#29 – Interview met Mark Leslie Lefebvre van Draft2Digital

Als je in het Nederlands schrijft, zul je er misschien niet zo snel aan denken om je boek op een Engelstalig uitgeefplatform als Draft2Digital te publiceren. Wij interviewden met Mark Leslie Lefevbre van D2D en leerden waarom dat het juist een goed plan is! Je wilt jezelf toch niet in de vingers snijden?

For English-speaking listeners: Listen here via the podcast player above, or go to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube or Stitcher. Furthermore you can find us on your favourite podcast app bij searching for Schrijven & Uitgeven Podcast. Our conversation with Mark start at 2:40 minutes.

Luister hier via de podcast player of via je favoriete podcast app. Hieronder staan de hoogtepunten en de volledig uitgetypte versie van de aflevering.


  • Wie is Mark Leslie Lefevbre?
  • De grote voordelen van Draft2Digital voor selfpubbers
  • Waarom je Nederlandstalige boeken óók thuishoren op Draft2Digital
  • Meer info over de fusie tussen Draft2Digital en Smashwords
  • De toevoeging van paperbacks aan het D2D uitgeefarsenaal
  • Waarom selfpubbers meer digitaal zouden moeten denken
  • Pre-orders zijn een goede marketingstrategie

Meer informatie over Mark Leslie Lefebvre: markleslie.ca
Draft2Digital kun je vinden via: draft2digital.com


Volledig uitgetypte versie van de aflevering

Maria: Goedemiddag, Petra.

Petra: Goedemiddag, Maria.

Maria: We zitten weer bij elkaar, maar het is een bijzondere aflevering, want we zijn bezig in Zoom. Want we zitten niet met z’n tweeën, maar met z’n drieën, zoals we in de introductie ook al zeiden. Want we zitten met iemand van de andere kant van de wereld.

Petra: Wie is dat dan?

Maria: Dat is Mark Leslie Lefebvre van Draft2Digital en die gaan we interviewen over wat Draft2Digital allemaal doet.
Want afgelopen juni waren wij bij 20BooksHolland. Daar zijn we iemand anders van Draft2Digtal tegengekomen, Dan Wood, en die bood ons spontaan aan om in onze uitzending te komen. Dus hebben we gezegd: Ja! Maar helaas kan hij niet. Maar hij heeft Mark Leslie geregeld en die gaat een aantal vragen voor ons beantwoorden.

Petra: Ik ben heel benieuwd.

Maria: Ik ook.
Het gesprek met Mark is in het Engels, op zich moet dat geen probleem zijn. We gaan in elk geval ook de… Niet de vertaling maar de Engelstalige transcript komt er ook bij.
We moeten nog wel even zeggen dat, misschien dat niet al onze luisteraars dat weten, is dat als wij ‘indies’ noemen in het gesprek, dat we dan selfpubbers bedoelen.

Petra: Ja, indies zijn selfpubbers. Dat is de Engelse vertaling van een selfpubber.

Maria: Ik denk dat dat even duidelijk is. Dan gaan we nu over in het Engels. Hartstikke goed.

Petra: Oké, let’s go!

Maria: Hey Mark, how are you?

Mark: I am doing great. Thank you so much for having me on. I am so excited to talk to you guys.

Maria: Excellent, that’s great. We are very happy to have you on our podcast.
You are well known in the English-speaking world, self-publishing world, but our Dutch listeners might not be as familiar with you name.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and your role at Draft2Digital?

Mark: Sure.

So, my name is Mark Leslie Lefebvre and I have been in the book industry… I’m Canadian, so I’m just north of the US, where Draft2Digital is headquartered, and I worked in the industry since 1992. Through the book industry, as a bookseller I worked in publishing. And 1992 was also the year I sold my very first short story as a writer, after years of rejections.
And I have traditional published and self-published. I self-published my very first book in 2004, so not only do I work with Draft2Digital to help authors with their writing career and making choices, but I’m in the trenches too, so I can understand it from the inside out.

Previous to Draft2Digital, I am currently the director of business development here. Previous to Draft2Digital, I worked at Kobo, which is a Canadian company. Well, Japanese owned by Rakutan, but in Canada. And with an office in the Netherlands as well. And I worked there for six years, where I helped create and launch Kobo Writing Life. That is the self-publishing platform there.

So, I have been in the industry for a long time, and I was so excited for the opportunity to go to Draft2Digital and take that to the next level. To go to Draft2Digital so it wasn’t just… I love Kobo, I actually read on a Kobo device, but I wanted to help authors everywhere. Not just at one retailer, but at many, many retailers.

And what I love about Draft2Digital… So Draft2Digital dot com is a great platform that allows authors free service to be able to convert their book into ebook or print for self-publishing, and distribution. So, distribution to all the major retailers and a whole bunch of library systems around the world as well as print in partnership with Ingram [Spark], the world’s largest English language wholesaler of books.

And basically, the way it works in a nutshell is Draft2Digital doesn’t charge any fees upfront. What we do is, we hang on to what becomes a 10% of the merch. So instead, if you were to publish directly for example on Kobo you would make 70%, but if you do it via Draft2Digital, you get 60%.

So, we’re there as an option, as a choice. We even have the free conversion tool, so you can come to Draft2Digital convert you Word document into an epub and take the epub and go it publish directly or sell it directly whatever you want. So, we try really, really hard to make sure authors maintain choice, option and control, so they can make the best decisions for their own unique author journey.

Maria: I think that’s really great, because at the moment many Dutch indies. They do use Kobo Writing Life for publishing their ebooks, but I don’t think many actually are using Draft2Digital yet. So, I think it’s really great to have more options.

Mark: Yeah, of course, because when you get books into Kobo, obviously you get your books into both Kobo in the Netherlands and Bol. And I’m sure your listeners are very familiar with Bol. Most North Americans are not as familiar with how huge a presence Bol is in the Netherlands Market. So, that would make sense for authors in the Netherlands to know about Kobo and Bol, but what about beyond? What about getting into other European countries? What about other continents as well?

Maria: Absolutely.

Petra: That’s also one of my questions I had, because the people who are listening to this podcast; they are Dutch speaking, they usually write in Dutch and a lot of the times they make the connection: Okay, this is an English platform, I write in Dutch. So, why should I use that English platform for my Dutch books? What would you say to those people?

Why would people need to use Draft2Digital?

Mark: That is a great question and I’m glad you asked.

I think the one potential drawback is our customer service staff, which are amazing. You get them on the phone, although it would be expensive calling from the Netherlands. Get them on the phone, email, is… They’re English-speaking. So, the customer service would potentially be the one hook or the one challenge, but we’re a global distributor. And distribute books in all languages. Including, we actually have quite a few Dutch language books. Whether they’re native Dutch, or they are English authors who are savvy and understand just how powerful reading is in the Netherlands. It’s a huge part of the culture, so there are a lot of people who translate their books into Dutch.

So, we get our English and Dutch language books to retailers and library platforms. Obviously, we are one of the largest suppliers of titles to Kobo and you’re familiar obviously with Kobo and their partnership with Bol. But also to Kobo Plus, which I think is a great program. And Kobo Plus, obviously inspired by a desire from the good folks at Bol, who wanted to offer something special and unique to their readers. The ability to read all you can without… And again, from the indie author perspective – unlike what Amazon requires which is exclusivity – one of the things we love about the Kobo program is, it’s another way for people to read books in a different way. A different model for reading where authors can make money, but you don’t have to be exclusive.

That launched initially in the Netherlands and Belgium, before they realised, and Kobo has, I think Kobo has expanded into eight different territories now, because they recognised: People like to read differently.

We also operate the Smashwords Store. Smashwords and Draft2Digital merged back in March of this year, and the Smashwords Store serves more countries in the world than Amazon does. So, a lot of authors have were using Smashwords to get into European countries that Amazon doesn’t have a presence in.
And Dutch language books. Like all of the language books, they can earn through the Smashwords store the highest royalty rates. Up to 80%. So, it’s even higher than when you go direct to a retailer, which is kinda cool.

And then there is of course some great tools. So, there is a myriad of promotional tools, with the Smashwords Store. So, ebook marketing, coupons that you can self-generate and give to your consumers. So, you can control your own promos.

We just finished our annual summer sale and, you’re the first to know, that this sale was even more successful than last year’s sale. And this is in an industry this year, where we have seen across traditional and self-publishing industry, sales just going down versus last year, because of the expansion and the pandemic and people are out doing things with each other rather than reading as much. But still the Smashwords sale was even bigger this year than it was last year. It was the biggest that it has ever been.
And this is great. So, part of being part of the Draft2Digital eco system is again, choice, control and global and multiple languages.

Maria: That’s right, yeah. You just mentioned the merger with Smashwords. Because Smashwords is also a very big name in the self-publishing industry. Do you know what the main reasons were for joining, for merging?

Mark: Yeah, so two things. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has been in the industry for a long time. I am fortunate to have known him from the early days when he was ground-breaking and just doing something that had never been done before.

And when you look at the DNA, the heart and soul of what Draft2Digital is doing and the heart and soul of what Smashwords were doing, is they were just two companies that really wanted to empower authors and bring them great things.

And so, our CEO at Draft2Digital, Kris Austin and Mark Coker had some chats. We had done some promos together with Smashwords, ‘cause we were just trying really hard to what we can to work together and help authors and help our retail partners. They were talking and realising that Smashwords was building really cool things for authors and Draft2Digital was building cool things for authors, but what if we could combine our resources? What if we could use the Dev Teams to be working on getting the tools out faster? We could then invest more in authors and in tool development. Because all we’re constantly doing is listening to feedback in developing new tools for authors.

I think one of the biggest fears that happened with the merger when you have big mergers – which happens in publishing all the time – is that they often mean less choice in the marketplace. With authors: Oh, these publishers are merged, they fry up one last place to send my manuscript, for example.

But what we’re trying to do, we are trying to be very, very conscious about this because we recognise that. We are two small but powerful teams, and we’re still relatively small in terms of size. Maybe just over 30 employers in total and yet we are quite a large company when you think about our reach globally. But what we’re trying to do is look at more choices, more opportunities and again combining that mission to really empower indie authors. If we have more power and more ability to work and negotiate with our retailers, maybe we can negotiate more space, more promotion opportunities, so that our authors can get access to new tools.

So, one of the things for examples recently is… And again, obviously there is a great partnership that Kobo has with Bol and we have a partnership with Kobo. But we have Vivlio, which is very dominant in France, and we also have access to Tolino, direct access through Tolino in Germany. So, there is a lot of our partners we are trying really, really hard to spotlight. And with Vivlio we spotlight German and French and English language titles. So, even though we are an English American company, we’re really trying hard to spotlight titles for our partners to help them help our authors be more successful.

Maria: Yes, I was very excited to hear about the merger with Smashwords. I started off on Smashwords originally, so yeah, I like that idea. I have been following Mark Coker for a long time. He’s one of my gurus definitely, so it’s great.

I think last year Draft2Digital started doing print books, instead of only ebooks. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Mark: Yes, of course. Again, we started off wanting to help authors make ebooks. Because, I mean, back when I started you had to learn HTML and stuff. And again, Smashwords had that great ebook converter, so did Draft2Digital. But we now help them produce ebooks, print books and, in a partnership with Findaway Voices, audiobooks. So again, you have your book, we are going to want to help you get it into the digital marketplace. So, we’re kind of becoming format agnostic, even though we did start with ebooks.

When authors look at our current offering, they see that we’ve continued to expand and grow. So D2D Print, which is currently in beta, but we’re currently expanding the beta because one of the challenges right now is author copies are being printed in the US and shipping, which is just a ridiculous cost. But with our partner there are print facilities in Europe, for example, and on other continents. So that very soon authors who are in Europe for example, can get their print copies printed locally. So, they’re coming from a neighbouring country perhaps, not on a boat across the ocean.

And so, we basically have this free tool and a template. So, you have your Word document. We’ll make a free conversion for you into print. You can pick the different templates, so it actually looks lovely as a print book should. But then we also have for authors who have not yet paid to invested in a full cover wrap. Maybe they paid a cover designer just for the front cover for the Kindle version, or whatever, or the Bol version. And what we do we take an automatic generator that takes the front cover and we make a back cover for them. And they can customise the spine. They can upload their colophon or their logo or imprint. Author photo, yes or no. And really make a beautiful print book.

We currently have trade paperback only, but we will be expanding into hardcover. And again, obviously our partnership with Findaway allows authors who are looking for audio, more choices. We will continue to work with partners. We will continue to see what we can do when an author has a challenge. Like, what is preventing you from getting the manuscript out? And that was the brilliance of Smashwords. You have a great manuscript. What’s preventing it from getting it into the hands of readers and you being able to make a living as an author? Or at least get that book out there and get some readers. What are the problems authors have and what can we do with our technology? To help remove the barriers for publishing for authors.

And that is why we’re so excited to continue to expand print. We will be moving into hardcover. We will be moving into Large Print. And again, it’s just, readers will read however they want to read.

And I do know, having worked in the industry for a long time, that print, although it’s very dominant in Europe, is still very dominant in North America. Most people who read, still read print books. Or even when I worked at Kobo, there was a stat we learned. We did some studies and found that people who read ebooks, bought three times as many print books as they used to, before they started reading ebooks. So even as ebooks continue to grow, it’s not going to take away from print. Mitch Joel, who was a Canadian digital guru that I admire, he says: ‘Everything is with, not instead of’. So, when you bring a new technology, you are adding to. You’re not taking anything away. And I love that way of looking at our industry.

Maria: Absolutely.

Petra: I love that too. That’s great.

Maria: You said, it’s still in beta at the moment. Can everyone join? How does that work?

Mark: If you log into your Draft2Digital account, and you’re looking at one of your ebooks, there’s a little print tab. And if you click on the print tab it says: ‘Please add me to the waiting list’. Now, we can bring you into the program now. Anyone pretty much anywhere in the world, so authors in the Netherlands can join the beta, and they can make their books available, and the books will be listed on online bookstores around the world, through a major wholesaler that we’re partnered with.

But the only limitation right now is the ability to order author copies. We turned it off because we don’t want authors spending more than they have to. Because very soon, probably within the next month or so, we will be…
Right now, we’re testing. We’re doing beta testing with some authors who are in Europe. We’re testing to see how long it takes when you place your order. What’s the shipping cost going to be? Which will be very reasonable as opposed to coming from the US. And how long does it take? So, then we can really measure that and our customer service team can understand.

So Maria, if you were to have ordered a copy, we can found out: Well, you ordered your copy on August 1st and it’s August 8th. And typically, it take 5-10 business days for it to get there, so it will probably be there by the 10th or the 11th or something most likely. Or if you called and it’s the 20th, or whatever. Or, ideally, we would know: Wait a second, Maria placed an order on the 1st and it’s not there. How do we work with our partner to see what happened? Did it get mis-shipped, what happened to it?

So that beta will be opening up for, the beta is open for everyone, but the author copies is the key thing. And our authors around the world are going to be very excited to be able to order author copies directly from the system, rather than, they’ve been using work around like: Go to Amazon, drop the price quickly, go to Amazon order it, get the free shipping, stuff like that. We don’t want authors to do those gymnastics.

So that’s why we’re calling it beta. Even though the books are available, and it is growing like you wouldn’t believe. Well, you probably would believe since you guys do understand the significant power of print, still.

Maria: Absolutely, yeah.

What would you say to our Dutch listeners, who are maybe hesitant to think digitally. Many of them are still thinking: Okay, I want to have my book in the bookshop. Not the online bookshop, but literally a brick-and-mortar bookshops. Also, in that way they are, maybe traditional in their thinking about marketing and that sort of things. Of course, the English-speaking world has been more digitally thinking for 10-12 years, whatever. What would you say to them?

Mark: Well, I would say, as an author myself, my goal is to get my books into as many platforms and as many markets as possible. Giving readers as much choice. Whether it’s ebook, print book, audiobook. And whatever retailers. Maybe they’re a fan of Bol, maybe they love Bol. Maybe they want to try and order it through an independent bookshop to support a small local bookstore. And having your works available in multiple platforms means if a consumer hears about you, they should be able to go get it anyway. Should be able to go to the library and request a copy.

As an author myself, if people want to read my books, I want them to be able to read books however they can. And so, by only focussing on one thing, like: I’m only going to look at traditional publishing, or I’m only going to look at being exclusive to the world’s largest River [Amazon, red], that they’re limiting the ability for customers globally to really experience them as an author.

I honestly think that in many cases we saw in March 2020, when covid hit and everything started to shut down dramatically around the world. Publishers scrambled and panicked, because their only way, primary way, they sell books is in bookshops. And bookshops were closed.
But I could pick up an app on my phone and I could download a book from online, from a retailer, or from my local library. Because ironically, for the first time, we weren’t worried about viruses attached to a digital, but we were worried about viruses attached to physical. Now we’ve learned better about the way it’s transmitted.

But when you think about something like that can change the industry in a heartbeat and recognise that digital availability globally isn’t reliant upon physically moving and shipping a dead tree from one spot to another, right? And so, I think, I just ask authors to have an open mind and the more your mind is open, the more possibilities will exist for you to really leverage your amazing IP [Intellectual Property, red], which is really what we’re doing. So, the things you write, the inspiration, the entertainment you share can be enjoyed by more people.

Maria: Yes, I totally agree.

Petra: It’s one of the questions we get asked the most is: How do we get our books visible? And we always say: Get it on to as many platforms as possible, and do it in the English way, but also in the Dutch way. So, it’s not ‘or’, it’s always ‘and’.

Maria: It’s and-and.

Petra: I have another question for you. I am curious.

Is there one question you never get asked, but have a brilliant answer to?

Mark: Ah, yes, thank you. It’s how I do my hair. No, I’m kidding.

Pre-orders is one of the ones. So, when we look at the industry wide – at least from a North America perspective, and our studies – we look at the titles released in any given year in any genre or category it’s pretty consistent. Only about 15 % of those titles were first listed as pre-orders. In indies, obviously.

85% of indie authors fail to take advantage of one of the easiest most powerful tools, which publishers do recognise and do leverage in an incredible way. So, if you’re thinking about, because you love traditional publishing, but you’re thinking about behaving more like a traditional publisher by planning ahead and making the pre-orders available, so people can anticipate your works. Because your fans want to know: Oh my god, I love this book. When is their next standalone coming out? When is the next book in the series? So that the small majority of books that first came to market as pre-orders can often generate as much as 50% or more of total sales for new titles released in each category every year. That’s a significant number. Why? Because pre-orders are the most powerful best practises marketing tools.

Again, we talked about that availability, right? Just that availability is there to go: Yes, I will put my credit card against this book, knowing I will get it when it comes out. Either shipped from print, or it will show up at 12:01 AM local time. Obviously, you guys will get it 6 hours before I will get it.

But pre-orders, again, it’s marketing. If you got a new book coming in the next 12 months, why not list it as a pre-order on all the major retailers? So that when they’re looking at the big publisher titles, if you’ve done your job properly as an indie author, as the publisher. It’s a beautiful cover, it’s been edited perfectly. It’s to market. Everything looks great, but it’s also not just available the day before, or the day of. It’s available 6-12 months out in the future. And I really think that can help authors stand out in a crowd where they’re going to stand out, because there’s less competition when it comes to pre-orders.

Petra: And I think this is also very important for the Dutch people, because here the mindset is really like: You have to focus on the first two months that the book comes out. And then after the two months: Well, the book didn’t sell right. We go to the next book. That’s kind of the mentality here.
But if you add the pre-order phase in front of it, that makes it longer for the sales to go on. That is really a good advice for our Dutch listeners.

Mark: And the one thing I want to add to that. There is a great used bookstore in Sudbury, Ontario, where I grew up. That actually had a little stamp put on all their books, a used bookstore. It said: ‘A book you haven’t read is a new book’. So, while publishers are focussed on those first two months, it could be a backlist book that suddenly takes off. And that just warms my heart. Meaning, we’re not going to close the windows, we’re open up opportunities for authors.

Maria: Yes, we are really trying to get authors here more aware of the backlist. The way the backlist can work for you in the marketing as well. You never know when your book is going to take off. Because they are so focussed on a sort of traditional bestseller model, we call it. It’s a mindset shift and we are trying to get them more aware of that.

Petra: Use the books you already published and not just focus on the first two months of when the book is available, but also, you know, a year later. How is it now? Can you promote the book again? So that’s what we’re trying to focus on as well.

Mark: See, we’re doing this from two different continents, two sides of the globe, which is fantastic. As we’re basically working together independently to help authors open their minds and their hearts to the possibilities.

Maria: Absolutely, yeah.
Well, we’re out of questions now. Where can people find you, for more information.

Where can people find more information about you and about Draft2Digital?

Mark: Let’s focus on Draft2Digital. I write under the name Mark Leslie. If you google me, you can find me on pretty much any retailer in different formats.

But Draft2Digital… You can find out everything you want to know about Draft2Digfital by going to Draft2Digital dot com. And that’s draft, numeral 2, digital dot com. We have a great blog with some great content, we have interviews with folks and I’m so excited that you guys agreed that you are going to be doing our D2D Self-publishing Insiders Live. So, I’m looking forward to sharing that with our community as well.

But yeah, Draft2Digital dot com and you can find out all kind of things that we can to on Draft2Digital and Smashwords.

Maria: Excellent. Thank you very much for this interview. It was absolutely great talking to you. We had lots of fun and learned a lot.

Petra: Yes, thank you so much.

Mark: Thank you very much.

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