Tag Archives: Kobo

On Prodigal Bridge Trolls & Homecoming Dances

When I first published Equivocal Destines, I enrolled it in Amazon’s Kindle Select program. They “recommended” it and after some quick research, it seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t happy about it’s conditions, but it worked out OK. In brief:

You enroll your book(s) in KDP-S and you get fancy benefits:
  • You can set the price of your book to free for 5 days out of every 90 day enrollment – which is actually highly restrictive as most other sales channels will let you set your book to any price you want, including free, for as long as you want. It’s the only “free” option on Amazon though, so – in theory – good for marketing. I used this enrollment period to do a bit of free advertising (free book, not free service) and it all came to naught, so this isn’t worth squat in reality.
  • You can lend your book to Amazon Prime and Amazon Unlimited customers. You still get about $2 for each copy lent. Now this was something I could really get behind. It was another way to make my book available to lots of people, for a better price, and I still get my $2. Awesome! In reality, I lent a whole bunch of copies and haven’t seen a cent from Amazon for all of it, but it’s a good, ethical theory. Amazon’s now changed the pricing policy, but that’s a topic for another time.
  • You get prioritised advertising space – for whatever that’s worth for my completely unknown book. Not incidentally, that’ll probably be the topic of my next blog spew, so stay tuned.
There was also a single, massive downside. You have to make the book exclusive to Amazon for the 90-day enrollment. Now this is something that I find highly unethical and abusive. It was because of this rule that I removed my book from KDP-S and published it elsewhere.
Now, it feels good to have your book available in all of the stores, and it’s also a lot nicer and more ethical to have full rights to your work, instead of ceding some of those rights to Amazon or anyone else. The problem is, all of the other stores are completely ineffective. I’m going back to Kindle Select now.

Back into the fold

I was with KDP-S for 1 iteration of the standard 90-day enrollment period, then I didn’t renew it and published at Kobo and Smashwords, which in turn published my book pretty much everywhere else. In that 5.5 months, I’ve sold a measly 5 copies in stores that aren’t Amazon. I used to rent a lot more copies than that each month on Amazon, and that was only days after releasing my book and having done absolutely no advertising.
I recently read Mark Coker’s recent diatribe (from Smashwords) about KDP-S, and I agree with pretty much everything he says, from a ethical perspective, an industry perspective and a financial perspective. He’s absolutely right that KDP’s exclusivity clause is unethical (my words, not his) and needs to go. Like he admits though, I have prioritise the rent that I have to pay. More than that though, I have some serious misgivings about all of the other storefronts/sales channels.
  1. Only Amazon actually makes a serious attempt to put unknown books in front of potential buyers. I’ve looked into the advertising options at Apple, Kobo, etc and found Amazon to be far superior, even in their evilness. Basically, Amazon’s better at making money for themselves, by (accidentally) making money for me.
  2. It’s not even possible/easy to advertise outside of Amazon myself. I’ve used KBoards, ENT, BookBlow and BookGorilla and they all just want a direct link to your book on Amazon US. I don’t know how to advertise my book outside of Amazon, or outside of the USA. I have a proportionally much higher number of fans in the UK but I can’t even find an advertising service to reach more of them. All of the big services are USA-centric and Amazon-centric, so why should I care if my book’s on other sales sites if the advertisers don’t?
  3. No matter what you may like or dislike about Amazon, they’re still the place to be. Sorry, but it’s true. I wish the other sites would put as much effort into the whole process as Amazon does, but they don’t, so Amazon it is for me, and if it’s going to be Amazon, and Amazon is willing to give me more for free by rejoining KDP-S, then so be it.

I’ve done a bunch of rounds of advertising but my book’s still languishing in obscurity. This isn’t the place to speculate at length about why (dark cover art, unadvertisable genre…), but it does provide an opportunity to really test the pre-KDP-S vs. post-KDP-S landscape. I’m going to re-enroll and just leave it for a few weeks to see if my sales (and rentals) magically increase. If they do, with no further input from me, then we’ll all know that Amazon’s background magic actually does alter your book’s placement by being in KDP-S. A lack of movement might just mean my book’s not appealing, but time will tell.

On Fixing Yodelling Tithes

What should you charge for your books? There’s a lot of debate, and even some research, but I thought I’d do an updated version of the old Big Mac test. Have you heard of that one? To get a true indication of hat life costs in a new place, check the price of a Big Mac. My Big Mac today is Happy Potter and the Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone.

The majority of sales channels will let you set the price of your book differently for each of their stores/regions. I’m currently only signed up to 3 but Smashwords only has 1 price, so I’m going to compare info about Amazon and Kobo. I hunted down:

  1. The markets each sales channel operates in.
  2. The minimum price at Amazon to qualify for their 70% royalty rate.
  3. The minimum price at Kobo to qualify for their 70% royalty rate.
  4. The price of Harry Potter (the paperback edition – not the Kindle edition, there isn’t one, apparently) in each market.
  5. The minimum wage in each country represented. Sourced from Wikipedia. Sorry if it’s wrong. For example, the number for Australia looks too high.
  6. A simple Excel calculation working out the number of minutes a person would have to work at minimum wage to buy a book at the lowest minimum price available at Amazon or Kobo.
Marketplace Amazon Min. Price Kobo Min. Price Harry Potter
@ Amazon
Minimum Wage
Mins. to Work for
1 Min. Priced Book
kobobooks.com/ – USD
$0.99 $2.99 $6.29 $7.25 8.19
kobobooks.com/ – GBP
£0.99 £1.99 £3.49 £6.50 9.14
kobobooks.com/ – EUR € 1.99
Amazon.de € 0.99 € 6.05 € 8.50 6.99
Amazon.fr € 0.99 € 6.05 € 9.61 6.18
Amazon.es € 0.99 € 6.05 756.70 per month 13.50
Amazon.it € 0.99 € 6.05 none
Amazon.nl € 0.99 € 6.05 € 8.70 6.83
kobobooks.com/ – JPY
¥99 ¥299 ¥851 ¥677-888 8.77
kobobooks.com/ – HKD $15.99 $32.50 29.52
Amazon.com.br R$1.99 R$19.59 R$788.00 per month 26.06
kobobooks.com/ – CAD
$0.99 $2.99 $9.24 C$10.20 to C$12.50 5.82
Amazon.com.mx $11.99 $4,327.10 66.45-70.10 pesos per day 86.61
kobobooks.com/ – AUD
$0.99 $2.99 $9.36 $17.29 3.44
kobobooks.com/ – NZD $2.99 $14.75 12.16
Amazon.in ₹49 ₹355.00 ₹118-1000 per day 199.32

Also remember the huge caveat. If your book’s not enrolled in Kindle Select (and it should not be), books in Japan, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia aren’t eligible for the 70% royalty rate anyway.

What’s the point?

Most of the industrialised countries seem pretty close to each other, but there’s a few that stand out as different. It takes 199 minutes to buy the cheapest book available if you live in a poor part of Indonesia. People in the capital earn almost 10 times as much, but I picked the worst case scenario. Of course, people in the poor parts of Indonesia probably don’t speak English, but whatever.

Hong Kong’s a rick place, but I think Amazons setting its minimum price very high, for some reason.

The point is, Amazon, Kobo, etc all organise their pricing around the profit they want to make, but this doesn’t necessarily help your readers/customers.

From now on I’m going to be pricing my books according to what’s fair for my customers in each region, based on what they earn. This won’t make me rich, but I’ll hopefully get a lot more happy readers out of it, who can spread the word wider, write more reviews, etc.

On Concisely Signposting Bridge Trolls

Here’s a question. Well, 2. And a tip – I got all of this very wrong  (I say that a lot).

  1. When should you write the blurb for your book?
  2. What are the blurbing rules?

There’s so many blogs out there giving advice on writing blurbs that I won’t repeat the usual stuff here in detail. I had some further thoughts though. Ones not usually covered.

What I’d like to talk about is where you must put your hook in your blurb, and how to write it. What’s important is that, no matter how pretty your blurb, and no matter how much you write, you get about 3 lines to convince your reader to buy, and 3 lines is the optimistic number. Let’s go with 1. Just as importantly, how much space do you get on each of the sales channels before your prospective customer has to click on another button to even see the rest of your blurb?

Let’s do a quick survey. Here’s the stats from today’s EReader News Today email. FYI, if you haven’t signed up for this yet, do it. It’s an excellent way of finding new, indie authors. Disclaimer – they don’t know I exist, so I’m not advertising them at all, I just like the service. I compared what you can see in the EReader News Today email to what you see on Amazon.com. It’s actually really simple for Amazon though – they display the first 5 lines of your blurb, whatever they are, even if they’re blank lines. More on this later.

Title Word Count Chars w/o Spaces Chars w/Spaces Notes
Cicada Spring: A Novel 68 330 395 That’s half a word short of paragraph 1.
Floyd 5 136 65 310 369 Amazon cut the blurb after 5 lines, 2 of which were blank, so missed almost everything.
First Bite – Shifter Romance Box Set 65 294 357 Again, Amazon showed only 5 lines, so showed nothing useful.
There’s no place like HOME 59 267 324 Amazon missed the hook by 15 words.
Predatory Kill 60 245 298 ENT appears to have skilled the promo stuff before the blurb on Amazon. Ignoring the 1-handed clapping, this is the first blurb of the day with a hook clearly shown.
Relics 72 315 383 Good hook in paragraph 1, shown on ENT and Amazon.
A Dead Husband 71 303 363 Good, visible hook. Lots of other promo stuff *under* the blurb, only visible after you press Read more
Above the Bridge 68 321 384 The hook’s at the bottom of the ENT blurb and only just visible on Amazon.
The Prophet # 1 66 318 375 Good hook. Lots of promo stuff under the Read more button on Amazon.
All The Gods Against Me 67 311 377 Unclear-but-visible hook visible on ENT but obscured with self-promotion on Amazon. Sounds like a fun book though. I grabbed a copy.
In This Life 71 320 383 Unclear-but-visible hook, but it seems like a paranormal romantic to me, so I’m not a good judge.
Curse 64 313 367 Short, clear hook in a 1-sentence paragraph. Excellent for hooking those interested in the genre.

OK, so what have we learnt from all of this?

  1. Amazon displays the 1st 5 lines of your blurb, no matter what, so your hook must be in paragraph 1, on the 1st 5 lines – and they’re narrow lines.
  2. ENT safely shows about 60 average-length words, so your hook has to be in there.
  3. Don’t get too fancy. Some of the blurbs had hooks but they were unclear, badly worded not specific enough to actually hook me, even with those in my preferred genres.

Now let’s compare Amazon to the other big retailers. For this, I’ll have to pick a single, famous book and see what everyone does. Just because Gra o Tron is cool, I’m going with A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R. R. Martin.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0553593714/ 5 lines of blurb. No hook, but it’s Game of Thrones, so does it really need it? Yes! Some people really do live under rocks.
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/a-game-of-thrones-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-book-1 The search page shows 3 lines of Synopsis but the book’s page shows a lot more. It references HBO, which is a sure hook then actually explains the plot, which is better that the author’s people’s choice for Amazon.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-game-of-thrones-martin-george-r-r/1112681019 3.5 lines of blurb – all self-promo.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/game-thrones-song-ice-fire/id387502843 Full blurb – 7 lines long. By a mile, the best blurb of all of the sites. It actually describes the plot as no others do. (I used the audiobook because Apple’s site is horrific to navigate if you don’t own an Apple toy.)

In the table above, most of my comments are about the topic / quality of the blurb, which is beyond the control of the website / sales channel – this is Martin’s people’s choice – but I’ve also listed the length of the visible blurb, which is important to you.

So, here’s the general rules for blurb writing:

  • You need 3 short paragraphs, 1 for the intro, 1 for the short content, 1 about you… bla bla bla – whatever. Read other people’s blogs to find out how to write a blurb that’ll hook a reader. More importantly:
  • Your blurb must have a hook in paragraph 1.
  • This hook must be in the first 3 lines.
  • This whole paragraph must be positive! No humdrum either. Why? Because I’ve found that when I’m reading through the 12 blurbs in the EReader News Today emails, I get bored  by the end of line 1 when the blurb starts out negative (“The protagonist’s life sux … shit happens … she meets a vampire … life gets interesting.”) or when it’s prosaic (“The protagonist leads a mundane life … something happens … he’s forced to …”) aaargh! Next! I have 12 choices every day.
  • Different sales channels – and that’s exactly what they are – treat your blurb differently, so write it, fine-tune it and test it our across all channels. Change it as necessary and don’t be afraid to burn and rewrite it if your book’s not selling well.

Catapulting Bridge Trolls onto Foreign Soils: Destination Kobo

My first novel, Equivocal Destines, has been available on Amazon for 4 months. I originally signed up to the Kindle Select program which gave Amazon exclusivity for 90 days. As this exclusive period has now ended, I’m belatedly adding my book to the other main sales channels. The first one of these, Kobo, has turned out to be a very different process to Amazon, which has made me think about writing a blog post on my experience with each sales channel.

Here’s my little bridge troll on Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/equivocal-destines

First up, a word about Smashwords

Strangely, to talk about Kobo, I first have to talk about Smashwords. You see, Smashwords appears to be an excellent, trustworthy, online, ebook store with credibility and a great feature that the others lack – if you publish to Smashwords, they’ll distribute your novel to (almost) all of the other sales channels. Excellent, right? IMHO, yes and no. If you’re technophobe, lazy or busy, definitely do this. The problem is, they take a 10% cut of your sales for the privilege. Now, I imagine for most authors this is a price well worth paying, but I’m a little different/weird in that I’m comfortable formatting ebooks and I’m willing to spend the time doing it. This means that I can get 10% more money by publishing my book to all of the other main sales channels separately. I’m still going to make use of Smashwords for their direct sales and the minor channels (which aren’t worth me spending too much time on) but I’ll do the main ones myself. This includes Kobo.

How does the Kobo publishing process compare to Amazon?

Let’s compare Kobo to the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Amazon. Smashwords doesn’t ship to Amazon unless your book becomes very popular  (because Amazon doesn’t supply an automated transfer system, it’s not Smashwords’ fault) so most indie authors are going to want to publish directly to Amazon anyway.

Amazon’s publishing process is very slick and highly automated. You follow the prompts, upload your cover image and your complete document, and Amazon does the rest. I found it to be fast, painless and accurate. The process to look maybe a day, including Amazon’s processing time. It took me a lot longer to format my book according to Amazon’s template document, but that’s expected.

Kobo uses a different system which appears to be based on a different philosophy. They still have a system where you upload your cover image and source text but it then opens in a web-based editor so you can edit the document online. I found the conversion process to be highly inaccurate and the online editor clownish and immature. Please keep in mind that I’ve only tried this with one source file so I can’t realistically speak with any authority, yet. I will say though that my source document uploaded perfectly fine to Amazon and is designed according to Smashwords’ excellent style guide.

I checked out Kobo’s Content Conversion Guidelines (http://download.kobobooks.com/learnmore/writinglife/KWL-Content-Conversion-Guidelines.pdf) and found the document to be a waste of time. Seriously, use Smashwords’ formatting book. It’s infinitely better.

The online editor is also very limited in its options, and if you use it your book will probably end up looking simple and maybe even amateurish. I’m wondering if this is deliberate. Maybe Kobo hardware has limited display options. I don’t know. I highly recommend doing all formatting in Word then simplifying as necessary to get Kobo’s system to accept it. Or, better yet, find a separate .epub creator and upload the finished product, bypassing Kobo’s frustrating system completely. I’ll do this next time. Amazon doesn’t let you do that – they use .mobi files, but you can’t upload those there either.

2 days after publishing to Kobo, I’m still having problems. I found the title of my book seris  – Upheaving Nidola – keeps getting changed to “Up heaving Nidola”, which could be an auto-spellchecking problem which I can’t figure out how to turn off, but the publication year – 2015 – is also changed to “201 5” in 3 places on the copyright page. These types of errors shouldn’t happen. I’ve confirmed my source document is correct and contains no hidden formatting to make this happen, so it’s just a Kobo problem.

I hate Kobo!

Once the book content is uploaded, things change dramatically. My limited experience so far shows that Kobo is more flexible and fair on pricing and distribution. Kobo gives me 70% of the sale price for all books sold in all regions that they sell to. Amazon has more local markets, but this is the Internet where anyone can buy anything from anywhere so I don’t see that as too important.

Most importantly for me, Kobo is much more reasonable on payment. I am Australian but I live in Poland. My only option for payment from Amazon is an expensive cheque sent by mail in US dollars. Amazon applies an $8 processing fee to the cheque and the process seems to be very slow and cumbersome. Kobo, by contrast will send the money directly to my Polish bank account in Euros. Simple and effective.

I already prefer Kobo.

Update 1 – Fri 29th May 2015

I emailed Kobo about my problem with their system. I got this reply:

Hello Raymond,

Thank you for getting in touch with us.

Our instant preview function is relatively new and we are still working out some of the kinks. Currently, it can take a few days for updates to go through to the instant preview, although updates are reflected in the actual file within a few hours of make the changes.

My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.


OK, so, long story short, I was inadvertently using their systems incorrectly because they failed to inform their authors that the Preview function has a delay. I can live with that. I really appreciate the speed and actual usefulness of their email-based customer support. I worked in IT back in Australia so I can assure you of this simple fact – every system will eventually fail / have a problem. What’s most important is the quality of the customer service when this inevitable problem rears its ugly head.

I appreciate Kobo’s customer support now. My simple experience was waaaay more positive than what I naively assume I’d get from Amazon.