As change has become a mantra in the business world, executive responsibilities and job titles are evolving quickly. Our Emerging Roles series will ask Canadians about how their jobs are changing.
New title: Director of self-publishing and author relations
Who: Mark Lefebvre, Director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo Inc. since October 2011
What is your role?
It’s sort of two-tiered. I am responsible for overseeing the self-publishing aspect of Kobo, so I work with small publishers and authors who want to come to Kobo but aren’t necessarily equipped with all the technical skills that a Random House Canada person will have. I’m tasked with making it easier for the smaller folks to deal directly with Kobo.
And the other aspect of my job is author relations. I work with the author directly if they don’t have a publisher, or the publisher if they have one.
How did this role come to be at Kobo?
Kobo believed it was important to have somebody whose focus was on the author. Kobo has really been about engaging the reader and the author together, and giving them an opportunity to mingle. A lot of our social media applications and the ability to share what you’re reading on Facebook and leave comments remind people that reading is social, and the most social engagement you can have is when an author and a reader connect.
So Kobo found it was important to have somebody whose focus was on the authors, on helping the authors get their content in to Kobo’s system, or, if it was already in the system through their publisher, working with them on ways to try to engage with the reader.
Why is a focus on self-publishing and authors becoming important in your industry?
Self-publishing has been around for a long time. You hear the stories of people who became household name authors and initially couldn’t get a deal, and sometimes went the route of self-publishing and then made a name for themselves.
Technology has allowed the process to become easier. With e-books it is even easier to get in to the realm of self-publishing, but a lot of times authors need some sort of guidance.
Often it’s good to remind authors to take the time to do the research and make sure [their book] is the best possible product that they’ve produced, and then also that they’ve developed a decent e-pub format, including an attractive cover, and that they’re targeting their synopsis toward to the type of reader they’re trying to reach.
Why is this an important role at Kobo?
The relationship between reader and author is important, and the role I have is in helping that relationship to exist.
Self-publishing itself is equivalent to our business with one of our major publishers in terms of volume. My role is to making sure that those authors know that at Kobo we’re not just a digital company. Yeah, we built a platform where you can do it yourself, but there are really people behind the processes.
What is your background and how did it prepare you for this role?
I have been a bookseller since 1992 and I have worked in virtually every aspect of the bookselling industry. I’ve worked for the mall stores, like the Coles, I’ve worked for independent book stores, I’ve worked for online book stores, and I have worked for campus book stores. So I’ve been around and I understand different aspects of selling.
I’ve also been a writer for probably 30 years and have two books that recently came out, including a non-fiction book about the history of Hamilton and its ghost stories, released by Dundrun Press, and a science-fiction book released by Edge Publishing in Calgary. I self-published my first print book in 2004, which was a collection of previously printed short stories.
So I’m intimately familiar with bookselling and the importance of that relationship between reader and writer and I’m also intimately familiar with publishing as a writer through traditional methods and through self-publishing .
Prior to coming to Kobo I worked at the campus book store at McMaster University and had an Espresso Book Machine – a machine that is eight feet by four feet, sits on the sale floor, and within five minutes it can print, bind, and trim a trade paperback book that looks no different from a book that came form a traditional publisher.
While there I was working with a lot of local self-published authors and was very familiar with their needs and desires. And then I started to work with Kobo because my authors wanted their books to be available globally.
I started working with Kobo and helping [my authors] transfer their book in to e-publishing format and I learned a bit more about that world. So when the opportunity to work in this role came up I thought is was perfect opportunity. When i saw the job description, I thought, ‘My God, the only thing missing from that is my name!’
What do you do in your role on a typical day?
I’m on the phone talking to authors, publishers, and retail partners.
I spend a lot of time responding to queries that are coming in [from authors], and then trying to ensure all of the various needs from our users are being incorporated into our ongoing rollout plans, because we have four- to six-week cycles where we add improvements to the Kobo Writing Life experience. (Writing Life is the online publishing platform authors can use to self-publish with Kobo.)
Why should other organizations consider creating a similar role?
This is an important role because it focuses on an often overlooked element in the whole industry and that’s the author. Without the people writing the stuff for us to sell we’ve got nothing. The beautiful thing is I get to work with the people who produce this product.
Favourite book of all time?
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany
Latest e-book you’ve read?
The science-fiction book WOOL by Hugh Howey
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.