The Making of High Moor Part 3: Building the Book and the Business of Publishing
In the last installment, I talked about how to take your first draft through to a polished manuscript that’s ready for publication. This time around I’m going to go through some of the things that you need to consider, and things you need to do in order to get the book out there and into the eager hands of your readers. This is a pretty long post, so bear with me.
The first thing that you need to consider is what formats and platforms you are intending to produce the book for, and which countries you are going to make the book available to.
For most people, the most obvious and in many ways, the easiest channel is to sell it on Kindle through the Amazon website. I’m not going to go into detail about how to get your book ready for this platform, but instead am going to point you in the direction of Guido Henkel’s fantastic guide to eBook formatting: HERE. If you follow those steps to the letter, you will end up with a very well formatted eBook file that can be exported to work with pretty much any e-reader format. I can’t stress the importance of doing this properly, instead of using the Amazon automatic MS Word converter. In some instances, it might work. In others, it might make a very serious mess of your eBook file. It really is worth putting a couple of hours in and getting it right.
Once you have your file, in theory, you are ready to rock and roll. As with most things in life, however, it’s not always as easy as it appears at first glance.
First off – do you have a good cover? I’m not talking about something that your mate knocked up for you in Photoshop in twenty minutes. The old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” may be true, but that is unfortunately, exactly what people will do. Your cover is the first thing that potential buyers will see, and if it looks shoddy or amateurish then people will assume that the writing is of a similar standard. It doesn’t cost a fortune to get an artist to create a cover for you. The one for High Moor cost me £150, and that included all the various revisions. Just remember that it needs to look good as a thumbnail as well as at full size. It will need to be a 300dpi file, and if you are going to do a paperback (we’ll get to that in a bit), then you will need to have a rear cover and spine as well.
OK – let’s assume that you now have a great cover. Your manuscript has been edited, and you’ve been through the guide to create a fantastic looking eBook. Can you now upload this to Amazon and start making money. If you are a US resident, then the answer is yes. If, however, you live outside America, like me, then there are some other things that you need to think about.
Unless you are a US Citizen, Amazon will withhold a massive 30% of your profits against tax by default. If you reside in a country with a tax treaty with America, like we have in the UK, you can get around this, but it takes a bit of paperwork and a bit of time.
Firstly, you will need to register yourself with the IRS and obtain a US Tax number. There are two ways to do this – one for an individual, and another for organisations. The process for organisations is MUCH easier and less hassle than the one for individuals (which require you to take your passport into a US Embassy, for example). This is one of the reasons why it’s probably worth setting up your own imprint to publish your book. There are other advantages that I will go into in a while. For now, think of a nice name for your publishing company, open up a business account with a bank and download the W-8EN with affidavit form from the Amazon page (You need to use the affidavit version because that lets you retrospectively claim any withheld money back if your book goes live before the process completes). You can find the page HERE by the way. Once you have filled it in, according to their guidance notes, send it off to the IRS. It took about ten weeks for mine to come back. You then need to fill in another form, complete with your shiny new EIN number, and send it back to Amazon. Job done.
If you’ve done all of these things, then once you hit submit, your Kindle book should be available within 24 hours on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and if you selected them, Amazon.de and Amazon.fr. For many people, that will be enough, however there are other avenues to consider as well, because it’s often not worth limiting your sales channels. You want your book to be available in as many places as possible, because more storefront space equals more potential sales.
First of all, I’m going to talk about Smashwords. This is a site that has a direct distribution of your content into places like Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, The Diesel eBook store and others. They give you the same royalty rates as Amazon’s best (70%) , you don’t need to mess about with the EIN numbers etc, and they will pay direct into your Paypal account. Sounds great, right?
Erm…not so much, actually. The problem with Smashwords is that it does not allow you to upload complete eBook files. Instead, it has an automatic conversion process from an MS Word source file. The amount of work required to make the Smashwords meat grinder accept your Word file is more extensive than the eBook creation guide I mentioned above, and in almost all cases, the eBook that is produced looks awful. The formatting is all over the place, images and title vignettes often do not display properly, page breaks are not supported correctly, and that’s assuming that you can even get the bloody thing to accept your formatted file.
I am hearing rumours that Smashwords are going to start accepting ePub files from 2012, and if that’s true, then it might be worthwhile taking another look at them. For now though, I would probably suggest that you stay well clear, because if you want people to buy your book, and then buy your next book, and the one after that, you want to be creating a quality product each time, and Smashwords, at the time of writing, does not do this. There is an alternative that I will discuss later on.
Next, I’m going to take a look at what is required to produce a paperback, and whether you should do it.
The easiest way to produce a paperback novel is to use Amazon’s Createspace site. They provide some decent templates for the cover, so you can provide these to your artist when he’s designing the cover. You may need to do a little tweaking of the spine thickness, depending on the paper used and the page count of the final novel (once you include your copyright page, dedications, about the author and acknowledgements). It’s fairly easy to do and if you have access to something like Photoshop, or InDesign, and have some basic skills, it’s fairly easy to come up with the print ready PDF format required. Or you could just get your artist to do it as part of his brief.
The interior is another story. Once you have decided on the size of book you want (which you should know before you do your cover), you will need to get your text formatted and typeset correctly. In theory, this should be easy. In practice, however, it’s going to take a bit of work.
Createspace provide MS Word templates for all book sizes that it supports. There is a problem, however, and that problem is Word. Now, I’ve used MS Word for years, and as an IT bod in my day job, I consider myself reasonably proficient in its use. I opened the template up, selected all of the text in my manuscript and pasted it into the template. This did not go well.
There is a problem with MS Word and these templates. The one I encountered was that, if you make any changes to it whatsoever, such as change the font, it re paginates the document and adds a header on the last page of every chapter that takes half of the page up. I tried every trick I knew, and the damn thing would not go away. I searched the Createspace support forums and found that this was a very common problem with only one solution. Ditch Word and use Open Office.
As a lifelong user of Word, this scared me a bit. I have heard of Open Office, but because it was free, I always assumed that it was going to be Office’s poor cousin. I downloaded the installer (you can get it HERE, loaded up my manuscript and to my surprise, all of those nasty formatting errors went away. It even allowed me to try different fonts and sizes without making a complete mess of things, and had a native option to export to PDF at the end of the process, ready for upload onto the Createspace website. This made me very happy.
Once you’ve created your interior file (bear in mind that all images need to be 300dpi or they won’t print properly) and uploaded it to Createspace, you will need to order proof copies to check the formatting. Createspace lets you order up to five proofs, and it’s probably worth getting all five, because you will want some extras for marketing purposes.
It’s at this point that you will notice that the standard cost of a print book is really quite high. That is, unless you subscribe to the Amazon Pro service for another $39, at which point it comes down by, in my case, around $4 per book. If you don’t go with this option, then you don’t get access to the “Enhanced Sales Channels” and can only sell your book through the Createspace website. Which, unless you have a ton of traffic on your website and 10,000 followers on Twitter, is probably not what you want. So, grumbling to myself, I retrieved my poor, battered credit card, and signed up. This allowed me to sell my book through Amazon.com (for reduced royalties) and through other distribution channels (for even lower royalties). The royalties on offer through the other distribution channels were so low, infact, that my current retail price was too low to support it. If I bumped up the price by another dollar, to $12.99 I would make the princely sum of $0.12 per sale. And, because I’d used my own ISBN numbers, instead of a Createspace assigned one, I wouldn’t be eligible for the option that would allow me to have my book available to other bookstores anyway. So, I kept the retail price at $11.99, sold it on Amazon.com as well as Createspace, and got on with ordering my proof copies.
It’s at this point that you will notice the “delivery” option. Createspace offers you three. Option 1 was “Standard” delivery, which worked out at about $3 per book – estimated delivery time – 2 months! The second was about $6 per book – estimated delivery time – 1 month! The final option was around $12 per book – estimated delivery time – 1 week. It’s clear that somebody, somewhere, is taking the absolute piss here. Unfortunately, because I’m impatient by nature (and because the ebook was already out there and I needed the paperback to be out.), I went for the express delivery option. As it happens, the books turned up in four days, and the quality of the book was spot on. I hit approve, and the book went live on Createspace immediately, and then showed up on Amazon.com after a couple of hours.
This was great. Apart from one small problem. My book was only available in the US in paperback, and there was no way that I was going to get it on Amazon.co.uk, or any other UK based bookstore via Createspace. At least not until they pull their fingers out and offer a UK option, or unless I bought a load of copies myself and sold them through the Amazon Marketplace, which is also not the most cost effective way of doing things.
What was a boy to do?
The answer to this is to use a site called Lightningsource.co.uk. These are another POD company, but they offer a number of distinct advantages over the likes of Amazon, for pretty much everything except US delivery through Amazon and Kindle delivery.
You know that I said there was an alternative to Smashwords? This is it. Not only can you set your royalty rates for bookshops (note – give them less than 40% and most won’t bother), but it becomes available to pretty much every bookshop around the world. You won’t get a print book into Waterstones, in the UK, for example, without having an approved distributor. Creating your paperback through Lightningsource gives you this. If you are based in the UK, like I am, then you can’t get your book (paperback or eBook) into Barnes and Noble, because you need a US address and bank account. If you sign up to Lightningsource’s US POD service and eBook service, then this problem also goes away. And, perhaps most importantly, your book will show up on Amazon.co.uk. You can also create hardback versions of your books, infact the sheer number of options available to you make my head spin. If High Moor does well, there is likely to be a limited print run hardback with gold embossed cover and all the bells and whistles produced at some stage.
You are waiting for the “but”. I can tell. And of course, there is one. A couple actually.
First off. This is not free. You need to pay to have your book set up on each sales channel, so if you want UK POD, then you have to pay a fee. Same goes for Europe. And Australia. And the US. And for eBooks. If you want to make changes, or release another edition, then you have to pay some more.
You also have to pay for ISBN numbers, but I would suggest that you buy your own in a block. Nielsen are the source for UK ISBN numbers. Ten of them cost me just under £120. I have already used three and by the end of this week, will probably end up using at least two or three more. Next time, I think I’ll buy 100.
Their setup process is also much more complex than Amazon’s. I’m not talking rocket science here, but it takes a few days and I had to print off about 40 pages of contracts etc because I chose most of the distribution channels.
Then there is the formatting. I’ve still got to go through this process, but it’s starting to look like I’m going to have to reformat my eBook files and my paperback files, and do them for a new size of book. Frankly, the 6 x 9 trade paperback version that I created for Amazon.com is too damn big, and costs too much to post out for reviewers etc.
At the end of it, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to have High Moor available in pretty much every book store and every eBook store on the planet. I’ll let you know how I get on with this.
Right. Time for the final part of this post. I know that it’s been rather long, but bear with me. I’m almost done and this bit is important.
I’m going to talk about why you should set yourself up as a business.
I can almost hear the whining. “Oh, but I don’t want to be a business. I just want to sell people my books.” Does anything seem wrong with that comment? Give yourself a slap if you had any thoughts along those lines.
By self publishing, you are, by definition, going into business for yourself. Your product is your book or books, and if you don’t go about it the right way, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot.
I touched on this before, in a couple of places, but its worth going through the reasons why you should set yourself up and run your new self publishing empire as a real business.
1: Remember, way back, when we were applying for our US Tax number so that Amazon didn’t keep 30% of the profits back for tax? If you register as a business then you have one form to fill in and send off. If you don’t, and register as an individual, then you have a bigger, more complex form and you need to do things like provide your passport to the US embassy etc.
2: Money. You remember all that money that you have spent on this book so far? The cost of the artist, the editor, your proof copies (and the extortionate postage), the postcards you printed of your book cover and the money you spent on the convention so you could do a reading? These are what are known as legitimate business expenses. Which means that you don’t pay tax on them. Because, in all likelihood, this money came from your bank account or credit card, it means that your publishing company owes you this money. Which means that when the royalty cheques start coming in, you don’t pay tax on your earnings until after you have paid yourself back your expenses. Not only that, but eBooks are subject to VAT. So if you register your company for VAT at a fixed rate, then you get to keep another couple of percent for yourself on top for every ebook sale. And because your publishing company is considered an entity in its own right, the money it makes in profit won’t necessarily come off your personal tax allowance. It can sit in the company and you can pay yourself royalties. With a smart accountant (also a valid expense) you can keep yourself under the 40% tax rate and the business will pay tax at a lower rate. Admittedly, if you only sell 10 copies of your novel a year, this probably won’t make a great deal of difference to you, and could end up being a hassle. If, however, your novel takes off and you become the next JK Rowling overnight, it makes things a hell of a lot simpler and put a lot more money in your pocket.
3: Credibility. Apart from the Indie Author crowd, who are very supportive of the community, many people, especially in the pro arena, look down their noses at self published authors. In many cases, with good justification (I’m talking about the people who slap their first draft straight up on Amazon with no editing here). By creating a small press, it takes you a step away from the stigma of being a self publisher. Suddenly, you will find that websites and publications that won’t touch self published books will at least consider you, because you are marketing yourself as a small press. Having that credibility and getting a review on a site or magazine with a wide publication can do wonders for your sales.
Phew! That’s all for now. Next time I’m going to have a chat about how you go about marketing your book and actually get people to buy it, plus I’ll update you all on how I got on with Lightningsource.
Update on this post. 1st October 2012.
The information in the Createspace section is out of date. Amazon scrapped the Amazon Pro service about two months after I made that post, and createspace books are now, as far as I know, available in the other Amazon stores. I can’t say for sure, because I stopped using Createspace for ebooks and only publish the paperback from Lightning Source, because the quality of the finished product is markedly better than the Createspace book, who’s laminated cover began peeling in a very short period of time. I had to increase the cover price of the book to £8.99 because the costs are slightly higher and I would otherwise have made nothing on a sale, but the quality of the book is outstanding and equal to anything you would find in a book store, and its available from the websites of pretty much every retailer on the planet, even if its proving a little harder to get it into physical stores.