Kobo — A Truly International Indie Publishing Platform

Eight years ago, if I told you I was an internationally-published indie author with a global scale you’d go, “Right. You can’t find an agent or traditional publisher to peddle your pages so you’re forced to self-pub through a vanity press and you mailed five copies to your Scottish-bred mother.” I’d lower my eyes and mumble, “…. …” Today, that’s no longer my self-conscious indie state—thanks to Kobo.

Kobo (an anagram for Book) is a godsend for indie authors like me who operate a growing online publishing business. I avoid the word “self-publishing” because no one in this business truly publishes by themselves. It takes a team to produce a book, whether that’s in print, eBook, or audio form. That includes a cover designer, editor, proofreader, formatter, narrator, writer, and of course, the folks at Kobo who distribute the final product to a worldwide reading audience.

Before going into how Kobo operates and what Kobo has done for me, let me tell you a bit about this leading-edge publishing company. Kobo started in 2009. It was a Toronto, Canada-based online start-up promoting ShortCovers as a cloud e-reading service for Indigo/Chapters. In 2012, Kobo merged with the Japanese e-commerce conglomerate Rakuten, and the e-publishing company is now officially listed as Kobo-Rakuten Inc. Most call it Kobo for short.

Kobo has grown enormously in the past eight years. It’s absorbed brand-names like Waterstones, Borders, Sony Books, and W.H. Smith. In 2018, Kobo partnered with Walmart intending to make Amazon nervous. After all, Rakuten is the Asian version of the American ’Zon.

Today, Kobo-Rakuten has well over 5 million titles in their store. They’re available online in 190 countries and 97 different languages. If that isn’t a truly international indie-publishing platform, then I don’t know what is.

How Kobo is Structured

Kobo-Rakuten focuses on its core products. That’s electronic publication. Their business model, or structure, has three parts. One is digital printing or eBooks. Two is electronic audio books. Three is electronic reading devices like Kobo e-readers and Kobo tablets. At this time, Kobo does not do print-on-demand like Amazon and Ingram. That may happen through Walmart’s Espresso machines.

Kobo’s corporate statement says it’s a “company built by booklovers for booklovers through talented and passionate people taking the top of their game to the next level”. Kobo’s primary management team is in Toronto, and it has a prominent software development division in Dublin, Ireland. International sub-teams work in the US, UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Brazil, and Australia.

Besides corporate white-shirts and hipster geeks, Kobo has a down-to-earth bunch of ladies in their reader and writer service department. It’s these with-it women that an indie like me communicates with. And by communicate, I mean I can send them an email or arrange a phone call and I’ll get prompt human contact with someone whose accent I understand.

Publishing on Kobo

I have indie-publishing experience in three electronic platforms—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I’m here to tell you that Kobo is far superior to the other two when it comes to diminished operator frustration. I think the Kobo techs must indie-publish themselves because they’ve built a dashboard that doesn’t suck.

Kobo’s user-friendly dashboard has five distinct parts laid-out in this easy-to-follow order:

Part 1  Describe Your Book — This is where you enter “metadata” into the boxes. It’s basic information like title, series number, author name, publisher, ISBN, etc. You’re allowed up to three placement categories to check off from a comprehensive drop-down list. You also copy & paste your synopsis (product description/blurb) into an html-friendly format. It’s far better than Amazon’s product description block that makes you write html by letter-code.

Part 2  Add Your eBook Content — Here is where you upload your manuscript e-file. Kobo is so easy to add content to. Unlike Amazon that dictates a proprietary e-file called Mobi or AZW, Kobo lets you upload a Microsoft document directly, and it uses its own e-Pub conversion program to convert your document into an e-Pub file. Kobo will convert .doc, .docX, .mobi, and .ode files automatically. They also have a pay-to-convert affiliate called Aptara.

Note: If there’s one secret to successful Word-to-e-file conversion, it’s making sure your Word.doc is properly formatted to start with. This is crucial! I covered the steps in a previous Kill Zone post titled Top Ten Tips on Formatting eBooks From MS Word. Once your file is uploaded to Kobo, they have a one-click preview feature.

Part 3  Determine Your Rights and Distribution — This is straightforward but necessary metadata. Leave your Digital Rights Management (DRM) slide off. Activate your slide for Geographic – Own All Territories. Allow Kobo Plus Subscription. (This is akin to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU). It’s only available in a few countries but will probably go worldwide.) Also, allow library purchases through Overdrive. Just make sure to increase your price from your regular retail listing. If libraries want your works, they’ll gladly pay $4.99 instead of $2.99. (It’s called a profit center.)

Part 4  Set Your Price — Setting your price point is entirely up to you. It depends on what you think you can charge to get the maximum return from sales. I’ve found my sweet spot is $2.99 per e-Book. If I bump up the price to $3.99 or $4.99, I find my sale numbers drop considerably so I actually make less net income by charging more.

I’ve refined my eBook prices to $2.99 everywhere. That includes all publications on Amazon (20 eBooks), Kobo (8 eBooks), and Barnes and Noble (7 eBooks). I have one perma-free on all platforms, and I could write another entire post on how beneficial perma-frees can be.

Kobo pays 70% royalty on $2.99 and over which is the same as Amazon. Drop below $2.99 and Kobo pays 45% where Amazon squeezes you to 30%. Them’s the rules… and so you must play.

A distinct advantage of publishing “Wide” with Kobo is they won’t penalize you if you’re not exclusive the way Amazon enslaves you under the Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS) program. Trust me. The advantages you lose by moving off exclusive KDPS are far exceeded by publishing perks on Kobo. The only issue might be if you have a large KU page reading and you’ll stop this income stream if you go wide. I didn’t, and I have absolutely no regrets going Wide and hooking up with Kobo.

I’ve been told that using the “.99” trick is important when pricing eBooks, and I believe it. This is a tried & true marketing technique that’s been around forever. That’s because it works. Kobo is truly an international publishing platform that allows you to set individual prices per country and in its currency. Kobo also has an automatic currency converter built-in to the dashboard. However, don’t let Kobo automatically convert and post a $2.99 USD equivalent in a foreign currency or it’ll look like doggy-doo with ugly-weird figures, ie 2.31, 8.47, 28.01, etc.

To get the 70% royalty at $2.99 USD and keep with the “.99” strategy, here’s how I manually set pricing on my Kobo international dashboard:

United States Dollar – 2.99
Canadian Dollar – 2.99
United Kingdom Pound – 2.99
Australian Dollar – 2.99
New Zealand Dollar – 2.99
Brazilian Real – 9.99
European Euro – 2,99
Hong Kong Dollar – 19.99
Indian Rupee – 99.99
Japanese Yen – 299.00
Mexican Peso – 99.99
New Taiwan Dollar – 79.99
Philippine Peso – 99.99
South African Rand – 29.99
Swiss Franc – 2.99

By the way, Kobo pays in half the time Amazon does. You’ll receive your Kobo direct deposit 45 days after the last day of the month. This becomes a monthly cycle and is disbursed provided you make at least $50.00 in sales during that period. Otherwise, Kobo will defer payment until you have a $50.00 payable account. Don’t worry about not getting paid if you have a slow month. It’s like money in the bank, and it motivates you to promote sales and get regular checks.

Kobo Promotions

Kobo has a unique promotion program built into your dashboard. When you first open a Kobo account, the promo tab won’t appear. You have to send Kobo a quick email request and… presto! It’s there and really easy to understand, never mind use.

Kobo’s internal e-Book promotion system is entirely pay-to-play. You have to apply for a particular Kobo promotion feature and you get declined more times than accepted. Looking at my Kobo dashboard, I have 2 active promos running, 1 forthcoming, 7 completed, and I was declined 19 times. Don’t get hurt feelings over being declined for a Kobo promotion. You have to apply quite a bit in advance (2-4 weeks) and they’ll overlook you if they think you’re trying to game or monopolize the system by hogging spots. It didn’t take me long before I got that memo.

Kobo has two promotion packages. One is a flat rate where you pay a fixed-fee (up-front) for a particular exposure. Two is a shared percentage based on sales volume that’s deducted from your pay. Here’s a sample of Kobo promotions and costs:

Daily Deal Homepage – $100.00 flat rate
Free Page – Fiction and Non-fiction – $5.00 or $10.00 flat rate
Double Daily Deal – 10% share
First in Series – $10.00 or $30.00 flat rate
Editor’s Pick – $30.00 flat rate

Kobo has no restrictions about you running independent ads on the email list discount sites. You just have to make sure you adjust your Kobo price to match your privately-advertised promo price. If you don’t, they’ll cut your Kobo promo in a flash. The algorithm-powered bots have a way of knowing this… so be diligent here.

Be aware that “FREE” is the most-searched word in Kobo’s engine. Kobo readers love their free stuff, and it’s a wise move to offer a freebie from time to time… or a .99 cent discount. I only have one free book on Kobo. That’s the first in a multi-book series, and it’s a very profitable loss-leader. The read-through sales rate triggered by a free offering is significant.

Kobo Resources

Kobo-Rakuten is here to help indie authors and publishers. The Kobo dashboard has great links to all sorts of practical assistance. The “live voice” is also only a click or call away. Value-added author/publisher services on the dashboard include:

ISBN issuance
Review sources
Cover designs
Editor referrals
Language translation
Rights management
Audio book recording

Kobo has another excellent writer/publishing portal. It’s called Kobo Writing Life (KWL) which is a blog about writing and self-publishing. Besides the dozens and dozens of helpful posts, KWL has an excellent podcast series featuring their help-ladies, inspiring success stories, and featured events.

So, how is Garry Rodgers Doing on Kobo?

Very well, thank you. That’s considering the short time I’ve been indie-publishing there. I was told by other Kobo indies to be patient and promote. They said it takes a while to gain Kobo traction… give it six months before assessing Kobo’s worth, they said.

It’s been six months now. I put out my shingle at Kobo on April 24, 2020. The first bit… crickets… nuthin’… zilch. Then, I ran some strategic promotions and Kobo took right off for me. I originally started with 5 Kobo publications. I added 3 more eBooks in the summer and, by August 2020, it was all worthwhile.

In July and August, I ran “stacked promotions” on Kobo along with paid ads on sites like Booksy, EReader News Today, and Robin Reads. My Kobo sales jumped to an average of around 20 downloads per day or 600 for the month. Now, in mid-October, I’ve had 3,849 all-time Kobo downloads in 68 international markets. This is growing exponentially, and it’s key to eBook sales success. It’s the same principle as compound interest.

Here are stats on where Kobo sold books for me in the last 6 months. Note: These figures include all regular priced sales and discounted promotions.

Canada – 1817
United States – 510
United Kingdom – 466
Australia – 290
South Africa – 160
New Zealand – 106
India – 69
Netherlands – 45
Nigeria – 33
Ireland – 30

The remaining 58 countries range from 1 to 30 downloads each. In no particular order, they are:

Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Tonga, Belgium, Germany, Andorra, France, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Romania, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Malta, Libya, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Cocos Islands, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Kobo is a Truly International Indie-Publishing Platform

A marvelous feature built into Kobo is their deep-analytics distribution map of the world. It shows your total sales volume per country represented in blue circles. The bigger the circle, the more books you’ve sold in that country. The more circles you have on the world map, the wider your global distribution is. You can custom-adjust your stats review by the day, the week, the month, or all-time.

Seeing my Kobo sales growth is encouraging and rewarding. I still have limited experience in Kobo publishing, but what I’ve found is consistent with what more experienced (and much more successful) indies have told me about working with Kobo. These are the factors that’ll make Kobo work for you on an international scale… not possible with any other publisher:

Multiple Products — This includes eBooks and audio books (which I haven’t tried yet). It’s unrealistic to expect decent and expanding sales figures from one stand-alone product. Indie writing and publishing is a “numbers game”. The more products you offer for sale, and the more platforms you offer them on, the more you stand to sell.

Series Production — Most of my Kobo downloads are in a series. I have 6 books in a Based-On-True Crime Series and 2 stand-alone products offered on Kobo. The series beats the stand-alones ten-fold. I see a read-through sales pattern, and it’s growing with more readers recognizing my brand and being confident enough to buy into it.

Pay-To-Play — You have to spend money to make money in the indie writing and publishing business. Paid promotions work. That includes Kobo’s in-house program (which isn’t expensive) and boosting the Kobo promos with “stacked” independent ads. Those include the discount email sites and click-through ads on BookBub. I haven’t tried FaceBook yet, and Amazon won’t allow you to say “Kobo” in their presence.

A Positive Indie Author/Publisher Mindset — This is the most important factor of all. Once I made the decision (February 17, 2020) to treat my indie writing and publishing as a business, things really changed. It takes time and persistence, but it’s worth it. It fits with this quote I have on my writing space wall:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to drawback. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamed would have come their way. ~ Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

How about you Kill Zoners? Do you have any words to share about Kobo or writing and publishing in general? Let us know in the comments!

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second run as a forensic coroner investigating unexpected and unexplained human deaths. Now, Garry has reinvented himself in a third career as an indie author/publisher and admits at struggling to make sense of it all.

When not being indie, Garry Rodgers spends his of time putting around the Pacific saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at Canada’s west coast. Follow Garry’s regular blog at DyingWords.net and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Ins and Outs of Indie Publishing: Going Wide

Going Wide–or Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket.
Terry Odell

Garry had an excellent post going into great depth for using Amazon to self publish, tips that are useful for anyone putting their own books out there. I use Amazon, and it makes up a strong percentage of my writing income, but I’m a strong proponent of going wide. For me, it’s about people, and not everyone shops Amazon, especially internationally. I’ve reached readers in countries I’ve never heard of via Kobo’s platform. (Not that geography was ever my strong suit.)

publishing wide

My 2020 Kobo sales by country

Another perk of going wide is being able to set your book’s price to free at any time. I’ve found offering first in series free for several of my series is an excellent way to attract readers and drive them to the rest of the books. Amazon will price match–maybe, but it often takes some effort. Plus, as I understand it, the KDP Select TOS say you can’t distribute enrolled ebooks for free, so giving them away via services like BookFunnel, etc., as reader magnets or rewards is off the table. Many readers who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited are the sort who want lots of books at little or no cost, and I prefer to attract readers who are willing to pay for books, not wait for free days. However, going wide opens the door for other subscription services such as Scribd or Kobo Plus.

First, my personal history. When I started writing, which wasn’t all that long ago, I was with digital publishers. There was no Amazon, so each publisher had its own website with its own store. Digital publishing got its push with Ellora’s Cave, because they published erotica (which they called “romantica”). Privacy was a huge selling point. Readers could buy books on line and read them on their PDAs. (Yes, it was that long ago.)

Then, Amazon came into the mix, and digital publishing took off. For all practical purposes, they were now the “only” game in town, and when my traditional publisher remaindered my first book, it seemed reasonable to give Amazon a try. I wasn’t a huge name, so sales weren’t great, but it was a new way to reach readers with ebooks, since the publisher printed only in hard cover and targeted libraries, not bookstores. There was no monetary investment, so I had nothing to lose.

As I recall, Smashwords appeared shortly thereafter, and Barnes & Noble was next on the digital scene. I added them to my distribution channels. Amazon had just started its “Select” program requiring 90-day exclusivity, and I didn’t want to play that game. (Note: I still don’t.) When Nook came out with its now defunct “Nook First” program, I was in the right place with a new release, and gave them 30-day exclusivity. In return, my book appeared on their home page for a week, and emails promoting my book were sent to anyone who owned a Nook or had bought any of my books. I recall the Hubster saying, “Hey, Barnes & Noble just told me to buy your book,” and my daughter-in-law saying someone at work came up to her and asked if she was related to the author. I made $20,000 that month from Nook sales (and had to give back most of my Social Security and hire a tax guy).

As more channels opened, I added all my titles to each. So, that’s my publishing history. Back then, the technical aspects of getting books formatted was more challenging, but I figured it out, and if I can do it, anyone should be able to, especially now. Some basics are formatting in TNR, 12 point font, 1 inch margins all around and use a paragraph style for indenting, NOT TABS. EVER.

(Note: as more and more e-readers have come out, the end-user has control over things like fonts, etc., so there’s no need to get fancy with formatting. Stick to the recommendations.)

Now, it’s SO much easier. If you’re not comfortable with formatting, Draft2Digital will take your word doc and format it for you. All you really need to start is the doc file (they take docx, rtf, and epub as well). In their words, “If Word can read it, we can, too.” They also give you a choice of “decorations” for chapter headings and scene breaks, as well as drop caps if you want them, or other ‘start of chapter/scene’ options. (But not if you give them an epub.)

publishing wide(Another note: I don’t justify my digital files because when you up the font, as many readers do, you get huge ugly gaps of white space. Kindle automatically justifies the file. I do justify my print format.)

D2D will also create front and back matter, including an “also by the author” page that sends people to Books2Read, a link to a choice of bookstores for the reader. I first used D2D when they were new and the only way to get to Apple without a Mac, but they also distribute to places like Hoopla, Scribd, Tolino, 24 Symbols, and Bibliotheca and OverDrive for libraries.

As digital has grown, so has conversion software, because the better the book looks, and the easier it is to use the channel’s site, the more money you both will make. However, the former author relations guy at Kobo said D2D had the best conversion software out there, and he used them to make his epubs to put up at Kobo.

I go direct to Nook, Kobo, and Kindle and Smashwords because there are some perks available, such as promotion opportunities, discount coupon offers to readers, but D2D will distribute to those channels if you want. I use the epub file that D2D provides (no charge—you can download their epub and mobi formats and don’t even have to publish your book with them.) I’ve used them to create reader magnets for giveaways. I can use that file at Kobo, Nook, Kindle, and Smashwords. Again, the easier the interface is to use, the more likely authors will publish, so following directions at each of the channels is all you need to do. They’re all (of course) slightly different, but if I can figure out where to put the information, anyone should be able to.

publishing wide

Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay

It took me longer to establish a readership at the other channels, but now that I have it, I don’t want to lose them. They’re the frosting on my royalty cake. Plus, if Amazon sales sag, the other channels help make up for it.

For the record, I’m a Nook book-buyer, so if a book is exclusive to Amazon, it’s not likely I’ll buy it. Yes, I have the Kindle app, but  I prefer the user interface on my Nook. About the only Kindle books I “buy” are the Prime freebies each month, and many months, not even those. Yes, as an author, I make more money selling at Amazon, but exclusivity rubs me the wrong way. My take: The more power we give Amazon, the more they can change the rules to suit their game. This means that if they decide to end Kindle Unlimited, which they could, you’ll have to start from scratch building a wide readership. Putting all my eggs in one basket doesn’t work for me.

You do what works for you, and since I’m retired and don’t need to put food on the table with my book earnings, I prefer to reach more people who will buy my books, not make the most money possible. I write because I can’t imagine not writing.

Questions? Experiences to share? The floor is open.


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is now available at most e-book channels. and in print from Amazon.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Radish Fiction – A New Income Source for Writers? Plus, Changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I heard some disappointing news from Amazon Kindle Worlds (KW) yesterday. They are changing the program and not offering a bonus to help defray production cost. The money wasn’t much. It was $500 and went down to $250, but that money took care of the cover design and formatting. It wasn’t considered an “advance.’

Amazon is keep the program the same (including promised bonuses) for any approved launches already set up for the rest of 2018. They are working with the host authors on who is signed up as a writer, etc.

The host authors who have kindle worlds are continuing with their host duties, but in 2019, Amazon will not be involved in scheduling the releases (the host authors would do that). Nothing much will change for the host authors. They will have the same revenue sharing and agreements in place. It’s too soon to tell whether the lack of bonus money will lessen the enthusiasm for authors to sign up. Initial discussions are mixed, but I would imagine Amazon’s gamble will pay off, that many authors will still see a benefit in a group launch and the host authors organizing things. They will probably like getting their work exposed to a larger reader base shared by the other authors and the host writer.

Amazon never did much promo for the launches, but the fact that they have and maintain the platform is a benefit that would be hard to replicate. Amazon is banking on authors not caring if they get the bonus and hope they get to retain the same enthusiasm for writing stories but pay nothing for the copyright retention.

But Amazon KW does nothing with those copyrights. The fact that KW doesn’t take advantage of subrights like audio, film, or foreign rights makes me have second thoughts about continuing with them. For many of the worlds, authors retain rights to their original characters (but not all worlds do this, so read the fine print). If the author has a unique setting that hasn’t already been established in another series from that author (before it’s crossed over with the host author’s world), then Amazon could get copyrights to that setting. Another drawback at present is that Amazon Kindle World does not have a worldwide distribution. It’s something they want to achieve, but KW is only a division of Amazon and does not share the same distribution channels.

RADISH FICTION

But after reading about the changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds, authors were talking about another new start up company that has found a niche in serialized fiction. Have you heard of RadishFiction.com ? Radish is a new app for serialized fiction, geared for the mobile generation to bring novels to smart phones. It’s open to a global market (really big in eastern Asia (Korea and China) where the enthusiasm started) and Radish can be used as a different source of income or to create buzz for an upcoming book that hasn’t gotten published yet.

Could this replace Netgalley? The expense to place an ARC on Netgalley is pricey, even if an author joins a group or service to help defray the cost. Radish wouldn’t specifically earn an author early reviews, but the writer would score money for fiction sold. Netgalley doesn’t do that.

Plus there apparently isn’t any copyrights sold. Although I haven’t seen a confirmation of this, I believe the author retains copyright and is only making their content available for sale.

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to write about Radish – Click HERE

Radish is recruiting authors who have written for Canada’s WattPad and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or other similar type opportunities.The idea is to write serialized shorter fiction with cliffhangers to hook a readership. Generally this is 2,000 word chapters of original short genre fiction with cliffhangers that hook the reader to keep reading and keep buying.

So with the changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds, writing that is similar to fanfiction.net, Radish could be a good opportunity to find a different income source with fewer hassles. Authors are paid in “micropayments” with authors receiving a range of $3,000-13,000/month, similar to how game platforms work.

Radish has an impressive list of investors and plans to hire editors, developers, and designers. They have about 700 writers creating serialized fiction for 300,000 readers.

The initial genre that has been big with Radish is YA romance, science fiction and fantasy. It’s geared for a younger audience that is comfortable reading off smartphones, but I would imagine there is room for growth into other genres. Radish is also looking for traditionally published authors who want to bring original content to them.

Authors must submit to write for Radish and there is a review team to screen applicants. HERE is the link to get started and fill out the application. Read the various press releases on their site. You’ll get more insight into what they are doing.

So what Amazon Kindle World takes away, Radish delivers something new that could be very exciting.

Discussion:

1.) What other out of the box outlets have you seen for authors to bring original content?

2.) Are you a smart phone reader? Do you see potential in what Radish is offering?

BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Valentine and the Lotus Circle – $1.99 Ebook Available Now!

Love made him vulnerable…once.

The Phoenix Agency hires a mysterious woman psychic from the ancient and mythical Lotus Circle to break down the mental barriers of Braxton Valentine—a black ops Psi agent with a death wish and a hunger for revenge.

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Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

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Diversity, Micro-Aggression and Cultural Appropriation

One of the main themes of the recent SCBWI conference I attended was diversity in children’s literature (or rather its lack thereof!). Even though all the sessions I attended were directed towards children and YA authors, the key issues and concerns are  applicable across genres and age groups – namely how to incorporate diversity in the books we write, and how to do so in an appropriate way (that is, in ways that avoid cultural appropriation as well as what the editors termed ‘micro-aggressions’ in the books we write).

I hadn’t heard the term ‘micro-agression’ before when it came to books but the term is really about the cliches, characterizations or expressions writers can fall into (often without thinking) that perpetuate cultural stereotypes. In one of the first-page sessions the editors pointed out some of these ‘micro-aggressions’ in phrases such as sitting ‘Indian style’ and ‘Indian giver’. I’m sure in both these instances the author used these unwittingly rather than maliciously but the editors were quick to point out that, in an industry increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in the books they publish, authors need to be especially mindful of how they incorporate diversity in their books and avoid using terms, phrases or characters that perpetuate stereotypes or inflict ‘micro aggression’ against particular cultures.

In another session I attended there was a great discussion about the issues writers face when writing about cultures or characters different to their own. The key take home message? If you write cross-culturally you MUST do your research! This includes having beta-readers from that culture to ensure that the kinds of ‘micro-agressions’ or cultural appropriations that the editors identified, did not occur.  I wholeheartedly support an increase in diversity, particularly in children’s literature, and acknowledge that writers, when tackling cross-cultural issues, must do their research to ensure that they approach the issue in an appropriate and sensitive way. I must confess, however, that after this session, given the sensitivity and complexity of the discussion, I felt more rather than less reluctant when it came to writing cross-culturally. That isn’t to say I don’t feel strongly that I should have the freedom to write whatever I chose to write about without any gender, racial or cultural constraints but, after the discussion, I did feel like the issue was more fraught than I had realized (or rather, I clearly hadn’t thought through the issues enough).

So TKZers what do you think? How do you approach the issue of diversity? Do you endeavor to write cross-culturally and if so, how do you navigate the issues raised when doing so? Do you see  ‘micro-agressions’ or cultural appropriations in the books you read?

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Bookus Interruptus

Nancy J. Cohen

You’ve all heard of another type of interruption in the middle of a certain act which I’d rather not mention here, yes? Consider this one similar, except we’re talking about interrupting your writing process when you’re in the frenzy of storytelling. How disconcerting when you’re working on book number 14 in your series, and you get an email announcing that edits for number 13 have arrived. You have to disrupt your train of thought and put aside the current WIP to go back to the previous book. Two weeks are gone to the winds while you answer your editor’s notes, polish each scene, and perfect each sentence for the umpteenth time. This book takes over, and you think of nothing else until the job is done. With a sense of relief, you send this version back across cyberspace, aware that you still have rereads of the copy edits and page proofs further down the line.

writing

Nudging at the edges of your mind is the reminder that you have blogs to write and interviews to do for your upcoming new release of book number 12. Have you ordered swag yet to promote this title? Designed your contests, newsletter, Facebook launch party, and other activities as the release date nears?

Book number 14 calls to you. It’s sitting front and center on your desk, and you yearn to get back to the story. But your mind tells you to get these other tasks done, and only then will you be free to resume the joy of storytelling. When you’re finally able to return to writing, you face the blank page with a blank look on your face. You’ve lost your train of thought and your place in the story. So how do you get your head back in the game?

Hopefully, you’ve made detailed notes on where you left off in your WIP and what comes next. Review these plot points when it’s time to resume the story. Line edit what you’ve already written. This will save you time later and reacquaint you with what’s come before in the story. Then set a date when you must begin your writing schedule again.

It’s hard when you have interruptions, whether for edits of other works or for conferences and events that you have to attend. Prepare for your departure as best you can by noting the next scene and any surprises you have planned along the way. It helps to have a synopsis. Then you can see where you left off and continue from that point onward. What technique do you use to get your mind back in the story?

Contest Alert!
Name a Character in my next Bad Hair Day Mystery! Or win one of two runner-up prizes: a signed paperback of Hanging by a Hair and a deck of Marco Island Playing Cards, or a signed paperback of Shear Murder and a deck of Tropical Drink Playing Cards. http://bit.ly/15SmIi0

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Keep Your Options Open

Omega ConnectionAllan Leverone

Note from Jodie: I just moved to a new city a few days ago and am up to my ears in unpacked boxes and chaos, so I’ve brought back my friend and two-time former client, bestselling thriller and horror author Allan Leverone, to tell you how he recently increased his author visibility and spiked book sales. Take it away, Al!

Thanks, Jodie. Great to be back at TKZ. My first book was published a little over four years ago, in February 2011. You may remember that as the chaotic period when the self-publishing phenomenon really broke through and turned the traditional publishing model upside down.

Between December 2009, when I signed my first contract, and February 2011, those changes swept through the industry. One result of everything going on was that I suffered a unilateral modification in contract terms by my publisher—changing the agreed-upon format of my upcoming release from mass-market paperback to ebook-only—a change that forced me to reconsider signing in the first place.

My debut novel hadn’t even been released yet and I was already questioning my decision to sign that first contract.

Should I hire an attorney and attempt to force the publisher to abide by the original contract terms? Should I demand they return the rights to my book based on breach of contract? Or should I suck it up and accept the change?

Eventually I chose the third option and the book was released almost a year later, and I was left with the challenge faced by all authors not named King or Patterson or Grisham.

How the hell was I going to attract readers to a book offered for sale by a virtually unknown writer?

My theory was then and still is now that avid readers don’t read books, they read authors, that when picking their next read, given the choice between an author’s name they recognize and one they don’t recognize, they will almost always choose the former over the latter.

This was a problem, and one thing that struck me as I read J.A. Konrath’s blog day after day, where he hammered home the point that ebooks are forever, was that this problem was only going to get worse. If convincing readers to choose my book was a challenge in 2011, it was only going to become more of a challenge over time, as the market became more and more saturated.

It was critical I raise my name recognition, so that I could become one of the authors whose names readers recognized and thus chose.

When I looked at the writers who were becoming successful in the Brave New World of modern publishing, I saw men and women who all seemed to have one thing in common, regardless of their genre: they took risks.

I decided I would become a risk-taker as well, and since making that decision I’ve approached the business side of writing from that perspective: to take chances when I felt it could be beneficial.

So when I read in October 2014 that Amazon Publishing was about to open up a brand-new venture called Kindle Scout, I paid close attention. I’m friends with some outstanding writers published through Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint, people like Vincent Zandri and J. Carson Black, and their experience with Amazon has been universally outstanding.

Do you know how rare that is in the world of publishing, for authors not just to be satisfied with their publisher, but actually pleased?

But there was a problem: Thomas and Mercer was closed to submissions and had been for a long time.

As someone looking for a way to get involved with Amazon Publishing, the benefits seemed obvious to me: Amazon is the world’s biggest bookseller and thus has a ready-made ocean of buyers out there, actively searching for quality books in all genres. Their targeted marketing is second to none, and unlike other publishers, they can directly control which titles their readers see, and how many readers see them.

So I studied the Kindle Scout program. It seemed fairly straightforward. I would submit a manuscript. My book would be featured in a thirty-day campaign, where readers (“Scouts”) could examine an excerpt and nominate the book for publication if they deemed it worthy. At the end of the book’s campaign, Amazon editors would consider the quality of the work and the number of nominations received, and within fifteen days would either accept the book for publication by their brand-new Kindle Press imprint, or would decline to publish it and return the rights to me.

It just so happened that I had a manuscript nearly submission-ready.

My theory was to take risks when it could be beneficial.

This was a no-brainer. I finished cleaning up the manuscript and submitted it into the Kindle Scout program about ten days after the program opened for submissions. Two days after THE OMEGA CONNECTION’s campaign ended, the manuscript was accepted for publication by Kindle Press and on March 3, was among the first ten books released by the brand-new imprint.

I believe I made the right decision. My experience with Amazon Publishing to this point has been nothing short of outstanding. The copyediting process was thorough, I have an Amazon rep who is friendly and smart and responsive, and best of all, the book is selling. I’m gaining readership.

Omega Connection

THE OMEGA CONNECTION has taken up residence in two bestseller categories at Amazon, Political Suspense and Hard-Boiled Mystery, and has consistently ranked between 5,500 and 9,500 at Amazon. These results over a six-week period are far better than I’ve ever achieved with any other book.

Is Kindle Scout for everyone? Of course not; nothing is for everyone. The program is not perfect. For example, unlike traditional publishers, Amazon expects Kindle Scout authors to provide their own quality cover art. As someone familiar and comfortable with self-publishing, this was not a problem for me; it might be a deal-breaker for some.

And as with any venture, it is absolutely essential you read and understand the contract before signing anything.

But if you’re willing to take chances, if you believe in your work, if you’re looking to sell books and raise your profile as an author, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least seriously consider the new Kindle Scout program.

It’s your career. Keep your options open.

Allan Leverone, Mar. '12

Allan Leverone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eleven novels, including MR. MIDNIGHT, named by Suspense Magazine as one of the “Best Books of 2013.” 

A 2012 Derringer Award winner for excellence in short mystery fiction and 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee, Allan lives in Londonderry, New Hampshire with his wife of more than thirty years, three grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. 

Check out THE OMEGA CONNECTION or learn more at www.AllanLeverone.com. The CIA’s most secret weapon, Tracie Tanner, must stop a killer targeting defense contractors. Or die trying.

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Submission Protocol

Nancy J. Cohen

Last week, I sent a submission via snail mail. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s almost a forgotten art. I hadn’t sent out a physical manuscript in so long that I’d forgotten the specifics. I think it’s been at least five years, likely longer, since I last had to send anything from the post office. This submission went to a niche market and was another of my father’s travel journals.

So what was involved? After reading the online submission guidelines, I reviewed my manuscript. Oops, I’d forgotten all about headers and footers with the book title, author name, and page number. Having formatted for ebook requirements, I added those back in.

writing

Since this book is nonfiction, I had to include a Table of Contents. No problem. I know how to do this in Word. Oh, wait. I forgot to write a Foreword like I did with my father’s other journal, Thumbs Up, that I’d indie published. So I added the TOC. Then I deleted some of the book buy hyperlinks in the back. I shouldn’t include those for this type of submission.

A query letter topped it all off. I polished mine once more before adding it to the pile of papers. It’s also been ages since I’d had to write one of these things. It’s never easy, is it?

Now what? I printed out the whole work, since it is short and about equivalent to a normal book proposal in page count. Next came the SASE. How do you do this again? If you want the manuscript back, you have to put actual postage stamps on a suitably sized manila envelope. This means you have to weigh the envelope for return postage with the manuscript inside, affix the stamps, remove the pages and stuff them into the outer envelope along with the folded SASE. A complicated business, isn’t it? Or you can just include a stamped and self-addressed #10 business envelope for the form rejection letter you’re sure to get.

envelopes

And then comes the great sigh of relief when you send your baby off at the post office. This generates a more visceral response than sending a book into cyberspace. Somehow the physical manuscript seems more a part of you.

Weeks pass and then months. You watch the mail for the return envelope. Once you see it, gloom sets in. You’ve been rejected. And you start the process all over again.

At least that’s how it used to be done in the old days. Do you remember those times? Do you miss them?

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