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Maximizing Your Sales at Kobo by Mark Lefebvre (Director of Kobo Writing Life & Author Relations)

Information with Video

I wish this could go without saying, but it has to be said and it bears repeating, since I see authors make this mistake all the time. It’s a bit difficult to maximize your sales at Kobo if your book isn’t available at Kobo.  Meaning, if you’ve signed up for ninety days of exclusivity at the world’s longest river, there’s only one river where your sales will float.  In other words, you can’t sell at Kobo (or on any other retailer for that matter), if you’re locked into some sort of exclusivity clause.

Even though I’m the Director of Kobo Writing Life (www.kobo.com/writinglife), the DIY portal that allows you to publish into Kobo’s catalog, I advise authors that to maximize their sales they need to have their work available on ALL the platforms. Yes, in certain countries, some platforms are larger than others, and each platform has its own unique base of customers, and you will reach the largest potential audience for your work if you are available on all of them. And sometimes, the sales you get for different titles on different platforms might shock you. But that can never happen if you’re only locked into a single retailer.

I head up the team that built Kobo Writing Life because I’m a writer, and I self-published a book back in 2004; back in the “dark ages” of indie publishing, when it was known as “vanity publishing” and publishing your own book was a surefire way for an author to kill their career and have absolutely nobody in the industry take them seriously. But I bucked the trend and figured out a way to make it work, using the knowledge I had gained in my twenty years of experience as a bookseller.

It was my combination of bookselling and writing experience that landed me my role at Kobo – one I am tickled pink about, by the way. It is the perfect job for a writer with a strong business sense.  You see, as a writer, I got to start off designing the needs for Kobo Writing Life by looking at the tools and options already out there for writers and listing the things I wanted or needed. Then I got to spend time with writers to learn which ones were most important to them.

One of the things I found was that we could build things that writers wanted but could only get from certain other places that inspire one to think about large rivers if they checked a box that made their title exclusive to that retailer for 3 months. Most of what that place offers, (once you sign on the dotted line with ink that sometimes feels like blood), you can get “out of the box” with Kobo Writing Life.
And it starts even before your book is available.

You can make your books available for pre-order at Kobo!

It’s true. You can do this. I know, not all the other places allow this. But we’re not them. We’re us. And we want to ensure indie authors have the ability to behave and act just like publishers. And that includes being able to set up a book for pre-order and build up some hype prior to the book’s release.

There is a catch, though. You do need to upload an ePub first. But you can upload a draft version of your ePub, or even a version that only includes the first chapter or two. It is considered a placeholder file.  Just make sure that, ideally 48 hours before the book goes live, you replace that original draft file with the one that is “ready for prime time” – otherwise, your fans are going to get the original placeholder one, and that’s no fun for any of us.

But how to set up the pre-order itself. Duing the publishing phase, when it’s time to hit that publish button, there’s an option for you to set a FUTURE release date, and an additional option that pops up and asked you if you want to either hide the book prior to release date (for those who signed and regretted signing that 90 day exclusivity clause at that river place because it looked like a good idea at the time, like the candy at the check-out counter at the grocery store, or that “awesome” item you saw advertised on late night television that’s now collecting dust in a junk drawer), or to make the pre-order visible for customers to start hitting the “BUY” button now.  

How does this work? It actually works in that your book can start trending PRIOR to the book’s release? And our merchandisers run reports for most of our largest territories, looking for books to spotlight in the “popular pre-orders” carousel on our website home page.  (Which can, of course, lead to even more visibility and sales) So it is possible that you can actually hit number one in a category before your book is even available. Talk about a way to get attention!

Currently, our dashboard doesn’t show you the pre-order sales. That’s because our sales dashboard is based on customers being charged and the ebook delivered to their account. And since, for pre-orders, the customer isn’t charged until release day, the sale doesn’t show until the day the book is released.  We are working on revising the dashboard to be able to show you pre-order stats, so that you can monitor and track the effectiveness of your pre-order buzz.
Schedule your price updates at Kobo

There’s another relatively new (launched November 2013) feature within Kobo Writing Life that will allow you to schedule a price change in advance. We built it to ensure that, if you plan a price promo in advance, that the price update can be sitting at the “business end” of our system in plenty of time to go live as planned, rather than being caught in a “rush hour traffic jam” of data updates, which can sometimes happen.

Most changes you make in Kobo Writing Life typically flow to our website within anywhere from a few minutes to about 6 to 12 hours. But, at certain times, when we receive large batches of data updates simultaneously, the processing slows down, and, much like rush-hour traffic, it takes longer for the update to get through.

But, if you plan your price promotions at least 48 hours in advance, you can beat the traffic jams and line-ups that sometimes occur. If you have a price promo planned you can set it and forget it (not that you will forget it – but you don’t need to log in to Kobo Writing Life at midnight and make your change at “just the right moment”)

You can also do permanent price changes using this tool. IE, if you know that between Days A to B, the price will be a specific value, but after Day B the price will go up or down to a new price on Day C, you can use the tool for scheduling that, too.

Some authors have taken advantage of BOTH the price scheduling tool and the ability to set a book for pre-order to encourage customers to pre-order their book and get the best possible price locked in before the book arrives.

IE, imagine you want to release a book for $5.99.  But you have it available for pre-order and want to encourage people to buy it now. So you set a special pre-order price of $2.99 – meaning, any customer who orders it in advance gets the book for half price.  Sweet!
Bundle your books without killing your profit margin!
Kobo offers you 70% for books priced at $2.99 USD or higher and 45% for books priced under $2.99 USD.  But we don’t have a cap on the 70%  (Not like some of those other guys out there….cough, cough…..large river…….ahem).

This means, if you have a 5 book series and they each sell for $5.99, you don’t have to lose your shirt trying to sell a value “box set” by being forced to price it at $9.99 or under.  Since buying each book individually would cost a customer $30.00 you can easily set a price of something like $12.99 to $15.99 and know that the customer is still saving at least 50% (or more) off the price of buying them separately. A good deal for the customer, and a decent amount of money in YOUR pocket, since you get to keep 70%.

So who cares if Amazon doesn’t give you the same deal? You can either make the same bundle available there (and only get their 35%), or choose not to even bother, since your fans there can still get each individual book from that site in a manner that allows you to keep 70%.

But your Kobo fans will be pretty darned happy. And so will you, if you get to pocket that extra margin.
Stop giving away money! And price for each market individually!

Kobo Writing Life allows you to control your pricing in eight different currencies.  That’s right. Eight.  This means that, instead of just pricing in your local price currency and then letting the system’s automated conversion take place, you can properly and effectively control your pricing – which you should do.

Different markets have different behaviours, and a price that works in the US might not be the same as one that works in the UK or Australia. It is challenging to understand all market trends in all territories, but it might be worthwhile to experiment and take advantage of the control you have over pricing in 8 currencies.

US/Canadian pricing, for example, will often result in your book either being a little above or a little below the other country’s price.  (The prices have been close to par for the past 5+ years, with variances hopping above and below each other’s line). 

At the time of writing this, a book priced at $5.99 US will auto-convert to $6.67 Canadian dollars.  Consumer psychology dictates that $6.67 is not as attractive a price as either $5.99 or $6.99 – so you should round down or up to one of them. And, why not round up, because the same consumer philosophy states that a customer sees $6.67 the same as $6.99 and it’s not until that extra penny is added that the book “morphs” into another price range.

So in this case, round up to the nearest .99 and look at the extra change in your pocket.  There are articles on the topic of pricing regularly posted on the Kobo Writing Life blog.

Rounding up might also help with the next item on the list of maximizing your sales, and that involves getting a merchandiser’s attention.
Hoping to get your book included in a website or email promo? Kobo merchandisers like books that are priced higher!

Pretend, just for a moment, if you will, that Kobo is a retail business. And that we sell only one thing. eBooks. Okay, we also sell eReaders, but let’s be honest, there’s no real money in devices – devices are a means to getting to the GOOD STUFF – the Content – the eBooks themselves.  So Kobo, essentially, sells one thing:  eBooks.

We need to pay the bills, keep the lights on and run a business by selling eBooks.

Part of a merchandiser’s job is to find and spotlight relevant titles that our consumers will love. Love to buy. Because if a consumer buys a book, that’s a good thing. We get to merchandise another day.

So how do they decide what to feature?  First, they look at the cover. It has to not only be good, but it has to speak to the target audience (ie, matching the targeted genre). Second, the synopsis has to be compelling and encourage customers to either preview the book or hit the “BUY” button.  Then they look at price.

My staff and I are constantly looking through the titles coming in from Kobo Writing Life and making recommendations to the merchandisers about great titles they should feature. Because my global team and I are often out in the writing community (we have Managers for Kobo Writing Life in Canada, the United States, the UK and Europe), we regularly meet authors who impress us and who we want to help sell more. So we’ll also recommend their titles to the merchandising team.

So what happens when a merchandiser, who is presented with hundreds of titles every single day has to decide which of two great titles to feature?  

Here’s a simplified run-down of their decision process.
1)    Both books are timely and relevant and meet consumer demand
2)    Both books have fantastic covers that speak perfectly to the target audience, subtly screaming out “BUY ME, BUY ME, I’M AWESOME! YOU’LL LOVE ME!”
3)    Both books have a perfectly scripted synopsis that, like the cover, nails it for the target audience, making them practically drool in response to what this book offers them
4)    One of the books is priced at $9.99 and the other is $0.99

Going back and pretending that Kobo is retailer and that retailers are a bu
siness (and that the merchandiser gets to keep their job if the business actually makes rather than burns through money), which of those two perfectly suitable titles do you think the merchandiser is going to feature if there’s only room to feature one?

If you guessed $9.99 (where Kobo gets to keep $3.00, over the $0.45 kept for every sale of the lower priced one), you are correct. Advance to Boardwalk! And if you pass GO, collection $200.
On the other hand, sometimes FREE actually makes you money!

Just like you can schedule price promos and make your book available for pre-order, you can also make your book FREE at Kobo at any time for however long you want. And, no, we don’t ask for exclusivity from you in order to do this.
We just let you do it.
Because we have seen how sometimes, when done properly, giving away a book for FREE can lead to sales.

Like in the point above, we’re a business, so we don’t actually make any money when we give a book away for free. But if we can get the RIGHT free book into the RIGHT customer’s hands, and with free, it’s a risk-free proposition; they get a great experience and discover a great new author, and might just end up buying the other books from the author they discovered. Then everyone wins!

We have done reports that reveal that the average conversion rate of giving books away for free leading to other sales is about 1%.  But when you look deeper, you see that only a very small percentage of customers who download a free eBook ever actually read it.  Less than 30% of the people who download a book actually even bother to open up the book.  But when we continue to peel away the layers, we can see how many people who actually opened the free and start to read it actually finish the book in a given period of time and then go on to buy the next book.

And, when the right person finds the right free book, we have seen stats showing as many as 56% of the people who open and read the first free book in a series go on to buy one or more other books in that same series.

The trick, then, isn’t to get EVERYONE to download your free book – but trying to target the right audience.

To that effort, we have recently launched a “Free First in Series” campaign to help readers find the right titles for their own reading tastes. We have manually curated titles that are part of a series and that look appealing to the targeted genre audiences and have made them available.

We will, of course, continue to focus on this, helping authors find new readers who will, hopefully, follow them along and purchase the series books they love so much.
Kobo isn’t just Kobo.com, but it includes thousands of retail partner sites around the world.

When your book is listed at Kobo, it’s not just available at www.kobo.com in 190 countries around the globe – it’s also available through major and indie retailers in dozens of countries; partners such as Chapters/Indigo in Canada, WHSmith in the UK, FNAC in France, Mondadori in Italy and the American Booksellers Association (thousands of indie bookstores) in the US.

Recognizing the importance of Kobo’s retail partners and Kobo’s attempt to bring indie authors and indie booksellers together, will come in more detail in a post at 8:00 PM a later today)
They can’t buy it if you don’t let them know it’s available!
I thought I’d close this article off by inserting a subtle reminder here to make sure, on your author website, or Facebook page, or wherever, that you are including a link to your eBooks on Kobo (as well as those other places), to ensure that Kobo readers can quickly and easily get to them.

After all, they can’t buy it if you don’t let them know it is available.

But this isn’t just a call for you to link to Kobo from external sights. It leads to your books themselves on Kobo. At the end of your book is there a link to your other books on Kobo embedded right in the ePub? And if your book is part of a series, do you have a link to those other books on Kobo?

This call to action is an important one that you should exploit with unique retailer-specific links to your other books in each retailer’s uploaded ePub.

And if you don’t have other books available, provide a link to where readers can sign up to your author newsletter. (You have one, don’t you?!)  That way, if they liked you enough to want to know about your next book or books, you can let them know, and, in your newsletter, provide links to ALL of the retailers that carry your books.
I’m hoping that you found something useful in this article that you can use to increase your sales and maximize your profit margin at Kobo. If you’re looking for more articles that talk about strategies like this, you might want to check out the Kobo Writing Life blog at www.kobowritinglife.com – we regularly post articles on the craft and business of writing, and regularly mention topics like this.
Yours in writing,
Mark Lefebvre
Director, Kobo Writing Life & Author Relations

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This Post Has 19 Comments
    1. It works fine, M. – just make sure you get the proper final edited file loaded ideally 48 hours before the book launches – you don’t want customers to get the less-than-perfect version. That makes the reader upset and looks bad on both of us. 😉 But hope you take advantage of the pre-order option so you can do the same sorts of pre-release things publishers often do when building hype for a new title.

  1. Awesome information, Mark. Thank you. As one of your first Canadian authors to come on board back when Kobo was Short Covers, I am truly proud of how far Kobo has come. As an author and a publisher, I find the KWL platform to have some cool perks that set it above the rest–and we’re going to be working at getting all of our Imajin Books titles in KWL this year (we were using Smashwords).

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif
    International bestselling author & Publisher, Imajin Books

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. Looking forward to continuing to help you sell your ebooks worldwide! (and as an aside, throwing big “Hey fellow Canadian!” hand-waves your way……

  2. Informative post and video, and this makes me all the more excited to do more with Kobo Writing Life (I also love the podcast, btw).

    Learning more about your pre-order and promotions capabilities is really exciting.

    1. Great to hear there’s good value here for writers, Anthony. And thanks for the podcast plug. We get to chat with some great authors who share lots of great advice. Stay tuned for next KWL Podcast episode – it includes a chat with me, US Manager for KWL Christine Munroe and Joanna Penn. 🙂

    2. Nice. Especially enjoyed the recent podcast with Nathaniel Kressen. The insight on approaching bookstores was detailed and insightful.

      I’m really looking forward to going direct with KWL. I leverage Smashwords for my first title, and for the second I did want to experiment with the longest river’s monogamy program.

      Thinking strategically and looking long-term term, I’ll be working a lot more closely with KWL. Everything I’ve seen and heard so far really speaks to how much Kobo is trying to do for authors.

    3. Thanks, Anthony. Yes, the interview with Nathaniel was amazing. In terms of Smashwords, I love them (and I even use them – I can’t go direct to Nook otherwise, not as a Canadian), but you gain so much more by going direct – in particular, the multiple currencies and timeliness of your data updates, tighter control, etc

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