#237 – Master KWL Promotions with Kobo Strategist Shayna Krishnasamy

Kobo Writing Life’s very own Shayna Krishnasamy joins us on the podcast this week to discuss all things promotions. Shayna is the Author Relations and Promotions Strategist for KWL, and she not only manages our promotions tab, but she also helped create it!

Kobo Writing Life’s very own Shayna Krishnasamy joins us on the podcast this week to discuss all things promotions. Shayna is the Author Relations and Promotions Strategist for KWL, and she not only manages our promotions tab, but she also helped create it! Shayna tells us how the promo tab came to be, how authors can best utilize the promos we run, and what authors should do if they’re rejected from a promo.

If you would like the promotion tab enabled on your KWL dashboard, email us at writinglife@kobo.com.

  • Shayna tells us about her career at Kobo, which was called Shortcovers when she started twelve years ago, and she discusses the advent of KWL and the KWL promo tab
  • She tells us the best way for authors to use the promo tab, including trying new promotions and new price points, and checking the tab frequently for new opportunities
  • Shayna explains why authors should let us know when they have other promo opportunities, such as Bookbubs, or if they have great ideas for new promos to run
  • She talks about the most common reasons books are rejected from promotions, and why having a professional cover design can help you avoid these rejections
  • Shayna gives some tips for pricing your books on Kobo, trying out different price drops, and optimizing your prices for our global market
  • When she’s not the master of the promo tab, Shayna is also a hybrid author, and she tells us how she got into indie publishing and what has surprised her most about the indie publishing industry

Useful Links
Shayna’s Website
Book of Negroes
Never Have I Ever
Late Night
Mindy Kaling and Kamala Harris Cooking Show

Shayna Krishnasamy loves a good chilling tale in any form, be it whispered around the campfire—or fireplace. She’s not actually going camping where there are bugs—or on the big screen—though some report she covers her eyes during the truly gruesome parts (unverified).

​Shayna has had grisly stories published in Geist and The Fiddlehead. She writes teen and literary novels as well as new adult romance novels under the pseudonym Lola Rooney.

Shayna lives in Montreal with her husband and son, where she jumps when someone knocks on the door too loud (allegedly).

For more information about Kobo’s audiobooks subscription program, visit http://www.kobo.com/kwlpodcast

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by SpeechPad

Stephanie: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Stephanie.

Joni: And I’m Joni.

Stephanie: This week on the podcast we are talking to KWL’s author relations and promotion strategist Shayna.

Joni: Shayna is our resident expert when it comes to merchandising and promoting titles. She loves to discover new authors with fantastic books and help them to succeed and she also comes to the job with a unique perspective. She’s a writer herself, has several books self-published, and a nonfiction co-write with Dundurn Press.

Stephanie: So, she talked to us about how authors can make Kobo writing life promotions work for them and the different ways and approaches that they should approach our promotions tool in trying to get the most sales on Kobo as they can. It’s a short but sweet episode we think, so here it is.

Stephanie: Thank you, Shayna, for joining us on the podcast today, Kobo’s own KWL merchandising master, I made you a new title.

Shayna: Hello, everyone.

Stephanie: So, for anyone who doesn’t know who you are, can you just quickly introduce yourself and what you do here at Kobo?

Shayna: Okay, so my name is Shayna Krishnasamy, I am the KWL author relations of promotions strategist, which basically means I help authors promote their books once they’re live on site. I’ve also been with Kobo for 12 years. So, I’m one of the original employees, I guess. One of the OGs from back in the day.

Stephanie: How different is it from 12 years ago?

Shayna: I have been a remote employee for, like, now eight years, so I can’t even speak. But, like, I was there when the office was new, and we moved locations a bunch of times, and there were only 40 employees when I started. So, yeah, and the company wasn’t called Kobo, it was called Short Covers. So, yeah, that’s a long time ago, that’s 2009. So, it’s definitely different, the company is definitely a lot bigger now.

Joni: And you were one of the people that helped set up the promotions tool, right. That was you and Mark?

Shayna: Yes. So, I’m also one of the original members of the Kobo Writing Life team. So Mark Lefebvre was the director and there was me, and then we hired one other person. But yeah, at a certain point in I think, 2014, we decided to create the promo tab. Yeah. And I was instrumental in getting it all started, I guess.

Joni: And how did the promo tab come about? What made you realize that you needed an easier way, I guess, for authors to apply?

Shayna: So, we were doing sales, we were doing monthly sales, which are similar to the ones that we do now. But at the time, I had to email authors directly to ask them to submit because there was no other way to really let them know that a promotion was going on. So, obviously, there’s a lot of issues with that, you know, who are we emailing? How do we choose who to email? There were obviously a lot of authors out there who weren’t getting any opportunity, because, you know, we weren’t aware of them, or we weren’t emailing them directly. We also can’t email all of the authors at once, because that’s thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people. So, we wanted a way for authors to be able to submit to promotions themselves. And so, that’s kind of how it came about.

Stephanie: And how would you say is the best way for indie authors to use our promotion tab?

Shayna: So, the tab isn’t in everyone’s account immediately. So, if you hear this podcast and you don’t have the promotions tab in your dashboard, it says promotions, you can email in at writinglife@kobo.com. I got that right, right? And ask for it. So, once it’s in your account, just keep an eye on what promotions are going on. So, it will seem at first when you’re looking at it like all we do is free promos all the time, which is not true. We have one free page but there are a lot of different genre lists on that page. And on the promo tab, each one of these is shown separately. So, we’re collecting for the free page, the sci-fi list and the free page, the romance. And so, like, they’re all separate all the way down the page and those are permanently there. So, it seems like there’s a lot of free, but don’t worry, that’s not all we do. I would recommend definitely keeping an eye on the tab because we have sales and promos and different stuff going up and down all the time throughout the month.

It’s not like we put everything up on the first, it’s kind of week by week, there’s different stuff and then the deadline for one sale will come and so we’ll take a promotion down. And then maybe for a day or two it might seem like there’s not a lot going on, but there’s always new stuff being added. So, like, check it once a week and see what you’re interested in, and try different stuff because, like, there’s different sales. Like there’s, let’s say we’re doing a 40% off sale, generally, those are promo code sales. And so, you don’t have to change the price of your book if a discount is delivered at checkout by the promo code. So, those are good for anyone who’s worried about price matching by other retailers. And then, you know, maybe there’s price drop ones, there are daily deals in which you put your book on sale, but it’s only for a single day. So, there’s lots of different stuff to try. So, I would recommend, like, trying different things, trying, you know, if you do a price drop sale, try your book at different price points, try different books. You know, sometimes the first in series will do great, but sometimes maybe your newest book will do great. Like, there’s a lot of different options.

Joni: I think that we get asked a lot when an author gets a BookBub feature deal, or they’re doing some kind of external promo, what’s the best way for them to handle Kobo?

Shayna: That’s a good question, especially with BookBub. Because we get a lot of authors saying, “I’ve got a BookBub, what can you do?” So, my best advice, try to get yourself a double-daily deals. So, we have these daily deals which are just one book. And we have them basically the entire month, it’s like 30 slots a month. So, if you can get one for either the day of your BookBub, or the day after or before and get some interest in your book right when it’s gonna be on sale, that’s a great idea. We do fill those sometimes earlier than BookBub tells you you have a BookBub. So, that’s sometimes problematic. So, my next best advice is just to email in and tell us about it. So, let us know, listen, we have a BookBub, we have, that you have a BookBub, sorry. We have a bargain list on the deals page that we fill ourselves. So, if you let us know that you have a BookBub, we will immediately put it up on that page, put it up on that list. And you don’t have to worry about telling us too far in advance, because we’ve got you covered, and that’s the best option.

But just to let you know, BookBubs tend to work automatically. Even if we’re not giving an extra push, BookBubs tend to do really, really well on our site. So, you’re kind of guaranteed to get a bump, probably, but letting us know about it is also always a good idea.

Stephanie: What do you find are the most common reasons that you’re rejecting authors from promotions? And do people get discouraged easily because of that, or, like, how many spots technically are available to authors?

Shayna: Yeah, so it’s different for every promotion how many spots are available. So, like, things like a 40% off sale, price drop sale, these larger sales we’ll be doing like 200 books, 300 books, or 100 books. Whereas a daily deal, inherently in itself is just one book a day. So, let’s say for a daily deal, we get or a double daily deal we get, you know, 100 submissions, I can only choose one and all the rest of them are being declined. So, the most common reason that someone is getting declined is because there just wasn’t enough space. For example, on the free page, each of these genre lists I’m only adding six books a week, and I have to decline everything else. And then for the editor spots, I’m only picking one title a week. So, everything else gets declined. So, generally, if I do, if I’m declining a bunch of books, and it’s not because the book was bad, it’s just because there’s no more space, I’ll use the rejection reason “all spaces filled,” which is the reason that you see when you get the email letting her know your book has declined. And so, if you see that, that is what that means.

There was just no more space and I had to decline everything and your book might be terrific, but they’re just, you know, try again, try again for the next week. But for books that are being declined because we didn’t wanna include them, the most common reason is the book cover. Getting your book cover professionally made is super important. Because it’s the first thing the customer sees, it’s the first thing I see when I’m choosing which books to include, like, as I’m sure most authors already know, we’re not reading the books before we choose if we’re including them in a promotion, when we’re choosing 200 books. And you’re kind of, you know, going through the covers and looking at what looks great. And if your book cover is less than professional, if it’s like a copy of every other cover in your same series, just that the title is different, things like that. It’s not that we’re just like,”This is bad, I’m not gonna include it.” But there are other stronger book covers that are gonna be submitted and those ones are gonna be chosen over you. So, a professional cover is super, super important, I would say.

Joni: I wanted to ask, I don’t know if this is gonna be a difficult question. But, like, for example, we do a lot of buy more, save mores now and that started with an author writing in and saying, “Hey, can you do this sale for me?” How much flexibility do we have? If an author has a really cool idea that we haven’t done before, is it worth them emailing to let us know about it?

Shayna: I mean, sure, I mean, like it depends. Often authors will email and be like, “Look, I’ve got my whole series on sale, what can you do?” Often it’s difficult to fit those things in. Sometimes they won’t be telling us far enough in advance. But even if they are it’s just one author, and if it’s just one series, it’s just, like, let’s say seven books. If it doesn’t fit into the slots that we have available, then it can be difficult to figure out how to work it. Because at KWL, I mean, I’m sure this is clear to a lot of authors, but let’s just say it out loud. Like, we’re not all of Kobo. We’re a department of Kobo. So, we don’t get unlimited space on the site to sort of advertise everything and we have, what is it, I think 75,000 authors right now. So, there’s a lot of authors who want, you know, their series that’s on sale to get space. However, if you have, like a…still tell us about it, because as I was just saying, there’s the bargain list on the deals page, and we could definitely put your books in there, or there might be some other, you know, option that we’ll be able to come up with.

But if you have an idea for, like, a larger sale that includes, like, a large group of authors, I mean, just talking to us doesn’t hurt, you know, and we can try to brainstorm and come up with something. So, it’s always good to have new ideas.

Joni: Do you have any opinions about pricing? Like, I know that a lot of our sales are price drop sales or reductions. But do you, like, how important do you think setting a price is when you’re an indie author? Should it be in line with trad books? Or should you be pricing it differently in any way?

Shayna: I mean, definitely, we’ve always been encouraging, when Kobo Writing Life started, a lot of authors were pricing their books at 99 cents, because at the time, and this would be 2012, Amazon was really pushing 99-cent books and that’s how they did well on Amazon. But we have found, and we found pretty quickly actually, that couple of customers are willing to pay a little more, they’re willing to pay more than 99 cents even for an author they’ve never heard of. So, we’ve spent years trying to entice authors to raise their prices for their books. I mean, generally, I think $5.99, $6.99 is the price point that I would encourage or even $4.99 for a full-length novel. If you’ve got, like, a novella series, maybe you’ll wanna go lower. But you can also test these things out, right? Like, if you, let’s say you publish your book at $5.99, it’s not doing well, you know, you could try, you know, a price drop for two months to a lower price or for a week and see how it does or try pricing different books in the series. Like, often, authors will put, like, the first book in their series free or at 99 cents, and then do, like, a gradual, price is going up gradually over the series.

So, the second book is $2.99 and $3.99 and the rest at $4.99. I mean, you can just try these things out. That’s what’s so great about our dashboard, you can change prices anytime you want, basically. So, yeah, try things out. But don’t go too low for the regular price of your book. But if you’re doing a discount, also, you know, don’t be afraid to go down to 99 cents, as BookBub has taught us. People still wanna buy it 99 cents. And you can sell a lot at that price point, especially if you got a BookBub going on at the same time.

Joni: It depends on country as well, right? Am I right in thinking that Australia and New Zealand pays more?

Shayna: Yeah, like, I mean, I would not, okay, so this is something that a lot of authors do. Many of our authors are American, and they’ll just put in an American price and then have it convert for all the other countries. So, I would not recommend doing that just for the most obvious reason that you then get weird prices like 4.61, in Canada, and then like 5.77 in Australia, or whatever, which we’ve learned is it’s you’re just losing money. Like, if something’s priced at 5.77, and you change it to 5.99, you’re gonna get just as many sales because the customer doesn’t really see the difference between those tiny cents differences. And, you know, if you sell 1,000 books that’s a big difference in revenue. So, you might as well go to the 99…we call it the charm price, or we used to, where the price ends in 99. But also you don’t have to have it be, like, let’s say the conversion from the U.S. to a different country is like you’re pricing it at $4.99 in the U.S. and it’s like six something in Australia, you don’t have to do that.

You don’t have to put it at six, you know, like, it doesn’t have to be a perfect conversion of the U.S. pricing, you can price your books whatever you want. So, if you want them to be priced at 4.99, all across the board, in all the English language countries, which would be Canada, U.S., UK, Australia, and New Zealand, then you can do that. I would recommend going up a little higher in Australia and New Zealand because customers are just used to paying a little bit more in those countries, not uncommon for books to be priced higher. So, you can go look at our website and see what books are priced in that country. And then, like, you know, try it out, try it out at a higher price point and see how it goes. But, yeah, definitely putting in a localized price, which means, you know, entering a price for those five geos is definitely a good idea.

Stephanie: How would you suggest authors incorporate Kobo Plus into their, like, strategy of Kobo?

Shayna: Everyone should put their books in. Like, it’s new, it’s just been launched in Canada. So, it’s new in Canada and Canada is our largest market share for Kobo. So, I would definitely recommend trying it out, you know, like, some, I guess their worries, you know, like, is it gonna affect my à la carte sales if I put it into subscription? But I would just say try it and see what happens, try it and see how you like it. And yeah, that’s my advice.

Joni: You were one of the original, like, KWL founders. And one of the things that make KWL special at the time was that it was created by authors and that was you and Mark Lefebvre. How did you get into indie publishing? And you’re also you’re a hybrid author, right? You have a couple of trad.

Shayna: I do. Yeah, I have one book published through Dundurn which is a small Canadian publisher. So, I did creative writing in university, and then when I started working in Kobo, I mean, it was really, like, in 2010, it was just like, maybe I should publish this book that I, you know, never published traditionally. So, literally, I mean, before KWL existed, you know, indie authors were able to get their books loaded to Kobo, it was just a much more manual process. So, I did it and it was fun, and I just kept going from there. So, yes, I mean, there was no, like, plan. I kind of just fell into it but I have a few books self-published now and some novellas and short stories. And yeah, and it’s fun, and it’s great. And you have complete control over everything, which I really enjoy.

Joni: Very cool.

Stephanie: Is there anything surprised you when you started indie publishing?

Shayna: Let me think back to 2010. It was funny, I sold a lot at the beginning, the company was a lot smaller. And there weren’t a lot of authors, like, working for Kobo. And there was often, like, last minute things where they’ll be, like, we need to include a book in this email, or we need to include a book in this promotion. And I was like, “Sure, you can take one of my book.” So, like, a lot of stuff and, like, 2010-2011 which was funny. I think that year, I think 2011-2012, “The Book of Negroes” won Canada Reads, which is sort of a competition that’s on Canadian TV. And one of my books sold more than “The Book of Negroes.”

Stephanie: Shayna, that should be on your bio at all times.

Shayna: I know. I’m pretty sure there might have been a glitch in the analytics. But I remember someone calling me over to their desk and they’re like, “How did you sell more than “The Book of Negroes?” I don’t know. It’s just happened, it was a lot of promotion. Yeah, so that was surprising. That was something that surprised me.

Stephanie: That’s your fun fact, when you need a fun fact at any time.

Shayna: Exactly. Sold more than “The Book of Negroes” on Kobo.

Joni: I also wanted to ask you sometimes we meet, like, legacy authors at conferences or whatever and they’ll be like, “Oh my god Kobo throws these crazy parties.” And I don’t know, people have a lot of stories from before Steph and I started at Kobo. And I would like to know if you have any that are okay to share on the podcast.

Shayna: I can confirm that there were great parties back in the day when, yeah, the staff was different. We had a different executive team at that time. Yeah, things were pretty crazy that I only went to the London Book Fair in 2000… that must have been 2013. And I went to some, I went BEA in New York. Yeah, there were some good parties. That’s all I’m gonna say, it was good.

Stephanie: I’m already seething with jealousy. I don’t know the detail.

Shayna: But it’s not, you know, I don’t even have the best stories. You have to go farther back than that and I think Frankfurt is crazier than London Book Fair. So, I don’t even have that much to say.

Joni: I think people said, like, “I have a tattoo from the Kobo party.”

Shayna: Oh, oh, okay. So we were in, yeah, we were in, I can’t remember what, it must have been New York. Yes, we were in New York for BEA and we had our party in a bar. And the bar, it’s unclear to me if there was the tattoo artists was, like, part of the bar, or if we paid him to be there. But for real when I got there, one of our colleagues was getting a tattoo, like, the tattoo was happening. And someone else who was very drunk was, like, “I’m next in line,” and we were all like, “No, that is not a good idea.” “And Michael Tamblyn, who is our current CEO talked her out of it. So, later that night, I had another conversation with her and she’s like, “Michael says, if I still wanna get it tomorrow, he’ll bring me back here.” Which was, I think, a good choice. I did not get a tattoo, that photo booth too, a real good party, my friend lost her glasses. Yeah, there was open bar, I guess.

Stephanie: Was that that period of, like, tech company time in 2010 to, like, 2014 that people just went bananas.

Shayna: Yeah, people went bananas. The money was flowing and we liked to party at the time. So, the person who was getting the tattoo, it seemed like she knew what she was doing. Like, it was kind of like, “Oh, I have this tattoo for my child and then I have,” you know, I don’t know she had a new kid or she hadn’t gotten a tattoo for that kid so she was getting another one and they matched. So, it seemed like okay, you kind of maybe know what you’re doing but I don’t know if anyone else will. So, why did we, who came up with this idea? I’m not sure.

Joni: I’m very sad we missed this.

Stephanie: People have parties now and they have piercers there to get, like, ear piercings or whatever.

Shayna: Ear piercings sure, but other piercings not a good idea at, like, some drunken party. Oh, that’s crazy.

Stephanie: What are parties now? I don’t remember.

Shayna: I don’t know, it’s COVID. I don’t remember.

Stephanie: What’s a party? Our final favorite question. What have you been loving lately?

Shayna: What have I been loving lately? About life?

Joni: I mean, movie, podcasts, TV show.

Shayna: I just finished watching a show called “Never Have I Ever” which I liked very much. I’m half Indian, and the main character in the show was Indian. And all of the characters were minorities, except one, all of the major characters, which was super cool. And it’s produced by Mindy Kaling so I just binge watched that.

Joni: Mindy Kaling is cool. Did you see “Late Night?”

Shayna: I did not. No, that one, it seemed like all the jokes were in the preview. No shade on Mindy Kaling because I do love her. And I’m probably I’m gonna watch it, but I haven’t watched it yet.

Joni: It’s fun. I liked it.

Shayna: But also, I don’t know if you guys saw that I put on my Facebook feed a clip of Mindy Kaling and Kamala Harris cooking Indian food together, which is when I found out that so my father is South Indian, and Mindy Kaling is South Indian, and Kamala Harris is South Indian. And so my post was that, someone who is half South Indian, went to high school in Montreal, and has a Jewish husband, which are all things that I also have, is going to be vice president of the United States. And it could be me, but it’s not me. But it sounds like it could me which I enjoyed. That was a really good…

Joni: Sounds like it was almost you.

Shayna: It was almost me.

Stephanie: I mean, we don’t know what your career in Canadian politics is gonna lead you, you know. If you start one, if you don’t start one, like, the world, it’s open to anything. This is what I hope for you, a prime minister.

Shayna: One day, it all starts here.

Stephanie: You heard it here first. Is there anything else we should cover?

Shayna: Don’t be upset if you get declined. So, if you listen to this podcast the whole way through, I mean, like, there’s so many reasons that your book might not be included, and there’s just so many people who wanna get into promotions. And it always breaks my heart when I get emails from people being like, “But why didn’t you choose my book?” And sometimes upset, sometimes angry, and it’s really, like, the majority of the time it’s not personal, we just only have so much space. And to be honest, like, you can say, oh, why don’t you just let all the books in? Like, promotions that have like 700-800 books, like, 400 of those books aren’t being seen. Because customers just don’t browse through that many pages of books, they just don’t do it. So, we have to limit or else you’re just gonna be disappointed anyway, you’re gonna be accepted into the promotion and then not get any sales, which is a different kind of disappointment. So, please just keep submitting, try different sales, try different things.

And then if you’ve been, you know, declined a lot of times, then, you know, like, definitely email in and ask us what the reason is. But the reason is almost always just that we didn’t have enough space. So, keep trying.

Joni: Good message to end on. Thanks for joining us this lovely afternoon.

Shayna: No problem. Go Kobo.

Stephanie: Thank you for listening to “The Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re looking for more information on how to grow your sales with Kobo, visit kobowritinglife.com.

Joni: This episode was produced by Stephanie McGrath and Joni Di Placido, with assistance from Rachel Wharton. Music was provided by Tearjerker, editing is done by Kelly Robotham And big thanks to Shayna for being our guest today.

Stephanie: If you’re ready to start your self publishing journey today, sign up for free at kobo.com/writing life. Until next time, happy writing.