Archive | February, 2012

Tell Me Your Self-Publishing Story

29 Feb

You may or may not know that I also blog about self-publishing over on Self-Printed on Writing.ie.

You might well not know this because in the past few months I’ve been terrible at keeping it updated, but one of my goals for 2012 was to… well, get significantly less terrible at it. My problem is that I write reeeeeally long posts for Catherine, Caffeinated, and so I was thinking I should be writing reeeeeeally long posts for Self-Printed too. But that feels too much like hard work, so I’d keep putting it off and putting it off, and then one week would be come two, and then two weeks would become a month and half, and so on until Self-Printed began to grow cobwebs.

Well, no more. I have an action plan now for ensuring that Self-Printed gets updated by moi on a weekly basis—as it should—and that involves two key elements, one of which is mixing it up. (The other is allowing myself to post posts shorter than a few thousand words from time to time…) I’m going to do something different each week, rotating it on a four-week schedule, like this:

Week 1: Self-Printing 101

300 words-ish explaining some basic element of self-publishing, like a definition of a term or a summary of a website or other self-publishing service.

Week 2: Self-Printing Replay

A replay of one of my loooooooong posts from here. I really think you should dig out golden oldies whenever you can, because blog posts take so long to write it seems ridiculous to only give them one day’s worth of chances to be read. Plus I can tell by hits, comments, etc. which ones people found most useful.

Week 3: This Is Where You Come In

I’ll tell you about this in a second…

Week 4: Self-Publishing Roundup

5 of the most interesting and useful self-publishing links I’ve come across over the previous four weeks.

So, going back to Week 3. I think the best place to get ideas and inspiration for your own self-publishing adventures is to hear about the experiences of other self-publishers. So, I want to hear about yours. And then I want to post it on Writing.ie. This is not only an opportunity to share any tips or tricks with other authors, but it’s also (let’s be honest) an opportunity to advertise your book—Writing.ie gets tens of thousands of unique visitors a month from all over the world.

If you’d like to get involved, there’s some guidelines:

  • We want to hear about why you self-published, how you self-published and what you’ve learned since you did
  • Link to one listing on Amazon.com, your website and your Twitter account—but please, keep the live links at that
  • You must send the post, in MS Word with the links embedded if possible, to info[at]catherineryanhoward.com
  • The post must not have previously appeared anywhere else; no material only, pretty please
  • Attach ONE book cover image and ONE author image
  • Please keep it between 400-1,000 words.

(I’m afraid I can’t say when your post will be posted, although I will let you know when it is.)

Previous guest posters here can of course submit new posts—the more the merrier. It doesn’t where you’re from either, or how recently or how long ago you self-published your book. I really hope you’ll want to be involved because I am genuinely fascinated by everyone else’s stories, especially if you have some tricks I can try too…

Could Your Self-Published Book Pass THIS Test?

27 Feb

Once upon a time, Mousetrapped was 400 sheets of double-spaced text resting in a Muji kraft box under my bed and its destiny was to remain there forever. I had no intention of self-publishing it, not least of all because I figured self-publishing was for delusional losers who despite being rejected by one literary agent and five publishing houses just couldn’t take a hint.* But then a friend sent me a link to Lulu, which led me to CreateSpace, which started the wheels in my rejection-filled head turning…

The book that started it all...

Soon, the decision was made. I’d self-publish using the cheapest and easiest form of Print on Demand, or POD. I’d already checked the manuscript a few times during my agent/publisher hunt, so I was pretty confident it was mistake-free. All I had to do was re-format it and convert the Word document into a PDF. I could throw together some kind of cover using the software provided by CreateSpace and then point people in the direction of its Amazon listing. The whole thing might take a Saturday, a weekend at the most.

Right?

Um, no. Not even close.

In fact, the process took three more months. During this time, I worked with an editor on the manuscript itself. She pointed out spelling mistakes, grammar abuse, confused thoughts, contradictions and a vast collection of inconsistencies. (Like e-mail and email, for example.) We even re-wrote some parts. Each time a round of corrections was finished, she’d give me the manuscript to check again, and then she’d check my checking. We passed it back and forth maybe four or five times. Meanwhile I was also working with a designer on my cover. I’d made a mock-up of what I wanted, and he made it happen with some vast improvements.  I emailed a few writerly friends for their advice on the blurb and we went back and forth over the many versions and when that was settled, there were a few more rounds on the cover design as things like text, placement of text and the exact amount of blue sky above the palm trees was decided. Even when all this work was done, the proof copy itself had to be worked through—another three full days of work before I could click ‘Publish’ and release Mousetrapped into the world.

So what changed in between? How did I go from thinking it would take a weekend to taking this self-publishing thing somewhat seriously?

The answer is I happened upon Jane Smith’s site, The Self-Publishing Review, and started reading.

The idea of the SPR is simple. As Jane explains:

“Here are the rules. You send me a copy of your self-published book, and I’ll read it. If I like it I’ll review it here, and will be generous with my praise. What’s the catch? I’m an editor, and expect published books to be polished. I’m going to count all the errors I find in spelling, punctuation and grammar and when I reach fifteen I’m going to stop reading. I’ll work my way through up to five pages of boring prose or bad writing before I give up. And I’ll list on this blog every single book I’m sent, including the books I’ve not completed, along with how far I got through each one.”

This is not your best friend who thinks anything you do is amazing. It’s not that relative of yours who doesn’t read anything but magazines, and therefore thinks the application of any words to paper is nothing short of magical. It isn’t your loyal blog subscribers or Twitter followers supporting you with five star Amazon reviews. It’s not the opinion of one of your fellow self-published authors who hopes you’ll return the favor (and if not you, karma), and it’s certainly not a group of self-publishing evangelists who feed into their own delusion with suspiciously glowing reviews on such a scale that their site should really be called AdventuresinBack-Scratching.com. This is a brutally honest, unbiased review—maybe your only chance of one. Better yet, Jane doesn’t compare your book to other self-published books. She compares them to all books.

It seems crazy now, but initially I wasn’t too fussed about Mousetrapped‘s perfection. I said things like, So what if the cover’s a bit blurry? What do they expect? and, People probably won’t even notice spelling mistakes and even if they do, then so what? Then I started to read through the reviews on SPR and realized that I was digging my own self-published grave with that attitude. Instead, I went through each review and made notes. What mistakes were being made over and over again? What could I look out for in my own text? Where’s the nearest copyeditor?

When I thought about sending my finished book to Jane for review, I began to feel a bit sick. But Jane was representative of all my potential readers. Shouldn’t my goal be to deliver as close to a perfect book as I could? And so I worked at it, with it and on it until I felt confident it was pass Jane’s test, or at the very least do so without too much ego-blasting criticism. My ultimate goal was to get her to read it all and to recommend it, two things I had rarely seen her do on the site. If she had some bad things to say about it, so be it. Chances are she would—it was my belief back then and I believe it even more so today that it is almost impossible for a self-publisher to fully recreate the rounds and rounds of preparation that a book would go through at a major publishing house. But as long as she read the whole thing and thought it was useful for something other than being a coaster under a hot coffee cup, then I’d be happy.

Last week Jane published her review of my book. She had some criticisms, some I didn’t agree with (for instance, my actions while in Orlando—the fact that I didn’t prepare is what the book is about) and some I did (um, all the other ones…!) She also really got my wheels turning on her point about the back cover blurb, which since it practically lifts lines from the first chapter, feels repetitive to the reader. I think I’m going to write me a new one.

Now, some of you may think I’m ten shades of crazy to be drawing your attention to a review by an expert that says my book has problems**, but I’m doing it because I want all you “I can’t afford an editor” types to consider this: Mousetrapped was professionally copyedited. And before that, it had more than a year’s worth of feedback from an agent. And before that, I rewrote it I think at least three times. But I “couldn’t afford” a structural edit, which would have caught many of the problems Jane flagged, the problems I see now when I read over it two years later. And I “couldn’t afford” a proofread, which would have ensured that any changes made during the copyedit hadn’t left inconsistencies or other mistakes. So what state would the book be in if I hadn’t done anything at all? What state will your book be in if you don’t do anything at all?

If you are thinking of self-publishing or in the midst of it, I implore you to go read through all the reviews on SPR. Make a list of the criticisms that keep popping up again and again. Write them on a piece of paper in block capitals, laminate it and stick it behind your desk. Commit to not making any of them.

Click here to visit the Self-Publishing Review.

*I don’t want to encourage the self-publication of bad books, so I feel I should add this: yes, Mousetrapped was rejected by those people, but all their responses were the same. They thought the book was enjoyable and well-written, but they felt its potential readership was too small to warrant publication which, after all, is a business at the end of the day. While this sucked, it made Mousetrapped an ideal candidate for self-publication. If any or all of them had said, ‘This just isn’t good enough,’ I wouldn’t have done it.

**I think my book has problems too. As I said on a comment on Jane’s review, if I were reviewing it myself, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars, maybe 3.5 or even 4 if the topics covered in it were things I was fascinated by AND I really clicked with the author’s voice. Mousetrapped has 42 reviews on Amazon.com and an overall average of 4 out of 5 stars, which I think is great, but I think it only gets 5 stars whenever a reader really “clicks” with the book and not because it’s perfect or exceptional. And these people have read it—I know potential readers have been turned off by the overly long first chapter (I’ve seen comments about it on Twitter, etc.) But the beauty of self-publishing is that if I want to do something about that, I can. 

Sidenote: in this post I’ve touched on two things that I’m going to be blogging about in the near future: how a self-publisher can re-create what happens at a publishing house and the difference between a book being a well-crafted piece of Booker-esque literature and it having appeal. So, stand by for more on that.

Non-US Self-Publisher? Tax Issues Don’t Need to be Taxing

24 Feb

taxnote

CLICK FOR A LARGER IMAGE.

***UPDATE APRIL 2013: First of all, thanks to David for writing the post that never stops giving. We’re still going with comments over a year later, and I’d recommend every new reader take the time to read through them as your question has in all likelihood already been answered. Yes, I know there’s a lot of them, but people have a lot of questions. Secondly, you might want to note the comment from Lis Sowerbutts that describes her post-EIN dealings with the IRS. If they have withheld money from you in a previous year and you plan on submitting a US tax return to get it back, you MUST get an ITIN. If they haven’t withheld any money yet or they’ve withheld such a tiny amount you’re willing to let it go, an EIN is absolutely fine. It’ll do what you need. But if you plan on seeking a refund, you must get an ITIN. Anyone who can shed any further light on this, please do so in the comments. And good luck!***

***UPDATE MAY 2013: Commenter Yorgos has left an extensive and very helpful comment re: future US tax returns. Please read it here. ***

***UPDATE DECEMBER 2013: This post has step-by-step instructions and screenshots re: completing Amazon’s new ‘tax interview’—what you do AFTER you get your EIN or ITIN. Thanks to commenter Jackson for the tip. ***

OH FOR THE LOVE OF FUDGE.

That’s what this whole tax-withholding-for-non-US-residents makes me want to scream. Out loud, and repeatedly. But as I’ve said before, self-publishing your e-book on the biggest online retailer in the world is so easy, there had to be something like this to balance it out.

If you haven’t been keeping up with this ongoing saga, here’s a quick recap. I spent eight months, give or take, trying to get my own Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). I relied on the experiences of two other self-publishers, Sally Clements and Roz Morris, to help me out; the information the IRS provides wouldn’t help you find your way out of a small paper bag, let alone anywhere near an ITIN. Luckily once I had the damn thing, getting my full royalty payments and the money withheld from me in the year to date was easy and quick. But then, in the last few weeks, people started telling me that I didn’t need an ITIN at all—an Employee Identification Number (EIN) would’ve done the job, and an EIN was much easier to get. I posted about this possibility, and fellow Irish self-publisher David Gaughran volunteered to be the guinea pig—and got his EIN within minutes, and over the phone. This was extremely useful information, especially since another commenter (thanks, Janet!) told us that new IRS rules mean that starting this year, monies withheld will only be available for refund through the IRS—and not refunded automatically by KDP and CreateSpace, as they have been up until now.

I feared that most people wouldn’t read through all the comments on the original post, so I asked David to write a guest post for us here about how he got his EIN. Take it away, David…

“As many of you will know, Amazon and Smashwords are required by law to withhold 30% of the royalties earned by non-US authors until they settle their tax status. The commonly accepted method of doing so was going through the laborious process of getting an International Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which necessitates arcane form-filling, notarized copies of passports, embassy trips, fees, and inexplicable rejection (writers should at least be used to the last part). And indeed, this was the path I was on myself, up until yesterday.

In the last few weeks, I had heard some mutterings that there was an easier, quicker way, but hadn’t had time to look into it. After Catherine’s post on Monday, suggesting that self-publishers might be able to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) instead, which will also do the trick, I decided to give it a shot.

First things first: I’m no tax expert. In fact, the entire subject turns my brain to soup. And I know as much about the law as this guy. All I can explain is how I got my EIN in ten minutes and how you should be able to do the same.

One final caveat: this only applies to self-published authors who are publishing through their own company (and that company must be set up outside the US). While the IRS doesn’t appear to ask for proof that you have actually established your own publishing company, I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t commence this process until you actually have.

1. Call the IRS at +1 267 941 1099

This is a direct line to the dedicated unit in Philadelphia that deals with foreign entities (that’s you) who need an EIN. Press 2 on the computerized menu to get through to an operator. While I’ve heard it’s possible to get your EIN through some embassies and consuls, that certainly doesn’t apply to all of them and this number will work for everyone. Note: they won’t take a call from anyone using a “speakerphone”. If you are using Skype on your laptop, have a set of headphones plugged in before you call, to avoid an undignified scramble around your apartment. Finally, while there is an online facility for doing this, foreign entities can’t use that.

 2. Tell them you’re applying for an EIN for a foreign entity.

They may ask if you are a legal officer of the company or some such, I said that I was a sole proprietor, and the owner of the business, which satisfied them.

3. There’s a 50% chance that they will tell you that you need Form SS-4

You do not want to go down this path, which requires form-filling, fees, delays, and somehow locating a fax machine. If this is what they tell you, politely end the call, and call them back. I only had to do this once, and then got someone a little more helpful.

4. Give your details

They will ask for your name, mailing address, phone number, the name of your company, and the country it was incorporated. This will involve a lot of spelling and repetition, but make sure all the details are correct.

 5. They will ask if this is for compliance with withholding

Say “yes”.

6. They will ask if this is for e-books

Say “yes”.

 7. They will give you your EIN!!!

After confirming all your details, they will give you your EIN right there and then. Resist the urge to shower your helpful IRS employee with virtual kisses. Also, it’s probably best not to try and sell them your book. Write your EIN down somewhere safe, then save it on your computer, upload it to Dropbox, copy it to a thumb drive, email it to yourself, carve it on the biggest tree in your garden, and consider getting it tattooed somewhere private.

Submitting the W8-BEN

If you follow these steps, you will save yourself time, money, and a whole load of heartache. All you have left to do is fill out the W8-BEN (you didn’t really think you were going to avoid those forms altogether, did you?).

I have copied that advice here, as it requires a little modification now that you have an EIN rather than an ITIN.

First you need to download the W8-BEN form, and print it out. The official instructions for filling it out are here, but the below might be a little more helpful. Note: you will need one copy each for Amazon KDP, CreateSpace, and Smashwords.

Part I (You must fill out everything in blue ink)

1. Your full legal name.

2. The country you live in/pay taxes in (don’t abbreviate anything).

3. Type of beneficial owner: Check the box that says “Individual” (and nothing else).

4. Your physical address/street address (don’t abbreviate).

5. Your mailing address (only if different).

6. Select the “EIN” box, and fill your number in.

7. Your foreign tax number (i.e. your tax number in your country of residence. I actually forgot to include this, and some say it doesn’t matter, but there’s no harm putting it in).

8. Fill in your KDP Publisher No. (in Account Settings, bottom right of screen) on one form, the email address associated with your Smashwords account on the second form, and your Createspace Member No. (on your dashboard) on the third.

Part II (only fill out the parts indicated)

9a. Tick the box and write your country in the line provided (again, don’t abbreviate).

9b. Tick the box and fill in your EIN.

10. This bit will vary depending on your country.

  • For the first section (after “Article”), you will need the appropriate number for your country. It’s “XII” for Canada, “12” for the United Kingdom, and Ireland is “12” also. You will have to check the number for other countries here (and come back and tell us in the comments to save the next person doing so).
  • For the second section (the % withholding rate), fill in 0 (zero) for Canada, Ireland, or the United Kingdom. I believe Australia is 5, and you can check other countries here (Publication 515, Table 1).
  • For the third section (specify type of income), write “Royalties-12, Other”.
  • For the final section (Explain the reasons…) write “Beneficial Owner is a resident of…” and then write your country (and don’t abbreviate, people have been rejected simply for writing “U.K.”).

Part IV (skip Part III altogether)

Sign your name, date it, and write “Self” over “Capacity”.

And you’re done! While you might feel like cracking out the whiskey at this point, I recommend posting everything off right away. You will need to send a separate W8-BEN (an original, not a photocopy!) to each of the following that you have published with:

  • Amazon KDP: Attn. Vendor Maintenance, PO Box 80683, Seattle, WA 98108-0683, USA.
  • Smashwords: Tax Compliance Dept., 15951 Los Gatos Blvd., Ste 16 Los Gatoes, CA 95032, USA.
  • CreateSpace: 8329 West Sunset Road, Suite 200, Las Vegas, NV, 89113, USA.

I sent the forms off, by express post, with a simple cover letter stating I had attached the W8-BEN for compliance with withholding. It takes them a few weeks to process, but within a month or so, they should stop withholding your royalties (hooray!).

Under the old way, the advice was to wait until you had accrued a certain amount of royalties. That no longer applies, and you are recommended to apply for an EIN right away. Many self-publishers (like me) were so aghast at the laborious process that they put it off, knowing that they could apply for a refund of the taxes withheld at a future point. Apparently, new legislation means that you will no longer be able to do this. As such, you are advised to commence this process as soon as possible.

I would like to thank Roz Morris, Sally Clements, and my gracious host for doing all the real legwork on this issue, and whoever first discovered that you could simply phone up and get an EIN. This post merely builds on their hard-won knowledge.

Finally, if you are reading this at some time in the future, first of all, sorry for screwing up the planet, and second, you might want to check you are using the up-to-date W8-BEN form on the IRS website.”

And thank YOU, David!

So, to recap:

  • If you have an ITIN, there’s no need for you to be reading this post. Unless it’s for procrastination purposes. If so, we all understand.
  • If you have already applied for an ITIN and are waiting for it to arrive, my advice would be to wait a little bit longer. If it takes longer than a month from now for your ITIN to arrive, start chasing an EIN instead.
  • If you haven’t applied for anything yet, apply for an EIN. This will require you to have a company, even if that means just registering as a sole trader. Do you have to actually publish through this company, as in, do you have to purchase ISBNs and put the name of your company on your books? I highly doubt it. But I think filling out a companies registration form and being on the phone to the IRS for a few minutes is considerable less headachy than the ITIN application process.
  • Whatever you’re doing, hurry up. You can no longer get withholdings back for the year to date without applying to the IRS for a tax refund (apparently) and so my advice would be to do this before you release your book, if possible.
  • Good luck!

About David Gaughran:

David is the author of the South American historical adventure A Storm Hits Valparaiso and the short stories If You Go Into The Woods and Transfection, as well as Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. He runs the popular publishing blog Let’s Get Digital, the history site South Americana, and has a regular column for Indie Reader.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2012: I know there are a lot of comments on this post now, but please: take a few minutes to read them before you add yours if yours contains a question about applying for an EIN or an ITIN. I say this because many of the commenters have taken the time to generously answer questions already asked and when you re-ask a question that’s already been asked and answered, all you are doing is letting us know that you haven’t bothered to spend your time reading what’s already been posted. Please, if you have a question that you feel hasn’t been answered in this post, read through the comments below before asking it. Thank you and good luck getting your EIN/ITIN!

How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed

23 Feb

One of the hardest things for a self-published author to do is to get their book reviewed. But you need reviews, if only to lend some weight to your Amazon listing and to reassure yourself that self-publishing your book isn’t the biggest mistake you’ve ever made. Book bloggers and other non-professional book sites (i.e. where the reviewers don’t get paid but read and review for love) are your best bets for getting your self-published book reviewed. But how do you get them to do it? How do you approach them? And where do you even find them in the first place?

How to get your book reviewed

(If you’d prefer NOT to get your book reviewed, please see below.)

The first step is to find suitable bloggers who might like to review your book, and there are two ways to do that. The first is to trawl through Futurebook’s extensive book blogger listing. (You can easily add your name, by the way, if you review books on your website or blog.) Make a list of potential reviewers for your book based on genre preferences, etc. The second thing you can do is find 1-3 recently traditionally published books that are similar to yours, e.g. if you read and liked Book X, you might like your Book Y too. Google their name along with the word review. The top results will probably be newspapers and magazines, but keep going. Soon you’ll get to the book bloggers. Add any suitable ones to your potential reviewers list.

The next step is research, and you cannot skip this step. You are asking these people to give up several hours of their life to read and review your book; the least you can do is spend five minutes looking around their site to see if you should even be sending your book to them in the first place. Check their submission guidelines and then follow them. Add the details to your list. If they say they don’t review self-published books, that means they don’t review self-published books. Take heed.

When I wrote Self-Printed just under a year ago, the problem plaguing self-published authors looking to get their book reviewed was what I called The Mean Problem, whereby self-published authors bristled at the idea of “giving books away for free” to reviewers. (Don’t. Even. Get. Me. STARTED.) I think this has changed, thankfully—especially now that e-books are more widely read and so, accepted by book reviewers—but a new problem has taken its place: Thinking People Care Syndrome. By default, nobody gives a rodent’s arse about anyone else’s book. Oh, you wrote a book, did you? WATCH WHILE I DON’T GIVE A RODENT’S ARSE. (This isn’t me saying this to you, but everyone saying it to everyone else.) Writing a book doesn’t equal people wanting to read it (unfortunately), and I think this is a point a lot of self-publishers—and even some traditionally published authors—don’t quite get. It’s probably the biggest realization I’ve had about this whole publishing world since I stuck a self-published toe in it back in 2010. Nobody cares.

Bleak, I know, but once you acknowledge that nobody cares—once you fully understand that that’s your starting-off point—you’ll take a different approach to book-selling. A more effective approach. And then you’ll sell more books. Because a writer who doesn’t understand that nobody cares will send an e-mail that says, “I just published something. If you’d like to review it, let me know.” But if you’re a writer who does understand, the next thing you’ll do is create something that makes me care about your book. This may be an e-mail, or it may be a press release or “sell sheet” in PDF attached to an e-mail, or even a little video. It should be professional, informative and interesting, but also short and to the point.

It should tell me:

  • who you are
  • what the book is about
  • the what/when/where of the book’s publication
  • whether I’d be getting an e-book or a paperback
  • how to get in contact with you if I want to review it
  • something that makes me think, Oooh, I’d like to read that.

I don’t know you and I haven’t read your book (yet?), so my entire impression of you and your work is going to be formed from this e-mail. This is something to keep in mind.

Your e-mail might look something like this, attached to a one-page PDF document filled with relevant and interesting information about you and your book:

To [first name]

I am the author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, a travel memoir of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World. I really enjoyed your review of [SIMILAR BOOK]—I too laughed out loud at the bit [MEMORABLE INCIDENT FROM SIMILAR BOOK]!—and as my book is similar, I thought you might be interested in reading and potentially reviewing it.

I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy. There is, of course, no obligation to review it; I appreciate that you must get countless books to review and don’t have the time to read and review all of them. I completely understand.

If you are interested in receiving a copy, please forward a postal address and I will mail one to you immediately. Alternatively if you’d like an e-book edition please tell me your preferred format and I will e-mail it to you. 

Please see attached document for more information. I’m also available for interview, guest-posting, etc. If there’s anything else I can supply you with—images, more information, links, etc.—please let me know.

Thank you for your time,

[Your name]

If you’ve done your job, you’ll have sent me something that makes me think:

  • you’re a professional
  • who has written an interesting, potentially good book
  • that I want to read because you’ve done your research on me.

Therefore I’ll e-mail you back to say, “Yes—send me this book!” and then I’ll read it and like it and review it, and your job will be done. Mission accomplished. Repeat as required. And well done you.

How NOT to get your book reviewed

The first step is to find book bloggers who don’t read books on the same planet as yours, let alone in the same genre, and bloggers who don’t review books at all. At least half of your potential reviewer list should be made up of these non-book-reviewing bloggers, and everyone on it should say somewhere on their website that they never read or review self-published books. That’s, like, the most important bit. Throw in a few self-published authors as well. I mean, why not? When Patricia Cornwell has a new book out the first thing she does is offer a copy to Karin Slaughter, right?

Don’t visit any of the sites or blogs on your list. You don’t need to, because this is your book we’re talking about. So what if it’s chick-lit and the site is called CrimeSpreeBooks.com? Once they hear about the plot (twenty-something fish out of water with man troubles catalogues her wardrobe and hangs out with her ditzy best friend; giggles ensue), they’ll forget all about serial killers, Scandinavia and grisly body parts and read nothing but you forever more.

Also, don’t bother with those yawn-inducing “Contact” forms or collecting the bloggers’ actual e-mail addresses from the submission information on their sites. That’s just a gigantic waste of time. BOR-ing. Instead, use this handy shortcut:

  1. Take the domain of the website, e.g. http://www.INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com, and cut out the “www.”
  2. Replace it with “info@”.
  3. Send your e-mail to that address, i.e. info@INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com.
  4. If you get a failure notice, try “admin@” instead. One of them is bound to work, right?

So now you have a long list of people who don’t read books like yours—many of whom also don’t review books at all—and e-mail addresses for them that may or may not work, and if they do work, aren’t anything to do with the way they’ve asked you to contact them as per the instructions on their site. The next thing to do is to send out a mass e-mail to all of them that does one or more of the following things:

  • annoys
  • gets the Delete button clicked
  • gets the Spam button clicked
  • gets the Block Recipient feature enabled
  • incites anger and/or frustrated pencil-snapping
  • inspires the recipient to write an extremely sarcastic blog post about reviews
  • gives the recipient the impression that you think giving them a copy of your book is bestowing upon them a beautiful gift, and not that them reading and reviewing your book is them doing you an immeasurable favor. (Mucho bonus points for doing this.)

How can you achieve this? Well, I’m glad you asked! To make absolutely sure that you make your reviewer experience all of the above, remember to:

  • Ignore all the review-related information on the blogger’s site, e.g. submission guidelines, preferred genres, etc. If you’ve followed my instructions thus far, you’ve already done this. Well done you! Earn bonus points by including a blatant lie about having researched their site, e.g. “I know you love science-fiction” when there is not one mention of science-fiction anywhere on the blogger’s site, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Omit any information about your book. Just put a link to your website instead, man. That way you get a hit too. And bonus points will be awarded for not activating the link; it’s even better if the recipient has to manually copy and paste the URL into their browser’s address bar. Oh YEAH.
  • Use CC instead of BCC, so every single one of the 391 people you sent the e-mail to can see everyone else’s e-mail addresses. Who doesn’t love that?
  • Include an ultimatum. If you do one thing to not get your book reviewed, make it this. Ultimatums can be one or more combinations of the following book review ultimatum categories: Schedule Ultimatums (“Only accept a copy if you are in a position to post your review between March 4th and April 10th…”), Content Ultimatums (“I ask that you only post your review if it’s a positive one…” or “You can’t mention the misspelling on the cover in your review…”) and Action Ultimatums (“I propose a review exchange. I’ll send you a copy of my book and you send me a copy of yours. Once your positive review of my book appears on Smashwords, I’ll read and review yours [Ed. note: ??!?!?!?!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! Another ed. note: I actually got an e-mail that said this.]. Here’s an inactive link to my website where you can find out more…”).
  • Insult the reviewer. If there’s one thing book bloggers lurve, it’s authors who are happy to send them stacks of shiny books until they post a negative review of their work. After that, it’s all “Oh my god you are SO unprofessional” and “I’m going to bitch about you on every forum I can find” and “Then I’m going to send all my, ahem, fans (read: friends) your way so they can leave bitchy comments about you on your site” and “Who are you, anyway? I bet you’re a failed writer who can barely contain her jealousy that I have a book for sale.” Yep. And the only kind of author they love even more is the kind that makes a pre-emptive strike against such behavior. Get in this category by saying something like, “Before I send you my book, I want to make sure that in return I’ll get a balanced and fair review where, if something is not to your liking, you’ll quantify why. Perhaps you could send me some samples of your previous reviews so I can check that you’re up to the task…?”
  • Tell them your mother loved it. So simple, but oh so effective.
  • Pretend you are not the author but the author’s Proper Publicist-Type even though the e-mail is clearly from your personal account and slips into the first person before the end of the message. A classic technique, this.
  • Don’t even bother pretending that you’re after a review. I mean, why would you want a review? They’re for losers. You want sales. So say something like, “My book is for sale now on [insert link]” and then just leave it at that. For a truly annoying touch, add some hollow humility like, “I don’t expect you to buy it, but I’m going to send you this e-mail about how to buy it just in case. I mean, I know you don’t know me and we’ve never been in contact before and you only got this e-mail because I noticed you had a dot-com domain name and so chances are you have an info@ e-mail address but hey, this is my book we’re talking about. Trust me: you’re gonna want to read this baby.”

Therefore if you don’t want to get your book reviewed, your e-mail will look more like this:

To Blogger

I’m a fancy pants book publicist from a fancy pants book publicists’ office. I’m contacting you today in the hope that you actually have this e-mail address and because I know you’ll be interested in reading [GENERIC TITLE], a stunning debut by [AUTHOR'S NAME] that’s available now on Amazon for $1.99. I’m fairly certain of this because of your blog header. (Yes, I know your blog header is actually nothing to do with the subject matter of this book, but just go with it.) Go to http://www.generictitle.com now to find out more because that’s all the information I’m going to give you and this e-mail isn’t attached to anything except what is sure to be one of the biggest sellers of 2012. As Person With The Same Last Name as the Author has said of it, “You typed this whole thing? Like, yourself? Wow! I’m impressed.”

As I’m sure you’re aware self-published authors don’t have a lot of money and as a self-published author yourself, I know you’d appreciate me asking you to appreciate this and perhaps buy the book instead of getting a FREE copy of it…? I mean, come on. You’d probably spend double the price on a cup of coffee, am I right? Anyway if you must take money out of my—I mean, the author’s—pocket, I can send you an e-book with your name on every page so if you pass it on and it ends up on one of those piracy sites, I’ll know it was you. Yeah, I know what you book blogger types are like! I wasn’t born yesterday. Thus before I send you anything, I’m going to need a guarantee that you’ll post a review of it. Perhaps you could scribble a quick contract and send it to me, signed and notarized, along with your passport? I promise I’ll send it back after my (positive!) review goes live. 

Oh, and I—we— need you to do this review thing ASAP. Like, yesterday. I got bills, y’know?

I’m also gonna need assurances that you’ll accompany my review with links to my blog, site, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Flickr albums and Goodreads page, and that you won’t use any photos of me in which my left side predominantly features.

That’s what’s up.

LATERS,

The Auth—I mean, The Author’s Fancy Pants Publicist

And so, to recap:

  • If you give me a copy of your book to review and I read and review it, it is me who is doing you a favor.
  • Book bloggers specify what kind of books they like to review on their websites. Read this information. If it’s not there, a quick flick through a list of their existing reviews will help you determine whether or not your book is for them.
  • By default, nobody cares about anybody else’s book. Your job is to get me—and everyone else—to care.
  • If you’ve self-published a book, that doesn’t mean that other self-published authors will want to read it. It doesn’t work that way.
  • I won’t leave your e-mail to go looking for information about your book, so don’t ask me to.
  • Sending an e-mail that’s trying to sell something to someone you don’t know is called spam. Sending spam could get your e-mail account blocked and deactivated.
  • Putting me on a mailing list without my consent will not get me to buy your book. It will only get me to report you to your e-mail provider for abuse. This extends to lists of e-mail addresses you made yourself and then sent mass mailings to, not just “formal” mailing lists. If you haven’t communicated with the person before, you shouldn’t be sending them mass anything.
  • I’m not even a book blogger and yet I found myself with more than enough material to write this post. I CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE the gems actual book bloggers get sent.

Finally, we all know that the majority of submissions agents and editors get are smeared with crazy, unprofessionalism and coffee rings. That’s why we strive to make our own pristine, clean, correctly formatted, in adherence with their submission guidelines and smelling fresh; we want to give a professional impression. Do the same with your book review correspondence. Be professional, target suitable reviewers, don’t be pushy, demanding or frightening, and your book will get reviewed.

Happy reviewer-searching!

(Thought for the day: this blog post is nearly 3,000 words long. My book isn’t finished. Coincidence?)

Public service announcement: By the way, I don’t really review books anymore. A quick look around my site would reveal that (a) the last time I posted a review was August 2011, (b) if I do have time to review something, it’s not self-published books I choose to review and (c) does this look like a book review-centric blog to you? So I don’t really know why I’m even getting e-mails from authors in the first place. Although after this, I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting any.

Was that my evil plan all along? We’ll never know…

[Mysterious Mona Lisa-esque smile]

How To Launch a Bestseller: A Guest Post from Mel Sherratt

22 Feb

Today we have a guest post from Mel Sherratt, author of the bestselling Taunting the Dead which she recently self-published in e-book. It’s been such a huge success that everyone wants to know, how did she do it? Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Mel! 

“One question I’ve been asked a lot recently is have I had a well defined publicity campaign for my ebook, TAUNTING THE DEAD. So I thought I’d tell you what I did. Last December, I had a ‘launch’ day on twitter when I tweeted about it as often as I could and lots of people kindly retweeted this blog post for me. I also did three guest posts on book blogs during that same week. Over the next few weeks, momentum slowly built up and sales increased daily until a couple of weeks ago when I had a feature in my local evening newspaper. My sales figures doubled on that day, then doubled again the following day and have increased ever since. So is it social media or my ‘voice’ on Twitter or is it TAUNTING THE DEAD itself that is getting noticed?

I’m not sure if there is any wrong or right way for a writer to approach Twitter. I don’t see anything wrong with authors tweeting about their book – we all need to do it – as long as it isn’t incessantly in my timeline. But I use twitter as my virtual office. It’s my place to go and ‘chat’ when I need a break so I don’t want to alienate people who I enjoy chatting to. I don’t promote my book in the sense of putting a link into several tweets a day but I do tweet out if someone has been kind enough to say something good about my book, out of pure delight that they’ve done so. I’m only human – I want to share. But then I get fearful that I might annoy someone in their timeline too!

I also think book bloggers, as well as people who follow me on twitter, have played an instrumental part in promoting TAUNTING THE DEAD. It’s the only thing I can think of, apart from possibly, word of mouth – or maybe readers of my blog following my writing journey. I run a blog called High Heels and Book Deals and for the past two years have hosted author interviews and reviewed lots of books in between sharing posts about my writing. I’m often told that the blog has become a tool to learn from as there are lots of hints and tips about writing from some great authors.  Before I uploaded my ebook, I had a few crime bloggers/reviewers review the book for me and I think because they were well known and respected, it had a good effect on my sales. People were extremely kind and I hope that’s because I gave my time to some of them when their own books were out. I do my fair share of retweeting too. My followers on Twitter also tweet out things without asking and often do ‘tweet outs’ for me when I have news, for instance when I went to # 5 in the overall Kindle charts.

So I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken time out to write a review, to host me on a blog post or to tweet out my news. Because that in itself has been my promotion. You out there have played a huge part in it.”

About Mel:

Ever since she can remember, Mel Sherratt has been a meddler of words. Right from those early childhood scribbles when she won her first competition, she was rarely without a pen in her hand or her nose in a book. Born and raised in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Mel now uses her beloved city as a backdrop for her crime thriller novels. A self confessed shoeaholic, Mel also hosts a blog called High Heels and Book Deals. Taunting the Dead is her first novel and she is represented by Curtis Brown Literary Agency. 

About Taunting the Dead:

‘Gritty and atmospheric, Mel Sherratt knows all about the dangers that lurk within those mean streets.’ Niamh O’ Connor

Statistics say nine out of ten murders are committed by someone the victim knows. So when Steph Ryder is found dead with her head caved in, Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton begins investigations close to home, starting with the victim’s family and friends. As each one tries to cover up their actions on that fateful night, Allie becomes convinced husband Terry Ryder has something to hide. Powerful, ambitious and charming, Allie’s attraction to the successful businessman grows with each interrogation, risking both her job and marriage. But he’s not the only one she’s investigating. Secrets and lies begin to escalate as quickly as the body count. Can Allie uncover the truth before her life not only falls apart, but before she ends up a victim, too? Taunting the Dead is a sexy, gritty, fast paced thriller that will set your pulse racing, twist and turn you in every direction and leave you guessing right until the very end…

Thanks Mel! Click here to find Taunting the Dead on Amazon.com and here to find it on Amazon.co.uk.

London Stuff, Another Course and a Debate

21 Feb

So… Bring Your Book To Market at Faber Academy went really well, as did my six-hour whistle-stop tour of London which included not only a trip to Paperchase in Covent Garden, but to Ladurée as well, where my café creme came in one silver jug and hot, frothy milk came served in another. Why can’t all coffees be like this, eh? P.S. Don’t Ladurée have the best website ever? I think so…

The Science Museum was like an unsupervised creche, but then it was half-term and I knew it was before I went, but silly me decided to stick to my Apollo-10-capsule-viewing plans anyway. It was totally worth it though because the capsule was amazing—burned heat shield leftovers and all—and I just went to my happy place to drown the screaming little people out.

There were really lovely people on the course—13 of them, I believe—with a real mix of writing experience and motivations for self-publishing and even though putting together that damn PowerPoint presentation had caused me to miss at least three nights’ TV, it let me run through the whole thing without additional notes and worked really well on Faber’s super snazzy smartboard-thingy. (Yes, that’s the technical term.) I think—I hope—they all left knowing everything I wish I’d known two years ago, when I first started this whole, ahem, adventure, so that they can do it better than I did. Also, the coffee kept coming. It was great.

Next up: the same presentation except with some extra social media bits and an extra hour, only this time it’s going to be at the Royal St. George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, just outside of Dublin, on Saturday March 3rd, with Inkwell Writers. I’m told there’s only a small number of places left so if you’re interested, reserve yours now. The price is €125 and you can find out more here.

A few days later I’ll be in Dublin again, this time at the Irish PEN Debate at the United Arts Club in the city centre, on Thursday March 8th at 8pm. I’ll be on a panel debating the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing, and you can find out more about that here.

Finally, remember when Nicola Morgan stopped by on her Write a Great Synopsis blog tour a couple of weeks back? Well, I’m delighted to say that out of all the entries to her synopsis critique competition from all her blog tour stops (over 200 entries, I believe), the winner was from this very blog. Congratulations kristyes! Enjoy your expert synopsis help and other goodies, and thanks to Nicola for being such a fab guest.

US Tax Withholdings and Alphabet Soup

20 Feb

[UPDATE: Please make sure to read the comments on this post too, as fellow Irish self-publisher David Gaughran explains how he got his EIN—in minutes.]

[UPDATE #2: Author Melissa Hill advises me that Irish residents might be better off contacting the US Embassy in London. I guess it doesn't matter which embassy you contact anyway, but it seems that London is better equipped to deal with these kinds of applications/enquiries than the Dublin one is.]

[UPDATE #3: Commenter Janet advises that starting this year, new IRS rules will mean that companies such as CreateSpace, etc. WON'T be able to refund withholdings from the current year. That will mean that any monies withheld will go straight to the IRS, and you'll have to apply to them to get the refund. If getting an EIN/ITIN is rocket science, filing tax returns with the IRS when you don't live in the US is string theory and chaos theory combined; my advice would be to get your EIN or ITIN before you're due a single royalty cheque, if possible.]

You may recall that before Christmas I posted about the saga of obtaining a US Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) so that I could receive my royalty cheques from the likes of Amazon, CreateSpace and Smashwords without them withholding 30% from me, which is what they’re obligated by law to do if there’s no tax information provided. Since then there’s been a couple of comments left on the post saying that self-published authors outside the US don’t need an ITIN, only an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and EINs are far, far easier to get.

I’m certain this is true, not only because of the commentors but because I know writers who aren’t self-published who use it for things like getting paid for features from US publications. I’m not an expert but this is the way I think it works:

An ITIN is for earning royalties in the US as a non-US resident. Let’s say you were published in the US by Penguin Books, for example. Other companies are distributing the book to stores and websites, and Penguin are collecting the money because the book is their product, and you’re entitled to royalties from each sale. To get paid them, you need an ITIN. But with a self-published book, the product is yours. Amazon KDP, CreateSpace and Smashwords are just distributing it and then paying you; there’s no middle man, no entity in between who can claim it’s their product. The royalties are really just profits. Thus you are just doing business in the US. You’re just selling a product. And in order to get your 100% instead of seventy, you merely need an EIN.

So how do you get an EIN? You can apply online at the IRS website, although it’s a “live” application service and so can only be used during certain times of the day (specified on the site). You also apparently have the option of phoning your nearest US Embassy where you might end up with your EIN before you hang up the phone.

You may have to, ahem, pretend that at some stage in the future you might take on some staff…

(Well, when you start selling a gazillion e-books a second, you are going to need an assistant, right?)

What if you have an ITIN? Well, like me, you’ve just done some form filling and IRS-stressing you didn’t really have to, but hey, it’s done now. It’s not wrong to have an ITIN, it’s just you could have got an EIN instead. The people who know this seem to be freaking out all over the interweb, leaving excitable public service announcements on other people’s blogs to alert them, and while I love when useful information is shared, I don’t really see the need for a full-on freak out about this. Getting an ITIN is not difficult—what is difficult is trying to do it with the information the IRS provide, and you don’t have to because plenty of self-published authors have blogged about how they got theirs. (Including me.) Plus, whenever you get your number, be it an ITIN or EIN, you get refunded all your withholdings from the year to date, so waiting a few weeks isn’t going to make a difference unless it pushes you into a new calender year. My point is, calm down.

If you have an ITIN, you shouldn’t even be reading this because your tax situation is already sorted. (But of course I’m glad that you’re here!)

If you’re in the processing of applying for it, just wait. You’ll get all your money back anyway.

But if you haven’t started the process at all, get on the phone to your nearest US Embassy or follow the link to the online application, and then come back and tell me how you got on.

%d bloggers like this: