Publishing via Smashwords – A How-To…

Last year I posted a short series on how to go about publishing something via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. (You can access these posts, and others you may find useful in my Setting Up page.)

This is a somewhat overdue post that details the process you can expect to complete when publishing something using Smashwords, which is a popular publishing platform that offers exposure to a number of eBook platforms other than Kindle, such as Apple’s iBookstore.

This post assumes you have already set up an account with Smashwords and have two files handy: a correctly-formatted manuscript file and a JPEG or PNG image for your cover. (Seek out and download the Smashwords style guide on their website for guidance on how to format your manuscript. It’s damn near invaluable and the best practices preached within will serve you pretty well for other eBook publishing platforms.) (The cover image needs to be pretty high-res; the suggested minimum size being 1400 pixels wide by 2240 tall.)The Floors - cover

So let’s give this a whirl. I have a .DOC file for my novel, The Floors, and a 1400 x 2240 PNG cover image, a thumbnail of which you can see on the right. Given these I should now be able to get some publishing done.

(NOTE: The following was composed 5th September 2013. If you are reading this while scraping a living on the radiation-blasted wastelands of 23rd Century Washington DC then the process may have moved on a little. But, hey, at least you’ve still got your health, right?)

Once logged into Smashwords you will see in the menu bar an option to ‘Publish’. Clicking on this will initiate the publishing process, comprising of eight fairly straightforward steps that run down the page.

Step 1: Title and Synopsis
There are a number of things to input here.
i) The first is the title of your book – fair enough.
ii) A newish feature of Smashwords allows you to publish a book and make it available as a pre-order. As The Floors was advertised with a release date of Friday 13th September 2013, that was the date I entered. (You can also publish the book straight away if needs be.) When creating a book for pre-order you are encouraged to specify a publishing date 4-6 weeks in advance. This is to allow the necessary time for your book to be approved by the various platforms fed by Smashwords. There is an added benefit to creating a lengthy pre-order period in that your book is persistently retained towards the top of the relevant categories on Smashwords’ site, though I can see this exploit being abused left, right and centre in the not-too-distant future.
iii) Next you need to enter a short synopsis of the book. This is the description browsers of Smashwords will see, so it needs to be short and punchy. No line breaks are allowed and you have only 400 characters to grab the reader’s attention.
iv) You then have an optional text box where you can enter a longer description of your book for those interested to read more.
v) Finally you can select the language of your book. Even though the book is written with a distinct British twang I’ve kept the language to the default: “English (dialect unspecified)”

Step 2: Pricing
Here you get to demand people’s hard-earned cash for the privilege of devouring your words… should you wish. You see, unlike Amazon’s KDP platform, Smashwords allows you to give your story away for free. (This is a popular strategy to help sell a series of books, where the author lets people read the first book for free.) If you decide to charge for the book, however, then it must fetch a minimum price of $0.99.
As mentioned in previous blog posts I decided on a $2.99 cover price for the eBook. (Note you cannot dictate prices in other currencies like you can on Amazon KDP and CreateSpace.)
Finally, you can also dictate the percentage of your book to offer as a sample. The default is 20%, but I scaled this back to 15%, which, if my calculations are correct, leaves the story hanging at a very teasing point!

Step 3: Categorization
Here you can select a primary category and an optional category for your book. Browsers of Smashwords can navigate the sidebar to get to the kind of books they like. This section allows you to specify the location(s) in which your book can be found. Given that The Floors is a sci-fi horror novel, I selected:
Fiction => Horror => General, and
Fiction => Science Fiction => General
You are also asked to declare any adult content within your book. While The Floors is peppered with industrial language and violent scenes, I’m reluctant to declare its adult content as, to me, that’s lumping it in with the frankly staggering amount of sweaty, questionable porn that other Smashwords authors – er – ejaculate on a minute-by-minute basis. That said, I don’t want to find my bollocks in a vice for breaking the rules, so I’ll tick the box and keep my fingers crossed readers can still find me, drowning in a swamp of stepdaddy grot and college girl cream pie action.

Step 4: Tags
Here you can enter a bunch of keywords that all relate to your book. They help browsers search for books that interest them. I’ve kept mine fairly simple, being:
Fiction, Novel, Horror, Sci-fi, Science fiction, The Floors, Thirteen, Thirteenth floor

Step 5: Ebook formats
Here you can select the file formats you would like to offer readers of your book. Your best bet here is to upload a Word document (.doc), as it pretty much opens up every eBook format available. If your book is heavy on the graphics, however, then you may want to explore the options here a little more. A graphic novel in TXT format may not go down too well unless you are some master ASCII artist!

Step 6: Cover image
Here you select the image to upload for your book. As mentioned earlier, a JPG or PNG file of 1400×2240, or larger, is recommended.

Step 7: Select file of book to publish
Here you select your manuscript file. Don’t upload a .docx file (i.e. Word 2007 onwards), as the Smashwords meatgrinder will spew it out. Chuck in a well-formatted .doc file (i.e. Word 97-2003) and you should be okay. Again, read and adhere to the Smashwords’ Style Guide before uploading a file. There are likely some things in there that will improve your overall word processor skills.
You should also make sure your document contains the correct information on the copyright page. See Smashwords’ FAQ page for their current suggested wording:

Step 8: Publish
Easy peasy. This is basically you hitting the “Publish” button. By doing so you will agree to Smashwords’ terms of service, will allow distribution to partner sites (e.g. Apple’s iBookstore) for the price you have set, and to allow users to sample your work as dictated in the settings you configured earlier.

Once you hit ‘Publish’ you’ll be met with a page displaying the current progress made converting your book into the assorted formats you chose. When this is done you will be informed of any errors in your document. These will all need to be corrected to ensure the widest distribution possible, so it’s worth your while exploring each error thrown your way. Note that you can upload newer, corrected versions of your book via your Smashwords Dashboard. You can also download a free copy of your book in assorted formats to check how they look. Very handy indeed!

Your magnum opus will appear on your dashboard with a Premium Status of “Under Review”, even if it contains errors. I can’t fathom why Smashwords would do this as uploading a corrected document serves only to start the review process afresh, but there you go. Once your book has been cleared, and you have specified an ISBN for it, then it will be deemed fit for Smashwords’ “Premium Catalog”‘ and uploaded to assorted eBook platforms. (After my recent review of ISBNs I opted for a free ISBN from Smashwords.)

So there you have it, folks: a whistlestop tour of Smashwords publishing. (You can see the finished article here.) Now all you need to do is the hard bit: writing something upon which you’d feel proud to slap your name, he says pseudonymously. 😉

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!