Monthly Archives: August 2012

The hidden cost of publishing on Kindle and Smashwords

To be strictly fair, it costs nothing to publish on Kindle because Amazon don’t charge for their publishing service.


In order to publish on Kindle you need to open a publishing account with Amazon. You have to fill in a form that details things like your name, address, bank account, etc., all of which is fine, and then you have to have an exemption certificate (as a foreign writer) from US taxes. Amazon send you to an IRS site that tells you how to get a certificate.

You have to send documentation, preferably a copy of your passport (but there are other things that will serve if you don’t have one). Fine.


Your copy of your passport has to be certified by a notary. (Well, unless you fancy sending your passport to America by post and hoping it will return within three months… They don’t advise that, by the way.)

This is where the costs start to mount. To begin with, notaries are few and far between so wherever you go it will probably take you at least half a day to make the round trip. (There are none in my local town.) Then, they charge. I did some research. They are, most of them, quite reticent about their charges but a few make some general charges public, whilst pointing out that there might be further expenses in any particular job. (Note that I think it’s quite reasonable that they should charge for doing work – I am not criticising notaries in any way.)

It seems the minimum would be £140. If I wanted two certificates – and I would need one for Amazon and one eventually for Smashwords – it would probably cost more. Possibly not twice as much, but still more. Plus, for some reason I can’t apply for one for Smashwords until I earn a certain amount and then get a letter from Smashwords so that could mean two separate outlays of £140.

Now, if I paid that out,  even working on Amazon’s (and Smashword’s) generous royalty rates, I would have to sell about 200 books to break even. That’s right. I would effectively earn nothing until I had sold 200 books.

In a niche genre such as m/m fiction, a new writer is unlikely to sell this many straight away, if at all. So publishing with Kindle begins to look like vanity publishing for a non-American author.

I already knew about the requirements and the possible costs from Smashwords. There is, however, a huge difference. Smashwords do not ask for an exemption certificate ‘up front’ so you can wait and see how your book is doing before deciding to spend a lot of money getting one. And even if you don’t, Smashwords imply that the only problem will be that they will have to withhold 30% of any money due to you unless and until you provide the certificate. That reduces your earnings considerably but you would still be earning. Amazon won’t let you create an account until you have the certificate.

I feel really disappointed. I could, in theory, afford to get a certificate. But is there any point? This isn’t false humility by the way, just realism. Yes, I believe in my work, but I know that sales in the genre are not that high whether authors are self-published or published by a publishing firm. Yes, I have more than one book to publish, but it could still take a long time to see any return on my ‘investment’. I’m just not convinced I could justify it to myself. It sounds, as I said, too much like vanity publishing. Of course, I could offset the costs against each of the books I have ready, and it doesn’t sound so bad when I break it down like that, but I’m still not sure whether it’s really justifiable, with no ‘track record’ or whether I’m just indulging in wishful thinking about publication. The figures are further affected by the conversion rates from dollars to pounds and the 20% tax rate in UK. I would end up earning about £1 per copy at best, even before the notary costs or the withholding of tax by Smashwords. I really wonder if it’s worth it!

To add insult to injury, I had looked at Amazon’s formatting after posting here about it, and it wasn’t really so different from the Smashwords variety. The biggest difference is that you upload a filtered web page instead of a word.doc. and the table of contents has to be generated before you start rather than after you’ve uploaded. So I spent the afternoon playing with formatting, had the thing ready for Amazon, felt really proud of myself, and then went into the account set-up only to be faced with the costs I have outlined.

Oh yes – and it can take a minimum of two months before the IRS send you a certificate of exemption so it would be November at the earliest before I could realistically hope to upload to Amazon. And that’s if I could get an appointment with a notary before we go back to Portugal in the next couple of weeks. It would be more likely to be early next year.

Free and simple self-publishing? To say I’m disillusioned is the understatement of my year. I’ll be sticking with Smashwords for now, and as I’ve sold one copy of my novella at $2.99 I don’t think I’ll be contacting a notary any time soon.

Any comfort, encouragement or commiseration gratefully received…!


Posted by on August 28, 2012 in publishing



Summer writing and procrastination

I have been lazy about posting – some kind of summer doldrums, perhaps. I have not been idle, but have been writing more fanfiction than original fiction, and have been involved in beta work for other people. None of this activity ever seemed appropriate to write about for this blog, which is intended to be where I discuss original writing.

The novella I published on Smashwords – Silkskin and the Forest Dwellers – has not done well. Once I ended the free period (after a month) and set a price ($2.99), the downloads came to a complete halt. This made me stop worrying about applying for a US tax exemption for foreign writers, and also made me postpone reformatting for Amazon, though I should probably do that. The US tax forms look threatening, and I am dreading trying to work through them.

I have put a lot of effort into making the formatting as good as possible, and have been shocked at the low standards achieved in this respect by some professional publishers. The widespread criticism of self-publishing  for poor editing and formatting is not, I think, deserved, and seeking so-called professional help is not necessarily the way to go. There are good and bad examples on both sides.

My heart sinks at the thought of the different formatting rules for Amazon. It probably won’t be so bad once I get down to it. Lots of people manage it without problems so why shouldn’t I? Smashwords was an uphill struggle at first, but I now feel confident so Amazon shouldn’t be any different. And once I’ve done it all for one story, the others should be easy. Right?

My heart also sinks at the thought of needing to advertise. I don’t have (and frankly don’t have either the inclination or time to have) either a Facebook or Twitter account. I lean towards longer posts and conversations, and more personal privacy. But some researchers are beginning to suggest that too much self-marketing can be counter-productive. I hope they’re right!

What I do think I need to do is get my Amazon edition sorted and then format the other stories I have ready so that I have more chance of attracting attention. Research also claims that writers do better with a number of stories for sale. The stories are there – written, edited, and ready to go. I have some kind of publishing block which is as unconstructive as writer’s block must be.

Meanwhile, I continue to write fanfic, at least partly because I can post it easily (to AO3 – Archive Of Our Own) and get feedback. And yet I have a lot of original stories to tell!

Have any of you got advice or encouragement to offer?


Posted by on August 25, 2012 in writing



Birthday – a poem



While I wait, the clock chimes.
I note time’s passing and the hour
Of  bewitchment nears,
Weaving the magic of years.

Can a single second add maturity,
Or responsibility of a sudden kind?
Does the right to roll home drunk and appear on the electoral roll
Depend upon a minute’s passing?

Is there a difference
(Like day and night, like dark and light,
Like sweet and sour, like here and gone,)
Between this moment and the next one?

I  have been powerless to show my love
Until the new day proves you adult,
Just turned sixteen (and sweet, unkissed);
But soon we can consumate our dream.

What if the striking hour should turn you back
Into an ordinary man,
Available at last, no longer charmed?
Could that enchantment fade so fast?

Before we find out, before time has had time
To trick our senses, plays with our love like a wanton god,
At exactly midnight I shall kiss you and say,
‘Happy Birthday.’

I ought, perhaps, to point out that I am British and in UK the ‘age of consent’ (for both men and women) is 16. The voting age is, however, 18. I should also make it clear that this was written with a particular story in mind, and both protagonists in the story are teenagers – the narrator is not intended to be me! I had been reading about the tragedy of teenagers placed on the sex offenders’ register because they dared to love each other at just the wrong age, and their parents not only objected but called down the full force of the law. I think most police forces and prosecutors are more lenient today, but this was written a few years ago.

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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in poetry



July Reading and Viewing


3July E Savage City**** – Sophia McDougall. The final part of the Romanitas trilogy. Excellent and gripping writing but… During the first two books I got incredibly attached to some of the core characters. Now that I know their fates and futures (some dead, some on unexpected  paths) I don’t think I will ever be able to re-read the first two parts. That saddens me in some ways because I adored those books. The third – well, clever and satisfactory but not quite as special.

4July E Beneath the Neon Moon** – Theda Black. I usually like werewolf stories but this was strange. Two guys, strangers to each other, are kidnapped and chained together in a cellar. One is bitten and will soon ‘change’; the other is intended as his first prey. They have to trust each other in order to escape though the bitten one will still be a werewolf. Unsatisfactory.
5July E Blind Items*** – Kate McMurray. Forgettable, though well written, m/m romance between a left-wing journalist and the son of a conservative senator.

6July E Blind Space*** – Marie Sexton. Space pirates. Some rather dubious non-consensual sex, fetishes, justifications of piracy, and insufficiently developed characters. I was sufficiently interested to read to the end, and the actual writing was quite good but I wouldn’t recommend it wholeheartedly.

7July E Human for a Day**** – edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek. An intriguing anthology of stories where something or someone becomes human for twenty four hours. There are swords, cities and statues as well as robots and zombies. As usual in an anthology the quality was varied but there were more memorable stories than poor ones.

7July E Are You There, Blog?*** – Kristen Lamb. This was an attempt to show authors how to use social media to sell themselves and their books. Despite the blurb, I learnt nothing new, and found the style (and humour) too American to read happily. I’m sure I probably ought to be on Facebook and Twitter but for now I won’t be following the advice. But it might inspire me to post about it…

8July E Forgotten Soul*** – Natasha Duncan Drake. Another story by this author who is a friend. I can admire the writing and plotting but as I am less than enamoured of most vampire stories I am unlikely to read the sequels.

9July E The Only Gold***** – Tamara Allen. Unusual thriller with an m/m sub-plot, set in nineteenth century New York banking circles. Pinkerton’s agents end up chasing bank robbers through one of the worst ever snow storms which paralyses the city. Interesting and well written.

10July E City Falcon***** – Feliz Faber. Intriguing m/m romance based around the research into using birds of prey to control bird strikes at airports.

11July E The Book of Dragons* – E. Nesbit. Collection of Nesbit’s short stories about dragons. I vaguely remembered enjoying her children’s books but this irritated me. The narrator voice was omnipresent and alternated between condescending and coy. Even at the time these were written this must have grated on a large part of the readership.

12July E Floaters** – Joe Konrath and Henry Perez. A short and competent thriller. Konrath is a good writer but in his attempts to have lots and lots of ebooks available I feel he has lost the interest of this reader at least. This story, co-written with Perez and involving both writers’ detectives, never really gets into the character of either.

13July E Hammer and Air** – Amy Lane. This was intended as an m/m fairy tale but I thought it was heavy handed and had far too much explicit sex for the genre.

14July E A devil’s own luck**** – Rowan McAllister. Competent and entertaining m/m version of a typical Georgette Heyer style Regency novel.

15July E The Song of Achilles** – Madeline Miller. A disappointing retelling of the Trojan Wars which got rave reviews (which was why I bought it). Unlike other modern versions of old legends and ancient history this was too short, and it was impossible for me to become sufficiently involved in the story to forget the ending. The narrator was Patroclus and he was an interesting character but Achilles never really became three dimensional.

17July E His Hearth** – Mary Calmes. Forgettable story of a demon hunter who needs a ‘hearth’ or human to ground him.

19July E Enlightened* – J.P.Barnaby. An unlikely tale of teenage m/m romance. Very American and very annoying as it turned out to be the first part of a serial, not a series as the title page suggested. I won’t be reading the rest.

21July E Kill for me***** – Karen Rose. The third part of a story started in Die for me, though the books can be read alone. Excellent convoluted thriller, which, as usual for this author, has the reader on edge until the last minute.

26July E Stolen Moments** – Ariel Tachna. Long and boring story detailing the difficulties of a gay relationship in the southern states of America. I felt sympathy for the characters but kept wanting to yell at them to emigrate to Europe. The writing was good and I’m sure the author had the best of intentions. Maybe the book just wasn’t directed at me.

I read more original fiction than usual this month, perhaps because I was in Portugal with no TV, magazines, etc.  Unfortunately, the books I had loaded on my Kindle didn’t include many ‘keepers’.


24July The Prestige**** Interesting film, with some good acting by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bayle. The story concerns the deadly rivalry between two stage magicians at the end of the nineteenth century and moves between England and America. The insights into stage magic were fascinating. The plot was occasionally impenetrable.

25July The Bridge***** Final part of the Swedish/Danish TV thriller based around police co-operation between the two countries after a body is discovered on the centre of the bridge between them. Some excellent acting and suspense – this was a ten part story with each part taking an hour. Subtitles.

31July Mirror Mirror**** An interesting take on the story of Snow White. The plot is tweaked slightly to good (and feminist) effect. Some lovely special effects and clever fight scenes. I adored the monster. Some of the humour was rather heavy handed. Altogether a pleasant experience but not a film that I would bother rewatching.

Fewer films etc. than usual, because in Portugal we can only get news channels on TV and I hadn’t taken DVDs.

For anyone who’s wondering, the photograph is of a wall of cut plaster work in Alsfeld, Germany.


Posted by on August 8, 2012 in reviews