5 Ways to Optimize Your Crowdfunding Campaign

By Daniel Baylis

When I decided to publish my book (The Traveller) independently, I knew I would have to get serious about crowdfunding. The process of leveraging funds from my online community became a step in the publishing process that was as inherent as designing a book cover. Overall, my campaign was very successful, garnering more than 200% of my target goal. Why is that? Well, I applied a selection of key tactics to make sure my campaign would be successful.

Here are five lessons that I have learned about crowdfunding.

Start planning early. I began doing research into what makes a great crowdfunding campaign six weeks before I intended to launch my own. This entailed scouring other campaign pages, watching other videos, reading other writers’ campaign pitches, and analyzing how campaigners communicated their “rewards.” Then I essentially pillaged their ideas and drew up a shortlist of my favourites. If you want to go deeper, Indiegogo offers a Field Guide and Kickstarter offers a School. These tools are free. Use them.

Make an awesome video. If you don’t have the skills to do this yourself, hire someone. On most crowdfunding platforms, the first thing a potential funder will see is your video. Think of it as your storefront. A quality video will be worth the investment. Bonus tip: Keep it under three minutes — the Internet does not have time for wordiness.

Communicate creatively. On the first day of your campaign, you’re allowed to explicitly say “Please support my campaign!” But by Day 30, nobody in your network is going to want to hear your tired plea. You’ll need to spice it up. Try creating campaign-related content that had an implicit request for support. For instance, every few days I featured a photograph of funder and had them explain why they chose to support the campaign. Go ahead, steal my idea, but come up with your own, too!

Be realistic with your goal. It’s tempting to apply the old adage: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!” But when it comes to crowdfunding, that’s not the strategy you want to employ. Read these words: DON’T SHOOT FOR THE STARS. Ask for the amount that you feel absolutely confident you can get. If you reach that goal, be prepared to encourage additional funding with stretch goals — further objectives that communicate what you’ll do with more money. Remember that campaigns stay online forever. Your name will be attached to it. What type of cyber footprint do you want to create? I’ll answer that question for you: One that reeks of success.

Say “Thank You.” This might be an obvious one, but it needs to be highlighted. For every single funder that gave to my campaign — there were 253 people — I issued a personalized thank-you email. This might sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be a long note. A simple personalized acknowledgement goes a long way. Think of it this way: You’re not just selling a book; you’re building a personal brand. Care what people think of you.

daniel baylisDaniel Baylis is a writer and adventurer. In 2011, he spent the entire year travelling around the world, visiting a different country each month and engaging in a variety of volunteer positions. Upon returning to his homebase in Canada, Baylis wrote a book about his journey and crowdfunded many of the expenses of his book on Indiegogo. In September, his campaign was fully funded in less than three days and went on to earn more than 200% of the initial target goal. Baylis’ book, The Traveller: Notes from an Imperfect Journey Around the World, is now available on Kobo. He politely invites you to buy it — and read it.

A Story to Kill for: Writing Crime & Detective Fiction

By Victoria Salvas

Are your Twitter and Facebook feeds filling up with True Detective and Sherlock predictions? These hit series are just the latest detective stories to overtake mainstream media, but crime novels and detective fiction have been turning heads since the 17th century. The best detective writers have become household names and their stories have spawned star studded blockbuster films. Legends like Hammett, Conan Doyle, and Christie carved out the archetype of the style, which Larsson, Flynn and others have made their own in new and eerie ways.

If you’re inspired to write your own blood-soaked stumper, we’ve put together some guidelines and resources to get you on your way.

Writing Crime & Detective Fiction PhotoCreate an Original Central Character

A detective story is only as good as its detective. Before you begin, you should ask yourself; is this detective a veteran or will he/she discover and develop their talents over the course of the story? Do they answer to an overbearing chief?  Or are they a rogue acting on their own accord?

One thing that makes the expert detectives of crime fiction so fascinating is their ability to understand the human psyche on a level that the average person just can’t. However, the quirks that make them great at their jobs (and not to mention irresistible to members of the opposite sex) may also isolate them.

Martin Edwards, author of The Coffin Trail, stresses that writers remember that their characters don’t exist in a vacuum of the novel – they are living, breathing people. They change and can do unexpected things.

On that note – it’s best if your detective uses actual science and reasoning to crack the case instead of intuition, spirits, or ‘acts of God.’

Construct Authentic Crime Scenes

Whether your sleuth is a novice or a vet – your crime must be extremely complex in order to keep the reader entertained. When planning the crime, keep in mind it should be something sufficiently violent, yet believable.

No one knows crime better than real cops, as Joanna Penn learns from her guest blogger, retired RCMP homicide detective (turned novelist), Gary Rodgers. Rodgers has become a resource for tips on how to create the perfect crime. This a must read blog post if you are a gumshoe crime writer.

As with any fiction – it is crucial to hook the reader early.  Nothing is more captivating to readers than a gruesome, complex, and seemingly unsolvable crime. Try to get to it within the first three chapters.

Know the Genre and Read Widely

Why?  Because PD James says so! In an interview with BBC News, James, who’s been publishing detective fiction for nearly 50 years, stressed the importance of knowing what’s out there and what’s been done before writing. Read the classics (Cornwell, James, Rankin) and then find out everything you can on what’s new and upcoming in the genre.

Choose a Good Setting

If you close your eyes and imagine a particular setting, it can be a multi-sensory experience; a well of emotions, memories. Imagine the soggy streets of London, a quiet New England town, the neon lights of Hong Kong. This is always a good exercise at the beginning of your writing process, and if you ever find yourself stuck along the way.

The Who’s Who of Whodunit

Start your research with some of these classics and up-and-comers:

Edgar Allen Poe Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1852)

Arthur Conan Doyle The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

Graham Greene Brighton Rock (1938)

Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep (1939)

PD James A Taste for Death (1986)

Gillian Flynn Gone Girl (2012)

Dennis Lehane Live by Night (2012)

Alexander Soderberg The Andalucian Friend (2013)

Joe Nesbø Police (2013)

KWL Director Chats With Joanna of The Creative Penn Podcast


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.


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.


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)

Here’s The Secret To Self-Publishing Success: Do The Work

When Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre has been speaking to authors lately, he has regularly recommended they all check out a great new book.

writepublishrepeatWrite. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant & David Wright is a solid and well-rounded book that outlines what it takes to be successful in self-publishing,” Lefebvre says.  “One of the things I love best about this book is that it doesn’t make false promises. Instead, the authors repeat (and it definitely bears repeating) the fact that making a living off of writing takes a LOT of work, a lot of hard work. And that it takes time. And patience. Their book beautifully illustrates this through the authors’ own examples.”

Lefebvre has mentioned this book during recent talks to author groups in the east in Toronto and New York and in the west in cities such as  Seattle, Portland and Colorado Springs. He says he’ll likely continue to mention that authors read this book because it offers a comprehensive look at one simple fact; that there is no secret trick, except for writing a great book and keeping at it.

“When I talk to writers,” Lefebvre says, “I usually offer what I call The Three P’s of Self-Publishing Success.  Patience, Practice and Persistence. Keep writing, every day and never stop working at becoming better at the craft. Hang in there, because this isn’t a short-term game, but a long one that takes time, a lot of time.  And one of the best ways to sell your first book is to write your next book rather than losing time focusing on how to sell and market your first book.  Your target audience, if you understand who they are, takes time to grow; and the best thing you can give them is more great writing. These guys get it, and that’s part of the book’s main message. The message is that there is no secret or trick. There is strategy, for sure, but this book isn’t about tactics or gimmicks. It preaches an important element consistent in self-publishing success stories. Do the work.”

A writer himself, Lefebvre has read dozens of books on the craft and business of writing and publishing.  “And this one goes to the top of the list for relevant content,” he says.  But he’s not the only advocate. The book has been well received around the world. J.F. Penn (speaker, mastermind behind the amazing writer resource The Creative Penn and author of The Arkane Thrillers says:  “I’ve read a lot of books about writing, and this one stands out as being both practical and aspirational.”  Speaker, editor and thought leader Jane Friedman says, “It’s tough to find more honest and straight-forward marketing advice than what you’ll get from these indie authors.”

Lefebvre interviewed both Platt & Wright (who have written multiple serialized thrillers such as Yesterday’s Gone and Available Darkness) as well as Truant (author of Fat Vampire and co-author with Platt of The Beam) for the Kobo Writing Life Podcast in Episode 3 and Episode 8 respectively. Lefebvre jokes that while The Self-Publishing Podcast that Truant, Platt & Wright host (which Lefebvre is a fan of) is definitely not safe for work due to some four letter words the three occasionally pepper in their impassioned discussions about writing and publishing, “the guys all managed kept it clean and 100% on topic for the KWL interviews”)

Check out Write. Publish. Repeat at Kobo.

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?


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.

Meet the winner of KWL’s Social Savvy Author contest

beachHello from the windblown snowy east coast of Canada – Summerside, Prince Edward Island!

My name is Susan Rodgers – as the winner of the Kobo Writing Life Social Savvy Author contest, I’m bursting with excitement! I won a social media mentorship with Kathy Meis, Founder and President of Serendipite Studios, creators of Bublish, a new social media platform where book bubbles provide authors the opportunity to publish book excerpts alongside personal insights.

My gallop through the daunting world of social media has been illuminating, fascinating, sometimes overwhelming and, above all, inspiring. I was feeling discouraged and unsure about how to move forward with the marketing of my ebooks.  I did the usual big mailing list and then the small mailing list, created a Facebook page, and ground to a halt.

Kathy Meis came on board with a wealth of knowledge and a ‘you-can-do-it’ attitude. She took the time to make a personal call to ascertain my level of knowledge in the ebook and social media world, and then between emails and two in-depth sessions on GoTo Meetings, she dove in headfirst and started some comprehensive training. She even gave me homework!

My shiny new website still needs a few tweaks, but I wouldn’t have had the nerve or made the time to create it without Kathy’s confidence and support. By comparing the whole social media world to a wagon wheel with spokes and a central hub, Kathy made a visual learner like myself realize the importance of an author website. My site is now my central hub.  Each spoke radiating from it is an aspect of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, etc. “All roads should lead back to your website,” encouraged Kathy.

Twitter has been a blast to learn and negotiate. I had an existing account but had no idea of Twitter’s power. Kathy took me through the platform step by step, starting with the presentation of a consistent image / presence featuring my books that should be reflected on all of my social media sites.  I am now committed to Hootsuite, I’ve learned how to find new ‘follows’ via Twitter lists, I’ve created a calendar to schedule regular marketing themes and, most of all, I am dedicated to a daily 20/20/20 rule of (1) research, (2) actively marketing across all platforms, and (3) live chats / interactions.

joshMy marketing now features my growing library of digital images (because more people respond to images than written posts / tweets) and I have committed to blogging on a scheduled day each week.

By far the most fun I am having is creating book bubbles on Bublish.  How often do authors get the opportunity to share their own insights with readers? And isn’t that what we authors love most – talking about our characters, our stories, our inspirations? Best of all, once created, my pretty little book bubbles are simple to tweet or post on Facebook.

Am I seeing an increase in sales? Not yet, but my burgeoning social media savvy is still brand new. I’m enjoying some amazing reviews for my Drifters series, and on my story A Certain Kind of Freedom. One reviewer compared my writing to Hitchcock – after I had a good laugh (I am no Hitchcock!), I immediately thought about Kathy’s teachings and how I can maximize the impact of this review.

Kathy has given me the gift of empowerment. I am now taking an active role in the marketing of my books. Yes, it takes discipline and time and, as a self-employed struggling filmmaker with two part time jobs to keep me afloat, I am very busy. But I need to follow up with what I’ve learned – because I can, because I now understand how the social media marketing cogs turn.

I want to evolve into writing full time so I can enjoy mystical east coast sunsets from my trailer on the beach next summer, and for many summers to come. It’s hard to picture that now as yet another snowstorm swirls outside my window, but eventually the snow will melt and my guy and I will drag our kayaks out instead of the snowblower I can now hear trundling up and down the laneway. And, because of Kathy Meis’ gentle teachings and Kobo’s Social Savvy Author contest, I will rock social media and continue to strategically develop my brand as an author.

Thank you Kathy Meis, and thank you Kobo Writing Life!


About the Author

susan rodgersWriter and filmmaker Susan Rodgers has been blessed by the opportunity to reside in serene Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. A Finalist in the 2011 Atlantic Writing Awards for her as yet unpublished first novel, A Certain Kind of Freedom, she is currently receiving rave reviews for a short story excerpt from that book as well as for her recent Drifters book series.

She augments her career with client films as well as a part time job at a local box office with the plan in mind to one day work full time as a writer.

Visit her website!

Like her Facebook page!

Follow her on Twitter!

Find her on Bublish!

And of course, check out her books on Kobo:

A Song for Josh


No Greater Love

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.


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.


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.


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.


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”

Helping you promote your books: KWL and PW Select

pw selectKobo Writing Life has launched an affiliate program with PW Select, a monthly digital and print magazine focusing on independently-published books.  For $129 (regularly $149), KWL authors can submit a title to PW Select.  In return, they’ll receive:

  • A guaranteed listing in the online and print editions of PW Select
  • A free six-month digital subscription to PW Select and Publishers Weekly (regular price: $104)
  • And the title will be eligible to be selected for a review in the online and print edition of PW Select.

Publishers Weekly is a news magazine covering the publishing business and offers reviews of upcoming titles. PW Select extends that news coverage and reviews to the self-publishing world, helping the independent author get more exposure and offering marketing potential.

“One of the most common questions we receive from writers is, ‘How can you help promote my book?’” said Mark Lefebvre, Director of KWL. “I’m thrilled to offer our authors this option and at a reduced price. I applaud PW for their inclusive approach to self-publishing, and hope KWL authors will take advantage of this opportunity to be reviewed by PW editors.”

Cevin Bryerman, publisher of Publishers Weekly, says, “PW Select’s directory of self-published titles functions as a discoverability tool that, along with the self-help articles, benefits self-published authors trying to promote their books.”

“Self-published authors have to be creative in promoting their books not only to consumers but also to the industry. PW Select is pleased to offer one more option in helping self-published authors succeed,” says Adam Boretz, Publishers Weekly reviews editor and editor of PW Select.

For more information and registrations forms, visit PW Select, and register with the promotion code 7KOBO.


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