Kobo Writing Life: An Interview with Diego Marano, UK Manager

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Self-publishing has transformed the publishing landscape forever. Kobo Writing Life is one of the platforms available to writers wishing to publish and disseminate their work. We caught up with Diego Marano, UK Manager of Kobo Writing Life, about how the platform works with writers as well as the opportunities and challenges writer’s face today.

What is Kobo Writing Life? What differentiates it from other self-publishing platforms?

Kobo Writing Life is Kobo’s self-publishing platform which launched in the summer of 2012.  A year later Kobo Writing Life has enabled authors to publish in over 60 languages, across more than 140 countries and has grown to the point where it constitutes  between 10 and 18% of Kobo’s unit sales every week.

KWL users are able  to directly upload their e-books to the Kobo global platform. This enables them to enter multiple markets, significantly increasing the visibility of their works and the chances of gaining new readers. The KWL platform has been localized and supports  the following languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Dutch.

Kobo Writing Life distinguishes itself by being free, open and collaborative. Our author community is not tied to a closed and limiting environment.  Authors maintain all copyright in their works and are at liberty to upload, convert, edit and sell their books for no extra charge. The KWL interface is also particularly appreciated by authors for being intuitive and user-friendly.

And how does it support writers?

KWL removes the barriers for authors and gives independent authors the opportunity to find a global audience. For some authors this proves that there is a market for their books and convinces publishers to invest in their talent. An average of 5-8 titles in Kobo’s Top 50 chart at any given time are those published on KWL. KWL is continually being updated based on feedback from the writing community, and is always looking for new ways to refine, improve and add to the tools we make freely available to them.

What is your role at Kobo Writing Life?

I joined KWL in August of this year and I am in charge of the UK territory. My goal is to elevate the presence and the success of authors published at Kobo. The UK market is one of the most dynamic in terms of self-publishing and I am thrilled to work with the author community.

Are there genres that perform particularly well on Kobo?

Of course some genres are more popular (and profitable) than others. Romance and Thriller are two genres that do quite well. However, if you write a book with the main purpose of making money, it rarely  pays off. You write a book because you feel the need to. You have a world in your head and you want to share it with other people. Writing is a complex process and some elements are beyond  your control.

Michelangelo Buonarroti once said ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it’. Likewise I believe that, as a writer, the story you feel the need to tell is already inside you. The best thing you can do is to discover it and bring it to light.

What do you perceive to be the main challenges and opportunities for writers at the current time?

The publishing business is in the middle of the most profound  revolution since the Gutenberg Bible. This change has been driven by the development of technology. This restless force affects all aspects  of the publishing process. It influences the way you format, distribute, promote and sell content. It has even come to influence the writing process. Comprehending this restless force and making the most of it is the key challenge and the greatest opportunity at the same time.

Through KWL writers can freely publish their e-book. As soon as an e-book gets released it hits  multiple markets across the globe and the writer gains 45% to 70% from the selling price they autonomously set. If your book doesn’t fly off the shelves at the first place you have plenty of time to perfect it, promote it and keep trying. The big challenge most writers struggle with is patience – authors should know that this is a long term thing. If it doesn’t sell now it might take off tomorrow, or the day after. If it doesn’t work in your country it might find a readership elsewhere across the globe. Becoming a successful writer is not guaranteed but no great opportunity comes without a challenge.

You also work with agents and publishers, how does that work?

Drawing a dividing line between self-publishing and the rest of the business is not just futile but counter-productive. Self-publishing an e-book is easy and economical. The ‘traditional’ production chain is more expensive and publishers are understandably very careful when it comes to investing in an author. Agents and small publishers are realizing that KWL is an easy and cheap way to give their authors the opportunity to prove themselves and experiment without the pressure that comes from significant initial investment.

What advice would you give to any writer embarking on the self-publishing journey?

The self-publishing journey is not only about writing and selling.  A fundamental part of this journey has to do with promoting your book and yourself. There are independent authors that sell without any form of self-promotion but they are extremely rare. This has to do with the mystique of our business and it is essentially inexplicable. In reality, the majority of successful independent authors devote a remarkable amount of time to promoting their works. They do that by engaging with their readership on regular basis, growing their platform of fans day by day. This takes time but can be extremely rewarding in many different ways.

What tips to you have for writers who want to increase sales of their e-books?

There is no  silver bullet. What leads an author to succeed cannot be outlined in a few tips. However, there is one word that each independent author should inscribe in their mind, and that word is ‘marketing’. I personally believe that any publishing journey has to begin with a terrific product but having a ‘sound’ marketing plan is vital.  You can have a beautifully crafted tall ship but if you don’t know how to set a course and catch the wind you are very likely to get stuck.

What’s next? For writers, for publishing, for Kobo Writing Life?

Kobo Writing Life is constantly under development. At Kobo we believe that our job is not only about aggregating and selling content but it is about providing an effective service capable of meeting users’ needs. With this in mind we designed a dashboard which provides each user with data on sales by country, along with estimated earnings.  We recently enabled pre-ordering for e-books so that authors  can set release dates and accumulate orders.

We have also improved our service by adding the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor which enables users to preview their books and make quick corrections and updates if needs be. Overall, we are continuously working on developments and upgrades. Our goal is to make the self-publishing journey really accessible and to show everybody the opportunity beyond the challenge.

Kobo Writing Life is supporting The Writing Platform’s fair and conference for writers on 4th November.  Diego Marano, will be available throughout the day to answer questions and offer personal advice and he will also be running an open seminar on ‘The Self-Publishing Journey in the Digital Market’ at 12.15.

Kobo Writing Life is also offering two free tickets to the event, enter here and one lucky visitor to the event will take home a Kobo Aura (RRP £119).

Diego Marano is the Kobo Writing Life Manager in the UK. As well as being the main point of contact for Kobo Writing Life in the UK, Diego also works within the author community to raise the presence and promote the success of authors published on Kobo. Prior to joining Kobo he worked in different roles at Waterstones.com, John Wiley & Sons (UK) and Elsevier (Italy).

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