Word on the Street 2017 – A Recap

Word on the Street is an annual one-day literacy festival that takes place in locations across Canada. In each participating city, local, regional and national authors, poets, illustrators, spoken word artists, and entertainers participate in readings, panel discussions, and musical entertainment. Publishers, booksellers, literacy organizations, post-secondary programs, and community groups are also welcome to set up tables in the vendor marketplace.

For most of its history in English, the word ‘literate’ meant to be ‘familiar with literature’ or, more generally, ‘well educated, learned.’…Today literacy means so much more than the ability to read and write. In our modern technology-rich society the definition of literacy is much broader and now includes nine essential skills: reading text, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, computer use, critical thinking skills and continuous learning. – Word on the Street Halifax

This year, fellow romance author Brenda Pearson and I shared a table to sell and sign our books. As always, one of the highlights of WOTS was the opening reception the night before. The reception was held at Halifax’s famous Central Library, where Mark Lefebvre from Kobo Writing Life happened to be in attendance in his capacity as an author (did you know he writes spooky Canadian ghost stories as Mark Leslie?).

Check out this Facebook Live interview I did with Mark!

 

 

One of the other people I was excited to meet this year was Alexa Wilcox, the 14-year-old author of the YA fantasy, Aqua Jewel. With help from her parents, Alexa self-published her debut novel and is already hard at work on the sequel.

 

Last but not least, it’s always great to catch up with John Munro, the Atlantic Canada Regional Manager for Frontier College. I volunteered with this literacy organization when I was in law school and it’s always nice to see what new programming is in store.

Beginning in 1899, the founder of Frontier College, Alfred Fitzpatrick, trained teachers to go into logging, mining, and railroad camps to teach the workers there to read. Now Frontier College provides homework clubs, summer reading camps, adult literacy and GED tutoring, and ESL services.

 

Finally, here are a couple more photos from the festival! On the left, I’m posing with Super Why!, a children’s television character who helps kids ages 3-6 learn literacy skills. On the right is a photo of some local athletes marching in support of ending violence against women.

Tips from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations

Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.
Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.

As a member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC), a Canadian chapter of Romance Writers of America, I am fortunate to have access to a wide variety of guest speakers, workshops, retreats and other writing events.

At RWAC’s April meeting, we were very pleased to welcome guest speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations, and an author himself.

So without further ado, here are just a few highlights of Mark’s presentation:

  • The 3 “P”s of self publishing success;
  • Pricing advice from Kobo; and
  • Inside information on how books get featured on Kobo and why.

 1. The 3 “P”s of self publishing success

As we all know – and have heard ad infinitum – patience, practice, and perseverance are the only ways to really be successful as a writer. “Overnight” successes make for sexy headlines, but in most cases, years of effort have gone into those successes. What distinguishes Mark’s advice from this old (but true) chestnut is the fact that he expands on the traditional advice to just keep swimming – er, writing.

From a branding perspective, the trick is to just keep writing with your target audience in mind (think of Stephen King’s Constant Reader). If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach with your book – guess what? You probably won’t. In addition to this, you need to provide the best all-around book that you can, which means it must be of superior quality in all respects, not just in terms of writing. According to Kobo’s statistics, the success of a book is directly related to the quality of its editing and cover.

2. Pricing advice from Kobo

In his time at Kobo, Mark has observed that three things are necessary to ensure sales when pricing an e-book:

  • pricing deliberately;
  • pricing responsively; and
  • pricing often.

Authors are most successful and achieve highest sales when they price deliberately, taking into account things like genre (romance prices are low compared to other genres, but more units are bought by the average reader), book length, and comparator titles. They should also be aware of the dreaded “Dead Price Point” – $1.99. For some reason, books of all lengths and genres sell poorly at $1.99, and do better at either $.99 or $2.99 and up.

Pricing responsively refers to the idea that self-published book prices don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – static. Since the author is in control, she has the power not just to take advantage of marketing opportunities, but to create them for herself. If you’ve written a book set on Halloween, for example, why not offer a sale in the days leading up to the holiday?

Or say you’ve written a series. You might want to consider making the first book free. In one example, Kobo found that 12,000 readers downloaded a free e-book, but only 2,000 actually opened it, and only about 350 read the whole thing. Of those who read the book, however, 50% went on to buy more books from the author, and the total downloaded units helped push the book higher in the rankings to increase its visibility.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try different pricing strategies. One bestselling author found that when she increased her book’s price from $5.99 to $6.99, her sales improved at iBooks and Barnes & Noble, stayed the same at Kobo, and decreased at Amazon. While many authors would have panicked at the hit on Amazon (the Holy Grail of self publishing, to some), the author decided to wait a while and see what happened. To her delight, sales at Amazon went back to previous levels within a week and a half and stayed high everywhere else, meaning she was now moving more units than ever and making more money on each book.

3. How books get featured

When asked how Mark and his team decide to feature an author in Kobo’s digital “front window”, the answer was simple – it’s a combination of serendipity and good planning on the author’s part. On the good luck side of things, Mark has featured artists that he has gotten to know through conferences, readings, podcasts, and networking. But no matter how much he or the marketing team likes an author, they still have to take into account the financial realities of selling books online.

The biggest challenge to an e-book retailer in promoting indie authors is price point. When a book is priced at $.99, the author’s share is $.45. This means that Kobo’s share of a sale is $.54, before costs associated with processing a credit card transaction. On the other hand, an author’s share of a book priced at $9.99 is $6.99, leaving $3.00 for Kobo before costs. This doesn’t mean that books priced at $.99 don’t get featured, but it does mean that when there is a choice between two equally great books, the one that will generate more money (or at least not cost Kobo money) is the one that gets top billing.

 

For more information on Kobo’s self publishing hub, check out Kobo Writing Life here. While it’s no secret that I’m seeking traditional publication (it says so on the “About Me” page of the website), I am intrigued by the concept of hybrid authorship. If and when I’m ready to go ahead with self publication, working directly with Kobo looks like a great choice. (I have not been remunerated in any way for blogging about Kobo – it just looks like a genuinely great bunch of people who believe in indie authors).