So, you've written a book and you've designed a cover. So all you need to do is visit Amazon (or Smashwords, or whoever you're distributing through) and upload them and click "Publish" - yes?
Assuming you've done all the work yourself, and you are keeping things simple and casual, then it can be that easy. This is the siren call of self-publishing. Anyone can do it at the click of a button. But if you are taking this journey more seriously, and want to set it on a good footing as an ongoing business, then there's lots of bodies that you might want to (or need to) get involved with.
Here's who I've dealt with so far this year
- Local municipal hall, to get a business license. I decided at the outset to put this on an official footing for when it comes to dealing with tax. Along the way, I looked into the BC company registry requirements and trade names, though I didn't need to deal with them because I am registered as a sole proprietorship under my own name. If you want a fancy company name, though, you would need to explore these aspects.
- Webs.com for web site hosting, and through them a domain name registrar. There are many options for setting up your own web presence which you are probably already aware of.
- US IRS, to get an EIN so I can take advantage of the tax treaty as a Canadian resident with no ties to the US.
- Then of course, there is the actual signing up with my chosen distributors: Smashwords, CreateSpace, and Amazon. In each case, though, I had the added step of submitting my W8-BEN tax information to stop them withholding US tax at source.
- PayPal, because that is how Smashwords pays you outside of the US.
- Library & Archives Canada, both to obtain ISBNs and to register Cataloguing In Publication data. Within the US you would need to obtain ISBNs from Bowker, unless you opt for using the ISBNs that many printers/distributors offer when you publish through them, and you would deal with Library of Congress for CIP data.
- Goodreads. This last was a quick afterthought, and there will probably be more to come. I checked out the Goodreads site and found that Ghosts was already listed there. I decided I should register myself as the author and lay claim to it rather than just leave it dangling there.
Things I've learned along the way
1. All this sounds daunting. What I've found, though, is that it just takes patience, and research, and more patience. Nothing so far has actually been difficult, not even dealing with the IRS, you just need to take things step by step and pay attention to the details.
2. US retailers will automatically deduct 30% tax from your royalties and hand it to the IRS. This might make sense if you have to pay US tax on your income anyway, but not if you live and pay taxes elsewhere.
Many countries have tax treaties with the US which can reduce or eliminate this, but you need to obtain the appropriate paperwork from the IRS to hand to your retailer so they know it's OK not to withhold tax.
Most people will be advised to get an ITIN, which involves lots of paperwork, fees, notarized copies of your passport, the chewed off heads of three chickens, and a piece of coal inscribed with a Zen koan. However, if you can legitimately describe yourself as a business, you can get an EIN instead which involved about ten minutes on the phone. The process is described very well here.
3. Finally, read the fine print. There have been a few surprises along the way that I didn't spot in my initial research:
CreateSpace only distributes to libraries and academic institutions if you choose to use their own ISBNs. I used my own ISBN so this channel was blocked.
Smashwords advertises a wide range of retailers that they deal with, including Amazon. What is not immediately clear is that they only offer limited distribution to Amazon and will "consider" shipping your title there only after you've reached $2,000 in sales through Smashwords.
Following on from this I took another look at Amazon, having originally discounted them because of their (apparent) requirements for exclusivity. I learned that selling on Kindle Direct does not require an exclusive agreement. This came as a surprise, because all I'd heard about was KDP Select, which requires exclusivity. It's all that Amazon talks about. They are trying to push this aspect and don't advertise the fact that this is just an option. I think they are shooting themselves in the foot if writers are put off altogether through not wanting to be restricted like that.