The Floors exists! I have proof!

What-ho, world, it’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here with another eEpistle for you all, you lucky, lucky people. (I’ll leave it up to you how to pronoune eEpistle.)

You find us all in a state of unburnished excitement here at Poll Towers for we have recently taken receipt of an initial proof of The Floors, and, whaddayaknow, it looks pretty damn fine! Mostly.

Here, take a goosey:

The Floors - Proof Copy - FrontIn my previous post, mention was made of using CreateSpace to produce the printed version of The Floors. If you are tempted to do the same with your pride and joy then this is the kind of result you can expect. Mighty fine, indeed, but then obviously I’d say that. 😀

There are, however, three things I would note:
1) CreateSpace books have glossy covers. If you want your finished book to have a smooth matt effect, like most UK trade paperbacks, then you may want to consider other print-on-demand services. (Same goes if you want to produce hardback versions.)
2) CreateSpace books offer a number of trim sizes, but nothing that seems to tally with UK trade paperbacks. For my 2p this isn’t a biggie, but may be something for you to bear in mind. (I believe CreateSpace have recently opened a UK print shop, however, so this might change in time.)
3) The glossy laminate seems to darken the cover image. Compare the snapshot above with the featured image of my previous post and you’ll see the printed copy loses most of the marble flash beneath the book’s title. It may be due to the large amount of black on my cover, but I suspect it may actually be the laminate. Either way, I’ll see if I can improve this before the release date.

Overall, though, I think you’d be chuffed with the results of print-on-demand. The quality impressed all who held the book in their hands. More than one person asked when they could see it on the shelves.

And there, I’m afraid, the bubble bursts.

If you dream only of seeing your book on the shelves of your local Waterstones, then CreateSpace is not the way to do it. Should Waterstones see CreateSpaces’s name on the ISBN record, they won’t touch the book. (I’ve asked.) The route to retail bookshelves is pretty much the same as it has been for centuries – find a publisher!

You may have better luck with a local independent bookseller, or one more sympathetic to genre fiction, such as Forbidden Planet. Expect your chances to remain slim, however. That said, I’ll fire off a few emails here and there, and will report back if I hear anything, positive or negative.

Anyway, moving on, and if you’ll forgive the insufferably-proud-parent vibe, here are a few more snaps of what you can expect in the printed copy. First, here’s how the book looks from behind:

The Floors - Proof Copy - BackAnd here are a few snaps of the interior, including a few loosely-connected newspaper clippings, like the big tease I am.

The Floors - Proof Copy - Title Page

The Floors - Proof Copy - Initial ClippingThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part OneThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part Two

Here are the newspaper clippings in question:

Crux Cannibal v1.0

Flies v1 (halftoned)Starphone Records v1 (halftoned)

(For those interested in how it was done, each clipping was constructed using Inkscape, then exported to a PNG file and a newsprint filter applied using GIMP. The results, I reckon, look pretty cool, and look good in the proof copy.)

So there you go. A relatively short posting this time, but one that I hope helps those of you who are tempted to try CreateSpace, or, even better, one I hope tempts you into dallying with The Floors! Thanks for tuning in. Do drop by again. I should have in the coming weeks something to report from the test reads. (Gulp!)

Laters, ‘taters.

To ISBN, or not to ISBN?

The Floors - coverHello there, internet! It’s your friendly neighbourhood horror writerly thing here with another wee posting for you.

It’s like the eye of the storm here at Poll Towers at the moment. As mentioned in the previous post, the second draft of The Floors has been completed and now rests in the hands of a small team of test readers. It is also about to undergo surgery beneath John Jarrold’s red pen, which should really help the final draft slide into your eyeballs without touching the sides. Or something.

In the meantime, however, I’m caught in Limbo. I can’t really tinker with the story for another three or four weeks. At the same time I feel I cannot fully immerse myself in the planning and plotting of the next book. Oh, what’s an alter-ego to do?

To pass the time I’ve been trying to make myself useful: prettifying this here blog with a rather swish wallpaper (sorry, mobile browsers); also prettifying my Twitter page with lots of Floors-related goodness (again sorry, mobile browsers); adding a dedicated blog page for The Floors, which you can find via the menu strip above; adding a dedicated page for the book on Facebook… oh, and looking into International Standard Book Numbers, better known as ISBNs.

Yes, it’s rock ‘n roll 24 hours a day at Poll Towers! Pass the Werthers Originals, sonny.

Anyway, why ISBNs? Well, if you are keen to sell paperbacks and hardbacks in major book-buying territories then you probably won’t get terribly far without one. That odd-looking number, when plugged into a central database, tells wholesalers and retailers important information about the book, such as title, author, publisher… even the physical dimensions. (This is commonly and collectively referred to as the book’s “metadata”.) It also gives the publisher all sorts of useful sales info as each ISBN passes through retailers’ tills. In short, ISBNs are the glue that holds together the often haphazard, flaky and wibbly-wobbly world of the printed book trade, and if you want to join the party then you’re going to need one.

As noted in previous posts, I will create both eBook and printed versions of The Floors. The printed copy will be produced through Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and for that I’d need an ISBN.

Now, when choosing your ISBN, CreateSpace do a bang-up job of confusing the hell out of people, at least if their forums are anything to go by. You can opt for a free ISBN that lists CreateSpace as the publisher. If, however, you have a block of your own unused ISBNs then you can use one of them instead. This lets you hide your self-published magnum opus behind a cool-sounding publisher’s name of your own making, such as Shit-yeah! Books or something. (CreateSpace also offers shades of ISBN that lists your own publisher’s name for plenty many dollars, but none of these services are available outside the US.)

So the question I faced was this: “Should I purchase my own block of ISBNs?”

It sounded like a pretty cool thing to do at the time. Having a title page that sported my own publisher’s logo would have given my book an air of respectability. Putting the logo on the spine would help make it look even more like a proper retail copy.

But then, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that that was pretty much the only positive to be had. In fact, putting my book out under Shit-yeah! Books could backfire if readers figure out it’s not actually a proper publishing house.

Then there was the cost of an ISBN. Nielsen will sell you a minimum block of 10 numbers for £126. Ouch! Then there was the information required as part of the ISBN application, namely my contact details. I certainly wasn’t keen on having my home address recorded in a widely-referenced database, so there was the additional expense of setting up a Royal Mail PO Box number – over £300 per year to have mail rerouted to my home address. Triple ouch!

Of course then it dawned on me what having an ISBN would actually entail. Yes, Shit-yeah! Books would be showing on the ISBN database alongside my sparkling new PO Box address, but then guess who would receive the orders? Yup. Me! I’d then have to get them printed through CreateSpace and shipped out to retailers, not to mention handling copes that don’t sell, or are misprinted.

All of a sudden I’d be three-quarters of the way towards becoming a proper publishing house! Now, yes, that sounds cool, but, truthfully, I only set out on this path to write stories, promote them here and there, and, hope upon hope, build a fan base.

So after taking into account all of that, the choice was easy. Going for an ISBN allocated by CreateSpace is by no means the end of the world. (It wouldn’t have taken long for readers to discover The Floors was self-published anyway, as I’ve been quite open about it here.)

Long post short, if you want to simply tell the damn story and hope it sells, I’d choose the free ISBN option from CreateSpace (or Smashwords, etc). If you are starting your own publishing empire and hope to use a service like CreateSpace to print your stock, then by all means apply for a block of your own ISBNs.

Well, that’s my take on the whole matter, anyway! I hope this has been of help, self-pubbers. If you do set up a publishing empire, remember little old Mr Poll, won’t you?

Right. Now to find something else to do! Laters, ‘taters.

Mr Poll plays the numbers game – Part Two: Pricing

The names Bonio… James Bonio.

In the previous post I discussed promotion in its various forms, before plumping for the time-honoured method of print advertising.

I fear I may also have traumatised a good many of you with the sight of Bond in a pair of red braces and little else. Sorry about that. By way of apology, how about this picture of Bond crossed with an Afghan hound?

Yes, that’s much better.

So, as promised, in this post I’ll give you a rundown of the outlay I have made, or plan to make, in getting Title Withheld out there in the big bad world. I’ll also discuss the thoughts behind pricing for both the eBook and the print editions.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter straight away, shall we? Here is a list of the costs I’m looking at:

– a 1/4 page teaser advert in Scream magazine #19 = £100
– a full page advert in Scream magazine #20 = £300
– a 1/2 page teaser advert in Cemetery Dance magazine #71 = £90 approx
– a full page advert in Cemetery Dance magazine #72 = £125 approx
– a 1/2 page advert in WFC 2013’s Souvenir Book = £85
– a full line-edit of 100,000 words = £500

That’s £1,200 in total, which, I have to admit, is a lot of money however you cut it. That said, you don’t have to go as mad as I have in order to get your book on the radar. A single, well-placed and eye-catching ad for your killer novel could be just as effective. You may find the sales you achieve from that one advert could fund another, and another, and so on.

And while £500 for a full line-edit may seem steep, remember that wielding the red pen will be none other than UK genre fiction super-agent John Jarrold. Having a well-respected professional help improve something I have written will be, for me, an invaluable experience. If my second draft survives the process with no fatal wounds then I’ll be so happy you’d struggle getting me down from the ceiling.

Okay, so there’s an honest appraisal of the direct costs for Title Withheld. Now for the really grisly bit: asking for someone’s hard-earned cash to read the book.

Again, let’s cut to the chase. For the eBook edition I’m hoping to stick on a price tag of $2.99 (£1.99), and for the print edition I’ll ask for $13.99 (£9.50).

$2.99 is the minimum price I can charge on Amazon and still qualify for a 70% royalty rate. Taking a historical average exchange rate of £1 = $1.60, along with my current circumstances, a $2.99 price tag would earn me around 78.5p per copy.

I will make the book available via CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service. The print copy of the book will span approximately 320 pages of a standard US paperback (5.5″ x 8.5″). In order to earn royalties across all of CreateSpace’s distribution channels I would need to charge around $13.99 per copy. This would earn me around £1.35 for each copy purchased through, and around 33p per copy through CreateSpace’s expanded distribution channels.

(To play with CreateSpace’s royalty calculator click here and then the Royalties tab.)

It’s a shame I can’t bring the print copy price down much lower because, while $13.99 pitches the book fairly compared to the average US paperback, here in the UK £9.50 is somewhat above the average RRP of a similarly sized novel (£7.99), and no doubt there will be postage to pay on top of that.

So why am I going to the trouble of providing a print copy of Title Withheld? Well, it mostly comes down to the first post in this short series: promotion. You see, in order to have a book considered for review in assorted print magazines it is not uncommon for them to require a bound copy. I’ll also need promotional copies for giveaways on Goodreads and for the freebie tables at conventions. If I’m going to the trouble of creating a proper print version then I may as well make it available for purchase.

(There may also be a spot of Narcissism involved too.) 😉

Given the above outlay and projected royalties (jabs calculator) I would need to attract 1,529 individual purchases of the eBook to break even.

Okay, I’ll say this now: 1,529 purchases is a lot! Do I feel it is possible? Yes, but then breaking even isn’t the reason why I’m doing this. Seriously, if a single stranger buys my book and really digs the story then I’ll be chuffed to bits because, in keeping with the spirit of my very first blog posting, that one purchase becomes the start of something.

But while I’m getting my excuses in early, let’s not write off my chances. After all, I’ll be advertising the book to 35,000+ horror fans here in the UK and in the US. My previous posts on removing US Withholding Tax from royalties continue to attract hits from all around the world, all of whom get to see my teaser banner above.

I also have a small but growing number of blog and Twitter followers. Let me say a huge thank you to you all. It’s the likes and kind comments I receive that keep me believing. Your readership is truly a pleasant surprise because I haven’t said much about the book at all.

Not yet anyway.

That all changes from the next post, where I’ll at least tell you what the thing is called. You didn’t think I’d really call my book Title Withheld did you?

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you again in my next post.

Mr Poll plays the numbers game – Part One: Promotion

Not Bobby Ball, yesterday

It’s time for me to slick back the hair, pop on a pair of red braces, ease into a pinstripe suit and start talking some numbers at you, Rookie.

Yup, Lucian Gecko is here to examine two of the saltier aspects of self-publishing: getting your work known and earning royalties. If I can get through the remainder of this without thumbing my braces, Bobby Ball style, then I’ll be doing well.

In this post I’ll briefly discuss promotion. The numbers discussed here will then inform the next post on the gory topic of pricing up the book.

The methods authors use to get their work noticed are expanding at roughly the same rate as the internet itself. That’s pretty quick, then. I mean, for example, you could hit a number of forums and mention your work in passing; you could set up a Twitter account and dive headlong into Follow Friday; you could hit Facebook and like, comment and friend virtually everything in existence; you could plant some writing on Wattpad or a few freebies on Smashwords and build a following that way. Aaaaand so on.

This may have worked a year or two ago but try those methods now and you will likely find yourself accruing an alarming number of negative reviews from people pissed off at the number of would-be authors spamming countless forums with their armies of sock puppets. Indulge in Follow Friday and you will probably gather lots of Twitter followers who are just as keen to promote their books as you are yours. Put something on Smashwords and it will quickly disappear from the homepage, often swept away in a sweaty river of erotica before it has a chance to appear on most users’ radars.

While self-publishing and the internet have undoubtedly widened the road to readers, it is clear that we have reached saturation point. Look at the popular book reviewing blogs, especially those espousing indie books, and you will regularly see they are closed to submissions. As a result it is increasingly difficult to make your voice heard above the noise.

So I’m going to try something you don’t see many indies doing, or at least not yet anyway. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and advertise. Yeah, I know, crazy, right?

This is an approach that requires a number of things: a book with a killer hook; a series of eye-catching adverts; confidence in one’s work; a massive pair of nuts… oh, and an advertising budget.

Luckily I have most of these, and I’ll be delighted to demonstrate such over the coming posts. Ahem.

In a previous post I mentioned that it costs over £20,000 to put a full-page advert in The Sunday Times book supplement, which has a circulation of around 895,000 readers. Obviously I won’t be doing that – I mean a self-published horror novel occupying a full page of The Sunday Times, can you imagine it? – but it does introduce an important measure I’ve been using to judge the value of advertising.

Let’s say I earn £1 for each copy of Title Withheld purchased. In order to make back the money spent on advertising in The Sunday Times I would need to achieve one sale for every 44 readers. (Let’s skirt the fact that selling 20,000 copies would put me in the bestseller chart most weeks!)

This would be tricky in a national newspaper because, if we’re brutally honest, horror fiction has been somewhat out of favour since the early 1990’s. Sure you still have big hitters in the horror field but it’s like Bill Hicks’ Iraqi Army joke – once you get past King and Koontz there’s a biiiiiig drop-off. No, rather than hitting a national newspaper we need to focus on publications more sympathetic to our cause.

To this end I began to compose a list of potential magazines that would be a good host for a horror novel advert. I chose a handful of publications both here in the UK and in the US, then tried to gather some information on circulation figures and advertising rates. If you want to try something similar search for the name of your favourite magazine and the term “rate card”.

So here was how my list shaped up at the beginning. For the sake of consistency I have assumed a full-page advert in each publication. Grandiose, I know, but I refer you to the size of my nuts. At the end of each I’ve given a sale ratio to break even, assuming a royalty of £1 per copy.

Fortean Times (UK) – Jan 2011 circulation 17,024 – £1,900 – 1:8 (1 sale in 8)
Bizarre (UK) – Oct 2012 circulation approx 48,000 – £2,650 – 1:18
Viz (UK) – Feb 2011 circulation 64,233 – £3,685 – 1:17
Rue Morgue (CA) – circulation approx 60,000 – CA$2800 + 13% tax (£2025) – 1:29
Asimov’s (US) – Jan 2012 circulation 22,593 – $1,000 (£625) – 1:36
Analog (US) – Jan 2011 circulation 26,493 – $1,000 (£625) – 1:42

Even with this little list you can see how the cost of advertising jumps considerably from publication to publication. (I should point out all the UK titles are from the same publisher.)

I thought I’d dig a little deeper and sent off a few queries to both Cemetery Dance, the measure by which all horror fiction magazines are judged, and a relatively new magazine on the UK newsstands called Scream. Both responded in double-quick time and were more than happy for me to divulge numbers. Wanna see?

Cemetery Dance (US) – circulation 10,000+ – $400 (£250) – 1:40+
Scream (UK) – circulation approx 23,000 – £300 – 1:76

Pretty impressive, huh? And it gets better. Cemetery Dance offers 50% discounts for small presses and individual authors (making that 1 sale in 40+ become 1 sale in 80+), and Scream offers discounts if you book far enough in advance. As you can see it needn’t cost the earth to advertise your stories to a sympathetic audience.

On top of these I have also reserved a 1/2 page slot in the World Fantasy Convention 2013 Souvenir Book. Not only will my book be on the radar of all the attendees (readers, authors, publishers and agents alike) but it will be part of a collectors item for years to come. The cost of this slot? £85. Deal, I say.

So there’s a little eye-opener for you. I hope it’s been of interest. In the next post I’ll tot up the outlay and discuss the tricky subject of pricing. Do join me.

Laters, ‘taters.

Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 3)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part Three: Completing W-8BEN forms for each publishing platform

In the previous part I described how to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS. In this part I’ll detail how you can use your number to remove or reduce US Withholding Tax levied on your royalties.

There are a number of platforms writers can use to self-publish their work, such as Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords. Both of these companies will automatically deduct 30% of your royalties to pay US Withholding Tax unless you apply to have this tax reduced or removed.

To do this you need to submit a completed W-8BEN form. You can download a form from the IRS website via this link:

You will need to complete a W-8BEN form for each company you use to publish your work, e.g. one for Amazon, one for CreateSpace, and another for Smashwords. When a company has a completed W-8BEN form they can then reduce or remove the tax, meaning more royalties for you.

Here is a run-through how to complete the form. (The following assumes you are an individual tax payer, not a company. These instructions apply to the February 2006 revision of the W-8BEN form.)

– Enter your full name in line 1, e.g. LUCIAN POLL. Do not add any titles, e.g. no “Mrs” and no “Esq”. You might think your MBE is terribly important, but the IRS couldn’t care less.
– Enter N/A in line 2, as you are not a company.
– In line 3 tick the Individual box.
– Enter the house number and street of your permanent residential address, e.g. 123 ACACIA AVENUE
– Enter the remainder of your address in the next line, e.g. NORWICH, NORFOLK NR99 9ZZ
– Enter your country, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM
– If you have a chez away from chez enter it in line 5, otherwise leave it blank
– In line 6 enter your tax identification number. For an ITIN this will be three digits, a dash, two digits, a second dash, and then four digits, e.g. 999-99-9999
– Tick the SSN or ITIN box.
– Leave line 7 blank, as this is optional
– Line 8 is used to house a reference that identifies you to the company that is paying you royalties. Amazon’s example W-8BEN form has this section blank, but for my form I’ve put in my KDP publisher number, which I found on the account settings page of my KDP dashboard. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires you to enter either your email address or Smashwords display name. CreateSpace requires your membership number, which you can filch from the CreateSpace dashboard.
– Tick box 9a and enter your country of residence, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM.
– Tick box 9b, as you will have provided your tax number in line 6.
– Line 10 in Amazon’s example form is empty, however I have seen several people complete this line, so I’ve done likewise. Line 10 therefore reads as follows, with the gaps completed as highlighted:
The beneficial owner is claiming the provisions of Article 12 of the treaty identified on line 9a above to claim a 0 % rate of withholding on (specify type of income): BOOK ROYALTIES. Explain the reasons the beneficial owner meets the terms of the treaty article: BENEFICIAL OWNER IS A PERMANENT RESIDENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
 – Skip Part III and move to Part IV. Sign the form, enter the date in MM/DD/YYYY format (remember this is a US form) and enter SELF for “Capacity in which acting”.

Your completed W-8BEN form will look a little like that shown below. (Click for a larger image.):

Example of a W-8BEN form, complete except for a signature and a date
Example of a W-8BEN form, complete except for a signature and a date

You will then need to post the form to the company that will pay you royalties. A covering letter for each form won’t go amiss. You are advised to make a copy of each  form you complete in case you receive any queries about your application.

The postal addresses for Amazon Digital Services and CreateSpace are much the same, which is unsurprising given one is a member company of the other. (Scroll down each respective page for the address.) The postal address for Smashwords can be found here.

And that’s it for this short series of posts on removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties. I hope you found it of some use.

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It’s not my intention to misinform!

Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 2)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part Two: Applying for a US Tax Identification Number

In the previous part I discussed what US Withholding Tax entailed, and gave an overview of the steps non-US residents need to take in order to remove or reduce the tax from their earnings.

In this post I’ll go into more detail on these steps, specifically in applying for a Taxpayer Identification Number. These posts are written from the perspective of an individual tax payer, not a company. (Amazon’s KDP help pages contain a decent amount of information for those who wrap up their tax affairs within a company.)

Step 1 is to gather some appropriate ID. You’re going to need it to accompany your application form, because Uncle Sam will want to know who you are. If you have a valid passport then that should be all you require, otherwise you’ll need ID to prove your foreign status and identity, for example a birth certificate and a driver’s licence. My passport expired recently but I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a new one, if only for all those American book signings I’ll be doing in the next ten years. 😉

Step 2 is to download and complete a W-7 form from the IRS website. (Here’s a link: ) The W-7 form is an editable PDF file that can be (mostly) completed on screen and saved on your computer. Why “mostly”? Well, let’s go through completing this form and you’ll see why.
(Note: this guide is for the January 2012 revision of the W-7 form, and remember I’m assuming you are an individual UK taxpayer.)
* In the set of tick boxes a – h you need to tick boxes a and h.
* Next to box ‘h’ enter EXCEPTION D ROYALTIES on the dotted line
* Underneath that enter the treaty country as UNITED KINGDOM
* To the right of that, under treaty article number, enter 12
* In line 1a enter your first name, middle name(s) and surname in the appropriate boxes
* If you were born under a different name enter it in line 1b – again first name, middle name(s) and surname.
* In line 2 enter your house number and street name in the first part, e.g. 123 ACACIA AVENUE, and then the remainder of your address underneath, e.g. NORWICH, NORFOLK, UNITED KINGDOM, NR99 9ZZ
* You can ignore line 3 unless you have another non-US address that acts as your chez away from chez, in which case enter it in much the same fashion as you did your main address in line 2.
* In line 4 enter your date of birth in MM/DD/YYYY format, e.g. 05/04/1990 for 4th May 1990. Remember this is a US form you are filling out. In the box to the right of that enter your country of birth, for example UNITED KINGDOM.
* Oddly, line 5 is actually a box further along to the right. In here indicate whether you are male or female.
* Line 6 is a biggie, so I’ll split it out further:
—> For 6a enter your country of citizenship, e.g. UNITED KINGDOM
—> For 6b enter your National Insurance Number, e.g. AB123456C
—> Leave 6c blank unless you have a US visa
—> For 6d enter your ID details. Assuming you are including your passport, tick the passport box, for “Issued By:” enter UK (there isn’t enough room to type UNITED KINGDOM), for “No.:” enter your passport number, e.g. 123456789, and for “Exp. date:” enter your passport’s expiry date, again in MM/DD/YYYY form, e.g. 12/13/2014.
—> For 6e, assuming this is the first Tax Identification Number you are applying for, tick the No/Do Not Know box.
—> Lines 6f and 6g can be left blank if you answered no for 6e.
* Sign and date the form (remembering MM/DD/YYYY). Enter your full telephone number. For my form I had to manually write the number as +441603123456 because the form only allowed 12 characters to be input.

Your completed W-7 form will look something like the example shown below. (Click for a larger image.)

Example W-7 form, complete except for signature and date.
Example W-7 form, complete except for signature and date.

Step 3 – With your W-7 form completed you need a letter (signed, and on official letterhead) from someone in the US stating they are going to pay you royalties. Smashwords will give you access to their letter once you have accrued $10 in royalties, whereas Amazon offer their royalties letter for all – just fill in your name and the date (again in MM/DD/YYYY format).

Step 4 – Send off your application. By this point you should have: 1) a letter from, say, Amazon; 2) your completed W-7 form; and 3) appropriate ID (I’m assuming your passport). These all need to find their way to the IRS so they can process your application. You could stick them all in an envelope and send them off to the States, but perhaps a better way would be to use the US Embassy. They can create a notarised copy of your passport, check your application for obvious errors and forward everything on to the IRS. They then return your passport quickly by Special Delivery. (I got mine back in 4 days.) All this for a fee of exactly zero pence too – you just need to pay to get the documents there. (Special Delivery cost me £5.90.)

I’d strongly recommend writing a covering letter to accompany your documents. Here’s one I used that seemed to do the trick:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number in order to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties I receive from Amazon for my self-published work.

I have completed the W-7 form, which please find enclosed along with my passport and a letter from Amazon regarding payment of royalties.

Please could you arrange for a notarised copy of my passport to be forwarded to the IRS along with my W-7 form and letter? If there are any problems with my application please do not hesitate to contact me on ______________.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Yours faithfully

(Before sending everything off I would recommend taking a copy of your W-7 form. If the IRS come back with queries at least you can see what you sent.)

As mentioned you should receive your passport by Special Delivery in around a week. Your W-7 application form, if successfully processed, should yield a US tax number in around 7-8 weeks. Once you have your tax number you can move onto the next stage.

Coming next in Part 3: Completing W-8BEN forms for each publishing platform

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It is not my intention to misinform!

Removing US Withholding Tax from your royalties (Part 1)

Intro and disclaimer: I am a UK-based writer. Towards the end of 2012 I began proceedings to strip US Withholding Tax from any royalties earned through US companies. This short series of blog posts documents the process I followed. The usual caveats apply: this is the internet, folks, so you shouldn’t consider this to be professional advice. That said I hope you still find these posts of use. Okay, let’s get stuck in.

Part One: US Withholding Tax – if you don’t need to pay it, don’t pay it!

If you are a non-US resident then companies like Amazon and Smashwords are required by law to withhold 30% of the gross payment to you and hand it over to the IRS. This is US Withholding Tax and it is essentially a default setting to make sure Uncle Sam gets paid when a non-US resident earns a slice. The tax applies to interest payments, dividends, rent payments, and, among other things, royalty payments.

The trouble with this arrangement, however, is that you can get stung for tax twice: once by Uncle Sam and again by the taxman in your own country. For example if you are a basic-rate taxpayer in the UK and you earn $100 through Amazon, Uncle Sam will take his $30, and you will owe the UK taxman 20% of the $70 remaining, leaving you with $56. That $56 equates roughly to £35. Once your bank has charged you a £5 processing fee to pay in a US$ cheque and then applied its terrible exchange rate on the remainder you end up with approximately Bugger All.

(I have assumed the worst-case scenario here, namely UK tax applied immediately after US Withholding Tax. It may be that UK tax can applied on the monies you finally get from the bank, but I’m no accountant. It’s a moot point either way, as you will discover.)

This double-taxation of your hard-earned royalties is, of course, is a trifle unfair, but fear not! Many countries have a tax treaty in place with the US that allows non-US residents to waive all or part of the Withholding Tax. In order to do this, however, you need to be on Uncle Sam’s books.

In short, you’re going to need a US tax number. You can apply for one by completing a W-7 form from the IRS if you are an individual, or, if you have structured your tax affairs within a company, then you’ll need to complete a SS-4 form. (This series of posts will only cover the process from the perspective of an individual non-US resident. Amazon KDP’s help page has more info on completing the SS-4 form.)

It will take 7-8 weeks for the IRS to process your application and to issue a tax number. For example I submitted my application late October 2012 and received my Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) early December 2012.

Once you have received your tax number you can then apply to have the US Withholding Tax waived or reduced from your assorted income streams. For that you will need to complete and submit a W-8 form to each US-based publishing platform you use. Bingo! More royalties for you, and a little more tax into HMRC’s coffers to boot. Your social conscience may rest easy again. (You were, of course, going to declare that extra source of income, weren’t you?)

Okay, that’s a run-through of what the tax is and what you need to do in order to reduce or remove it from your earnings. I’ll go into more detail on these steps in subsequent posts.

Coming next: Applying for a US Tax Identification Number

Final note: If you see anything that is incorrect in any of these pages please let me know. It’s not my intention to misinform!

The Story So Far

My last post elicited an interesting response from Eric J Baker. (Check him out. His neat short story ‘Worm‘ made me smile.) As I’m fairly early into the process of setting up Lucian Poll he suggested I perhaps posted about the experience. It was an idea that I had toyed with, especially if the ups and downs of my somewhat improvised approach can help others.

So why not? If anything it’ll help me keep track of the stuff that I still need to do!

This post is therefore a précis of what has gone before. I’ll expand on the finer details with less garrulous posts under a category called “Setting up”.

1. Writing some stories – I think that goes without saying! In truth, I feel I should have perhaps written more stories before setting up this blog, but that’s what the winter months will be for. As it stands I have three short stories that are finished, three that are in progress, umpteen ideas still to get onto paper, and then there is the plot outline for the novel which I continue to flesh out. There’s a bit to be getting on with, anyway.

2. Maintaining a web presence – I chose a handful of sites, services and social networks that I hoped would help me build a presence on the web that could, in turn, lead to a few readers for my stories. I’ve likened these sites to spinning plates: I don’t want too many of them otherwise they’ll encroach on all the other things I need to do, namely writing!

With regards to social networking I have set up accounts with Facebook and Twitter, along with profiles on the forums of a few well-respected fiction magazines, such as Cemetery Dance. For publicity I’ve created an account with Goodreads, Amazon’s Author Central, and this blog on WordPress, plus I also purchased a domain name to help keep my address short and easy to remember. For the actual publishing side of things I have an account with Kindle Direct Publishing, and another with SmashWords so that I can hit other eBook platforms, such as the Apple Bookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and so on. Finally I have an account with NaNoWriMo for moral support as I tackle writing the novel in November! (Do lurk!)

I’ll talk about each of these in dedicated posts as some, especially Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, aren’t so simple for non-US writers such as yours truly.

3. K.B.O. – Which stands for Keep Buggering On! That is to say: Read! Write! Post! Blog! Don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve and, above all else, try to enjoy it. Unless you’re writing misery-lit, of course.

Okay, that’s a quick run through where I’ve been to get to this stage. I’ll add a few more posts shortly with more detail about self-publishing on Amazon, and the travails of a UK-based writer. The whole web presence thing is still a little rough around the edges so I’ll post other odds and sods as I iron them out.

Hope this helps!