? Sure. I had been trying to get All Is Silence uploaded as an ePub to Kobo, and was having issues—too much specialized formatting. So Sam connected me to Mark Lefebvre at Kobo, the main speaker at the workshop. Mark helped me through the process, even purchasing a copy for himself after getting hooked!  The workshop with Mark was great, Paul and Brendan and Sam were great. We had a great crowd and lots of questions.

Mark helped me set up a special pricing deal on a card for the eBook leading up to release of my print book and connect readers to VB eBook opportunities. We gave it out to workshop attendees, Mark took some on the road with him and Sam kept some at VB. Soon, I hit #7 on Kobo’s Young Adult Dystopian Fiction Bestsellers and, for a very short time, #3 behind Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Insurgent on the Young Adult Science Fiction list. [I have the picture to capture the moment.]

My partnership with VB led to many unforeseen benefits. Rumor had it that one major retailer would not allow pre-orders on self-published books. The only way around it was to create a seller’s account and cough up $30 for set up. Because I partnered with VB, and through them Lightning Source and Ingram’s, my book was up for presale internationally on that major retailer for no extra charge. It also got me into the local library system early. I have more books being requested than they have in stock. It’s a great start.

KWL Director Mark Lefebvre presents a workshop on digital publishing alongside Rob Slater at Village Books.

KWL Director Mark Lefebvre presents a workshop on digital publishing alongside Rob Slater at Village Books.

Now my book is in Village Books. They’ll be hosting a novel release party with me on March 14th and after that… who knows. What did I do to get so lucky? When I picked up the first batch of my print books, Paul Hanson told me, “When you first came in you said, ‘What can I do to help?’”

So, writers, ask not what your bookstore can do for you [the answer is plenty], but ask what you can do for your bookstore. Be professional. Communicate warmly, openly and politely. Get off the broken record of “buy my book, buy my book,” and make friends, find partners, and buy books at your local brick and mortar bookstore.

Visit Robert’s website.

All Is Silence on Kobo.

Outward Bound on Kobo.

Learn more about Kobo’s partnership with indie bookstores here and here.

A Writer’s Conference for the Independently Minded

In just a couple of days, IndieReCon will return to the web and Kobo Writing Life is delighted to be a sponsor! 
IndieReCon 2014, in its second year, is a free online writer’s conference dedicated to indie publishing. That’s right. It’s free. And you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home to attend and benefit from all the great content. You can attend right from home in your jammies, if you like.

Last year with over 10,000 visitors, IndieReCon was awesome with chats and giveaways and days of helpful and pertinent information. 

This year will be even bigger and better!

To kick it off, keynote speakers, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, will host a 2-hour chat to talk about The Evolving Indie Industry and Standing out in the Pile and then entertain live questions.

You’ll also discover insider secrets from representatives from Kobo, Smashwords, Amazon and Goodreads, and learn how to write fast, try your hand at serials, work with other authors to maximize your marketing efforts and much, much more.  Kobo Writing Life‘s Mark Lefebvre will be providing insights on maximizing your sales at Kobo (Thurs Feb 27th at  11 AM EST) as well as Kobo’s engagement with indie bookstores and other bookstore partners (Thurs Feb 27th at 8:00 PM EST).

Indie ReCon will have contests and tons of giveaways including two KOBO eReaders! (That alone is worth the price of admission. Oh wait, admission is FREE – and have we mentioned that you don’t need to leave your home to attend?)

Click here for the top 15 reasons on why you should register. (We’re kind of partial to reason number 9)

Our other special speakers include:

Rachel Aaron 
Micahel Alvear
Angela Ackerman
Peter Bowerman (The Well-Fed Writer)
Margaret Brown (Shelf Unbound)
Patrick Brown (Goodreads)
Chelsea Cameron
Ali Cross 
Lori Culwell
Amy Edelman (IndieReader)
David Gaughran 
Chelsea Fine
Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer)
The Indelibles
S.R. Johannes 
C.S. Lakin
Martha Carr
Jim Kukral (Author Marketing Club)
Bob Mayer 
Joanna Penn
Sean Platt
Susan Kaye Quinn 
Orna Ross (ALLI founder)
Miral Sattar (BiblioCrunch)
K.P. Simmon (InkSlinger PR)
Johnny B. Truant
Alicia Vancil
David Vandagriff (The Passive Guy)
David Wright
RaShelle Workman

Check out the schedule, speaker bios, and awesome sponsors.

We’ll see you at IndieReCon Feb 25-27! (Okay we won’t really see you. That’s just an expression. So if you want to check it out from the comfort of your PJs, go ahead. We won’t be peeking)

Shelf Help Podcast – Episode 001 with Ben Galley

What is self-publishing? What are its benefits? In the first episode of The Shelf Help Guide to Self-Publishing, author Ben Galley discusses why you should go indie, and explains how he can help you publish your book.

A TRULY COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO PUBLISHING Ben Galley Book Cover

Confused and bamboozled by the wide world of self-publishing? Written a book but have no idea how to get it onto shelves? Disillusioned by traditional publishing and want something better? Well, you’re in the right place. Shelf Help is the brand new and comprehensive guide to becoming a professional indie author.

This forthcoming handy little pocket guide will tell you in great detail exactly how to go from manuscript to royalty cheque. With Shelf Help, you’ll learn how to self-publish the DIY way – retaining all your rights, royalties, and utter creative control whilst keeping it cheap, quick, and above all, professional.

UnknownAt 26, Ben Galley is a young self-published author from sunny England. He is the author of the epic and gritty fantasy series – The Emaneska Series. He has published four books to date, and doesn’t intend to stop any time soon.

Ben is incredibly zealous about inspiring other authors and writers. He runs the popular advice site Shelf Help, where he offers advice about writing, publishing, and marketing.

If you want to know more, Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley) or at his website – www.bengalley.com.

From Molière to Shakespeare: how I translated my book from French to English

It all started in June 2012, when someone suggested that I sell my book in digital: the one I wrote almost 10 years earlier. A month later, on July 13th exactly, Six Faces was on sale at Kobo, thanks to the incredible tool called Kobo Writing Life.

A few months later and after hitting the Kobo’s TOP 50 in France a couple of times, I thought that I shouldn’t stop there. After talking with friends, I decided to translate it into English. The main reason was the following:  the eBook market in English is more developed than the French one, and more English-speaking people are fans of fantasy books. So it was settled.

The first step was probably the toughest. How to find a good translator? I’ve worked in publishing for years, so I know a lot of them, but they translate from English to French. Not very useful in my case.

Fortunately, I work in an amazing worldwide company. I just asked one my coworkers if she knew some people. And she did. She introduced me to Madeline Coxwell (her pen name), and we hit it off almost instantly. Madeline is a French teacher and a big fan of fantasy. She was just perfect for the role. And, as a piece of advice, I think it’s really important to look for someone who’s not only able to translate your work, but also who has the right sensitivity with the genre you’re writing in. And believe me, it helped a lot.

Second step:  Settle the deal and make a schedule.   The fact I’ve worked in publishing helped me a lot with creating a schedule – so we came up with an accurate schedule about the delivery of each chapter. Usually, translations are reviewed by the editor. But I’m a self-published author, so basically, I am my own editor, so I did review the work.

Because we both work full-time elsewhere, the translation itself took about a year to complete.

Luckily, my English was good enough to go through the whole process. I can also confess that I laughed while re-reading my book. A lot. So I was glad to figure out three things: 1) the translator is really good; 2) my English is better than I thought; and 3) the book is actually funny. Or maybe I laugh too easily, which could well be the case.

So basically, the process was: she translated the chapter. I reviewed it. We had some back-and-forth about it and then we moved to the next chapter. At the end of the process, she ran through the whole book to edit it. We also sent the final version to some English-speaking friends so they could take a look.

All told, the cost was an initial fee (around $2K), and then a small royalty on each sale.

My advice on this part: if you aren’t fairly fluent in the language you’re translating your book into, don’t even think about doing it without an editor.

The third step is finalizing some details. What about the title? The cover? Well, for me it was easy. Funnily, the title of the book is the same in French and in English. Can you believe it? So, yes, “Six Faces” is both an English and a French title. Nailed it.

Six Faces by

Six Faces by Esteban Bogasi

For the cover, well, as the title was the same, I decided to keep the same one too. It’s a great fantasy-style cover designed by a friend of mine using a drawing of another friend, a professional artist. Oh, right, another piece of advice: make sure to choose your friends well.

The fourth step was to upload it on Kobo Writing Life. It takes 5 minutes, and 1 or 2 days later, it’s on sale. Worldwide. I also made it available on other platforms.

The fifth step is the coolest one. Becoming a millionaire. So I’m just waiting now. OK, maybe I should actually work on my promotion plan. Getting in touch with bloggers, getting reviews, spreading the word on social networks… But maybe that’s another story.

Now, to the question: “Will I seek to translate into other languages, too?”  It’s too soon to tell. I would have to research the market for my genre in other languages and countries. Plus, this time, I’d have to work with an editor as I won’t be able to review the book myself. It’s a whole different process. I guess, as a self-published author, you need to be aware of the work that goes into this. Adding a third person to the equation and you’re turning yourself into a real publishing house. Think about it. But, well, why not?

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About the Author

sebastien bagoEsteban Bogasi is a French author of fantasy literature whose first book, Six Faces (English, French), is a humorous and offbeat fantasy novel. He has also published in French several short novels, including the parody-horror series 7 Shades of Zombie.

Following an education in science, he worked as editor for many years before moving to the digital publishing world where he finds himself today.

As a lover of fantastic and wacky universes, and an admirer of author Terry Pratchett, he naturally came to writing by combining two of his passions: epic adventure and humorous parody.

Infinite Shades of Grey: The Promise and Peril of Self-Publishing in the UK

The following is a visual and audio presentation (with full text included) of a talk that Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer at Kobo gave at FutureBook Conference.

Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer, Kobo

November 21, 2013

FutureBook Conference, London, UK

“You learn what kind of bookseller you are when confronted with a book that is both well-written and deeply obscene. Sadly, that almost never happens.” – October 14, 2013

“Is it bestiality if he turns from a dolphin into a human while they’re having sex?” – October 14, 2013

I’m Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer of Kobo. This is a long story and I have a short time to tell it all, so think of this as a haiku about self-publishing, its risks and rewards.

In some ways, the idea of self-publishing is like a dream. The ability to write your book, easily distribute it through retailers who are willing to make enormous investments in search and recommendations to help people find it, and reach an audience of millions of people who not only love to read but have declared that they are willing to pay to do so. It’s magic, really. It’s like some alternate reality version of the internet where writers actually get paid for writing. But it’s real. With real authors selling hundreds of thousands of copies. it is a major business for Kobo, with Kobo Writing Life authors representing 10-11% of unit sales globally and all self-published titles, including various aggregators representing 15% or more.

On October 12th, Kobo had a significant catalogue of self-published titles in the UK. Tens of thousands of authors and hundreds of thousands of titles, a thriving part of our UK business. Living the dream, as they say.

On October 14th, we had zero self-published titles available in the UK from zero authors and our 300-year-old retail partner had suspended their web presence.

Nine days later, it was back again. Almost all of it. What happened in between is part business case, part computer-science problem, an exploration of the challenges of gate-keeping vs. technological empowerment, curation vs. censorship. But really it’s about what it means to be a retailer, when a retailer is also a publisher, also a distributor, and all books are digital.

Our self-publishing catalog is made up of hundreds of thousands of titles.

It’s mostly fiction.

Of that fiction, much is romance.

Of that romance, some we have come to call “active romance”.

Kobo, like all retailers with a self-publishing arm, has a Terms of Use agreement for content that restricts the illegal and some topics that if not illegal, we don’t especially want in the store. Some authors, and some publishers using the self-publishing service, decided to ignore them.

When they do that, this is what happens.

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The result was, starting sometime on October we started to play something that seemed at times like the world’s least pleasant literary video game. It’s called “Eroticagate” and it starts like this.

  1. You have several million titles.
  2. An unknown number of them contain sexual content, suggestive words or adult themes.
  3. Of those, a much much smaller number have sexual content that is against your Terms of Use.
  4. For both 2 and 3, some are well-labeled and categorized. Some are not.

Some are covered with highly descriptive keywords. Some are not. Some are mistakenly put into categories they shouldn’t be by inexperienced authors not familiar with subject codes. Some are intentionally put there to boost search results and the possibility of discovery.

All of the books that breach your terms are self-published. But some are publishers who are using author tools. And if you dig further, who knows what else you’ll find from publishers large and small.

And this is how you play:

  • If you remove all titles, you don’t have a business.
  • If you remove any titles, some people will consider you a censor.
  • If you remove all titles with sexual content, you are a censor.
  • If you don’t remove the smaller number that contravene your Terms of Use, bad PR and damage to your brand continues.
  • Every book you remove creates an angry author.
  • Every author you remove has a Twitter account.
  • Every journalist wants to find the worst title possible.

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Authors of contravening content have every economic incentive to try and get their titles back up any way they can, resubmitting blocked books with new titles, submitting books with innocuous titles and then changing them afterwards.

And even so, fundamentally, you believe that erotica and sexual content should be available.

And there is a time limit. Until you have found everything that shouldn’t be there, your partner’s site stays down because they are a deeply beloved, respectable, publicly traded 300-year-old high street retailer.

You don’t really win, you only don’t lose. And only to the extent you learn from it.

Trying to answer all of those questions and deal with all of those constraints is how you end up with self-published titles removed from our catalogue for nine days.

Because you quickly realize that to change from allowing everything to allowing “anything other than everything” is a leap of both incredible difficulty and ethical hazard.

This is a digital business, right? It should be easier with computers. But trying to automate a search like this is very difficult. It casts a net too wide and screen out books that don’t have anything to do with erotica or adult books that we don’t have a problem with.

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Regardless of how it gets done, this becomes about making choices and enacting them. It has to be an act of curation. But can one ever curate a four million title database? Is it folly to think that you could? But at some point, if the answer is anything other than allowing everything , someone has to decide. The decision may be based on a book jacket or a title. It may be on the structure of an algorithm and what it catches. Or based on the content itself. Or all of the above. And it touches every single book.

You instantly find that you are working with nearly infinite shades of grey. A hundred thousand nuanced decisions. And it’s grey because some authors want to walk as close to the line as possible. They take pride or find commercial reward or see artistic merit in doing so.

And every decision has two kinds of risk. Let the wrong book pass and you have the risk of alienating customers or bad press or breaking the law… But also the other risk, the greater danger, the possibility, however vanishingly small, that the book you are filtering out is the next Tropic of Cancer or Justine or Lolita.

And over all of it, the fear that, using words like “brand risk” and “community standards”, you could take on the smooth and reasonable tone of the censor.

(Although, I think it’s fair to say that if Nabokov had decided to call it “Barely Legal Step-Daughter Fantasies, Vol 4″ instead of Lolita, he might have had a harder time of it.

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Publishers historically have no problem saying no to books. Bricks-and-mortar retailers too. It’s tradition. The time-honoured role of the gatekeeper. Never enough shelves. Only so many books that can be published. Lots of perfectly good reasons to say no.

But self-publishing is different. The natural promise of self-publishing is “yes, everything”. Whatever you can imagine. Whatever your story is. Whatever you think could be shared. However good or bad or tin-foil-hat-crazy or non-traditional or deviant or artistically groundbreaking. That’s part of the dream. And every book removed feels like a small step away from that, even if for the best of reasons. Even to the title that makes you lose your faith in humanity or throw up in your mouth.

At one point, we had people in half a dozen countries working around the clock trying to get books back in as fast as possible. A hundred bizarre conversations. Is it bestiality if it’s sex with a shape shifter? What if both participants are supernatural? What is the age of consent in each territory we sell in? Does it matter if the character is in a coma and everything that takes place is happening in a dream? Is this book in or out?

Over and over.

And so over the course of a few days, most books were restored to the catalog. Almost everything. But not absolutely everything. Some were clearly against our guidelines. Worse, some were perfectly fine, but tangled up in collections of other books requiring one-at-a-time manual review. No books were ever removed from user’s libraries, but a relatively small number of titles were removed from sale.

Most authors were understanding. Some were angry. Some were loud. And they should be. In the physical world, to make a book go away is a big deal — you have to burn it or seize it at the border or confiscate if from a shop in a public, visual, galvanizing spectacle. But to de-list, to deactivate, to change a one to a zero, is silent and banal. We should be loud and we should ask why. Authors should give us and every other ebook retailer a hard time when it happens. Because it is so so so much easier now to make something disappear.

We are immensely relieved that self-published books are back in our UK catalog. There is still lots of work going on, lots of work still to be done — safe searching, inbound filtering, review, conversations with vendors, outreach to authors.

And we have grown up a bit. When the answer is anything other than “we carry everything”, you have to take a hard look at the kind of bookseller you want to be. What it means to have that role. And we have decided that the right place for us is probably right at the point where it no longer feels comfortable. With a clear view to the edge of the line. And we will shift that line and evolve it.

Authors will push us, will challenge boundaries, will go as far as they can go. And they should. And we will continue to grow into our role of curator. Every ebook retailer now has to wrestle with this. I’m here because we are willing to do some of it out loud, to acknowledge that choices are always being made, and be thoughtful about what they mean. And we will wrestle with the danger and significance of saying “No.” And push always for, and appreciate the power and promise of saying “Yes”

KWL is coming soon to a bookstore near you!

In the year since Kobo launched a partnership with the American Booksellers Association, independent bookstores across the US have been successfully selling Kobo eReaders and eBooks in-store and through their websites. The best part: as a reader, you can buy eBooks while still supporting your favorite local indie store. And KWL authors, you can encourage your fans to buy your eBooks directly through your local store’s website. Pretty awesome, right?

We want to take this relationship to the next level, so our US Manager for KWL, Christine Munroe, is organizing some amazing events at local bookstores in the coming months. First up:

Jan’s Paperbacks

  • Aloha, Oregon
  • Saturday, November 2
  • We’ll present an afternoon of informational sessions for readers, authors, and booksellers alike, followed by a special event at Jan’s Paperbacks, with book giveaways and a Kobo eReader drawing. Here’s a little preview of Jan’s Paperbacks in-store Kobo displays.

Kobo Device Display  eBookOnly at Jan's Display

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More events are coming soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here is more information on how you can share the eReading love with your local bookstore:

 

Christine couldn’t be happier to help connect indie bookstores, KWL authors, and Kobo readers (she is literally jumping for joy). She looks forward to meeting you at a bookstore event soon!

Christine is very excited about all this.

Christine is very excited about all this.

Top 50 sites for indie and self-published authors

Indie50_2If you’re not following the blog of author August Wainwright (first: why not?, and second: you should!), you may have missed his Indie 50 list, the fifty best sites for indie and self-published authors. What you’ll find there is a wealth of resources that’s truly invaluable.

The list is both searchable and fully sortable. You can sort by rank, alphabetically, or by category. There’s quite a bit of overlap for some sites as far as categories go, but I’ve attempted to put each site into 1 of 5 categories :

Self-Publishing, Writing Process, Resource, Social, and Industry/News.

Read the whole blog post to see his reasoning and criteria for the list, and make special note of item #25.

Visit August’s blog here.

Follow him on Twitter: @acwainwright

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