April 4, 2011

New Ebook: Forbidden @ Smashwords and Amazon

Guest Post by Tony Williams.

Finally, after many years of struggle I’ve managed to get my first novel published. For the past eighteen months, I’ve been using my blog to inform writers about new developments in the book trade and to urge them to consider non-traditional publishing options now available, especially ebooks. I’ve now decided that after ladling out advice so generously, it’s time to take a dose of my own medicine. My book is titled Forbidden, but more about that later. First, let me tell you about my self-publishing journey.

It turned out to be quite easy and uneventful. Over a period of just two days, I was able to have my book available for sale as an ebook in the Kindle Store and at Smashwords. Here’s how it works. 

When you sign up, upload your manuscript and cover to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, http://kdp.amazon.com it takes up to 48 hours to be vetted for proper formatting and then it is listed for sale in the Kindle Store. With Smashwords, it took about two hours in a queue before going live on their website. If you want it included in their premium catalogue for sale in other distribution channels, you have to wait about a week for further vetting (this time manually) and approval. I got the green light for inclusion. Smashwords has already shipped it to the Apple iBookstore, the Nook (Barnes & Nobel) Kobo, Sony and Diesel and it should be on sale there in the next two weeks. 

The paperback edition is available via the UK-based website CompletelyNovel.com (CN) and is printed and distributed by the POD printers Lightening Source. The set up is the same – sign up with CN, upload your manuscript and cover to their website and thereafter it immediately goes on sale.

I’m currently based in St Lucia, light years away from the global publishing hubs of North America and London. With a laptop and an internet connection it took me about twenty minutes max. to sign up and upload my book for publication on each of the three platforms. I found their instructions easy to follow. And it’s free. To get the paperback sold through multiple distribution channels including Amazon.com, I had to subscribe for a CompletelyNovel ‘Pro Plan.’ It cost me US$190 a year (or US$21.99 a month). It’s a lot cheaper at the Amazon affiliate Createspace – a flat fee of $35. I found out too late.

My biggest challenge was having the manuscript and cover formatted to their individual specifications. Since I’m hopeless with formatting, I hired a graphic artist recommended by Smashwords to format my ebook. For US$65 she formatted the manuscript and cover for both Kindle and Smashwords. It’s also good for the other ebook retailers. I paid CompletelyNovel.com to format the paperback. A St Lucian graphic artist (Mageesa Boudhar) designed my cover. Altogether, I spent about US$300 for formatting and cover design. 

What I now have to sort out is how to get multiple paperback copies to interested bookstores in the Caribbean in a cost effective way. It turns out that this is easier and cheaper to do if the bookstores are in North America or the UK where Lightening Source have their printing operations.

I also discovered, much to my surprise, that I have to pay the IRS 30% of my royalties on sales made in the US. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a US citizen, or that I’m not based in the US. Both Amazon and Smashwords warned me up front that they are mandated by law to withhold taxes from my earnings and submit them to Uncle Sam. The only way around it is if you are a citizen of a country whose government has signed a Tax Exemption Treaty with the US government. You would automatically qualify for full or partial exemption from tax withholdings on your earnings. You have to apply for a foreign tax number by submitting a W-8BEN form. The IRS then issues you a foreign tax ID, which you have to submit to Amazon and Smashwords. Thereafter, they’re no longer required to withhold taxes on your royalties. That’s the only way to fend off the taxman. To view countries that have tax treaties with the US, see this PDF file: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p901.pdf

Apparently only three Caribbean governments had the foresight to negotiate tax exemption treaties with the US on behalf of their citizens - Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, although it’s still not clear to me from the abovementioned document that writers are included in the exemptions. For the rest of us in the English-speaking Caribbean, we’re evidently been left out in the cold.

I haven’t been able to confirm whether CARICOM and the OECS are aware of this and, if so, whether they ever attempted to negotiate a US Tax Exemption Treaty collectively with the US Government on behalf of their citizens, instead of the individual governments going about it in a piecemeal fashion. I intend to follow up and find out. 

My novel, Forbidden tackles the sensitive issue of race within the context of a Caribbean island whose residents, over time, have bought into the ideals of colourism; the preference for lighter skin tones, and the tendency to regard fair-skinned people as more desirable. It also examines to what extent religion has contributed to this world view and looks at how the Church and the Bible have shaped Black people’s self image and our sense of self worth. It is controversial and I knew from the start this would further limit my chances of ever being published.

Nevertheless, I believe in it. I also think it addresses issues that people grapple with from day to day, and not just in the Caribbean. Many other societies and cultures struggle with the issue of colourism, not to mention matters of faith. My book, however, is an attempt to have a conversation with my brothers and sisters from the Caribbean. Now, consider this. 

The English-speaking islands of the Caribbean have a population of approximately 5.444,762 (CIA World Factbook 2009 estimates). Add to this a further 7.3 million people of Caribbean descent I’ve estimated (through research) to be living in the Diaspora – altogether some 13 million people. I haven’t even included African, African-American, Black British and Black Canadian readers.

Perhaps not immediately, but in the long run, I believe authors who have digitized their books will have a better shot at tapping into that diverse demographic. Physical books will always be there. Many readers still prefer them. But if your aim is to try to reach as many readers as possible among a demographic that is so widely dispersed, physical books just don’t cut it. Their comparatively higher cost doesn’t help either.

If technology provides you with a mode of delivery that is, for the most part, accessible and free, and you’re sure that your work is polished and edited as well as it can be, and it is appealing, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Marketing and promoting is going to be hard work. It’s always been, even for established writers who are increasingly expected to do their bit in promoting their work. Personally, I’m game for the challenge. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

But new writers like me aside, Caribbean writers locked into deals with traditional publishers will sooner or later (if they haven’t done so yet) have to contend with the issue of what to do with their titles which have gone out of print, or are likely to. What do you do if your publisher is unwilling or reluctant to invest in new editions of your book, even while seeking to maintain control of it and your current and future work? At present, most traditional publishers are insisting on pocketing 75% of all ebook sales. Amazon and Smashwords are offering indie writers up to 70% and 85% respectively on sales made directly from their websites. Third party sales still earn you more than you get from traditional publishers. 

These are all indications of how book publishing is undergoing dramatic change, forcing writers and publishers alike to face up to the reality that they have to adapt and consider options that, in the past, they probably wouldn’t have given a second thought.

In one of the most thought-provoking articles on publishing I’ve read yet, writer and blogger, Dean Wesley Smith advised in his recent post Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: the Myth of Security: “... don’t think that just because you are an indie publisher and in control of your own covers that you have security. You don’t. And don’t think that just because you sold a big book deal to a traditional publisher you have security. You don’t. So maybe get the security from learning the business and enjoying the writing. For me, doing a job I love is the real reward.” 

This is precisely how I feel. 

The paperback is available at CompletelyNovel.com http://www.completelynovel.com/books/forbidden (USA) will soon be on sale at Amazon.com and other retailers worldwide.

About Tony Williams

Tony Williams was born in Castries, Saint Lucia. From a young age, he set out to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. He started as a news reporter with the Government Information Service in 1977, soon after leaving secondary school. A few years later, he left journalism to take over the management of a family-owned banana plantation. Ten years later, he gave it up to return to journalism and went on to become the editor of the Crusader newspaper in Saint Lucia. He was subsequently awarded a Reuters Fellowship in journalism at Green College, Oxford University. In 2007, he gave up full time journalism to devote more time to creative writing. Along with freelance journalism, he does consultancy work and speechwriting part time. He’s the creator of Caribbean Book Blog.


Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: