Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dealing with officialdom

A bit more of what I've learned going through the self-publication process...

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?

Well, maybe.

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.
  • 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.


  1. It is always a good idea to be thorough with any venture, especially one you put your heart and soul into and hope to make money from.
    I love your header art. Gorgeous

  2. A lot to learn and I'm sure most self-published authors don't even know about some of those options.

  3. You almost need to be a lawyer.

  4. Luckily for me, I had to sort most of this out anyway when I was still with my publisher.

    And sole propietorships in my country don't have to be registered, and the taxes work at the same rates as for an individual.

  5. More good info. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This is so useful, Ian! I feel like I need to bookmark these posts for future reference. :)

  7. Great info, though I am American so it is easier for me in some ways that way. Great to find out that I should use the ISBN that Smashwords provides. I am inching my way along in the process, but should be self publishing soon. I love these posts.

  8. Mynx, that is how I see it, too. And the header art is another detail from the Ghosts book cover. Glad you like it.

    Alex, and I'm sure there's a lot more yet for me to learn...

    Delores, it sometimes feels like that :)

    Misha, I don't need to be registered either, but in order to operate a business of any sort you need a license. That is a local municipality requirement quite distinct from business registration, which is provincial. We have lots of levels of government to deal with in Canada :)

    Jean, you're welcome!

    David, if you find anything here useful, then I rest contented.

    Shell, a lot of things are easier for US writers, but on the other hand Canadians can get ISBNs for free :)

  9. It sounds very interesting. I will probably come back and look at this again when I am closer to deciding what I want to do. I still kind of want to try traditional...? maybe? or not.

  10. Reading this makes me want to take some migraine medication - sounds like a lot of hassles!

  11. Hi Ian .. thanks for alerting us to these tips and tricks vis a vis self-publishing .. granted from Canada - but still relevant to us all ..

    Good luck as you move forward .. cheers Hilary

  12. Danette, whichever path your choose, I wish you luck.

    Optimist, there's a lot involved, which is why I suggest going in knowing that you need might save a migraine.

    Hilary, a lot is relevant wherever you are, or at least look out for the equivalent in your own country.

  13. A lot of great advice contained within this post. So much to learn!

  14. Ellie, so much indeed! And I'm sure there's yet more to go...


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