Sunday 3 April 2016

Things I have learnt about self-publishing as a non-American (aka Amazon hates me)

I'm grabbing a spot on my own blog today (since it's an off-day for A to Z) to talk about publishing Coexist.

Publishing in Malaysia, especially for English books, is a nascent industry. There are relatively few publishers, especially genre publishers, that I know of. Fixi Novo has been doing well in publishing pulp fiction but has since chosen to focus more on short story anthologies. ITBM apparently publishes some English books - but I haven't exactly seen many of them. MPH, Silverfish and Gerak Budaya do publish but seem to be focused more on non-fiction, or at the least, literary fiction. I could be wrong. Also, apparently, if you want your book to qualify as "Malaysian literature," it needs to be written in Malay, which is not a battle I want to fight right now.

I've been on the fringes of the self-publishing scene since about 2011, watching on the sidelines via twitter, via facebook, as online friends put out books year after year, mostly indie on Amazon, one or two with a traditional publisher. I worked on and off on my own writing - with higher output during A to Z (April) or NaNoWriMo (November), because work and church took up a lot of my time and I just couldn't concentrate. But I read their stories, I listened as they talked about publishing and how they did it, helped them launch by lending out blog space, until, when I finally decided that I could and should publish something, I'd already subconsciously made the decision that I would go the indie route, rather than look for a traditional, or even small, publisher. After all, there were very few local options.

The main problem I faced was that all the material online were very American-centric. With Amazon being the main player in the ebook world, that's no surprise. But since I've travelled this far down the road, I thought I'd share a list of things I have discovered about self-publishing as a non-American, specifically in a country that Amazon does not sell to:

1. Royalties from Amazon will take forever to arrive
This is day 5 that my book is out, so it seems strange that I'll talk about getting royalties already, right? So yes, I don't have experience of receiving an actual royalty cheque yet, but I can safely tell you that it's going to take a long while - longer than an American would have to wait. That's because my only option for payment as an International without an American or European bank account, my only option is to receive payment via cheque (or check, to you Americans), which will only be cut once it reaches $100 of whichever currency it's in.
This means that although I've enabled Amazon to sell my book internationally in all its worldwide territories, I have to wait until I earn royalties of $100 in each denomination to be able to receive a cheque in the respective denomination. That's one of the reasons why I'm channeling people to buy from Smashwords, leading to my next point.

2. Smashwords pays quarterly via paypal, with a minimum threshold of $10.
Smashwords is awesome. I cannot say that enough. They sell internationally and they are also a distributor, so if you publish with them, you can opt in to get your book distributed to other retailers such as ibooks, kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Scribd, saving you the trouble of setting up multiple accounts. It also distributes to libraries via Overdrive, Gardners, Odilo and Baker & Taylor's Axis 360. This helps expand your reach, even if it's not as big or famous as Amazon.
Smashwords does have an option to ship to Amazon, but because Amazon is... what it is... that doesn't automatically happen unless you're selling more than 1K copies in Smashwords or something like that, so I opted out of that and published it on Amazon on my own. Smashword's royalty rate is also higher than Amazon's at up to 80% of list price (technically 85% of net earnings), and approx 60% of list at the major retailers mentioned earlier which is pretty fair, compared to Amazons 35% if your list price is <$2.99 and 70% if it's between $2.99 - $9.99.
Last plus point for Smashwords - it publishes in a variety of formats, including epub, mobi (for Kindle) and PDF so it basically covers any type of ereader your market may have.

3. Going Amazon Exclusive is not for everyone
There are a lot of tips on how to use KDP Select to your best advantage and head up the Amazon bestsellers list by keeping everything exclusive to the Amazon ecosystem. Which is good, if your audience is primarily in America, but not so good if you want to reach the international market.
In my case, since my primary fanbase (aka family and friends) generally do not have access to buying on Amazon, keeping it exclusive to Amazon, whilst it might help sales a little due to the free days and internal Amazon algorithms, will only hurt me in the long run. Because it's friends who recommend to friends and word-of-mouth that counts, yes? Even with my international appeal (at least according to blogger's stats), cutting out 25% - 50% of my audience by not selling it in a place they can access is just bad business sense. But well, this really depends on your audience or intended audience.

4. Be prepared for withholding tax and annoying tax forms
When you put anything for sale, whether with Amazon or with Smashwords, be prepared to fill up pages and pages of declarations to formally announce that you're not based in the US and you aren't a tax resident there (You generally qualify as a tax resident if you stay in the country for >181 days).
If you're in a country which has a tax treaty with the US, GOOD FOR YOU! Otherwise, be prepared to get 30% of your earnings sent to the US IRS as "withholding tax".
How to earn money like thatttttt. =(

5. POD is an option that might or might not work, because BOOK DEPOSITORY
I hadn't originally wanted to do a print copy of Coexist, but after getting a few queries about whether there will be a paperback, I decided to go ahead and figure out how to get it into print. I'd tried to use Createspace many years back and gave up because it was so difficult, but I'm glad to say that they've since simplified the whole process. The only thing that annoys me now is the fact that if I need to make edits to the text (i.e. interior file), I have to reupload the cover.
On one hand, it might not work because buying via Createspace (higher royalties) or through Amazon is expensive. Shipping in the US is maybe $3+, and if you combine your purchases to be more than $25, you can get free shipping. International shipping was something like $7+ the last time I checked, which is higher than my book's price of $5.99. Not forgetting the fact that it takes between 30 - 40 days for it to reach Malaysia.
But on the other hand, I also discovered that since Book Depository is a subsidiary of Amazon, stuff you publish via Createspace is sold there... in RM... with free shipping. I basically make very little off these sales because of the additional costs, but it expands my reach. LIKE I CAN TELL PEOPLE THEY CAN ACTUALLY BUY MY BOOK. (Especially since the ebook market is still slow in Malaysia.)
So... having the option so that people can buy it in the format they like best is good, but I'm not banking much on it. Also, $100 before I see any of the money.

If you have any questions about self-publishing as a non-American, especially in places where Amazon doesn't sell, do feel free to drop a question in the comments. Hopefully I'll have an answer for you!


Are you an A to Z blogger? Send me a message on my facebook page or twitter with your blog name and number and I will send you a coupon to get Coexist on Smashwords for only $0.99!

About the book:

Jane Hays has been told all her life that it’s dangerous to be out in the forest past sundown. At fifteen, she’s quite sure that it’s all old wives’ tales... yet, why does her village bar the gates every night? Why do they even have gates? When she is caught in an unexpected rainstorm on her way home, Jane ignores all the warnings and seeks shelter in a cottage in the middle of the forest. Soon, she is caught up in a world of magic and beauty – and in the storm of the Fairy Queen’s wrath.

The Fairy Queen is out for blood. There have been intruders – human intruders  in her domain and she will stop at nothing to find them and kill them. After all, it is only fair. She is only seeking retribution for the death that humans leave in their wake.

But Jane isn’t all that she seems to be. And the events of the night aren’t as innocent as they appear.

A tale of magic, fairy creatures and family, Coexist is a novella for the young and the young-at-heart.

Get Coexist on Amazon or Smashwords. Check out Book Depository or Createspace for paperbacks!




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  1. Yeah, since I'm an American, I don't deal with any of those issues. Amazon, and more specifically Amazon's KU/Select programs, were awesome for me under my old pen name. (I made four figures under my old pen name, and a multi-author boxed set that I put together under my old pen name is currently a bestseller.) Under my new pen name - Piper Presley - it's slow going, but I just started in January. Growth takes time, and I'm slowly growing.

    Piper Presley
    B is for Blinded by the Blaze - A to Z Challenge

    1. It's great that Amazon has been doing so well for you!

  2. I've just self-published a story, my very first, and I decided not to go with Amazon. I know, I know, lots of people pointed out I'm making things harder for me, but because I know this story won't change my life (be it on Amazon or not) I decided to experiment.

    I've gone with Smashwords too, and I'm very happy. The only thing I miss is stats from the other stores my book is distributed to, but that's fine for me at the time being.

    I've been asked for hard copies too and I want to try Lulu. I know authors who have tried it and are quite happy. Let's see.
    I should say that I'm European, not American, considering your title? ;-)
    Let's see how my experiment goes

    1. It's interesting that you decided not to go with Amazon since it has its UK/France/Germany/Spain/Italy stores (I think).

      Doesn't Smashwords give stats on sales to the other stores? Probably not live stats - but at least a monthly/quarterly report?

      I'd be interested to find out how Lulu works. I haven't really gone to research.

  3. Excellent tips for non-US based writers! I have always had the feeling that publishing on Amazon isn't the solution for everybody. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Best wishes,

    1. Glad it helped!
      If you're from India, there is though - so you might not face the same problems I did.

  4. Well that all sounds incredibly annoying. Sorry it's been such a pain for you, but thanks for sharing your experiences.

  5. Oohhh... I am saving this post for future reference.
    I have pretty much decided to go the indie route as well (although I have to ask myself is that because I'm afraid of rejection...)

    I have a while before I am at that stage in my writing career, but this information is quite useful. Thank you!

  6. A friend that lives in England had quite the time with Amazon and taxes. He said it was a pain, but he eventually got it all sorted out. Your post is scheduled to go up on my blog tomorrow and I'll be sure to post the smashwords info because having to wait for 100$ sucks!

  7. I actually visited today to read your A-Z posts but this caught my eye! I am almost finished editing my first novel and still debating between traditional publishing or self publishing. I'm in the UK so I think I will avoid most of these if I use the UK Amazon. Having to wait until you have $100 in each currency is ridiculous.

    1. Hi Debbie!
      Yup, you'll avoid most of these issues through UK Amazon :)
      The only thing you'll probably need to do is fill up the US tax form to confirm that you're not earning in the US. Do make sure that you fill in the tax treaty code so that you don't have to pay withholding tax.

      Happy publishing and all the best!