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How To Find Out Everything You Need To Know About Self-Publishing

6 Mar

Last week I was in Orlando, and I met up with the lovely Duolit girls, Shannon and Toni, in Downtown Disney for lunch and a laugh. I love meeting my self-publishing friends in real life because we can gossip and commiserate and joke in a way we can’t on our blogs, in public tweets or via e-mail. It’s like finally getting a chance to get out of the cubicle and go to the water cooler or coffee machine and whisper to our colleagues, “Oh my god. Did you see that this morning?!” and “Really? That’s exactly what I thought! That was my reaction too…” and “I’m so glad you said that. I thought I was the only one! I was like, am I crazy pills here or what?”

duolit

The aforementioned lovely Duolit girls

One of the things we talked about was The Dreaded E-mails. Every day—sometimes several times a day—e-mails arrive in our inbox from writers far behind us on the long path to self-publishing, asking us for help, advice or the answer to a specific (or sometimes, infuriatingly vague) question.

Reading over that last sentence, it sounds innocent enough. Right? Someone can’t figure out how to set their royalty rate to 70%, they know my royalty rate is already 70% and I have a blog about self-publishing, so they e-mail me. Seems like no big deal.

But imagine that you are so busy with your own self-publishing and writing career (remembering, it’s how you make a living) that it’s a struggle for you to find time to write your next book. (Or sleep even, at the moment.) And that you have already spent hours upon hours of your life writing a 120,000-word book about everything you know about self-publishing, which is available from just $4.99. And that even if you can’t afford to invest a pocket of change in your self-publishing research, there’s this blog, which has several times that word count worth of self-publishing info, all neatly arranged and organized both chronologically and by topic, all available for free, on demand, whenever you need it. And that these e-mails come in all the time, constantly, and range from things that can be answered in a minute to things that couldn’t be answered in a week (e.g. “How do I get people to buy my book? I mean, do people really buy books they just come upon on Amazon? That seems crazy to me…”), and that they come in on top of the usual internet fare of spam, review requests (even though I don’t review books!), link exchange proposals, and messages from readers that you actually want to respond to but struggle to find the time. And that despite trying various deterrents on your Contact page and even, recently, offering an “Ask Catherine” service where questions can be submitted to be answered publicly on this blog, people still e-mail, only now they add that they’d like me to answer the question privately, so I waste all my time just benefitting them.

boardwalk

Can I please go back here? I promise I’ll bring my laptop… 

Just to give you an idea of how little time I have to spare, generally, take the last two weeks and the next fortnight. Two weeks ago, almost, I flew to London to do a workshop. Then I spent five days in Florida which, while supposed to be a vacation, wasn’t entirely, because I took an hour here and there to answer the most urgent e-mails and keep up with my social media commitments, which includes my own and other things I get paid by other people to do. Then I flew through the night back to Ireland, and spent half a day getting back to my house where I quickly changed out my bags, updated my presentation and went traveling again the next morning, up to Dublin, to do another workshop, and come back that night. We’re up to last Saturday now. The following day I crashed, zombie-like, because I was so tired, and on Monday it was back up to Dublin again to film a spot about self-publishing for TV3. Today is my first full day back at work, I’ve a To-Do list pages long, I’m two weeks behind e-mails, working on three different writing projects, organising something for Mousetrapped’s 3rd (THIRD!) anniversary at the end of the month and preparing for another weekend away at a writer’s festival in a fortnight’s time. I love it, because I enjoy my work and it’s how I make the money I spend on other people’s books, The Killing DVDs, Nespresso capsules, trips to Walt Disney World, etc. but you can see how, in the midst of all this, answering e-mails about how to get your ISBN from CreateSpace when I’ve already written a book about it, posted numerous blog posts about it and the CS website tells you how, can get a little annoying.

I have never in my life e-mailed a stranger to ask them a specific self-publishing question. This is partly because I read the information they have readily provided, on their blog, and then didn’t need to. But it’s also because I think their time is valuable. I recognize that their time is how they make a living. And so I don’t expect them to give it to me for free. I love helping out friends and if you’ve been hanging around their blog for a year or more and you still have a question, by all means, ask it. I owe my blog readers everything. But happen upon my blog and head straight for the Contact page? That’s just laziness, and I can tell. And your message is headed straight for the Trash folder.

On good days, I find all this mildly annoying.

On bad days, I find it downright rude.

So I was talking about this with Shannon and Toni, and I joked that I often think self-published/self-publishing bloggers should join forces to give themselves a Self-Published Bloggers Day Off, where we’d all publish a post with the header “How I Found Out Everything I Know About Self-Publishing” and nothing but an image of the Google search box in the body of it.

Because that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

I googled it.

google

I googled it, I did it, I googled some more, I did it again and, abrakedabra, that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

But I get that nowadays, there’s a lot more stuff online than there was when I was doing my initial googling. With the ever-growing number of services and options, it can be more difficult now to decide on what’s right for you. And I know that for someone who’s new to this, the sheer amount of information, opinions, etc. out there can be overwhelming. But you can still find out everything you need to know about self-publishing without sending e-mails.

Here’s how.

Self-Published Presentation View front only

Step 1: Read a guide to get an overview

Full disclosure: I have one of these, for sale at $15.95 in paperback and $4.99 in e-book. But there are others, some much cheaper than mine. Mine is Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran is another good one. Read one of these to get an overview of the entire process, from start to finish. That’s the one thing that was missing from my own self-publishing experience: having someone sit me down and tell me, okay, this is what you do first, this is what comes next, this is how long it’ll take, you need to do this here because if you don’t it’ll come back to bite you in the arse later on, etc. etc.

If you don’t want to pay $15 finding out how to self-publish yet you plan to self-publish, I have some choice words for you which don’t belong on this blog.

(But the clean version is give me a [BEEEEEEP] BREAK.)

blogdesk

Step 2: Read self-publishing blogs

Read self-publishing blogs. Thoroughly. Take your time. Make notes. Learn from other people’s first hand experiences. And keep away from the Contact page because if you do find yourself with a question, you can find the answer using Step 3.

There’s this one, The Creative Penn, Duolit Self-Publishing Team, The Book Designer… the list goes on and on and on. Each one will lead you to another. Take the time to actually read them.

Step 3: Type your questions into Google

If you do find yourself with a question, type the question into the Google search box. Literally. This is what I did. If I was wondering how long it would take my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive, I typed “How long will it take my proof copy to arrive from CreateSpace?” into the search box, and nine times out of ten got my answer in the first page of results.

proofcopies

Step 4: Just do it

The first time I saw what I CreateSpace paperback looked like was the moment I opened the package they sent to my house with my first proof copy in it. You can only plan ahead so much. Then there comes a point where the best way to learn is by doing. So just do it. When a self-publisher wants to know how to use Goodreads as an author when they haven’t even picked a POD service yet—or even decided if they’re going to do a paperback at all—something’s off. Take it step by step and if you can actually do that step, then make like Nike and just do it! I’ve always said, the first proof copy that you order should not be your last. It’s not a waste of money; it’s an investment in the final product.

Step 5: If you want help, pay for it

If you genuinely need help self-publishing, hire someone to help you. Please don’t expect them to help you for free.

And so ends my personal Self-Publishing Blogger’s Day Out public service announcement. [*waves to Shannon and Toni*]

So what do you think? How did you find out everything you needed to know about self-publishing? Do you love that there’s so much info online, or do you feel overwhelmed by it? Have you read a guide? If not, why not? And has Google helped or hindered your search for information? Tell me in the comments below… 

KDP Now Paying ALL Royalties By EFT

6 Feb

We don’t normally have posts with such newsy, matter-of-fact headlines on this blog, but last night Amazon KDP announced something important and I wanted to make sure you all know about it, although if you’re a KDP author and this affects you, you should have received the same e-mail I did. It’s bye-bye to foreign currency cheques and hello electronic funds transfer because KDP is now offering to pay all royalties, be they dollars, pounds or euros, into your European bank account.

securedownload-6

Up until now, I got three different payments from KDP each month: a US dollar cheque for sales from Amazon.com and a British pound cheque for sales from Amazon.co.uk, and royalties from Amazon.de sales (which were minimal; I think my best month ever there was €50) were paid directly into my bank because, being in Ireland, my bank account and Germany shared the same currency, the Euro.

Now I never really minded getting cheques, because I always thought it was wondrous thing that Amazon would allow me to sell my books on their Kindle stores and promptly pay me once a month to in the first place, and so I didn’t especially care how the money arrived. But I’ve been getting these cheques for three years now, and they do have their disadvantages. With one of them coming all the way across the Atlantic, they can take a while to arrive, and once, one got lost. (It was quickly cancelled and replaced by Amazon.) When I lodge them in my bank, it’s a bureau de change transaction, and sometimes they can take up to 5 weeks—5 weeks!—to clear. Also, these cheques are the biggest chunk of my income, so getting paid in such an undependable way wasn’t all that great either; some months they’d arrive by the 1st, another month it might be the 10th, sometimes Amazon.co.uk sent out their cheques in the middle of the month, just for laughs. (And once when this happened, I was in Nice Airport dutifully staying away from the shops when a text message informed me that this unexpected early cheque had arrived. I literally ran into the Duty Free. Toblerones for everyone!)

And I couldn’t switch to EFT, because Amazon would only do that when there was a currency match, i.e. my earnings were in the same currency as my bank account, which is Euro.

Until now.

Now they will convert my US dollars or UK pounds in Euro, and then pay them directly into my account. Hurray! Some people are logging onto their account and coming back telling me the options look the same, but just change the currency symbol to € first and the EFT option should pop up, as in the image below.

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 11.10.30

For some of you, the big benefit to this is that the threshold for payment will dramatically reduce. For cheques, it was $100/£100/€100. Now for EFT, it’s just the equivalent of €10.

I do have a query about whether this means less or more money (what conversion rate are they using? Is it real time? Will I gain what I was paying my bank in commission for a foreign currency exchange? Or is it my bank doing the exchanging anyway, when the money gets sent to them?). When these EFT payments start to arrive in April, I can easily compare the conversion rate to previous payments anyway, and see what’s up. But overall, I’m just happy there’s no more cheques.

Well, that’s no strictly true. There is still CreateSpace, who follow the same method since they started their European Amazon extravaganza: a US dollar cheque for Amazon.com/EDC sales, a UK sterling cheque for Amazon.co.uk sales and a Euro cheque for other European Amazon sales (with the same payment thresholds). I just logged in and it looks like nothing’s changed there, but we live in hope.

This situation change is true for Irish authors, but I wonder what changes KDP authors in other European countries are seeing. Let me know in the comments below!

The Easy Way to Get Your US Tax Back

17 Jul

Some of the most popular posts on this blog are about the non-US self-publisher’s headache of receiving all your royalties as opposed to having 30% of them withheld for tax reasons. We’ve long established that you can either go the long way around and apply for an ITIN, or the take the shortest route from A to B—or 70% to 100%—and apply for an EIN instead. Once you have those magic numbers, whichever ones they may be, you send a W8 form to the tax compliance department of each company you self-publish with and sit back and wait for your considerably bigger cheques.

But what’s happens to the tax that’s already been withheld? What about the 30% that’s been skimmed off each and every US-based royalty payment you’ve thus far received? How do you get your US tax back?

Up until the beginning of this year withholdings in the year to date was automatically refunded when you submitted your W8 forms, but that’s not the case anymore. And if you were as sluggish as me in applying for your ITIN or EIN, you may even have had withholdings taken in the previous year. So how do you get your money back? The long way around is to apply to the IRS—file a US tax return.

But if you have an ITIN, you’ll have already experienced the joy that is IRS forms, and the foreign language that is their instructions for filling them out. If you live in Europe, you’ll also have to contend with the fact that the IRS seemingly has no clue how long mail takes to get across the Atlantic—they love to send notices warning you to get back them in 30 days or ELSE, but those notices don’t arrive until 29 days after they mailed them.

The IRS owed me about $500 from 2010, and to be honest $500 was not worth engaging in anymore correspondence with the IRS. (Yes, that’s how annoying it is. I got an ITIN, so I was all too familiar with them. Getting the ITIN took me something like eight months.) There was no way I was doing that.

Then I heard about Taxback.com, a company that, in basic terms, helps people get tax back from countries they don’t live in anymore, or countries they never lived in but from where they’ve earned money.

Like royalties.

The company was founded by an Irishman and I’ve been dealing with the Irish office, but anyone can avail of their services from anywhere in the world, as far as I know. Everything is done via e-mail anyway so location is not an issue in that sense.

Taxback.com will be the first people to tell you that the service they offer is something you can do yourself, if you have the patience and like to fill out forms. But I don’t have any patience and I hate IRS forms, so I was more than happy to get someone else to do it.

There’s still some form-filling, but their Taxback.com‘s forms, and there’s only a couple of them. And you have someone you can call or e-mail whenever you have a question. And they’ll check everything is perfect before they get sent to the IRS and if it isn’t, they’ll fix it.

The real benefit to using their service is that if something goes wrong, they deal with it. Right about the time I should’ve been getting my refund cheque, I got a notice from the IRS saying that the ITIN I’d submitted to them wasn’t the ITIN I’d been assigned, and that I needed to submit more qualifying documents—and of course, this being the IRS and them not having a clue about mailing times between the US and Ireland, they’d given me 30 days to get the documents back of which only a couple hadn’t passed yet. But all I had to do was send TaxBack a scan of the letter and hey presto, the problem was fixed. They called the IRS on my behalf and proved to them that the mistake was in fact the fault of the IRS (they’d transposed some digits when entering the data from one of my forms), and within hours, my refund was back on track.

How much does this service cost? You’ve two options, I think: pay a flat free for them to prepare the documents and mail them yourself, or pay a percentage of your refund for them to take care of everything. I did the “take care of everything” one and personally, I thought it was worth penny. (Or cent.) They also have a no refund, no fee policy.

I e-mailed them scans of my forms in April, I think, and I received my refund a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t used them for this, but I believe that Taxback.com can also help you with ITINs, EINs and W8s.

You can find out more about Taxback.com here.

Edit Where Edit’s Due: A Guest Post by Stephanie of Saltwater Publishing

3 Apr

Today we have a guest post by Stephanie Boner of Dublin-based Saltwater Publishing, about one of the most crucial aspects of publishing a book, be it traditional or self-publishing: editing. Here, she’ll explain the differences between things like copyediting and proofreading, what happens to a book when it’s being prepared for publication at a publishing house and allays a fear that I often hear self-publishers express—no, an editor isn’t going to correct or change your book, but work with you to make it a better version of itself. So, without further ado, here’s Stephanie: 

No matter what changes the advances in technology and printing may bring to the publishing industry, it is the quality of a book’s writing that will always be paramount. A well-written book does not just leap from the mind of the author onto the page; it needs to be sculpted, honed and nurtured.

With the rise in popularity of self-publishing, the role of the traditional publisher is viewed as being increasingly unnecessary. While this in itself may not be such a bad thing, one does not want to throw one’s baby out with the bath water. In other words, while the growing culture of self-publishing has allowed the author new autonomy and control, the necessity of having a good editor is as important today as it ever was.

Of course, the editor does not claim to be more skilled a writer than the author; the most accomplished writers in the world need editors, after all. An editor, however, provides an author with two things. Firstly, as all writers know, writing, especially fiction, is an all-consuming activity. The old hackneyed cliché of the novel being the writer’s baby is an effective one, in that, like a parent, it is difficult to criticise or assess something with which you are so emotionally intimate. An editor approaches a manuscript with fresh eyes, without preconceptions and with the all-important benefit of distance. With their experience and skills, they use this distance to analyse a piece of writing in a way that is simply not possible for the loving parent. They know what works and what doesn’t. They offer ways out of the labyrinth when the writer is facing a dead end. This kind of analysis is not a luxury. It is the essential bridge between the ideas of the author and the demands and expectations of a reader.

Secondly, professional editors are essentially giant nerds. The glee they get from spotting a hyphen that should be an en-dash, or from being asked to explain what an Oxford comma is, might seem a tad pathetic, but they have the necessary skills for assuring the baby doesn’t leave the house with food on his face. So while an author may miss a comma or two, worrying about the nuances and subtleties of plot development and character, the editor can be relied on to wield her trusty red pen and set the world to rights.

When a book is published through the traditional channels, the manuscript is put through a number of processes before it is deemed worthy of the printer’s ink and every self-published work is worthy of exactly the same rigorous process. In the current market, where the number of self-published books is exploding and all traditional publishing houses are turning towards digital publishing, an author must do everything they can to take on the competition.

This process varies dramatically from publishing house to publishing house but generally speaking, once the contract has been signed, the manuscript is designated an editor. This editor reads and assesses the work and gives it a structural edit. This is done either in consultation or in conjunction with the author. There is usually a list of suggestions sent back to the author, advising him to move around some sections, to develop a character, to deal with issues of consistency and so on. Very significant changes may be suggested at this stage or it may be that author and editor are, from the outset, very much on the same page, so to speak.

Once the overall structure and form has been agreed on, the manuscript is copy-edited. This is a much narrower process, focusing on the detail of each line and paragraph of text. At this stage, the editor looks at issues such as tone, syntax, and continuity. They consider the consistency of the speech patterns of the characters, the logic of the sequence of events, anachronisms, repetition and the like. Once this is complete, the author is handed back their new and improved baby to ensure that they are happy with its development and if not, revisions are made.

Finally, in most cases, a new editor comes on board to proofread the copy. This takes place after the text has been formatted for print or eBook. It is a finicky and fastidious exercise, where one is consumed with such geeky issues as word breaks, leading and kerning. Of course, all spelling and grammar is checked again to ensure it is just so. Before the manuscript is sent off to press or uploaded into the ether of the internet, it is given one final going over before we say our tearful farewells and the baby takes its first steps into the big, bad world.

For writers who intend to self-publish, their work is put at an immediate disadvantage if it is not subject to the same process and brought to trade standard. While everyone knows someone who’s good at spotting spelling mistakes and who is willing to throw their eye over something for you in exchange for a pint, it is not quite the same thing. Allowing a manuscript to be assessed and polished by experienced and professional editors, using the tried and tested processes that have stood the test of time in the publishing industry, truly makes the work shine.

Essentially, an editor would not be doing the job they do if they didn’t love books. This love translates into a desire to see books fulfill their potential and therefore editor and author share a common goal. To produce the best book possible, it is imperative that the author and editor enjoy a positive and open relationship. Another hackneyed cliché we hear bandied about is that of the editor taking a sharp scalpel to a manuscript. But in reality this is not at all what we do. We tend to take a much less ruthless and more collaborative approach to a book. It is, after all, the author’s baby.

Established in 2010 by Publishing Directors Stephanie Boner and Maeve Convery, Saltwater is an independent publishing and editorial services company based in Dublin. Along with our trade publications, we specialise in editing and proofreading for authors who intend to self-publish. Feel free to contact us at info@saltwater.ie or at (01) 2449488.

The Answer To All Your Cover Design Problems …

13 Mar

… is Andrew Brown of Design for Writers. And finally—FINALLY!—there is a spot on the internet where you can go and look at some of his work.

I found Andrew quite by accident, and I think I was his first book cover client. (If that’s not true, Andrew, just let me believe it, okay?) Back when I was preparing Mousetrapped for the Big, Bad World, I realized that what CreateSpace’s Cover Creator was producing was forcing my eyes to close reflexively in an attempt to save themselves from the horror. But I presumed, as many self-published authors do, that to get anyone professional to even glance in the direction of my cover would cost thousands, or at least a lot more money than I had. And the thing was, I knew exactly what I wanted. I’d even mocked it up using MS Word. I just needed someone to build it for me using the proper design program stuff, and give it back to in the proper format and size. I tweeted about it and a Twitter friend, Rebecca, got back to me saying, “I think my husband could do that for you…” You can read more about this in what is now a very old blog post, A Cover Story.

(Click on any image to start the carousel/view larger.) 

So Andrew did the cover for Mousetrapped. And Self-Printed. And Backpacked. And Results Not Typical, twice. (The original green one and the new pinky one.) And the covers of basically every self-publisher I know, because I’m always recommending him. Not only completely original designs, but conversion/improvement of author’s existing ideas (as with Mousetrapped) and updating of previously traditionally published books, as in backlists. But there was one thing Andrew wasn’t doing, and that was building his own website. He couldn’t do it, because he was getting so much work he didn’t have the time. But this morning he informed me that he has put together a Facebook page, which will do nicely for now.

The funny thing is, I used one of these covers—A Falling Knife—in the presentations I did at Faber Academy and Inkwell as an example of a great e-book cover. Attendees may remember I pointed out that it was “clearly an original illustration”, my implication being that you’d end up paying more for that than what I suggested, which was to go to Andrew and have a cover created from stock imagery. Imagine my surprise when I went onto the Facebook page and saw that very cover! Turns out it’s one of Andrew’s! (I know this sounds like I’m making up this story but honestly, I’m not. Actually happened.) So if that’s not testimony to his work, I don’t know what is.

Andrew has designed every cover in this post, and many more—and done them all for reasonable prices. Do pop over to Facebook to “like” his page and check out the rest of work, and when the time comes for your cover, get in touch with him.

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.

The ITIN, 30% Withholding, Tax Refund Saga: An Update

4 Jan

Back in November I shared with you the long and headache-inducing adventures that was applying for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), the magic digits that stop the likes of Createspace, Amazon KDP and Smashwords withholding 30% of everything you earn and passing it onto the United States’ Internal Revenue Service on your behalf. If you need a reminder, it took me eight months, three attempts and countless stress balls—and that was just to get the number. Once you have that, you have to send it to each of your self-publishing companies on a form called a W-8BEN.

As I said back then:

“If you submit your ITIN successfully and use the W-8BEN that has an affidavit on the end, you will be refunded all the money the company has unnecessarily withheld from you so far in the current calendar year. You can see why, despite starting the process in April, I was starting to get nervous as spring turned to summer and summer turned to autumn. Again, I used the instructions on Roz’s Nail Your Novel blog for filling out the form. Make sure you use the proper form – you want the one with the affidavit of unchanged status at the end, which you can find here. You don’t need to include anything with your letter, but you do need to put something in the “Reference” line of the W-8BEN form that will identify you to the company.”

I sent off a W-8BEN to Createspace, Amazon KDP and Smashwords back on November 4th.

On November 16th, I got an e-mail from KDP confirming that they’d received the form. Then on November 29th, RESULT! A cheque from KDP for every last cent they’ve withheld from me since January 1st 2011.

On December 5th, my monthly cheque from CreateSpace arrived—except with some extra. It was my payment for the month, along with all my withholdings from January 1st 2011. Again, RESULT!

So now, in 2011, I had received 100% of all my earnings from CreateSpace and Amazon KDP. But I still hadn’t heard a word from Smashwords. One day I noticed that on my account information page on Smashwords, there was a notice saying they had received my ITIN and my withholding rate was now set to 0%. Great, but what about my refund? I e-mailed them, and yesterday I got this back:

“We do not hold onto the tax withholdings, but send all the withholdings to the IRS when we pay authors.  This means that we collected and paid your withholdings when we sent your last payment. The IRS requires us to send them the withholdings within 10-15 days from the time we pay you.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the withholdings and you will need to reclaim them from the IRS.”

So… no refund from Smashwords. I’m sure what they’ve told me is true, but why is this different with them than it is with Createspace and Amazon KDP? I think my refund is only around $200—I don’t sell a lot on Smashwords, never have—but the fact that it’s a small amount actually makes it worse, because it would have to be a significant amount for me to even consider going through the additional hell of applying to the IRS* for a refund.

Createspace and KDP made it so easy; they gave me back the money straightaway.

So why is Smashwords different? Anyone know?

*I was considering using a service like TaxBack.com until I found out that in order for you to sit back and relax while they take care of everything, you have to sign a power of attorney form and change your address with the IRS. Your only other option is to fill out a bunch of stuff and get them to “prepare” it for you (check, presumably) for which you pay a fee of around a hundred dollars. Considering how priceless I consider an absence of stress to be, it’s just not worth it.

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