Spirit Released

The third proof came – and it was (almost) perfect. There’s only one very minor issue (a free signed copy for the first person who spots it!) but I’ve fought my inner-perfectionist and have given Amazon the go-ahead to publish.

So now what? As it stands Spirit is available to purchase in Kindle format (via either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and in Paperback edition via Amazon.com (only). This makes it a bit awkward for UK customers wanting the paperback edition as it can take a while coming from the US (and the delivery charge is higher to cater for the overseas postage).  Rumour has it that the book will become available on Amazon.co.uk eventually – up to ten weeks time (but there’s very little information on that front coming from Amazon, so I cannot guarantee that to be the case).

A friend suggested that I give readers an insight into the world of self-publishing now that I have trodden it’s weary path. Well here goes….

There are two very distinct paths for publishing – Kindle format or paper format. Let’s first tackle the world of eBook publishing via Amazon for the Kindle, as it’s slightly more straightforward:

Kindle Edition

The process of publishing on Kindle begins on Amazon’s DTP site; http://dtp.amazon.com. Creating an account is free and the process automatically assigns an ISBN number to your book once you add the basic book details (name, author, description, categories etc.).

One has to upload two files – the cover page (that will be shown on the Amazon site) and the contents document (which must also include the cover page as well as the Table Of Contents). There are a few rules one has to follow regarding the format and contents (such as no page numbers – hence the Table Of Contents cannot include page numbers either), but these are simple to follow (and outlined on the Amazon DTP site).

Once the book is uploaded it is converted to a Kindle format automatically. This can then be previewed and one can even download it in HTML format. Personally I then find it easier to tweak the HTML format rather than going back to the original word document, unless making major changes.

After the files are uploaded one submits them for “review”.  An Amazon employee will then check the format and contents (without checking spelling or grammar).  This can take up to 48 hours but typically gets done within a day.

Amazon DTP provides two royalties models – 35% for material which is not your own (but doesn’t break copyright) or 70% for material for which you own the copyright.  The only caveat being that if one chooses the 70% model then Amazon give you 70% of the actual book price (which they can adjust to compete with the competition, if the book is available elsewhere) whereas with the 35% model you get 35% of the book price you chose (regardless of whether Amazon actually sell it for less).  I cannot see why a writer controlling the copyright of the work would not choose the 70% model.

As suggested, Amazon allow you to choose the book price, giving you a broad range of minimum and maximum prices. Personally I’ve priced my work at a similar price to competing (mainstream) fantasy novels, as I want it to be considered their equal (and in no way wish to imply my work is inferior by pricing it much lower) – but it’s a difficult balancing act.

After choosing the book price and royalties model one is able to submit the book for publishing.  This takes another two days or so to process after which point the book is available for purchase for the Kindle on the Amazon site.  It is available on both the US and UK incarnation’s of Amazon (you can choose the UK price of get Amazon to adjust it automatically from the US price based on the exchange rate).

Unfortunately there is no way to preview the work on a Kindle that you own without publishing it and then buying a copy, therefore I suggest you immediately buy a version for your own Kindle and check it before too many people (if you’re lucky) purchase it.  If you encounter any problems then you can modify the submitted files and go through the “review” and “publish” processes again – hence every correction phase will take at least a couple of days (during which time the old version of the book is still available for purchase).

I had hoped that fixing problems, then deleting the version of the Kindle and resyncing would have forced the Kindle to pick up the latest (corrected) version off Amazon but this does not appear to be the case (hence I know there are about ten Kindle owners out there with a version of my book that contains a few errors).  It may be possible to email the Amazon team and get them to force the resyncing of the corrected version – I am currently looking into this.

That’s about it for the Kindle format.

Paperback Edition

Now let’s consider the Paperback edition (there is no way currently of self-publishing a Hardback edition).  The process is pretty similar to the Kindle edition expect it is carried out on the CreateSpace website.

The first thing I would say is that on CreateSpace if you intending to be a successful author then really you have to take up the offer to join the “Pro Plan” – it’s only about $40 but it makes a massive difference to how much Amazon take per book (and therefore it massively affects your royalties).  It’s a no-brainer – you have to go “Pro”.

The complication with the paperback edition is that the book cover includes the spine (as well as the back of the book).  The spine size depends on the width of the book, which is dependant upon the number of pages in your book (and whether you choose white or cream paper – since the paper differs in thickness).

So the process on CreateSpace involves choosing the size of your book and then formatting you book contents accordingly.  I chose the standard large paperback edition size of 6″x9″.  There’s a whole host of criteria that one needs to consider with regards to the page format, such as inner and outer margins (remembering that they will need to mirror each other since they will be bound into a book), as well as blank pages being added where necessary (so that, for example, your Prologue doesn’t start on the back of the Table Of Contents).  Once the book is formatted it is ready for upload.

After the upload the CreateSpace site confirms the number of pages that the book will contain; using this information one can then download a template to be used to design the book cover.

Also, now that CreateSpace know how many pages are in the book it can work out the print costs for the book.  This then allows one to choose how much to charge for the book, and whether it is feasible to release the book on the Extended Distribution Channel (EDC).  Basically the EDC determines whether Amazon will make the book available for other retailers, libraries and online sites in the USA – the added advantage being that the book can then (eventually) make it’s way to the Amazon UK site.  The downside of the EDC is that the author’s royalties are severely reduced because the external retailer takes a cut as well as Amazon – I personally will only be making $0.48 per book sold via the EDC.

Once one had used this aforementioned template to design the book cover (including adding the gripping text to the back of the book) then it too can be uploaded.

It get’s a little easier from here on in, but a little slow.  One can then submit the files for review – someone at CreateSpace will check the format of the two documents (not the spelling or grammar) – as with the Kindle format this process can take up to 48 hours but realistically only takes one day.

Once the submission is given the thumbs up it’s time to order the proofs.  I don’t know how long it takes or how much it costs for US residents but for UK residents the shipping takes about a week, and even when you pay extra for fast delivery (which can cost a crazy $150) it still takes several days! Patience – and (unlike me) make sure there are no errors in the submissions; one is better off spending time ensuring that the first submission is correct than spending the time and money going through a 2nd or 3rd proofing phase!!

Once the proof arrives (a momentous occasion – your dream in your hands) check it carefully.  Check for blank pages where there shouldn’t be any, check for missing blank pages, check page numbers start at the correct page and are in the correct position, check the copyright page, acknowledgement page and ToC pages are all where they should be.  Check the cover to ensure the images are not cropped, off-centre etc.

And then finally read your book.  This is probably the first time that your book has existed in a complete paper edition; it’s one thing reading it on a PC and a totally different thing to read it in a physical book.  You’ll spot errors in your work far more easily via the paper edition than you would on the PC (or even the Kindle).

If there are issues then one just goes back and re-submits the contents (and cover) files, which starts the whole review and proof process again.

Once one is happy with the proof edition it’s time to hit the little button called “Proceed”.  It’s such a understated button for such a momentous task! It takes a day or two for the magic to happen – but happen it does and your book (and you as an author) suddenly (and without fanfare) becomes a presence on the Amazon (USA) site.

It can take (apparently) up to ten weeks for the book to make it’s way onto the EDC (hence in a few weeks time my book may appear on Amazon’s UK site).

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Just a quick (!) note regarding royalty payments….

Royalties are paid for each month, 60 days after the end of that month.  They are paid by cheque or directly into a US account; so effectively a US cheque for UK authors – not the most convenient but it is what it is.

Also Amazon deduct 30% from the royalties and pay it to the IRS (US tax man).  There is a way for non-US authors to stop this from happening but as with most processes associated with the US government it is slow and cumbersome.  One has to submit a W8-BEN form to Amazon – but this form needs a TIN (US Tax Identification Number) on it.  In order to get a TIN from the US government you have to jump through quite a few hoops (or pay a company about £500 to jump for you).

But one should consider whether one actually wants to stop Amazon from taking the 30%.  Confused!?  Let me explain – if Amazon take the 30% then you may not have to pay the tax on the royalties in the UK.  If you (like me) are holding down another job while working towards Best Seller Stardom then there’s a chance that you may be in the 40% tax bracket, hence it may be in your benefit to be taxed by the US at 30% rather than 40% in the UK – although it does irk being taxed by a foreign government that isn’t actually giving you anything for your tax dollar. 

Yes I did use the word “may” a lot there – that’s because I’m not a Tax Advisor – so there’s a suspicion that if one is in the 40% tax bracket then one doesn’t get away with paying just 30% on the royalties – it may be that the royalties have to be declared to the UK tax man who then collects the “missing” 10% when one completes their Self-Assessment.

Even writers who are in the 20% tax bracket in the UK need to consider how much effort (and expense) they have to incur in order to claw back that missing 10%. 

If one does manage to send a W8-BEN to Amazon such that no tax is deducted from the royalties then one should (must) declare these earnings to their tax man (otherwise the tax man will direct one to a jail cell)!!

Anyway that’s it – hope that helps some of you budding writers out there…and gives an insight into the loops I’ve been jumping lately.