From part-time bookseller to Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo, we welcome Mark Leslie Lefebvre.
First a few questions about you:
-Who influenced your interest in books?
I’d have to say that my Mom was the first influence on getting me to read. Aren’t mothers always at the centre of that? It wasn’t just the bedtime reading, but she worked at the local Mini Mart and every week would bring home comic books for me to read. Reading those comic books led to my deep-rooted love of reading.
-Who is your all-time favourite author?
Do I really have to stick to one? Two of my favourite books are Different Seasons (Stephen King), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), but that’s just the tip of the dozens of amazing writers whose work I adore. Here, for example (apart from King and Irving) are authors whose books I buy on sight: Michael Connelly, Linwood Barclay, Robert J. Sawyer, Terry Fallis, Richard Laymon and Andrew Pyper. But again, that’s just the beginning. There are so many truly amazing writers that I like to read.
-Who gave you the best advice with regard to your career?
Can I blame my Mom again? She told me that if I wanted to be a writer, to make sure that I had a good day job or else I would most likely starve. Because of that advice, I did my best to ensure my day job was closely aligned with my passion for writing. And that’s how I ended up becoming a bookseller. The fact is, considering my passion, I am extremely fortunate to have the role that I do.
Now onto the Kobo questions from Ninc members:
-Are print-on-demand books a possibility at Kobo in the future?
Given that Kobo is an eBook company, and eReading is our main focus, I doubt we’d be offering that directly. That being said, Kobo is known for partnering with “best in class” partners who do other associated things. Consider our partnership with world-class retailers, and, in particular, in the US, the partnership we have with the independent bookstores through the American Booksellers Association – we do one thing really well. They do another thing really well, and our partnership and collaboration is complimentary. We are looking at POD options for authors, but, like our other business relationships, in a partnership with somebody who can do that exceptionally well. So, yes, there is a possibility.
-With ACX being unavailable for Canadians, is there any chance Kobo might launch an audiobook platform similar to ACX?
I know that the business is very interested in assisting our customers, who are passionate readers, with various ways to enjoy accessing their books in a digital fashion. So the ability for us to serve up audiobooks to customers (and also allow authors a way to make their work available for sale through that channel) is definitely attractive.
-Will there eventually be keywords/tags for self-pubbed authors at Kobo?
That’s always a possibility, but past history and my own experience listening to the way that people use “tagging” in order to attract an audience has always bothered me. May I ask what is wrong with writing a solid synopsis that appeals to the proper target audience? I know that there are issues with the search engine at Kobo, but my team has been at the forefront of championing improvements. Authors have to remember that all of the improvements are always done in a way to put the customer/reader first – helping THEM find the best books for them. That will always come first.
- Many authors are having great success on other platforms by making one book in a series permafree, yet I have heard the strategy is not so effective at Kobo. Is there anything an author can do to get better traction with their permafree books?
I wonder if you’re hearing from the wrong authors, because I’ve heard the exact opposite. Authors who have been using first free in series at Kobo to significantly increase their sales at Kobo. We launched the FREE FIRST IN SERIES promo a while back and several authors have been amazed with how well the traction there has taken.
Some authors have reported that by being included in Kobo’s FREE promo feature, their weekly unit sales at Kobo have come close to or surpassed their sales at Amazon (which, if you think about it, is a pretty significant achievement, considering just how GIGANTIC Amazon’s customer base is having been around for 20 years and the fact that Kobo is barely 5 years old – because this represents a significant conversion from free reads into buying customers…)
Another thing to remember is that Kobo Writing Life allows authors to make their book perma-free for as long as they want without any demands for exclusivity. Amazon will only do that if you’re locked into exclusivity with them in KDP Select. A lot of authors use the free option at Kobo to get the auto price-matching bots at Amazon to make their books free (when they don’t want to be locked into a single retailer for all their sales)
And along those lines, KWL has allowed authors to schedule price promos far in advance to assist with timed price features, as well as allowed self-published authors the ability to make their books available for pre-order at the same time that we allowed all publishers the ability to set up pre-orders.
-If your authors visit Toronto, can they visit the Kobo offices?
Definitely. We host regular open houses for authors to come in and hang out with the KWL team that is located in Toronto and I have never said no to an author who wanted to pop in to say hi or get a quick tour of our head office. (This past summer we hosted three different open houses where fans and fellow authors were invited to come in, have some food and drinks and hang out with authors such as Hugh Howey, Joanna Penn and Kevin J. Anderson.
We are open, social and collaborative and adore hanging out with authors – so I whole-heartedly invite any authors visiting Toronto to let us know via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Is there any self-pubbing advice you’d like to give Ninc authors?
Oh, there are so many things to share. Where to start?
First, assuming your books are the best you can write, are edited and have a professional looking cover that appeals to your target audience, remember the three P’s of self-publishing success. Practice, Patience and Persistence. It takes time to build a following on a platform, and you can’t look at this as a “right now” thing, particularly with your sales dashboards. It’s a long-term gain, and sometimes it takes a while for things to build. Hugh Howey didn’t start really selling until almost his 10th book was published.
Another thing is remember to make your books available to the broadest audience possible by being available on all of the platforms. When you’re locked into exclusivity at a single retailer, there’s only one true consistent winner there – the retailer. Customers of other platforms are left out and you are possibly missing out on sales opportunities everywhere. For example, I had books on Amazon for half a dozen years before they started to sell somewhat consistently. If I had pulled them off because they didn’t sell after a year, I’d have lost out on a lot of additional sales.
Oh wow! Such great advice, Mark, we can’t thank you enough.
MARK LESLIE LEFEBVRE’S BIO:
Mark joined the Kobo team in October 2011 bringing over 20 years of experience in bookselling. He has worked in the book industry as it evolved from strictly brick-and-mortar operations to online venues. Mark has operated a successful self-publishing business using an Espresso Book Machine and is a member of the board of directors for BookNet Canada and a past president of Canadian Booksellers Association. As a writer, he has published work through both traditional and self-publishing channels including a non-fiction series of paranormal explorations for Dundurn (Haunted Hamilton, Spooky Sudbury and Tomes of Terror), One Hand Screaming, I, Death and Evasion and has edited the anthologies North of Infinity II, Campus Chills and Tesseracts Sixteen.
Mark and his team of self-publishing experts launched Kobo Writing Life in July, 2012. Kobo Writing Life is a unique tool that removes the barriers for self-published authors and small indie publishers alike to get their titles into Kobo’s global catalog. Mark’s mission is to use his expertise to bring Kobo into new digital landscapes all while carrying forth his lifelong passion for reading and books.