Wednesday, 23 April 2014

April Update Part 2: Nook, Apple and Self Publishing Platforms

Dear all, following on from my first update which didn’t end up being quite the quick note I thought it would be…but I have come to accept I jibber-jabber (there was a time when I was totally and absolutely convinced I wasn’t a talker, and to be fair to myself I don’t enjoy wasting my vowels on everybody, but once I get going I now finally have to admit, I have a rambling problem…) I wanted to tell you about another business related update I have worked on during my brief return home.

A quick background explanation first: When the idea of self publishing became more real in my head around three years ago or so it was entirely due to Amazon and their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. It was simply an opportunity to kick start my writing in a more dedicated and proper fashion than any conceived business plan or sense of wanting to call myself a writer. However that changed fairly quickly, the bit about a business plan not calling myself a writer, as I learnt about the self publishing sector in more detail and met more people involved. As someone who was self publishing outside of the US there were still a few obstacles at the time however, some companies requiring a US bank account or company address (I was one of those that chose to create a limited company rather then be a sole trader/self employed) but as I was still focussed on Amazon KDP it didn’t really matter. The reason being I was entirely realistic from the start, I knew I wouldn’t be making any money from this and so the fact that without a IRS tax withholding number such as a TIN or EIN they would retain something like 30% of all revenue but as to me it was 30% of nothing I wasn’t bothered. I could still self publish and operate from the UK without restriction and make use of Amazon’s promotional tools, the most important thing at the time was to just get going, just start and worry about that later I told myself.
            So fast forward a couple of years and many things have changed but the one I want to focus on here is the use of other self publishing platforms aside from Amazon KDP.
            The first thing to say is that the reason this is a topic I want to talk about is that after a long time of not bothering with the IRS thing I mentioned above (not bothering makes it sound like I was being lazy, I should really say that I purposely delayed doing it because other more pressing issues had to be looked at first, even though I knew the process was quick and easy, you have to prioritise!) I called up the IRS a couple of weeks back and went through the process of obtaining an EIN.
            An EIN is short for Employer Identification Number, which is what I need as a UK Limited Company operating in the US (although as a digital publisher I do not physically operate in the country, no offices or employees, etc. I do work with US companies) and for those who operate as individuals, they would require a TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) but please do not take this blog as any sort of official guidance on US tax law! I am just giving you an overview of what I needed to do, I’ll get to the point in a minute I promise…for detailed information you can Google this subject and there are many great bloggers out there who give up to date and specific advice on this topic and of course you should go directly to the IRS at :

Annnnnnnyway, the reason I had to say all that is because up to fairly recently some companies where quite strict about having your tax withholding identification arranged before joining their distribution programs, as opposed to Amazon for instance who would let you get going but just retain that 30% I mentioned until such as time as you did arrange it. So if you wanted to self publish across multiple platforms you had to get all that done.
            The issue you have to decide upon is exclusivity. Amazon allow you to use their promotional tools only if you sell your book exclusively through them, which is totally understandable I think, and because they are the market leaders and the Kindle is king it is the natural assumption to make that it is worth sticking with Amazon. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate here about whether that is still the case, the explosion of smartphones and apps and the advancement of other ereaders has been significant and the advancement of other distributors / self publishing platforms has been significant too, but again, being the wuss I am I don’t want to throw my two pennies worth into this discussion because I don’t know enough about it outside of my own business, and there are far more interesting blogs that cover this topic in more depth, I just want to explain where I am, it’s all about me me me you see.
            As you may know I now work with two other new writers and my vision of where I am going with the company has changed hugely for me, I am still not worried about making money from this (yet) and I just want to learn as much as I can so a long time ago I took the decision to stop using the promotional tools from Amazon and put my books on other distributors so I could learn more about their programs, more about ebook conversions, more about multiple marketing channels and all the stuff that goes into the business of working across different companies, again, not because I thought I would sell books through them or it would earn more money, but simply because I wanted to learn more and thought it would benefit me in the future. I am glad I did because I am still a firm believer in ereaders and it has been great to see the growth of other companies and the investment in their publishing programs. It feels like I have given myself a good grounding in the basics of this market and because I am convinced (deluded?) that I am in this for the long term, it is a responsibility for me to learn, not just an interest.
            As a result of sorting out the IRS business and learning about all the other main distributors out there (I should also say that I do not use third party companies to produce ebooks, Thinking Plainly as a team do it ourselves) I am now able to sell ebooks on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google, Scribd and so on. This doesn’t mean I think that we will now by default automatically sell books in all of their markets, of course not, they will probably remain blank for some time to come yet, but it is a great learning process and benefits me as a writer and as a business in many ways, I think I will have to blog in more detail another time about that as a subject in itself.
            The thing you have to consider is that even if the ereaders and self publishing platforms available are great, you don’t have the functionality of Amazon (again…yet) so there are no author profile pages and marketing tools that will take your profile to the next level, you have to do all of that yourself still, there is nothing to be gained in that sense, so it is a decision not to be taken lightly and entirely dependent of your situation and vision of your company/individual.

The main point of this blog is that there is one HUGE embarrassing factor in being on all of these platforms and I will use the recent experience of uploading my books to Barnes and Noble’s Nook. I have not finished a new ebook in two years now, yes that is right, two bloody years! If you have been keeping track of me on Facebook or reading my blog then you will know the reasons for this and where I am in my story development. To put it briefly here, I have nearly 30 short stories in varying stages of completion and am researching my first novel, so I hope to be putting out stories in a fairly regular fashion over the next two years…but for now…I had to upload stories that were two years old, and let’s be honest (I like to be too honest for my own good) not very good…I mean, I love them don’t get me wrong, but they are my first attempts and I know that they are not the work of a seasoned professional writer, I have never denied that and I know that my future works will be better (have I already mentioned the word deluded?) so for instance, as much as I am very proud of 'The Silent Spaces' as my first work, Collection One is very weak and as much as I like the concept of the stories they are not brilliantly written pieces at all. The reason why they are online is very simple, firstly, you cannot sell for free, if you put something on Amazon or wherever, they all have their minimum prices and even if there are free days you can make use of, if they are there for good then they have to be there at a price (this is for a small beginner company like mine, I realise there are negotiations to be had if you become larger) so the decision is all about whether you want it there, not if you want it there for free. The decision I took is that part of the reason I am who I am is that I am open and honest and I want to learn and develop and then share my education and development with others and so to hide things I have done seemed wrong to me, this is a personal decision based upon what I want my company to stand for and so I want my history to be there for all to see and as a result, my progression to be there for all to see. If 'Collection One' is worth less than toilet paper then I’m not going to hide away from that, if in ten years time someone decides to buy it because they have enjoyed my recent works then it won’t surprise me to see them put a review online saying how disappointed they were, how bad it was, etc. etc. but to me that is showing other people that everyone develops and it is natural that your early work will be substandard to what you later achieve (I always like to talk in generalisms, we all know that some people’s debut novels are breathtaking and are sometimes not bettered) especially if like me you enjoy being open and transparent, if I am on a journey then I want others to be on it with me and if a few people get angry with me for taking this route then I can live with that. I tell you what it does do make me really want to finish my next stories even more than I did already!!! I can’t tell you how desperately I want new content up there. However as a business I have worked very hard and developed every day and I have to think about the writers I am working with and not just myself so it’s not really a sacrifice, it all benefits me in the long run. So yes, it is embarrassing in one respect uploading old work, but it is still progress and it is still advancing the business and I have learnt a lot from it…and of course there is a small sense of satisfaction knowing I can distribute all over the world on all of the major platforms.

Okay, that’s part two of my update done with, that didn’t end up being very quick either did it? So, I’ve told you about the website and blog situation, the self publishing latest, next in part three I will let you know on a more personal level how the last three months away have gone and what I have learnt from it, as a writer and as a person, which it is obvious to say are inextricably linked now. This isn’t a hobby anymore, it’s not a sideline, it’s who I am and what I will be doing for a very long time to come.



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