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Indie Authors Selling eBooks in Bookstores by Mark Lefebre of Kobo

Skip the reading and listen/watch Mark give his presentation “live”!
(scroll to the bottom of the post to watch!)

I have been a bookseller for over twenty years and have worked in virtually every type of bookstore possible – from indie store, to mall store, to chain and big-box retailer, from campus bookstore to online bookstore…..but no matter where I worked as a bookseller I can tell you that one thing was consistent:

Authors who made a positive impression on me were authors whose books I would gladly hand-sell.

Let me repeat that, in a slightly different way.

As a bookseller, I would gladly and eagerly hand-sell books, all in the interest of supporting and wanting to see certain authors succeed.

Booksellers and book lovers – the main thing that attracts people to get into bookselling isn’t a love for being a retailer; it is a love of books.  Thus, in a bookseller you typically have an avid reader.  There is a great opportunity for authors who have established positive connections with their local booksellers (no matter what type of bookseller they happen to be) to gain extra support, similar to a “Street Team” in booksellers.

Sure, it’s one thing to rely on automated algorithms to propel your eBook into spots that capture customers’ eyes.  But that game keeps changing and shifting under your feet. The minute you understand it, the eRetailer can immediately change the rules, change the way it works.

But something that never changes is a bookseller’s passion for books and for reading.

And something  that booksellers encounter every single day is the opportunity to suggest and curate, to recommend books to customers who they are engaging with in a very intimate way. Think about the power they have if YOU are an author they admire, respect and care about.

And although it can sometimes be difficult, these same cultivations, these same relationships can indeed translate into the digital space, particularly with Kobo’s partnership with booksellers and retailers around the world. At the end of the day, a bookseller who believes in you and wants to see you successful is a good thing to have – even better when there is a way for them to sell your book through their own store.

One of the organizations (this is for US authors) is the American Booksellers Association’s IndieBound.org and their INDIES SELL EBOOKS feature for their member stores. 

There is a great listing at http://www.indiebound.org/ebookshighlighting the various stores in the US that sell Kobo eBooks. On each of those websites are ways customers can search and buy Kobo eBooks – and the sales of those eBooks help generate revenue that supports that local bookstore.

So, on your own website, you can generate a link to one or more of your books via those platforms.

Here’s one of the auto-generated affiliate links you can create for free on IndieBound.org – this is for a print book. ShopIndie Bookstores

And here is a link to the eBook at a specific indie bookstore.
If you have created such links, let your local bookstore know about it; and let them know that you have done this – that you support them.  It’s good to feel loved.

But this is where being genuine comes into it. If you don’t support them and don’t care that customers buy your book from them, you’ll likely come off as deceptive and trying to be manipulative.  The best way to assure is to actually spend time getting to know your local booksellers if you don’t already know them.  Invest some time learning a bit about their unique customer base, the preferred reading of the booksellers.  If there are booksellers who like to read the type of book you have written, then share info with the book about them – offer them digital ARCs of your books.

The key thing to remember is similar to the great advice that is often given regarding social media behaviour online.  Be genuine, be honest, engage with people with integrity and good spirit. Don’t just be a pushy or annoying jerk who keeps saying “buy my book” over and over – that’s the quickest way to turn people off.  The same holds true with in person interactions.

The great thing about booksellers, particularly indie booksellers, is that they are all individuals, follow their own tastes, perspectives, etc.  That can be a great thing.

And if the person you’re speaking with isn’t “in” to the type of book you are talking about, learn to recognize the signs that not all books are for all readers.  Your book has a specific target audience – you should only be pitching it to the target audience – otherwise you are wasting your breath and likely goi
ng to be remembered as an annoying author who was more interested in trying to sell something that someone who was engaging in a mutually beneficial communication.


One thing I have done in the past as an author at local book events is I have offered some of my digital content for free for anyone who buys a book (sometimes one of my own books, sometimes ANY book – because they point was to encourage people to support that local bookstore) at the bookstore that was selling books for my event/launch/talk.  It reminds attendees of the importance of supporting a bookstore that supports and is part of a dynamic cultural community. And it demonstrates the author’s desire to support bookstores.

Writers often buy eReaders to do giveaways to their fans, newsletter subscribers, etc.  Why not purchase an eReader from a local retailer?  Remember, a Kobo reader purchased at a local indie bookstore translates into additional revenue support for that bookstore whenever that customer makes a Kobo ebook purchase.  You’re not only buying the device from them, but are helping them gain future eBook sales revenues.

Remember – booksellers love books, they love reading and they love authors. But they tend to love authors who aren’t jerks. They tend to want to support authors whose work they like, whose style they like, and who have ties to their community. And when they are interested enough in you as an author, (particularly when there’s a way for them to help sell your books/ebooks and earn the revenue that keeps them in business) they’ll help more customers find you, increase your discovery opportunities, and be advocates for you and your books right on the front lines.

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Mark Leslie Lefebvre has worn and continues to wear many hats within the Canadian book industry. And it all started when he spend an entire summer vacation at the age of thirteen in the basement of his parent’s home hammering out a novel on his mother’s Underwood typewriter. Mark’s passion for writing and his love of reading led him to the book industry, where he has worked since 1992 as a bookseller in virtually every possible bookstore environment. 1992 was the same year Mark sold his first short story, and his most recent books (under the name Mark Leslie) include Haunted Hamilton and Tesseracts Sixteen: Parnassus Unbound. He has fully embraced the role of hybrid author, working on multiple self-published and traditionally published projects.
Mark currently works as the Director of Self-Publishing & author Relations at Kobo where he was part of the team that launched Kobo Writing Life, a DIY self-publishing portal for authors and small publishers, and he sits on the Canadian Booksellers Association executive board as well as the BookNet Canada Board of Directors as a CBA representative. He is an author, a bookseller, and editor and an avid reader. But he finds the term “Book Nerd” nicely covers all hats.
This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. Thanks Mark for a great presentation!

    I have all my books on Kobo, but Chapters Indigo only carries my first print book and the one published through Iguana Books. When I went to the World’s Biggest Bookstore, I had a great talk with the manager (I think it was), but he told me all the book buying decisions are made through head office. How can you as an Indie get a print book in to a Chapters Indigo store? And as a reader can you buy a Kobo ebook while at the WBBS or Indigo store?

    You really gave me a new perspective on booksellers!
    Thanks!
    Shireen Jeejeebhoy

    1. Thank you Shireen.

      Because you’re a hybrid author, you have the advantage of having print books and ones from publishers Indigo already buys from – so that helps. Yes, most of the buying from chains is done centrally, and sometimes stores have a bit of control over local author titles (sometimes they don’t – even in a chain you might find some different approaches to managing that; some more flexible, some less flexible)

      Sometimes they will bring in a title on consignment for an author event/reading/signing. Bookstores tend to find that WORKSHOPS draw more people than the average signing/reading.

      And I just called my friendly neighbourhood Hamilton area Indigo (one that I know has “local author friendly” staff) and they confirmed for me that you CAN INDEED buy an eBook right in the store at the kiosk. So your Kobo eBooks are indeed virtually in stock at every Coles, Chapters, Indigio (and World’s Biggest Bookstore) location across Canada.

      One caveat on booksellers data systems, (and this doesn’t apply to you, Shireen, since I see all your ebooks have 978 ISBNs) is that since they are ISBN driven, SOME retailers might not be able to import and display ebooks that don’t have a legitimate ISBN. This is not an issue for Canadian authors, since two benefits of living here are government subsidized health care and free ISBNs. But be aware that, if you go with the option of not assigning an eISBN to your eBook via Kobo Writing Life, some of the retailers we have partnered with are unable to accept the “dummy” generated number we use for tracking because sometimes their systems do not allow non 978 or 979 ISBNs)

      Shireen’s books at Kobo:

      http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=%22Shireen+Jeejeebhoy%22&t=none&f=author&p=1&s=none&g=both

  2. Mark, great presentation, thank you

    I have a couple of questions:

    1. I think I’m missing a huge chunk here. How does a customer go into a bookstore which sells printed books and ask for an e-book? Are they just directed to the Kobo website? Or can you pay for an e-book in the store? Or is this only for the printed version of you e-book?

    2. I didn’t realise that one could go into Chapters, Indigo, Coles and, of course, The Worlds Biggest Bookstore etc and try to sell your book. That’s wonderful to know. But, since we have large bookstores and small outlets of the same store, can you go to a small retailer to sell your book or do you suggest we go to the main store?

    3. Who do you ask for when you go to the store? The first person you see is generally a salesperson who may not have authority to discuss the book.

    I know I have more questions, but I don’t want to bombard you, thanks, Mark.

    1. All great questions, Jane. I hope I can answer them properly without being too long-winded.

      1) This is indeed a challenge. However, as a previous bookseller, I was always frustrated when a customer was in my store on their smartphone and browsing a competitor website instead, particularly when they could click a few buttons and I lost a sale. (This is a term booksellers call “show-rooming”) — and I have been interested in trying to take that behavior which already exists and give customers a way to easily click and buy right on that device while still supporting the bookstore (I like to call that “supportive your local bookstore show-rooming”). As someone who is invested in seeing eBooks and booksellers work together for mutual benefit, I’m curious to come up with a way to try to test out strategically placed QR codes linking to that bookstore’s affiliate website for eBooks so that customers who want to buy that hot new book but are getting on a plane and don’t want to carry a hardcover with them suddenly have the option.

      2) It’s not easy, particularly since chain store booksellers don’t always have the same flexibility in terms of bringing in local titles on consignment (having an ISBN and scanable barcode does help) – so it’s hard, but it can be done. And I would recommend that you don’t automatically exclude ANY bookstore/bookseller. No matter where a bookseller works, they all tend to be passionate book lovers – they do all have that in common. Go to them all. You never know where you’ll find a kindred spirit in a bookseller.

      3) Sometimes it is that salesperson who might become your internal ally. Perhaps they have authority, perhaps not. And in indie bookstores, the staff do often have a LOT of say in terms of the titles and stock that are carried (because decisions are ALL made locally the booksellers working the floor tend to be more involved in other operations – in really small indies it’s the owner who is working the floor) But it never hurts to build that relationship.

  3. Mark, thank you for the great post and video! Looking forward to publishing my books in Kobo.

    I did have one question, if you get a chance to answer it: How exactly did you give away digital content during your events at local bookstores? Were you offering a coupon for people to redeem through Kobo? Sorry if I’m missing something obvious here, but I’ve never been to an event where digital content was given away. An exciting idea!

    1. Hi Erin – thank-you and thanks for the question. I had done this with a local bookstore that didn’t have the ability to sell eBooks, so on one occasion I used a coupon code so people could download it from Smashwords, on another, I offered to email them either an ePub or mobi version of one of certain eBooks.

  4. He is an awesome guy!! And this came in the right time. I’m finally thinking of self publishing my writings and I’m already creating relationships with sellers in the local bookstore.

    1. Mark, this would be a godsend for me. For over a year now, I have taken e-pub and pdf files of my books to signings and events on Cds that I produced myself. It would be easier to get them directly shipping through Kobo.

    2. I’m delighted to hear you can find it useful, particularly to sell more copies of the following books . . .

      http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=%22J.L.+Murphey%22&t=none&f=author&p=1&s=none&g=both

      (See I’m pushing your books, not you – so it’s okay)

      The CDs work nicely, but it’s really cool to be able to show people your book available in an eBook version (often a better price, portable, instantly large-print) right there. And it’s great to say: “You can buy a Kobo reader like this right here in this store”

      Something else that might be nice is take advantage of the fact Kobo lets you make books free permanently and make something that’s a great hook into your books/your universe of characters, etc. That way if they are interested but maybe not buying right away, a “postcard” sized handout with a link/QR Code to that freebee (through that local store’s affiliate link) might be something they check out.

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