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…!