Indie Publishing Business Self Publishing

Getting Your US Royalties Tax Back – Non-American Authors – New Zealand Edition

It’s exciting – Amazon sent you a¬†ROYALTY CHECK¬†it’s less exciting when you notice they’ve withheld 30% of the gross amount for taxes ūüôā The money is not gone forever though – as a non-US resident author the process of getting your money back is not difficult. It involves some phone calls and a some paper work – that’s it. The process has simplified in the last year or so – so if you’ve found a guide which starts talking about needing to get an “apostilled” coy ¬†of your passport – that’s all nonsense now. Here’s how it works 2013. ¬†

The overall process is: 

  • get an US tax number called an EIN (NOT an ITIN – that way is the way of apostilled copies, Form W-7 ¬†and other nonsense). Even if you are a sole-trader, as I am, you can get an Employer¬†Identification¬†Number – it’s perfectly legit as a non-resident alien (as Americans so charmingly call foreigners) and MUCH easier than getting an ITIN¬†
  • tell Amazon and Smashwords of your new EIN – using a W-8BEN form this will stop them withholding 30% (the actual amount they will continue withhold depends on your country of tax residents: for New Zealanders it’s 5% for Australians 0%)¬†
  • if you have had any royalties withheld already – you will need to claim them back from the IRS (US tax department) using a 1040NR form. ¬†UPDATE: You won’t get your previous over-paid tax back unless you go through the trauma of getting an ITIN
New Zealand Does Some Things Well: Lamb, Scenery, and Simple Tax Codes come to mind
New Zealand Does Some Things Well: Lamb  and Simple Tax Codes come to mind

Getting an EIN (Employer Indentification Number)

Before you call you will need: 

  • a way to call the US cheap: I use Skype my call was about an hour and cost about 10c – most of the time was on hold – so I wouldn’t use Telecom for this!¬†
  • plan the time of day/week the IRS office is open 7am-10pm Mon-Fri – but general advice appears that they are busiest in the mornings and less busy in the evenings. ¬†You are calling Pennsylvania – so that is approximately NZDT: ¬†middnight – 3pm Tues-Sat ( for timezone conversions)¬†
  • a print out or on-screen copy of¬†Form SS-4 – it’s the form they are going to fill in on your behalf, so they ask if you have a copy. YOU don’t actually¬†need a copy¬† -just have it on a screen near you to follow along.¬†

The details are: 

  1. Call  001-267-941-1099 extension #3. You are calling for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) NOT an Individual Identification Number (ITIN). 
  2. After a wait of between 5 and 60 minutes you’ll be answered. You aren’t allowed to be on speaker phone, so do this with a headset is my¬†recommendation¬†(means you can do some work while you are on hold).¬†
  3. They will ask you if you are applying for an EIN for a foreign entity Рthe answer is YES 
  4. Ensure that you give them a legal name that matches your legal name with Amazon and other places you sell your book and your records with IRD in New Zealand. The spelling is critical Рthey will go over it a few times. 
  5. You don’t need a trading name.¬†
  6. If your postal address is different from your¬†residential¬†one then again you will need to clearly spell it out. This is a unit used to dealing with foreigners and they seem un-perturbed¬†over my lack of a “state” or ¬†“province”.¬†
  7. You are a “sole¬†proprietor”¬†
  8. They will ask you if this is for compliance with withholding Рthe answer is YES 
  9. They will ask you if this is for e-books – the answer is YES. Or they may ask you what business you are in: “PUBLISHING” appears to cover it.
  10. They will give your EIN over the phone Рwrite it down Рand double-check the number. 
  11. Eventually the paper copy will turn up, mine went via the UK for some reason! That paper is VERY important, original document, ¬†not¬†the¬†cheap computer-generated print-out it looks like. KEEP IT SAFE you can’t get a copy – apparently.¬†

Telling Distributors about your EIN

You need to send a physical paper copy of a W8-BEN form to the places that have or will withhold taxes on your behalf. For most of us this is: 


Completing a W-8BEN

Go and get a copy of the form from the US IRS site here¬†-. Print it out nice and¬†legibly¬†on white paper with black ink. Find a pen – file it in so your name and address and your EIN ¬†the details should match those you just gave the IRS. Do not abbreviate. You don’t live in NZ – you live in New Zealand. ¬†Do not¬†photocopy¬†the completed form – do an original for each¬†distributor¬†you are sending it to.¬†

Question 9

cross a) and enter New Zealand 

cross b) leave the rest blank 

Question 10

For New Zealanders the answers are: 

article 12 

rate 5%

type of income: royalty

Sign and date the form and send it to: 

Amazon:¬†address for W8-BEN¬†Amazon will send you an email in a few weeks to acknowledge receipt and in your next cheque you’ll notice the different rate of withholding applied.¬†

Smashwords: address for W8-BEN Рupdate the EIN on your account page, and send to the address provided. Once received the hold for payments will be automatically removed and the withholding rate changed to 5% 

You apparently have to re-do this print out and mail nonsense every three years. 

I Want My Money Back! 

If you did all the above before you sold any books then you can stop now. However, for the rest of us who  have procrastinated about getting our tax affairs in order, and will now have to one more fun step to get your cash back! 

Smashwords defaults to holding your royalties until you have filed a tax number with them, as they only pay four times a year, it’s worth timing getting your EIN to fit with their payout dates. Amazon however may well have withheld more tax than is necessary. Amazon can’t give it back to you – only the IRS can do that. ¬†

The US tax year ends on the 31 December Рand some time afterwards Amazon will send you a 1042-S РI  received mine in March Рso the timing is not bad for the NZ tax year date of 31 March. 

The 1042-S states how much Federal Tax has been withheld and your gross income.  

For New Zealanders you can get most of that back. The last 5% you claim against your New Zealand tax. No you can’t just claim it all against your NZ tax – only that 5% which is legitimate under the relevant tax treaty.¬†

Filling in a 1040NR Getting Your US Tax Back

Okay the form you can find here: The instructions all 19 pages Рhere. 

You will also need your 1042-S from Amazon (and any other US distributors) which say how much tax has been withheld. 

I’m making some assumptions here: you aren’t an expatriate American, you don’t run a business in the US or have employees there. On page 4 of the instructions you should qualify for the “simplified¬†procedure for claiming certain refunds” . (Yes after this you will never hate the IRD again!).¬†

Basically if you are/have : 

  • non-resident alien
  • don’t have a business in the US
  • no income connected with a US business¬†
  • you don’t owe the US any tax¬†
  • you are using the form ONLY to claim a refund of tax withheld at source

You can now fill the form as follows: 

Page 1: make sure you name, addresses and EIN are as previously given to the IRS. Leave the rest of the page blank. 

Page 3: leave blank

Page 4: Royalties are item #5 enter the amount of Gross Income  from the 1042-S (box 2)  that Amazon sent you. Enter under  column (d)(Other Specify) 5% . 

Follow the simple arithmetic as indicated in lines 13, 14, 15 . This figure is what you owe  the US IRS (which you can claim back via your New Zealand tax). Copy this figure to page 2 line 53

Page 5: answer all question. Most are straightforward and relate to your citizenship, residency and trips to the US. 

For item L leave blank

Now back to page 2 

You already have the estimated tax to pay on your royalties @ 5% on line 53

Line 60 Рis probably the same as line 53 

Line 61(D) is the amount Federal tax withheld from box #7 on your 1042-S form(s) (total if you have more than one). Enter this

Line69,70 Рsimple maths. 

Line 71A Рyou want the amount REFUNDED to you Рthey will send a US$ check to your postal address on page 1. 

Sign and date form. 

You’ll need to attach part of the 1042-S send to you from Amazon (Copy C – attach to any Federal Tax Return). Attach form to the left margin of page 1.¬†

Mail to 

Department of the Treasury 

Internal Revenue Service 

Austin, TX 73301-0215


The return is due before the 15 April, though as they owe you money I don’t think they will care if you are late! ¬†

Update: Unfortunately all I got back was a letter telling me EIN ¬†did not match an SSN or ITIN. I called and after talking to several people at IRS I discovered that I couldn’t get my overpaid tax back with and EIN. Most annoying!¬†

 Standard Disclaimer: I am not a tax accountant, but I have done taxes in a few countries Рand I have great deal of sympathy for my American friends who have to deal with level of literal paper work. 

Your mileage may vary Рif in doubt Рcheck with a tax professional. 

Indie Publishing Business Rants Self Publishing

Self Publishers of New Zealand – Indie Authors Doing It For Themselves

I went to Tauranga on the weekend – but I didn’t take these pictures. While my partner¬†gallivanted¬†around the beaches and cafes of the pretty Bay of Plenty town, I sat in a conference room at the Kickstart conference¬†organized¬†by OceanBooks and TheStoryBridge.¬†

Yeah I know – I’m never at home! Last month Sydney, this month Tauranga – and in both cases I got the prize (which BOTH conference¬†organisers¬†have forgotten to deposit in my bank account), for “attendee from furthest ¬†away”. ¬†It’s a deliberate strategy though. I feel that ¬†I straddle the world of writers and marketers. Although I’ve never really considered¬†myself¬†a writer I’ve probably earned more from my writing than many self-titled authors. Even though in general my grammar ¬†sucks ¬†my spelling is worse, and my proof-reading random. (I installed the AfterTheDeadline plugin, have you grammar-Nazis seen an improvement?). So I’m trying to learn more about this weird author world, particularly the off-line part.

View from the top of Mt Maunganui across the beaches - I didn't take this photo -  I was sat on my butt in one of the buildings!
View from the top of Mt Maunganui across the beaches – I didn’t take this photo – I was sat on my butt in a Self Publishing conference one of the buildings!

Marketers Need To Understand The Value of Good Books

The fatuous nonsense spouted by the¬†pedlars¬†of programs like Fast Kindle Cash¬†don’t just scam the naive, lazy and gullible who join them, they also ¬†devalue the ¬†authenticity of the written narrative (oops the writer thing is rubbing off). ¬†

The marketing crowd is lazy Рand scared of writing, and too cheap to pay for good writing 

NEWSFLASH: Books require decent writing РEnd. Of. Story. Do it or hire the talent. 

Authors Need To Grow Up Too

On the other hand I am quite simply stunned that authors have been happy to turn over all control for not just their career but even their creativity (did you know that traditional publishers control a book’s cover, title and blurb???) to publishers in return for what? Ten percent? Glory? Dunno about you – ¬†I can’t live on glory. All on top of being treated as demanding scum by publishers, just because they ¬†ask a¬†publisher¬†to read their book within a¬†time frame¬†of weeks not months (and while it’s with one publisher you can’t give it to another!). Who has the resources to put their business on hold for 6 months for someone else’s timetable?

¬†Some authors have a book be accepted, only to have the publisher go bust before publication, and then have no other publisher willing to buy the rights because the book is “tainted” by having been previously contracted to someone else!!!¬†

Well writer types, there, as they say, some good news and some bad new. 

The good news is Рthat the gatekeepers are gone Рindeed your chances of being published in New Zealand with a traditional publisher is now ZERO (rather than almost zero in 2012) РJames George 

The bad news: you need to take control of your work, your career, and your business. ¬†If you “just want to write”, that’s cool – just don’t expect to sell books.¬†

You’ll need to finish your book, get your book edited, get your book formatted, and get your book in both print and electronic formats. You will then need to introduce your book to your potential buyers (aka marketing). ¬†

New Zealand Writers: The Future Is Here, and It’s Awesome

A few weeks ago I ¬†received the first 2013 edition of the New Zealand Author a paper(!) newsletter of NZSA. On the last page there was a long opinion piece titled: “Less Choice for Authors” by Geoff Walker¬†(if Geoff had a website I’d link to it).¬†¬†It ended with:¬†

Less choice for authors, less publisher diversity – for writers this isn’t good news.¬†

In my opinion he couldn’t be more wrong – indeed this is singularly the BEST time to be a writer since the invention of the printing press. ¬†It is however a terrible time to rely on traditional publishers for a job. I think that New Zealand authors and writers actually have the best opportunity to get their books “out there” to their audience,¬†because¬†the¬†gatekeepers¬†have gone away. ¬†

Geoff posed the questions “my friend is a first-time novelist…[that] is now ready to be submitted to a publisher. So who should she go to?”¬†

The answer is simple. No one. She should get a cover design for around US$50-US$200, she should  get the book formatted  for print and eBook (under US$200), she should publish via Createspace, Amazon and Smashwords. She should promote her book. If she starts to get traction and is in future approached by a publisher Рshe should be very careful considering, what, if anything, a publisher can do better than she can do herself. 

Sounds far-fetched and outrageous? It has already happened – Hugh Howey indie self-publisher who already makes 5 figures ((US) a month,¬†has recently signed with Simon & Schuster for¬†the print only rights (Howey’s story here).¬†

The future is amazing for writers. The future is amazing for books. But the future is different from the past, thank God. 


Fast Kindle Cash – How Sales Letters Deceive


I get a bit of spam in the Self-Publishing Community I started over on G+. ¬†This one looked¬†familiar¬†though – I’d already seen it before. So before I review Fast Kindle Cash – and point out how much of a scam it is, let’s cut to chase. So you want to:

Rank Your  Book #1 in Amazon?

Here’s the secret three steps:¬†

  1. write a good book; 
  2. include the keywords you want to rank for in the book’s title when you upload it to Amazon¬†
  3. sell some copies or give them away using Kindle Select’s free giveaway days

Really, you say – that easy? Yes: here’s my proof: check “vacation packing tips” or “Kindle NonFiction Formatting – yeah that’s me #1 – wow it was hard though! Not – seriously 3 steps – that’s it. Why does step 1 matter – because I want my books to keep earning me money long-term.¬†

However what I really want to talk about is the anatomy of a scam – because this sales page is really quite clever. The image above is pretty much what you’d see above the fold on most screens. ¬†Do you have the impression that you can produce books just like the one’s pictured¬†¬†in less than a week – you know books like these:¬†


Windows 8: Out Of The Box #11 for User Interface section of computing at the moment – I suspect it was #1 when it published though be cause it was published by O’Reilly’s – one of the biggest technical book publishers on the planet to coincide with the release of Windows 8

Super Easy Slow Cooker Recipes for Busy Moms – don’t ranking in any category at the moment #170,000 over-all – which is probably less that a book sold every week or so – so I think his claim of a $99,600 royalty may be a little out there. Wonder if this author used the system, but didn’t actually write a decent book – so the book’s sales has now collapsed because of bad reviews?¬†

Act Like a Lady Thin Like A Man #1 in Mate Seeking, #877 overall in the Kindle Store ¬†– I can believe the royalty claimed on this one except of course the author won’t ever see it – this is a traditionally published book by Harper Collins – I wonder if they like having their name associated with Fast Kindle Cash

Know Your Bible – ranking well at #319 over in Kindle store at #2 in Bible/reference – this book is published by¬†Barbour Books¬†which appears to be a small Christian imprint. Again – I wonder if they know they are a shining example to Adrian’s fans – with the implication that they are associated with them in some form? ¬†

So on the above evidence – it seems like one title has collapsed it’s sales, another is on the way done and the other two are doing OK – woops one might say! Oh and some books are seasonal (slow cookers) and some will have a moment of popularity and drop off (e.g. Windows 8 is not new anymore).¬†

Now notice how our copywriter is now a hero he’s found a¬†truly¬†easy way to make money online and decided to share it with you.¬†

Think about that for a moment: he’s found an easy way to make money online, passive income no less and he’s telling the world about it? Like if you found a way to print money – you’d tell everyone else how to do the same? Wouldn’t that devalue the money until it was worthless? Why would he need to even teach you this – because he obviously can already make as much money as he’d ever need.¬†

But hey – maybe he’s just a nice guy… Who uses the juxtaposition of other people’s books to sell his own product while denigrating their¬†intellectual¬†property ¬†(any one can write a book in a week…)¬†


Okay, so Kindle’s are popular – hmm that was sorta last year, at the moment it seems that more people are actually buying eBooks to read on tablets, iPads and smartphones. But I’m not arguing eBooks are huge. Let’s face it the market didn’t exist to 2007, and the takeup has been phenomenal – we can I think, agree on one thing – there is a demand for eBooks.¬†

I would however, qualify that by saying there is demand for good eBooks. 


Now the other thing that some of you may have noticed – is that Amazon is not the only bookstore selling eBooks – others do too – some you may have heard of: Barnes&Noble, Apple, Kobo. But no, our friend Adrian “KIndle” Duante (no I couldn’t find him when I googled him or looked on Amazon either) doesn’t want to mention any of them – just Amazon. But seriously do you want to tie your books up with just one retailer? Maybe, there are advantages, but there are also¬†disadvantages¬†too – like a lot less crap floating around on the other retailer sites because these types of scam schemes haven’t¬†targeting¬†them, yet.¬†

Most of my books are at the $2.99 price point – they are about 22,000-30,000 words – that’s an awful lot more than 15-20 pages. Which means absolutely nothing on an eReader- but if we say 250 words/page – that’s 3750 words – perhaps I should slap a cover on it and call this blog post a book?¬†


Now let’s be clear – again these three author’s aren’t anything to do with Fast Kindle Cash – they are just having their name and image associated with it – presumably without prior permission. Both E.L.James and Amanda Hocking are now¬†traditionally¬†published after becoming successful as Indies in the early days e.g. 2009 as far as I know ¬†John Locke is still self-published – and his promotional activities owe nothing to Duante.

Oh and their genres: erotica, vampires and westerns. Yup not a non-fiction book between them (except for a single book by Locke on how he sold a million books (paying for reviews was part of the answer) ). Weren’t we talking about non-fiction books at the start. Oh and I’d lay good money on the fact all of these author’s books took a little longer than a week to write! In fact their success is indisputable – and also utterly irrelevant to the sales pitch at hand.¬†


So now we are actually getting the OFFER – it’s pretty fine print but you may miss that you are signing up for a 39-page PDF – I’m kinda guessing those are small pages and large font, but that’s okay because you will get the video (saying the same thing) and the Powerpoint slides (adding value there!) Oh and checklist – as you can so get lost in 39 pages¬† and cover template – say what I need a cover for my book? Of course full psd templates will only work with Photoshop – you do have that rather expensive bit of software don’t you? But hey a template is cool – will make it so much easier for the guys at Amazon to weed out the “me too” books that will soon be flooding the market for Windows 8, slow cooking, getting a date, and Bible studies. ¬†Bonuses too – that’ like extra value – a Word template to fix your formatting – (you already know why I think Word sucks as a formatting tool so I won’t go into it here) ,and a couple of other random reports which he hasn’t decided on which PLR to use yet for so can’t name. AWESOME.¬†

But wait there’s more …¬†


I’ll try to keep this shorter than his actual sales page so here goes. Remembering of course that if you sell some copies of your book, mention the keywords in the title and blurb and don’t have a totally offensive cover and start to the book that the reader can preview, you will be on page 1 anyways.¬†

Guaranteed Page #1 Amazon Kindle Rankings

Title: you need to have your main keywords in your title. It’s pretty easy – which bit didn’t you get. No you don’t need anyone to work with you – you just need to do it!¬†

Description SEO:.¬†Having your keywords in your description is handy for your readers but there is no evidence that Amazon’s search algorithms use the description to rank books. Unfortunately Duante restricts himself to only doing an SEO review of the description – if he was offering a copywriting¬†review I’d probably sign up – because, if he wrote this page, he’s a brilliant copywriter.¬†

Description¬†Formatting:¬†Yes you can use HTML for the description. If you actually want a detailed description of how to do this plus some excellent copywriting¬†¬†tips check out Unlimited Books Sales Machine – How To Sell More Books ¬† (it’s got a crap title, the grammar is dodgy,but it’s actually pretty good for basic copywriting¬†¬†tips – and costs $2.99 – probably took him more than a week to write!)¬†

KDP Publishing Setup: ¬†If you exclusively publish your eBook for 90 days with Amazon you can set your book to free. ¬†I speculate that then everyone else who’s signed up for the program downloads each others books. May work, for now, until Amazon gets bored with being gamed …¬†

Amazon Likes: Fiverrr gig  Рyou pay $5 Рthey like your page. 

Tweets: Fiverr gig tweets from people who have no followers (if they are even people not bots) who have no interest in your book. Yeah that will work 

Backlinks: Backlinks have no part in the Amazon ranking of books. Oh and hundreds of backlinks from crappy sites will sink a page, even on Amazon, as fast as Google will catch you. 

Indexing of Backlinks: hasn’t been required since 2008 – no wonder this guy failed at Internet Marketing!¬†

Author Central Optimization:¬†Pen-names are fine – using someone else’s model picture and passing it off as yourself is not. Authorcentral is important – it’s not hard – fill in the fields on and again on every other authorcentral.¬†

Professional Cover: I agree important Рsuggest that for the price of admission to this service you could get a pretty bloody good cover done! 

 Facebooks likes: see Twitter 

But wait there’s still more …


Amazon Reviews: Yes important to have a few before you go free Рeven free is a hard sell if there is no feedback. Not that hard to do if you give people a copy of the book, contact reviewers who review books in the field or similar. 

Personal Support: ¬†This is his USP (unique selling point) – he’s your friend, he’ll help you PERSONALLY. It’s possible he may even do so until the money back guarantee has expired. – I mean do the maths – this is a lot of money ¬†because now finally we see the special offer of $297¬†Actually when I went to the site and clicked back off the page the price dropped to $47 – yup prices are truly what the market will pay when there is little to no intrinsic value on offer. Plus there always has to be¬†scarcity¬†– limited time offer..¬†


Now again copywriting 101 – and a good trick to use in your own book blurbs – think of every objection and answer it, then of course we have that offer again, because usually you have to ask repeatedly to get people to sign up – after all they are still reading – so what do we do now?


Now this is probably where you’d expect the page to end – but no – what’s he’s done now is sorta told you what he’s offering, but now he needs to go back to selling the dream. Who couldn’t use $5,000/month – I could, you could, let’s face it if you weren’t interested in the money you wouldn’t be reading this ad in the first place! Sell the sexy girl, not the car – oldest trick in the book.¬†


This is a clever coda. ¬†Yes you can outsource your book for peanuts – and yes it will be generic, bland rubbish. That said you outsource to a decent writer, but frankly if you are just starting out, I’d suggest you don’t pay $500+ to outsource the book, instead¬†write¬†it yourself, learn the business, learn what works, what does not. Writing isn’t a gift, it’s a skill anyone can learn. ¬†

Now if you are worried about this being a “get rich quick scheme” – you’d be totally right. The subtle part is that – if you do self publishing right – then I think it’s an exciting sustainable, fairly passive income business. That’s why I’ve moved into it. I think it’s more stable than trying to fight Google to rank websites. That’s why suggesting that I’m partnering with Amazon¬†is very powerful for Internet Marketers who have had a rough 12 months from Google.¬†

The twist ¬†of course, is that sooner, rather than later, Amazon will have to clean up the crap books. How it will do it I have no idea, but I am also supremely confident that my books will pass whatever tests are applied. Because you see they weren’t written for peanuts and promoted using dubious fake social media and reviews.¬†

fast-kindle-cash-14¬† Notice the juxtaposition of Kindle/Amazon known trusted brands and Adrian who? But he’s giving you a guarantee that’s worth something isn’t it? Yeah right. Under this name there is no such author on Amazon – funny that.¬†


Urgent ¬†– stop over-analysing¬†it and just ACT NOW okay! Otherwise you’ll end up with an over 2000-word blog post pointing out the¬†copywriting¬†techniques being used.¬†

Market The Book Self Publishing

Writing Organisations and Local Networking In New Zealand

I have two long and half-finished posts on how to self publish in 37 easy steps, or they  may in fact  be my next  book. Anyways they are a mess and not fit to be seen at the moment Рmaybe in a few days! 

Instead, today I want to talk about networking, in specific local networking. Most of the people I know and trust in my business I’ve never met in real-life. All live overseas, most a long-haul flight away. That’s all cool, but the reality is – that sometimes, it would be nice meet in person, real-time and have a drink. You know – like we used to do in the old days. It occurred to me a few months ago – that maybe, just maybe, there are people in my own country ¬†interested in this whole self-publishing gig too.


A few months back I joined the New Zealand Society of Authors Why? To be honest I was looking to increase my authority on self publishing and it seemed like the logo would look cool in my sidebar. I was sold, when I realised I’d get a free listing on their site, so that I could knock a rather mediocre athlete’s ranking (Dancesport) from Google’s page 1 results for that uber-important Google search term ‚ÄúElisabeth Sowerbutts‚ÄĚ (now #9 – should bounce up a few spots with the link above). (Yup SEO does still work).

However apart from the personal branding and SEO benefits – NZAS – has actually turned out to be quite fascinating. They sent me a real life paper newsletter – with a stamp on it! ¬†The first ¬†newsletter contained incorrect factual information (on getting an US tax number for NZ authors) plus an opinion piece which I violently disagreed with. (There didn’t appear to be a functioning comments box though on the paper – how does this old-style stuff work again?)

A Pub, a drink, what could go wrong?
A Pub, a drink, what could go wrong?

So when I saw that the local branch was running a meeting in a pub I was immediately interested. In addition I wanted to put faces to this organisation that still offered advice on publishing contracts and which printed articles opining that 2013 brought Less Choice For Authors.

Did I learn anything – certainly. I learnt that apparently New Zealand authors can get paid for their books being borrowed from an NZ library – and to get your book listed on a booksite the libraries use to order books from ( I’ve seen self-published books in my local library – so this is interesting, but I haven’t put the pieces together yet.¬†

I also learnt something else – vanity presses have morphed – into something pitched as “small press publishers” – but the deal is still the same – the author is giving them rights to most of the profits from book sales while at the same time spending thousands in fees up front for cover design, editing and formatting (layout they call it). And in return how much marketing is the publisher doing? Little. How many distribution networks to bookshops does the publisher have – none. Writer beware as they say.¬†

Back To The Future, Down Under

The more I see the more intrigued I am, I feel a bit like I’ve been given a glance of the future, not by jumping in a De Lorean, but ¬†by hanging out online in places like and I’ve seen what other tech and business savvy writers are doing in social media (have you joined my own Self-Publishing community on G+ yet?) And now I’ve returned to 2013 and the shamans and priests are still selling indulgences to the masses in return for the miracle of a printed book. (Yes I saw the books: they were high-quality printing – in fact the same quality as the books I have printed from Createspace).

I totally understand that every writer doesn’t want to do their own editing, cover design, eBook and print formatting and their own marketing. The reality is though, even if you are published with a mainstream traditional publisher, you will be doing your own marketing, and all the other items on the list can be bought from a competent freelancer on a fee-for-service basis. While retaining control of your book‚Äôs distribution, formats, pricing, discounts and everything else.

What are your thoughts – have any of you joined a local writers society?

Book Formatting

eBook Formatting Mistakes – Or Why Word Acts Weird (and It’s Not Microsoft’s Fault)

My ebook formatting business¬† is¬†quietly growing, and as I experience how others do their formatting – I cringe – like seriously. I know I started typing on a typewriter, but in 2013 when carbon paper would be unrecognisable to many, and most people don’t know that we had to¬†physically¬†move the¬†typewriter¬†carriage back ¬†to the start of ¬†a line and the innovation of electricity and ¬†a return key that did it AUTOMATICALLY was COOL it’s¬†surprising¬†how many still use¬†Word Processors¬†like the typewriters, they’ve never known. ¬†¬†

So just, don’t okay. ¬†You know when you shout and swear at the Word Processor cause it does weird stuff when you don’t want it to? Actually, it’s not the computer, it’s you. You have so many odd, inconsistent , and plain wrong invisible formatting symbols, you gave the software a headache, so it’s passing that pain on to you.¬†

When I format for non-fiction,¬†particularly¬† I strip out almost all of this junk, but it’s no surprise at all to me if your file does weird stuff in the Word Processor from time-to-time. ¬†

I learned to type on something like this - Photo credit: Alexkerhead
I learned to type on something like this – Photo credit: Alexkerhead via flickr

Or more specifically: 

  • don’t use multiple hits of the enter key to create spaces between headers or between paragraphs, or even -help us, to get a new page. ¬†Instead use Styles (every word-processor has them). ¬†If you want a paragraph indented (and you should ONLY want this if you are writing fiction) or a space after the paragraph, use a style.¬†
  • don’t use tabs to create indents or columns or tables. Really. Tables are just-about supported on Kindles these days, but keep it very, very simple folks. If you want a fancy table – make a screen shot of it and include it in your book as an image.¬†
  • want a heading? Use a heading style. Really no bold, italic, don’t add a special font, just use a style. That way, if you suddenly decide that your 29-chapter magnus opus requires a Palatino 33 as a chapter font – you can add it, in one place, not 29. ¬†Actually don’t bother because an eReader won’t honour your fonts or character sizes, but if you want to make sure your chapters are centered or always start on a new page – modify the style, not each and every chapter.¬†

Now if you are formatting for an eReader (Kindle or otherwise) – make sure you don’t do the following:¬†

  • don’t include page numbers, anywhere. Page numbers don’t exist on an eReader. So no page numbers in the table of contents, in the text (as in see figure X on page Y – instead add a hyperlink to the figure)
  • do redo your “front matter” – it shouldn’t be the same as your print edition – because, well it’s not print! And remember that the first 10% or so is what the browser can see for free on Amazon – make it a good 10%, ¬†i.e . make sure it covers your table of content (for non-fiction) or enough of your first chapter (for fiction) to hook the reader. Move the dedication to your cats, and the acknowledgement for the support of the¬†Prisoner’s¬†Rehabilitation¬†league to the back. ¬†I know a lot of people put in glowing “reviews” from “famous people”. Unless those are really famous people, I’d give that a miss to, let your writing stand on its merits, or at least give the customer a chance to read some of it!¬†

Front Matter For eBooks – My Recommendation

All of this is centered and on one page

  • Title – in H1¬†
  • Sub-title in H2¬†
  • several spaces (use ¬†<br/> tag in HTML)¬†
  • author name (note no “by” )¬†
  • author’s website (an active link so people can click through from the free sample…)¬†
  • Copyright 2013 author name all on a single line¬†
  • new page¬†
  • linked table of contents¬†
  • introduction to the book¬†

I fiddle a bit to get this all to fit on ¬†single page in the Kindle¬†Previewer¬†for the Kindle Touch or PaperWhite. If they fit on that they will fit on the Fire. They won’t fit on a phone, but them’s the breaks for using such a small device IMHO.¬†

If I am formatting for¬†distribution¬†via Smashwords then I add the line “Smashwords Edition” under the copyright notice. If it’s an ePub being distributed to Apple you will also need to include an ISBN in which case I give up trying to fit it all on the one page and do something like this:¬†

  • after the author’s website force a ¬†new page and add
  • Copyright 2013 author name all on a single line¬†
  • ISBN¬†
  • Disclaimer – something funny along the lines that although I’ve made every effort you’re still responsible for your own life (that’s for non-fiction). For fiction you could do the “this is a work of fiction and any similarity to any persons dead or alive is just a result of your own twisted narcissistic mind, and so not he author’s problem”.¬†

Back Matter for eBooks 

This is where you get to do a sale’s pitch. I don’t care whether you consider yourself a marketer or not – ¬†you still need to do this. Basically if the buyer got to the end of your book, they must have actually read it (unlike a paper book is fairly hard to just flick to the end). Give them something there: suggestions include:¬†

  • Author bio and photo – they may actually want to¬†meet you now! Include an email so they can contact you. ¬†Link to social media and websites.¬†
  • More by you – if you have more books – now is a good time to promote them – I add a the cover image and the same blurb I use on Amazon plus a link to Amazon (note: if you are distributing this to Smashwords you can’t link to Amazon – just ask the reader to search for your titles at their favourite eBook retailer)
  • If you don’t have more books, and even if you do, ¬†direct readers to a page on your website which consists of a welcome message and a sign up form for an email service like Aweber or MailChimp (A little like the one at the bottom of this post – but I keep it as a¬†separate¬†list as I know this person is actually a BUYER not just a web-site reader).¬†
  • A request for a review. Yup – most people don’t know that reviews are important to authors, so tell them, and ask, nicely. ¬†
  • Oh ¬†yeah the dedication and acknowledgement – you can add those here too.¬†

Don’t Bother With The Following Formatting for eBooks

  • font and size – neither of these are under your control, leave them alone and let the user choose what they want use the header styles (h1 through h6) to get larger and smaller sizes¬†
  • footnotes work fine and will flow to the end of the page, chapter or book as you decide
  • bold, italic, sub-script and super-scripts all work fine as well¬†
  • drop caps don’t work on older eReaders (try bold or all caps instead)¬†
  • most eReaders now default to full justification, if you are getting oddly spaced lines it’s usually because of a long URL – consider using a link shortner (eg. or put the url on its own line.¬†
  • remember the author pays for downloads by the MB so only include images that you NEED.¬†
Publish The Book Self Publishing

Tablet Publishing for Self-Publishers: iPad Edition

Are eBooks so last year? Are eReaders a tech dead-end which are about to be over-written (sic) by tablets? Short answer: I don’t know, neither does anyone else because none of the major players e.g. Amazon, release sales figures on their eReaders or even tell us publishers which devices our books are ¬†downloaded to. I am beginning to wonder though.

tablet publishing - ipad apps
All images in this post were taken by the iPad mini


Should Self-Publishers be Publishing on Tablets?

I’m considering¬† updating my main laptop. New laptops come with Windows 8 which looks like an OS designed for a touch screen tablet. That had me researching the new operating system and in particular the practicality of the interface without a¬†touch screen¬†computer. I put the laptop upgrade on hold as I went down the rabbit hole of tablets and their imminent arrival in the mainstream. I mean really do most consumers even need a computer? Unless you run a business, or are a student or maybe a writer, you may no longer need a home computer.

If all you do is consume information on the Internet, why not just get a tablet? After all they are cheap, and more importantly easy. Although it may drive you  and me  insane not to know where our file location, but for most consumers of information? Not so much.

I’m no tech trend watcher but look at what the big players are doing.¬†¬†Microsoft is ¬†positioning Windows 8 as a ¬†seamless user experience whether you are on a computer or a tablet.

Google is now  putting their own name on the new Nexus Tablet. The big players are betting large sums on tablets taking off big time.  Is 2013  the tipping point for tablets?

Tablets are taking off, laptop and desktop sales are plateauing and tablets are hot. And their prices are dropping, a lot. Before Xmas a local big-box retailer was advertising 7″ android tablets for around US$100, that’s cheap. Indeed it’s cheaper than most of the eBook readers here.

What has this got to do with you as a potential or actual online marketer or author?


If you are on a tablet, or indeed the Metro Interface of Windows 8 – the first place you go to find information or entertainment is not a web browser. You no longer “Google it”.

Instead you go to the AppStore (Apple) or Google Play (Android). If, like me a few weeks ago, you have no idea what an app that sells entertainment or content might look like, check out this video of the Rachelle Mead app(a successful YA vampire book series author) – free in the Appstore:

Now all that app is a sophisticated trailer for her books, with plenty of buying opportunities if you are not yet a fan, plus free sample downloads – all independent of Amazon or any other book store. Now Mead is a published by Penguin and this has all been done by them – but how hard can it be for self-publishers? (I don’t know but I’m looking for a cost-effective answer to that question). It seems like a no-brainer in some niches particularly fiction which evokes a universe readers want more off (SF, fantasy, historical) or even travel (with add-ons including images and videos – which are still problematic to cost-effectively present in eBooks and POD paper books). The app is the equivalent of what, until last week or so, I’d put on a website supporting a book or series. In fact I’d still do the book’s website, but I’m starting to think, I’d do an app as well.

But why apps? The iPad comes with a browser – why wouldn’t I just use that? Because, as I observed myself as a new iPad user, I found some very, very cool functionality in apps that I don’t find in websites. Even for simple stuff, like the weather, the app was easier to see, with a ¬†design optimized for the screen I was holding.

Why I Bought An iPad-mini Not An Android Tablet

Because most tablet users are on iPads – and the mini is the cheapest one (by a lot). Basically because I’m trying to understand my audience I needed to go with what they are using. (iPad apps run on the mini, but not all iPhone apps. yes this is an issue, a big one). Apple is a walled-garden ¬†iPad/iPhone apps don’t run on Android or any other tablet or phone.¬†

My point though is that – the iPad changed my way of working and it will change yours too.

Photos and Videos

On a netbook:

  • I wanted to ¬†upload photos from my camera and manage manipulate them and save them in Picasa.

On the iPad

  • it’s hard to upload photos to the iPad and there is very little storage space with only a 16GB hard drive
  • instead I discovered that the inbuilt camera was OK and the video (the video in my¬†previous¬†post was from the iPad and all the images in this post are from it too). Not as good as my camera, but acceptable in good lighting conditions and very convenient as I can share photos immediately on social media.
Useful as a camera when you don't have a proper one with you
Useful as a camera when you don’t have a proper one with you

Taking Seminar Notes

On a netbook

  • ¬†I’d take notes in Evernote or another text editor

On the iPad

  • ¬†I used an app called AudioNote (this is the only app I’ve paid for – it’s about $5 (seriously annoyingly the app store insists on translating prices to NZ$) )which automatically cross references your notes with the sound file it records – that’s cool – I would buy the device just for that if I were studying. it will even record an online seminar pretty well.

Using Maps

On the netbook

  • I don’t pull the netbook out on the street, far too dorky. I don’t allow the smart phone to connect with data overseas because of the outrageous roaming rates. I use paper maps.

On the iPad

  • ¬†I downloaded a map of Sydney using CityMaps2Go – and to my continual amazement, and tech doesn’t amaze me very often, it plotted my location on the map even though the iPad was in no way connected to the Interwebs (no cellular, and I wasn’t on WIFI) If any one can figure this out please drop me a note in the comments! It wasn’t super accurate – it sometimes had me on the wrong side of the road, but it was ¬†usable as a walker. Oh it was free too. So long as you download the maps you’ll need in advance this appears to be GPS tracking without data charges – awesome.

Now for me it’s not perfect. I had to learn a new operating system – there were plenty of willing helpers, but it’s a learning curve just like any new OS. It’s a bit heavy to be used as an eBook reader. I haven’t found a good keyboard for it yet.

On the other hand the battery life: over 8 hours of reading and recording on my first day in Sydney, was pretty amazing. it certainly leaves my phone for dead, (also the iPhone 5 curiously!).

Tablets in Use - Sydney YHA
Tablets in Use – Sydney YHA

The Way We Travel Is Changing

As I look around me in airports I see more and more people using phones and tablets and fewer and fewer netbooks and laptops. And those laptops are generally be used by blokes (and ladies) in suits – corporate users. The rest of us are increasingly using tablets and phones. Also as I travel I see fewer and fewer Internet shops. Where just a few years ago it was amazing that you could go to a dedicated place with computers and fast connections to the world. Now, even in developing nations like Thailand, they are disappearing while every airport, caf√©, hotel, and museum offers free WIFI. I’d not be surprised to find beaches with free WIFI in Thailand. The point is that travellers have a device with them to connect, I think that nice will often be a tablet in the future.

If your audience are travellers then you should be thinking about how you can get your content to them.

If your audience are earlier adopters of mobile tech (young adult readers for example), then you need to think about it too.

Self Publishing and Tablets

It’s not easy to self publish cost effectively on tablets, yet. There are very few technical standards, meaning it’s hard to get an app to run on both iPad and iPhone, Android and Windows 8. It’s also hard to create an app without some serious programming skills, or deep pockets. I’ve been looking for some options for the DIYer to build your own app – so far I haven’t found anything particularly compelling, and nothing cheap.

The content is still key – but I think more and more we should make sure we separate out the content from the delivery mechanism. Basically the same content can, and possibly should be, delivered as:

  • ¬†a website
  • ¬†a paper book
  • ¬†an eBook
  • ¬†an app

Write once, distribute many times is  a sensible approach for the future. What do you guys think? Have you ever used apps to read books, rather than an eBook?

Self Publishing Writing The Book

Self-Publishing Update – Writing Course Sydney

It’s only recently I’ve started putting “writer” under the profession question on travel cards. It’s a better term to use than web developer because i involves less writing – who wants to waste more effort than required on the useless paperwork of travel. (Note however it’s a very BAD term to use if you happen to be travelling to repressive countries like China or Myanmar – then the old fall-back of teacher should cover it in a nice generic way.)

I have a dark secret. I want to write a vampire-ridden, erotic trilogy.

Nah – not really, I wouldn’t mind the cash but I don’t do creative, I was the leader of a small group of girls who in the last year of school¬†appealed¬†to our Principal (an ex-English teacher), to remove the school ruling that we all had to do English Lit in 7th form. We won and I haven’t graced the door of an English class since.

But I do want to venture into an odd cross-over between fiction and non-fiction, called travel memoir. However there was a problem.

The Trouble With Travel Writing

As I’ve read my fellow self-published authors in the genre, I came to a rather non-PC conclusion.

Most of their  books suck.

I struggled or failed to finish many of them. I don’t mean they have the odd typo or what-not, frankly I skim read far too fast to notice 99% of the time. Nope I mean their stories were, not to be subtle about it, boring. Dull. Failed-to-finish-the-book tedious.

¬†However I just couldn’t work out why.

I hadn’t noticed the same problem with self-published non-fiction, generally. Usually ¬†if there was a ¬†problem, ¬†it was over-promising on the title and under-delivered on the content. (Hint: don’t use terms like “complete” and “comprehensive” in the title when Amazon says your eBook is 48 pages long).

So then I started reading “real” books, traditionally published books. Specifically I read travel memoir because that’s what I’m interested in. I started at the top of the best-sellers list: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Couldn’t finish it, it was beyond awful, nothing to do with travel, all to do with her own inability to function as a woman without a man in tow. Made me despair for what womens’ lib has achieved.

Then I re-read the rather excellent Down Under (Sun Burnt Country in the US) by Bill Bryson. Funny, clever, entertaining – and I finished the book still not knowing or caring about the author’s sex life, whether he had a family or anything more personal than his age (middle-ish) , shape (roundish) and fitness levels (hmm not so good).

Hmmm so even some of the popular trad-published stuff sucked, IMHO anyway. So how to write a travel memoir which I would actually like to read, seemed to be the issue.¬†I’ve tried writing my memoir before, every time I tried it descended into a blow-by-blow, re-written¬†version of my journal. That was a problem, because basically it was boring even for me. Finding similar books self-published didn’t inspire confidence. So I did something a bit radical to me – I spent some money and enrolled in:

Sydney Writing Course
Sydney Harbour Bridge from the north side

Sydney Writers Centre: Travel Memoir Course

I know it sounds odd to those of you who live in bigger countries – but really there aren’t that many options in New Zealand – and this was just a quick trip to Sydney and two nights accommodation for a weekend intensive course.¬†

And I came away having learnt some cool things: 

  • I don’t completely suck at writing;
  • I now know what my memoir lacked – a plot;
  • You ¬†can¬†¬†make stuff up and leave stuff up (duh!);
  • Writing plots hasn’t changed since Homer and it’s not that hard;
  • it was cool to meet Tracey Edwards in real life
  • My new writing tool – the iPad mini is pretty cool for taking notes on.¬†

I’ve been nervous of doing a course. As I’m an entirely self-taught writer, I had developed what I like to think of on a good day as a”unique¬†voice”, (on bad days I am just rude, crude and in¬†desperate¬†need of an¬†editor). ¬†As I wasn’t quite sure how this strange voice thing had happened (if like me you have no idea what an¬†authorial¬†voice might be – read this¬†). ¬†So I worried about jinxing it.¬†

But this course was about the nuts and bolts of what makes a good story, and why, nothing at all about split-infinitives and the other stuff I vaguely remember from English. 

Highly recommended – the course is from Sydney Writers’ Centre – now the Australian Writers’ Centre¬†and the presenter Claire Scobie did a really good job making sure that 12 very disparate women all got something out of the course.¬†

I came away with my head buzzing with good ideas. 

Later this week – well it’s half-way through the week already but I do want to write about how I used my new toy – the iPad mini on this trip – and whether it’s good enough to replace a notebook for a traveller.¬†

Have you ever done a writing course? Was it useful? I’m also considering ¬†doing an on-line humour (sorry humor) writing course at Gotham Writers.¬†

Self Publishing Writing The Book

Writing Tools For Self-Publishing: Free & Paid – Pros and Cons

I’ve used word processors and writing tools since vi and WordStar (ask someone over 40, kids) but this is not a history of software piece so lets look at what options you have for writing and why the answer is not always, or even often, Microsoft Word . ¬†Word is everyone’s goto answer for any typing – but frankly – ¬†I find it a poor choice for most of my writing, but most particularly for anything longer than about 5000 words.¬†

Word Processor or Text Editor

A text editor is software that edits text (duh) – so it’s simple – although most will rise to a bold or italic – that is about it. Tables, footnotes, automatic table of contents, pretty headers and footers – no way. Just you and the words. Word is not a text editor – although it can save as text – most of the pretty formatting will of course be lost.

So why on earth would you use a text editor. Lot’s of reasons but my top five are:

  1. Portability – I don’t need to know if you run Linux or MacOS, are on an Android Tablet, or are running a cray super-computer. They will all read a text file.
  2. Quick and small. A text editor program is very, very small which means it runs on ancient hardware, and you carry it around on an USB stick.
  3. Distraction free. I am the Queen of Procrastination, playing with button and formatting will win over actually writing ever time – so writing full-screen, distraction free mode works for me.
  4. The first rule of writing efficiently is to split writing from editing and formatting. ¬†Pretty much every prolific author agrees on this – so ¬†it’s worth doing too. ¬†So less is more in terms of formatting – I generally stick with bold and italic and sometimes some mark-up for headings and lists.¬†

Best Text Editors:

Write Monkey

  • free
  • tiny download 6MB – run it from a USB stick if you want to
  • full-screen, distraction free
  • download from:

WriteMonkey I use all the time, it’s old school just a blank screen (everything is on f1) full screen it’s about as simple as you can get. I think making it sound like a typewriter is funky (but you can turn that off), and it shows word and character counts, quietly on the bottom bar. You can do quite sophisticated tracking of your writing speed including a countdown timer for sprint writing and partial counts for that session.

You add simple mark up for bold and italic, and headings if that’s what you want. It does automatic backups YEAH. It’s actively updated and works on all forms of Windows including the latest Windows 8.

Best Used For

Good for short articles, including blog posts – because it’s just text it’s easy to cut and paste into WordPress without any weird formatting (try doing that with Word!) . Once I’m writing something longer than an article I prefer other options – see below


I’ve previously used Q10 – and reviewed it here – honestly I can’t recall why I swapped – they both have very similar features. Note I don’t use WordPad (included with Windows) – no word-count and no auto-backup.

The bad news? Windows only – the most often suggested for Mac option is DarkRoom

Better Than A Text Editor? 

There are some issues with text editors. ¬†It’s not easy to organise your chapters into a coherent whole, the lack of some form of outline can be a deal breaker. Ideally I want to be able tag chapters differently (“2nd draft”, “reference check”), see word counts for both parts of the¬†manuscript¬†and the whole.¬†

Best Long Manuscript Software 


Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

I’ve used Scrivener for at least a year now and it’s very good. There are two distinctly different versions: one for MacOS and one for Windows. There is a version scheduled for iOS “late 2012” . It’s a full-featured package which pretty much does all you want. The Windows version misses some key features, like flexible formatting for eBooks and exporting to shared drives. However for writing I like it because of:¬†

  • nice mix of outlining tools including both a traditional outline and a corkboard of file cards both of which are good for outlining;
  • flexible tagging with colour coding so you can keep track of at what stage ¬†each part is;¬†
  • a little formatting – but not too much
  • separates writing from compiling to an output format

It’s not free – it costs around $45 from LIterature & Latte (evil affiliate link¬†click back to the front page for the free trial download (yes their affiliate system is crap)). However download the free version and you have 30 days of usage (not elapsed) to try it out before deciding if it works for you.¬†


Evernote running on ipad mini
My Preeeeciooous running Evernote

I’m not quite sure why I’ve only just discovered Evernote¬†– it’s now¬†indispensable¬†to me for all sorts of things like notes, to-do lists, journals, and stuff I may read later. However it’s also not a bad drafting tool and because of it’s¬†truly¬†flexible tagging system you can build an entire structure of a book in notes if that’s what you want to do. Plus there is a whole community of fanatics so if you Google you will find how to write a 90,000 word book in Evernote¬†.¬†

It’s syncing across devices is particularly awesome – so if ¬†you use a number of difference machines to write on this could well be worth looking at. ¬†

Oh and Evernote can capture audio and images as well – in fact even though I may not write an entire book in it I’m seriously considering using it in the research phase¬†

Price: free, or $5/month for the pro version (which I have) 


If you are running a blog you’ll already be very familiar with WordPress. In many¬†ways it’s a reasonable place to write a book. You can either publish “chapters” as posts as you go – or just leave them all in draft. Hell you can even share them with selected collaborators using WP security. And there are tags and categories to¬†manage¬†the process. Their are even plugins that will help: I played with Anthologize and liked it.¬†

WordPress is of course free. 

Before you commit to any of these solutions consider how you are going to manage the entire workflow from draft to beat readers to editors to formatting and publishing. 

Indie Publishing Business Self Publishing

Self-Publishing Scams: Old and New

I’ve been around Internet Marketing for a several years – so I am¬†very¬†familiar with scams. ¬†What I’ve seen in the last 12-18 months is that some of ¬†the ¬†spammier Internet marketers have moved on to self-publishing scams. That’s not a surprise, given the huge growth in self-publishing, ¬†it was ¬†as predictable as a beer on a hot day.¬†
What does surprise  me though, is that publishing has had self-publishing scams for longer than Internet Marketing has even existed. Vanity Presses, who charge would-be authors thousands of dollars for the chance to see their book in print with the vague promise of the chance of future sales, are not new.
It’s not really that surprising though when you think about. The psychology and the business opportunity, for the ethically challenged, are very similar.¬†

Internet Marketing Scams 

¬†The details vary but this usually involves ranking a website(s) in the search engine results and making money from a combination of affiliate sales, pay-per-click and pay-per-impression advertisers. It is a legitimate, even after last year’s changes with Google’s ranking algorithm, way to make money. The problem is the hype and over-promising of the marketers involved.¬†

 The Dream: 

  • people who can’t get a job or have lost a job and a have no idea how to start a business
  • low start-up costs to online¬†businesses;¬†
  • the idea of working from home is a huge draw from many;
  • the idea of not having to deal with customers/bosses/colleagues on a regular basis is also very appealing;¬†
  • being able ¬†to run a business from a beach in Mexico or Thailand has its appeal¬†

The Reality: 

  • the technology is¬†¬†made to look harder than it is;
  • the art of ranking in the search engines is¬† made to seem very magical, only the inner circle know the secretes¬†
  • people want to believe and they want to ¬†have people telling them they will do alright;¬†
  • it’s so cheap to build websites online (about $10/year for a domain name plus the under $10/month hosting ) – paying “only” $300 or more a month for the same is crazy;¬†

The Scam: 

  • consistent income – membership courses provide a much more stable income to theA-list bloggers ¬†than doing what is actually being taught;¬†
  • over the last 4-5 years many of the loop-holes exploited by these approaches have been closed by Google, you are up against one of the ¬†world’s largest employers of bright PhD’s.¬†
  • if you look at the track record of the “guru” – you will see very little believable disclosure of their own income, and little evidence of a track record in selling anything except Internet Marketing programs.¬†
  • there is often a high-pressure, closing-soon, rah-rah-rah, approach, which minimizes the chance for prospects to ask sensible questions or consider the implications of what is on offer before they sign up.¬†
  • much of the information come from other beginners in the same forum – rather than the “expert”. This results in a lot of mis-information and myths.¬†
  • almost none of these memberships sites actually run experiments to see what does work in a changing environment
Koh Chang - Thailand Beach
Thai Beaches Have a Lot toAnswer For

Publishing Scam РTraditional Version 

 The Dream 

  • to see your book on the shelves of your local bookshop¬†
  • to be recognised as An Author¬†
  • rack in millions, quit day job, write more, possibly from a beach in Mexico or Thailand

The Reality: 

  • it’s always been hard to get¬†published¬†– there have always been more authors wanting toe publishing than books publishers can afford to publish.¬†
  • there is often a mis-match between what an author wants to write and what a publisher can sell¬†in sufficient quantity¬†to make a profit¬†
  • as Amazon re-creates the publishing industry more and more physical bookshops are closing and fewer books are published by traditional publishers.¬†

The Scam:

  • you will pay many thousands of dollars for an often all-inclusive package with will include book design,editing, formatting, printing and publicity. In reality what you get will be cheap out-sourced services from second-rate service providers, and a few print-on-demand books with a couple of press releases thrown in to¬†sweeten¬†the deal. You could do it all yourself for maybe 10% of the cost.¬†
  • In the worst case you may also have difficultly removing your book from the company, un-authorized¬†charges to your credit cards and non-payment of any royalties due to you.¬†
  • You are highly unlikely to see the¬†subsidiary¬†press sell any copies for you.¬†

Self-Publishing Scams Р2013 Version 

 Self-publishing is definitely a gold rush industry at the moment, plus traditional publishing is going through very hard times.  Even before the Kindle eReader, Amazon was a disruptive force in the industry, with Kindle, and eBook sales in general booming, the landscape is being re-written. 
It’s not a surprise then to find some of the¬†biggest names in publishing¬†are getting onto this particular scam – possibly as a¬†desperate¬†act to save their under-threat business model. Simon Schuster launching a new self-publishing arm called Archways Publishing. The unwary may be tempted to hand over the up to $22,000 they are charging in the belief they will be in S&S’s catalogue and bookshops will stock them. No and no.¬†

Here’s The Reality – For the Wannabe-Authors

¬†If you want to “just write” and not bother with the whole marketing thing – then make sure you have a well-paying career, or a generous partner. Even trad published authors need to be involved in publicity and marketing campaigns. They do book signings, media interviews. Increasingly they are expected to be active in social media.¬†
If you self-publish – then it’s all up to you: you have total control. ¬†Don’t therefore sign an incomprehensible contract and hire a “self-publishing company” – because – let’s face it – that’s kinda a contradiction. YOU are¬†self-publishing. You can’t delegate that over-all control to someone else. You get to take¬†responsibility.¬†
Which doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. In particular I think most would agree that we don’t have the skills to:¬†
  • design covers;
  • edit our own work (even if you can edit others).¬†
Many others will choose to outsource book formatting, and may hire a virtual assistant to help with the admin and the social media. Most of us who are in business don’t do it without a book-keeper or an account and many have access to a lawyer.¬†

Here’s The Reality – For the Internet Marketers¬†

¬†Your product is key. All the promotional skills in the world won’t get you very far if your book is rubbish. For all its flaws, the Amazon review system still works. You can pay for or get your mates to provide all the 5-star reviews for the launch, but once the real punters leave their 1-star reviews it will go awfully wrong.¬†
 Which is not to say you have to be an awesome writer, or even prepared to become one. Ghostwriting has long been a legitimate profession and there is nothing wrong with paying someone for their words and then putting your name on it. But if you are paying 0.01c/word for an English-as-a-second-language writer Рthen see my comment above about quality. 
Gaming Amazon in terms of getting fake reviews, or even genuine reviews, from mates, is a short-term game, which Amazon has already started closing down. It’s now against the Kindle Publishing Terms of Service for authors to review other writer’s books. Joining a paid forum or other online group and then reviewing each other’s books just makes it even easier for Amazon to find and remove the reviews in question. And yes they have banned people before for abusing their platform – look to see that increasing in the future.¬†

 Last Words 

¬†Basically self-publishing a book and making money from it is entirely possible the success stories are true. They are also the minority. It’s not¬†easy¬†to do this successfully. I’m certainly not selling enough to retire that Thai beach yet. It is however, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the most exciting times in all of history to be either a writer or an online entrepreneur.¬†
Online Business

Self Publishing Update: This Week: Tools For Writing, Self-Publishing Scams

Yo – see I’m back – this could get become¬†¬†regular you know! – Watch the above video to see just how good the NZ weather is this week – seriously this is HEADLINE NEWS – the likely 7-day stretch of fine, calm weather for Wellington led the national “soft news” program a few days ago! Yup – it’s a small country – but if this is global warming bring it on I say!

I’ve thought long and hard about my business and I’ve come to some fairly startling decisions:¬†

  • I need to get comfortable with “brand Lis”. I’ve always really, really disliked selling me , unfortunately that’s the game I’m in – people buy online, usually because they have a rapport with the seller. It’s really that simple. which doesn’t mean to say it’s going to be high-pressure ¬†buy, buy, buy – in fact nothing much will change around here – I think the change is more in my attitude. To the writers among you who don’t want to market. I say – do you want to sell books? In that case you need to market, ¬†end of story. It does not mean you have to ban obnoxious, in-you-face, grade A asshole and extrovert. ¬†
  • I need to get over the terror of public speaking – hence the crappy amateur videos, feel free to skip – I’m much better with words. In fact I probably need to get with the whole networking in person thing anyways.¬†
  • SEO is not dead but it’s only a small part of the bigger picture. I’m watching with interest what Court Tuttle is doing over at his new site¬†and applying his approach to my own sites, including this one.¬†
  • I’m looking at more “quick wins” in terms of the cash flow stakes,¬†recurring¬†income (affiliates, royalties) are all amazing – but at the moment I need a quick cash injection.¬†
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Is Lis an A-List Blogger Now?

No not at all. What did and still does annoy me with A-list bloggers is that they essentially make money by teaching ¬†others to make money with little or not experience of using¬†those¬†techniques to make money – ie 100% of their income from the teaching side of things and not the doing side of things. They also tend to obfuscate their earnings, or just plain lie. Quick which headline is more appealing: “Make $1.997,776.31 in the next year” or “Make just over the unemployment rate next year” – yes exactly!¬†

Unfortunately, my instinctive dislike for them meant I threw the baby out with the proverbial. It’s not so much the “money being in the list” – but really the singularly most important thing to build as an author, entrepreneur, online marketer, whatever, is your list. Why? Because it gives you independence. ¬†Independence from Facebook not notifying your followers, ¬†Independence from Google algo updates¬†, independence from ¬†future changes in Amazon rankings. If I have a list of people interested in me and/or my books and services¬†¬†I can communicate with them ¬†without involving a third-party who has a different agenda than I.¬†(No I don’t host my own mail list¬†and¬†you shouldn’t either, I use and recommend Aweber, others like MailChimp – the point is they are in the business of providing email services – nothing else, they are on your side ¬†so long as you keep paying them). I suggest that those of you who focus exclusively on twitter or Facebook followers think about that.¬†

What I’m Reading Now¬†

I’m liking Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book

The good bits: 

  • his summary of traditional and self-publishing is spot on ¬†– if you still think being picked up by a publisher is a your goal – read this book, Kawasaki has had several books traditionally published so he knows what he’s talking about;
  • given that he’s been senior management at Apple not once but twice – his review of the rise of the eBook technology is worth paying attention to;
  • his¬†writing¬†advice outline/rough draft/then polish i.e. don’t edit as you go – is spot on.
  • I find his ideas about crowd-sourcing and company sponsorship ¬†intriguing ¬†– watch this space;
  • He has a very well written guide of all the options for self-publishers in terms of using author-service companies or not and the pros/cons of each;
  • there is good information on how to get genuine reader reviews for your book

The bad bits: 

  • it’s regular price is $9.99 – on the high side for an eBook;
  • he recommends Word to write books in – but that doesn’t actually fit with the writing process he describes, plus he recommends a Macbook Air – which is even more irrelevant.¬†
  • he advises using affiliate links within an eBook – ¬†to clarify you can’t use¬†Amazon affiliate links within a Kindle eBook – this is against the Amazon affiliate TOS. You can use other affiliates though, or you can direct to a resource page at your website.¬†
  • he recommends social media as a substitute for having your own website/blog – it’s not.¬†

In his book though he suggests a couple of things I think are wrong InDesign is not the right tool for eBook formatting (and not just because it costs about US $600, or a lot more than that if you don’t live in the US) and I think every author should have their own blog – relying on g+ is not a good policy , because Google can change the rules any day (and probably will) .

Also check out Cathy Presland’s Becoming a Writer course over at Udemy – it’s free. If you’re not familiar with Udemy – it’s a way for independent writers to present their own courses using a mixture of media (videos and pdf seem the most popular). Cathy’s course is about improving your writing – particularly for non-fiction authors – worth checking out.¬†

Coming later this week:


Online Business Rebooted

Hi Рremember me? 

I started this blog in April 2008 ¬†on blogspot- ¬†it moved to WordPress and this url in November 2008. I’d had the odd month-long break over the years but the¬†3 months¬†¬†since I last posted here is a ¬†personal record, and not in a good way!¬†

Well to be honest I never intended to blog in November as I was away in Burma for the entire month, and I was a bit busy before I went away Рbut the whole of December and half of January is a bit unacceptable. 

So, to all of you, and particularly those who got in contact to say variations of ¬†“are you dead/got a job/decided to start a pyramid scheme” – sorry.¬†

I’m still working out the future for this site – but it does have a future – don’t worry! ¬†I feel like I’m straddling two worlds at the moment:¬†

  • SEO¬†
  • writing¬†

Which is not to say I’m an expert in either: but I think I probably better in both than most i.e. I write better than the average SEO and I know more SEO than the average author.¬†

There may be a niche between the two – I’m going to find out.¬†

Cultural Highlights of Myanmar
Cultural Highlights of Myanmar

What Have I Been Doing 


I still struggle with writing, there is still far too much time-wasting. But I did get the third book out for my Non-Boring Travel Guides ¬†series live before I went to Myanmar. It’s ¬†not selling well ¬†yet, but to be fair I’ve done little promotion, except for a few free days recently, which has given me a few sales.¬†

I also put together a picture book of some of my best Myanmar photos – to encourage people to signup for my mailing list on – pictures don’t look so good in black and white – so ¬†I went with pdf for this one.¬†

I have a number of 1/2 finished projects including how-to guides for travel in Myanmar (parts of which will be posted on¬†) and a travel memoir from an earlier trip around Australia. I’m starting to get quite angry at how the success of Eat, Pray, Love now means that no trad published travel book ¬†has much ¬†travel content on the places visited, rather just a little window-dressing before we get to the internal angst, and insecurities of the author/friend/partner/dog ¬†plus their love-life (or lack thereof). ¬†I’d like to put the travel back in Travel Memoir …¬†


I’m getting a consistent stream of formatting jobs, from a mix of people I know and people who found me either from my formatting book or via random searches they’ve found this site.¬†

The biggest change in the last year or so is – that, finally, as of 31 December, Smashwords is accepted ePubs direct, so you no longer have to go via the awful Word formatting step. I’m still playing with this – so I will be writing more about it shortly.¬†

I’m also beginning to wonder about the¬†continuum¬†of eBooks to web apps. I don’t actually see much difference, apart from the technology, and I see a way to get more mileage from my content. As Windows 8 rolls out I see apps stopping being just a toy for iPad users, and ¬†are on the way to ¬†becoming ¬†mainstream. EBook formats aren’t great for a lot of travel content, better than paper, but not great, it could be that the app space is where I should be. Anyone doing this already?¬†


Yup I’m still making less money than this time last year, and lot’s less than the previous year, but onwards and upwards. ¬†I’m not about to get a JOB or anything¬†defeatist¬†like that, and frankly, I’m enjoying doing more client work. It’s good to hear about other people’s ways of working and ideas, and I have a several of my own.¬†

Frankly when I started¬†on-line¬†I really didn’t see why anyone would ever buy anything that I created. I’ve changed my ideas on that, the more I look at what’s available in the travel niche, the more I think I can add value! Plus, and this is a surprise, my Kindle Formatting guide sells steadily, predominantly by world-of-mouth, so ¬†I will be considering writing some more books that help out the technically terrified author.¬†

And This Blog?

I made my “reputation” here for calling it as I saw it and bad language and grammar. I’m working on the grammar and the proof-reading – the rest of it probably won’t change much. I know the “A-listers” still say you shouldn’t rock the boat – and I still disagree. There are plenty of scams in publishing, just as in Internet Marketing. Buyer beware – but I’m happy to help ūüôā¬†

I see a niche of where writers meet marketers , ¬†I’ve seen absolutely awful books do well because they are well promoted, and I’ve seen great books die because no one can find them. I’d like to get the two sides talking to each other.¬†

I’ve seen plenty of people start blogs talking about their often multi-year journey to publish (self or trad) a fiction book. This is my journey to publish and make money from a range of non-fiction books.¬†

Plus I’m not American – so there are some quirks about doing the ebook thing – starting with getting an ITIN (coming soon).¬†

So yes I will be posting more often, ¬†stick around 2013 is going to be an awesome year, both for me and for anyone else who is willing to put the work in to being a successful entrepreneur online (that’s shorthand for a writer who markets, or a marketer who who writes).¬†