A Self-Publisher’s Guide to Kobo

If you’re wondering, “What’s a Kobo?” Here’s the backstory: Kobo entered the scene in 2010, marketing the Kobo e-Reader as a less expensive alternative to Kindle and Nook, which are currently the best selling e-Reader devices. That will change if Hiroshi Mikitani gets his way. Mikitani is CEO of Japan’s largest e-commerce company, Rakuten, which purchased Canadian-owned Kobo in 2011. Since the acquisition, he’s publicly vowed to destroy Amazon – and the competition might just prove to be good news for self-published authors.

Although well known in its native Canada, Kobo hasn’t caught up with Kindle or Nook in the U.S. Touted as the world’s third most popular e-Reader, that position may improve due to a recent Rakuten-backed foray into the Asian market. And that’s just the beginning. Two new Kobo e-Readers, the Kobo Glo and the Kobo Mini, are scheduled for release October 1, 2012, and the 7-inch tablet Kobo Arc should be launched in November, 2012.

Kobo launches DIY author/publisher portal, “Kobo Writing Life”
As part of the company’s evolution, Kobo has now launched their own DIY author and publisher portal, dubbed “Kobo Writing Life.” Indie authors and self-pubbers can now publish directly on Kobo’s site, without going through Smashwords or another ebook distribution vendor.

Last summer, Kobo’s Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations, Mark Lefebvre, issued a letter to potential users of Kobo’s direct-upload platform. It said, “We spoke to authors around the world before designing and building Kobo Writing Life… we incorporated their feedback and advice and the result is what you’ll find on our website: a DIY portal designed with authors’ needs and desires at the forefront.”

Per Lefebvre, “The big selling point of this new system is the deep analytics it provides for authors to track their sales in real time. If people review the book on popular websites such as Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook, the author is instantly notified.”

Pros and Cons: Kobo vs. Smashwords
Until now, Smashwords has been the go-to method of distribution to other ebook outlets, but Smashwords can be slow to make books available on other sites. According to the Kobo entry on my Smash Distribution Channel Manager, “Books usually appear within a few days of shipment.” However, my novel, Mark of the Loon, was accepted into Smash’s Premium Catalogue July 7, 2012, shipped to Kobo the same day (per their notation), but a month later was still not available for sale on the Kobo site.

So, when Kobo Writing Life went live, I did a little research. Some commenters wrote that Kobo’s onsite book search engine needs a bit of work. I also read that although Kobo’s dashboard provides more detail about sales, their author payouts are slower than Smashwords. But here’s the deal: I realized I wouldn’t get paid anything if Smash’s slower distribution never made my book available on the Kobo website. So, I decided to opt out of Kobo distribution on my Smashwords account and upload directly.

Step-by-step: How to self-publish your book using Kobo’s direct sales portal
Authors can create a Kobo Writing Life account here. During the process, you will upload a Word, Open Office, or pre-formatted mobi or e-pub file. Then you will enter your metadata, input a synopsis, set the price for various currencies, and input your payment and contact info. Kobo’s Learning Centre has FAQs, a User Guide, and a step-by-step video guide. The Kobo dashboard is attractive, clean and uncluttered. Sections are clearly delineated and it’s pretty much a no-brainer to upload and publish. Here’s the process:

Initial Process to set up a Kobo Account:

  • Enter your email and password
  • Enter your name, publisher name (optional), email (auto-populates from previous page), phone (optional) and PREVIOUS Kobo publishing account ID – if applicable
  • Scroll down to input country, street address, city, state, zip
  • Accept terms of service
  • Respond to email to confirm registration
  • Enter payment information – bank, routing number, branch address, etc, and save info
  • Click on “ebooks” in the top right menu bar
  • Click on “create a new ebook”

The 4 Steps to Publishing an ebook on Kobo:

Step 1: Describe the book
Input title, ISBN (optional), select up to 3 categories (wish their selection was more comprehensive!), upload cover image (2 MG max, it accepted my 300 pixels tall version) and synopsis.

What you need to know before you upload your file:
• Supported file types: epub, doc, docx, mobi, odt (file size cannot exceed 10MB)
• Kobo converts all files to e-pub format
• If your file is a doc, docx, mobi, or odt, check Kobo’s Conversion Guidelines to be sure that all formatting and chapter markers make it into the e-pub version. (I did not read this first. Bad Molly!)

Step 2: Add ebook content
Browse for your file and upload the book. I uploaded my file on a Saturday and fifteen minutes passed BEFORE the conversion process actually began. Note: I originally uploaded a mobi file, and Kobo’s conversion engine never could convert it – the conversion icon spun for over a week, so I emailed Tech Support. They couldn’t “see” my account or diagnose the problem. I finally just deleted the book and uploaded an e-pub file. That attempt resulted in a conversion in 2.8 seconds!)

When the file is uploaded and the conversion process begins, you’ll get this message: “Converting content… You can move on to another step and come back later to check on the status.” Once your file is uploaded and converted, you can download and review the file.

Step 3: Choose content rights
Apply Digital Rights Management? Yes = default
Geographic rights? (you own the rights in all territories) Yes = default

Step 4: Set the price
When pricing your ebook, you need to take into account your opportunities for sales in other currencies, and the royalty rates at different list price points. Find out what you need to know in their User Guide.  .99 cents = 45% royalty, 1.99 = 70% royalty

Congratulations, you’re at the final step and you can now click “Publish ebook!” You’ll get a pop-up that says, “You’re Done! Your eBook will be listed within the next 24 – 72 hours.”

Want to see the finished product? Here it is: Mark of the Loon live on Kobo! …and here is the email Kobo sent me when I made my first book sale!

Want to read more?
• Leslie Buroker: My Plans to Upload Ebooks Directly to Apple & Kobo
• WSJ: Kobo to sell e-Readers through independent U.S. booksellers 

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41 Responses to A Self-Publisher’s Guide to Kobo

  1. Anne R. Allen September 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Your posts are always so helpful! Very clear and easy to understand. I didn’t know they offered such a nice royalty on cheaper books. Will RT!

  2. Christine September 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Hey Molly! You always have the greatest posts. Thanks so much for the detailed information! I so appreciate it. 😉

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

      Thank you so much Christine and Anne! I’m running out of post ideas – help!

  3. Dannie Hill September 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Thank you, Molly! I’ve joined Kobo writing life but have hesitated in offering my works. Smashwords, for me, is a non-starter: no info, unsure of actual sales. Amazon remains my best source of book sales. I certainly hope Kobo doesn’t run Amazon off, but competition is good.

    You run out of ideas– never! Here’s an idea– because I’m so slow about understanding. So many authors are using pen-names now. I di understand a few of the reasons but not the process. How do you set up a different name with say, Amazon or Kobo? And royality payments? Just an idea for you.

    I really do enjoy your post.

    • Molly Greene September 18, 2012 at 6:51 am #

      Thanks Dannie for the idea! It’s new to me but I can put my research cap on. As for other sources of sales, I’ve sold the most books on Amazon but I like the thought of having a presence everywhere. BTW, you’re not slow to understand, there’s just SO MUCH to learn.

  4. Patricia Awapara September 18, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    This was a great post. I shared it on FB!

    • Molly Greene September 18, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Thanks so much Patricia!

  5. Judi Harrison September 18, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    Thank you for taking the time to share this!

  6. Brendan Gerad O'Brien September 24, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    thanks for sharing this …

  7. Eric J. Gates October 21, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    Hi Molly,

    Thanks for the informative post. I have been toying with the idea of using another platform as well as Amazon for selling my books. I looked at Smashwords but I kept hearing unfavourable comments from fellow authors. Also it seems dominated by Erotica & Romance whereas I write contemporary thrillers, so the fit doesn’t look good. Relatives in Canada have Kobo and speak well of it. So I think I might go down this route and your post helps enormously.

    However, one small point. You say the ISBN is optional, yet everywhere else I look, including Kobo’s own documentation, this does not seem to be the case. Which is correct? ISBN’s are expensive where I reside (not Canada where they are free, I understand) and as I have several books, the cost quickly adds up.

    Look forward to your next post.
    Best wishes,

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Hi Eric, good question! When I uploaded my manuscript, Kobo’s dashboard told me (verbatim) “ISBN optional.” That may have changed since last summer, and if so someone let me know and I’ll update my tutorial. You could just try walking through the process (it’s free) and see what Kobo tells you. Thanks so much, so glad you found my website!

      • Eric J. Gates October 26, 2012 at 10:34 am #

        Hi Molly,

        Did as you suggested. The ISBN field is optional.

        Thanks again for a great post – it was a very useful aide when walking through the Kobo screens.

        Best wishes,

        • Molly Greene October 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

          YAY! How cool is that?? Thanks so much for letting us know – and the best to you with your book, Eric!

          • Steve Vernon February 15, 2014 at 3:05 am #

            Hey Molly. The way it was explained to me the ISBN is indeed optional – however, having it can be useful for certain sale venues. I’m Canadian – so, as it is pointed out I get them free.

            But yes – definitely optional.

  8. Kystrel November 2, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Hi Molly,

    Thanks for the usefull information. I was wondering if you know how to make an edit once a book as been published in Kobo. I have a book up, but want to change the cover since I have a new design. Nowhere can I find information on this.


    • Molly Greene November 2, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Kystrel, so glad you found my blog but I’m sorry to say I can’t answer your question as I’ve never tried it. I assume you logged in to your Kobo dashboard and simply tried to upload a new cover? If you have and it didn’t work, I would email their tech support. Best of luck!

      • Eric J. Gates November 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm #


        I’m currently in contact with their support people on another matter, and they seem to go that extra mile.

        Try e-mailing them here: [email protected]

        Best of luck,

        • Molly Greene November 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

          Thank you so much, Eric!

  9. Chris November 27, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Like your blog found the comments very useful as I am a new author. Look forward to others.

    Best of luck


    • Molly Greene November 27, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Hi Chris, so glad you found my blog, hope my posts help. Best to you with your book!

  10. Christine M. Fairchild December 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I love how you made this look easy! And it should be, according to the Kobo site. Unfortunately, my payment info disappears no matter how many times I fill out that page. So everytime I try to publish my book, it says my pament info is missing. And if I sign out then sign back in, the payment page is empty.

    From what I can see, there is no contact phone# for Kobo helpline. Any advice? I’ve tried using both Firefox and IE as web browsers. I’ve done the steps backwards and forwards (book upload first, then payment info and vice versa). But always the same result.

    I can’t seem to find info about this online anywhere….suggestions?

    • Molly Greene December 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      Accck! Christine, so sorry to hear of your challenge with Kobo. I can’t offer advice other than to email their tech support – I did also of course run into trouble but it was with the mobi file I tried to upload. Tech support answered me pretty promptly. Just a wild thought but could it be the payment info itself is not a bank or institution they can work with? I do so wish I could be more help!

      • Christine M. Fairchild December 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

        Well, after dancing on my head and spinning in circles and sacrificing a chicken (rubber only), the darn thing decided to work. Must have been a server issue. Gotta love/hate technology!!!

        thanks for your help 🙂 keep the great posts coming 🙂

        • Molly Greene December 9, 2012 at 9:23 am #

          So happy to hear this! Agreed, technology is a blessing and a burden – as long as the story ends well it’s a good one. Let us know if you learn anything new about Kobo, Christine!

  11. JR Spinetti December 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Great article. I believe KOBO is holding themselves back by requiring authors to get an ISBN. The ISBN is really only good for print not eBook and costs american authors, unlike other countries where they are free. Even those free ISBN’s in say Canada can take weeks to obtain. Just my two cents 🙂

    • Molly Greene December 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Hey JR! Thanks so much!

  12. Robert Rushton January 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi Molly
    I have just published My second Book on Kobo ‘Kris Kringle’s Cosmic Christmas.’ I want to view it before I start promoting it. I can’t seem to find a way to do that. also if I find some errors can I correct them?
    Thanks for your help

    • Molly Greene January 2, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      Hi Robert! I’d have to go check but I believe somewhere on the Kobo dashboard there’s an option to download your book. If you can’t find it email tech support, because I know there’s a way. Let me know what you find out!

      • Steve Vernon February 15, 2014 at 3:01 am #

        Yup, you’re right Molly. There is a part of the process – which let’s you either look at an e-pub of your book OR save an e-pub of your book. It’s always been there – but if you have to actually save it on your computer.

  13. Michele June 25, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    I published my book a week ago on Kobo, and it has yet to show up. I am not impressed with their help either. It’s been two days since I sent an email.

    • Molly Greene June 25, 2013 at 8:42 am #

      Michele, I’m so sorry your experience with Kobo hasn’t been a great one, but I suspect so many people are uploading that their tech support gets overwhelmed.

  14. Steve Vernon August 11, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    Hey Molly.

    I’ve been with Kobo since back when they first started – releasing my first indie-published e-book through their Beta test program and they have been NOTHING but helpful.

    Kobo does indeed go the extra mile. Just this Friday night I noticed that my payment was late. I contacted Mark who immediately put me in contact with the financial department and they discovered that when I had updated my banking info I had inadvertantly jammed two numbers together.

    It took them about ten minutes to get back to me and they’ve fixed the problem – and this was on a freaking Friday night when everyone else in Canada was sitting in a pub eating pizza and drinking beer.

    I actually sell more e-books on Kobo than through any other e-book retailer.

    So yes, I am a Kobo man. I’d love to see my Kindle sales start to pick-up speed and beat out the Kobo numbers – but so far Kindle readers seem to think that my breath smells funny.

    Might be them kippers I had for breakfast…

    • Molly Greene August 11, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Hey Steve! I love Kobo too, and my books also see fairly good sales on the platform. In fact, that’s one of my best reasons for not selling exclusively on Amazon. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us!

      • Steve Vernon February 15, 2014 at 2:56 am #

        Hey Molly.

        Wow – it’s been about half a year since I posted on this particular blog entry of yours.

        Kobo STILL continues to bring me my highest selling platform.

        I guess I’m a Kobo-kid.

        • Molly Greene February 15, 2014 at 8:12 am #

          So good to know, Steve, and welcome back!

  15. Huong NGUYEN December 10, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    Yay! Thank you so much. Your post is helpful 😉
    From VietNam 😛

  16. Atlaxa April 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Hello Molly,

    Do you know what happens if you upload your book on Kobo and then to Smashwords? Would that create any problems with either of the sites?

    I hear so many good things about Kobo that I definitely want to try it (and if possible I’d like to upload it there myself). Nevertheless, I am quite keen to have my book sent out to different distributors via Smashwords.

    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    • Molly Greene April 11, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

      No problem uploading to both sites. When you upload to Smashwords, you’ll have the opportunity to opt in or out of all the channels Smashwords can distribute your book to. You just need to opt out of Kobo, since you created your own sales account on that platform.

      • Atlaxa April 12, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

        Thanks so much for your quick answer. I’m very relieved now.

  17. Tavares May 17, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    May 17, 2014

    Good evening, Molly

    I am posting here in regards to an issue I am having with publishing my eBook through Kobo. I’ve contacted customer support over nine times, and they’ve yet to resolve the problem. I was hoping that maybe if I post here someone would be able to help. I am currently trying to make my eBook available for pre-order through Kobo. But when I try to select PUBLISH EBOOK at the final state it keeps displaying a “Your eBook didn’t publish as expected. Please try again later.” message. I am not sure what’s wrong. Each of the selections on the right side of the screen have green check marks to the right of them, signifying that I’ve completed each. The publication date for my novel is June 28, 2014. In the final stage, I’ve the ALLOW PREORDER feature activated and then the LIST DATE the same as my publication date. I’ve been stuck on this stage for three weeks now, contacting the support team from Kobo and have been given the run around each time. If you could please, help, I would appreciate it. Thank you in advance.


    • Molly Greene May 18, 2014 at 8:48 am #

      I’m so sorry Tavares, but I have no insight to offer – I have never had an issue with Kobo, but I’ve also never used the pre-order function. If you’ve also never used this function before, logic tells us it has something to do with that, of course. Obviously I understand that doesn’t help at all, and again, I am sorry! Best of luck to you.