Many authors use services like Kindle and CreateSpace to self-publish books because it’s quick, easy and cost effective – and it means anyone can be a “published author”. (Whether anyone should be is a topic for another post!) But there are 3 things every self-publishing author should know about …. So here we go:
1. Submitting your book to The British Library (or your country’s national library)
The British Library holds a copy of every book ever published in the UK (allegedly). Under a law called “legal deposit” authors are obliged to send them a copy within a month of publication. There are also five other libraries who you can deposit copies with, and if they request a copy within 12 months of publication you are obliged to send it.
The British Library copy needs to be sent to: Legal Deposit Office, The British Library, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7BY. Include a cover letter requesting they add your book and include the publication date along with your name and address, so they can send you an acknowledgement.
If your book has been out for more than a month but you haven’t yet sent The British Library their copy then don’t panic … I doubt they will send the police after you, but you definitely need to send them a copy asap. The Legal Deposit Libraries Act does have an enforcement clause that says basically if you don’t send a copy they can instruct a court to tell you to send one … so I don’t think they can take any action if you send one a bit late!)
The law only applies to printed books. You may submit e-books if you wish, but there is no legal obligation for you to do so at present.
For more info see The British Library website.
The above information applies to books published in the UK. However, most countries have some sort of legal deposit laws. For an overview see the Wikipedia entry on this subject.
2. Amazon US tax withholding
OK the second thing applies to “overseas” (i.e. non-US) authors publishing via Amazon (whether on Kindle via CreateSpace). Because Amazon, an American company, is the “official” publisher they have a legal obligation to withhold 30% of any royalties due to you to pass on to the IRS (American tax office) … but ONLY on any royalties that come through sales on the Amazon.com website.
If the vast majority of your sales are via Amazon UK or any of the European stores (.de, .fr etc) and you rarely or never make any sales on Amazon.com then you needn’t really worry about this – you will lose 30% of royalties on .com sales but if you aren’t making any anyway then you’re not really losing anything.
If, however, you regularly make sales via Amazon.com then you can tell Amazon not to withhold any of your royalties by completing some paperwork to prove you are a current taxpayer in a country outside the US. The easiest way to do this is to phone the IRS (via Skype using a headset is good and inexpensive), get a tax number from them and then send it in a letter to CreateSpace and/or Kindle. You can find a really useful guide to doing this by clicking here. I did this myself and it really isn’t a difficult process 🙂
Remember, you only need to do this if you make a reasonable number of sales through Amazon.com … not if your sales are all from the UK or European sites.
However, if you publish via Smashwords then you need to do this, too – regardless of where sales are made.
3. Amazon Author Central
The final thing I wanted to mention is not essential but it can be a nice marketing tool for you – and that’s setting up an Amazon Author Central account. When someone sees your book on Amazon they might well click on the author name to find out more about you. That info is only visible if you have set up an Author Central account, though. It’s free to do and doesn’t take very long. Click here to read my blog post about setting up an Author Central account.
So those are the 3 things every self-publishing author should know about …. if I can help with any advice please get in touch!!
Your blog is good advice for all of us struggling with e-publishing. Unfortunately, I found out about Amazon’s obligation to withhold 30% of our earnings, the hard way. I was completely ignorant of how the IRS in the USA operates. You indicate that a telephone call is all it requires to get your IRS number. My experience was very different. They had me sending passport and birth certificate (no Photostats) and after completing their forms and being given the run around, I was still rejected – so even now, I still don’t have an IRS number. Not that it matters much really because I haven’t sold much anyway.
However, I work with an author in New Zealand on occasions, who relies upon her writing for her income – and she wasn’t aware of the situation with Amazon sales.
Speaking of the subject with another author, her take on the matter was to visit the American Embassy in London, where the staff actually guided her through the process and she came away with her IRS number immediately. I think I shall have to do that too. Best wishes. John.
Sorry to hear you had difficulties getting your IRS number. I followed the steps detailed in the blog post I link to and had no difficulty at all. I think the post does say if you get someone who asks for different information you should call back and speak to another agent. You also need to answer the questions exactly as it specifies in the post. however, the process literally took me 10 minutes, even with spelling out my name and address, and I was given my EIN (Employers Identification Number) over the phone. I then simply wrote to CreateSpace and Kindle to give them the number.
I think the process is different if you try to get an ITIN (Individual Tax Identity Number) – perhaps that was what you were doing? However, as an author/self-publisher you presumably pay tax as a sole trader at the very least, so are entitled to ask for an use an employer number – even if the only person you employ is yourself!
Also bear in mind that the withholding only applies on sales made through the American Amazon site …. so any sales made on .uk, .de etc are paid in full anyway.
Sorry to hear about your problems. Perhaps it depends on which number you request – they have two, a TIN (tax identification number) for individuals and EIN (Employer identification number) for employers. I have heard that the TIN application process is very long winded but the EIN one is much more straightforward and can be done over the phone – and as an author apparently you are employing yourself so are eligible for an EIN! However, all this is irrelevant now anyway as Amazon now has its own tax interview when you set up the account, which as far as I can tell does all this for you.
Hi thanks for the post. If I publish a book through Create space, I take it I don’t need to do library deposit? thanks J.
Not sure about the rules in other countries, but in the UK you do need to send a copy to the British Library. There are also five other deposit libraries who can order you to send them a copy, but it’s not compulsory to deposit with them unless they request it. More info here:
I’m extremely confused! I want to publish an e-book on Kindle, so the 30% is a tax that goes to US, but if I get an IRS number, would it then go to the UK? or would I get 100% royalty, in which case it will be considered as an income, thus, like normal, be taxed in the UK?
I’m not sure if that made sense whatsoever. Thanks
If you are a UK tax payer then you can be exempted from the IRS 30% thing – you will get 100% of royalties due to you and yes, it’s then just assessed as part of your normal income and taxed through self assessment.
However, the process has changed and AFAIK you know longer need to actually get an IRS number – when you set up a Kindle Direct Publishing account you’ll have to do a “tax interview” and during that, if you specify that you pay tax in another country and give them your UK tax reference they automatically do the W8-BEN form for you.
About privately published books, Legal Deposit is of no use if one published only one copy of the book for family purposes. The author cannot be forced to publish further copies if he/she cannot afford it.
Again, if the author publishes a limited number of copies for family and friends, the author should take into consideration a copy to be donated to the British Library, but he/she cannot be forced to print more copies should the other libraries request copies. After all, self-publishing and private publishing involved the author’s personal expenditures and no commercial gain or dealings are involved.
This situation has not been fully clarified in law, has it?
I add here a section from the Legal Deposit Act below. It is clear that if a published book is not sold to the public, there is no legal requirement to deposit a copy in the British Library.
It should be noted that the requirement to deposit an item does not depend on its having been allocated an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or Serial Number (ISSN), but on whether or not it can be considered to have been published. A work is said to have been published when copies of it are issued to the public. The place of publication or printing, the nature of the imprint and size of distribution are immaterial. It is the act of issuing or distributing to the public in the United Kingdom which renders a work liable for deposit.
Thanks for the clarification. I think most of my readers and the writers I work with are publishing with a view to the general public buying their books, rather than self-publishing a book to get just one or a small number of copies printed for family/friends, hence including the info. Really appreciate your research into this!
Hi Alison – funny, my wife’s name is also Alison.
Anyway, I’ve just published my first book ‘ Awakenings’ – under my son’s name of Daniel Levy (he’s 4, but his name just sounded better),and joined Amazon Author Central; I’m waiting for confirmation to come through and I’ll populate it. I wanted to thank you for this heads-up; publicising a book is the hardest thing;I have contacts in the States and I’m networking it around, as well as over here. Always wanted to write, so many ideas buzzing around in my head and when I do start typing away the hours just seem to fly. But we shall see. All the very best, and thanks again. Berni xxx
Hi there, I live in u.k. and wish to publish a book through create Amazon. At the moment I am currently unemployed, A British citizen Born in U.K. and always lived in the U.K. confused about requests on create amazon for Tax References, Have been in touch with HMRC for a Unique Tax Reference Number (UTR) as believe I will be classed as SELF EMPLOYED. HMRC Said I need to register as self employed on their voice recording within a week to obtain a UTR. As I have not sold any copies of the Book yet, am a little confused. Hope this makes sense Kenny
OK basically the tax system in America is different to here, and Amazon.com has a duty to deduct 30% tax at source from the royalties of anyone publishing books and selling them in America UNLESS they are a tax payer in another country – in which case you need to prove it by giving them a tax reference for the UK. However, it doesn’t affect sales on the amazon.co.uk website (or any of the other ones, eg .fr, .de and so on).
So if you anticipate selling a lot of books in America, i.e. on the amazon.com website then it’s definitely worth completing the tax interview and including your UTR. As far as I’m aware, anyone who has ever worked actually has a UTR so if you have any old P45 or P60 slips, your tax reference should be on there. If you don’t have one then yes, you would have to register with HMRC as self-employed. PLease be aware that this could affect any benefits you’re receiving and I would strongly suggest you get some advice from someone like the CAB about that.
If you’re not expecting to sell many copies in America and all your sales are likely to be on the UK site then you can complete the interview and just say you don’t have a tax reference (I’ve even heard of people just putting any old number in there!). If you do sell the odd copy in the US they will just withhold 30% of the royalties.
Gosh, I didn’t know about having to send books to the British Library. Thanks for sharing.
I have a self published book and took one down to my local library. Although a price was placed on it plus ISBN etc. this purpose was to donate it to the library and to give it all of the attributes that ‘sponsored’ books have. I left one book for their perusal in order to ascertain that the contents did not contain anything ‘not suitable’It has taken me six months of enquiries and being told that I will be emailed for me to eventually get my book back- where it had been dumped in a cupboard for the whole six months, the reason finally told to me was that British libraries do not accept self-published books. Why not? They and their readers are missing a wealth and plethora of other stories, information and enjoyment. This stifles creativity by making it financially penalised for persons who could be brilliant authors and stand no chance because of finances and stuffy prejudices. My book was proof read and appropriate copies were sent to the British Library and others as per a specified legality so what was wrong with my book not being suitable for a library? Plus if my book was not to be sold then why did I have to send /give away 7 copies to libraries again as especially seeing that libraries do not accept self published books? I consider that this was unnecessary expense for a book that was only to be given away to family and friends and donated to my library and was a limited print.
I’m sending a copy of my recently published books to the British Library as required. I also have the same books in electronic format. Do I have to send both? I gather the law was changed in 2013 to require writers to send ebooks but I’m not sure if it’s one or the other.
From the horse’s mouth: “If you publish the same content in print and electronic formats, please continue to deposit the print copy unless the British Library or other legal deposit library has confirmed that your digital content can be processed and preserved.” https://www.bl.uk/help/how-to-deposit-your-digital-publications