Getting Started in Ebook Publishing by Stephanie Zia

Hello. I'm thrilled to be here amongst so many fantastic UK authors who are also embracing digital publishing. For my first post I've been asked to say a little about me.

I began publishing at the beginning of 2010 when ebooks were very much an American affair. US Amazon Kindle was well underway but ebooks were mostly PDF documents sold from websites. They were packaged with funny, box-like, mock 3D real-book images, and usually advertised with lots of scrolling, bright red, writing with a massive "one time offer" only deal of £50.00, or even more, at the bottom.

I was trying to make ends meet, as you do when you've got an agent but no publishing deal and a very sick partner, working at home for a TV script transcription company. My only other regular work was as a household tips columnist in The Guardian Saturday magazine. I was asked to transcribe an interview with Tay Zonday for a programme about the future of the media. When his song Chocolate Rain went viral in July 2007, Tay became one of the first YouTube superstars. He predicted it all for books with 100% certainty in that interview.

My agent was sending out my novel at the time but had no interest in finding a publisher for my growing collection of Guardian columns. So, with her permission, I set up a Mr Site website for £9.99. This included a ready-made online shop that transferred digital documents instantly to purchasers and a domain name for a year. I made my PDF book, and an Amazon Kindle book for the US on the side, and started selling it. I'd been blogging for some time about the daily trials and tribulations of finding my second agent and getting my third novel out there. The mood of the blog lightened considerably over the following years! There was so much to learn about ebooks. I soon discovered Smashwords, run by a really friendly clued-up guy called Mark, and Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble et al opened up yet more sales platforms for no initial outlay. I tried to keep my blog posts on all the ins and outs of getting ebooks made and sold updated, but it was impossible to keep up with myself. So, for my second book I decided to put all of my posts and notes together into a guide.

One of the joys of ebooks and POD paperbacks is that they are so easy to update. I welcome readers' criticisms and suggestions and tend to update the ebook about once a month and the paperback about once a quarter. There's an accompanying update blog on my website so that those who've already purchased don't miss any new developments. For UK authors, getting a US ITIN tax number is a case in point. You used to have to jump through so many, many hoops to get this number which stops Amazon, US CreateSpace, Smashwords etc deducting 30% of all your income at source. A reader alerted me to the latest system:

Non-US authors can now apply for an EIN NUMBER (Employer Identification Number) by phoning the US Embassy in their country of residence. Thanks to blog reader JTR for this information:   ”I told them I was a UK based author and they said the EIN was fine, I was effectively the sole proprietor of my own business – I didn’t need to go to the US embassy..”

I haven't had any confirmation from anybody else yet that this new system works. When I do I shall be updating again.

Other recent developments relevant to UK authors:

CreateSpace, who now pay $ royalties into UK bank accounts, have just announced they are publishing POD paperbacks to European Amazon platforms. This gives your paperback readers the free postage option. It's not automatic though, books have to be opted in individually.

Amazon pays royalties directly into UK and other European bank accounts. This is for UK royalties only at the moment but hopefully US royalties will follow.

With input from a PR professional, an artist, an IT man and an editor from mainstream publishing, my little self-publishing website, Blackbird Digital Books, named after a tame blackbird who visits our flat, continues to grow. I've now parted with my agent, self-published that third novel and retrieved the rights to my first two novels as well. Instead of transcription typing late into the night, I am writing, publishing and getting paid for it.

I understand why new writers want to achieve "published author" status via the mainstream, and would encourage them to first go down the route of finding an agent. Books still need the professional editorial eye, proofreading etc. and good agents obviously have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to contracts, world markets etc. The difference is that before there were no alternatives for us. Now there are!


Well said, Stephanie, and welcome!...Your excitement and sense of liberation through the epublishing are tangible in this post!
I wasn't sure whether you mean that Amazon Kindle USA is now suddenly able to pay UK authors by electronic transfer for the USA ebook sales? Or is that only if you are in Createspace? If for USA ebook sales, that's a big step forward...
Yes, interesting that the guy with the viral Youtube song predicted this would happen with books...but no-one could have predicted that the epublishing revolution would have seen your local blackbird getting a publishing company named after him!
julia jones said…
Very interesting and useful. Thanks. I begin to think that a collection of the some of these really instructive AE blogposts - like Mark Chisnell's on translating ebooks a couple of days ago - would be rather a fine thing. Perhaps with some of our best funnies from jan and Dennis to prevent anyone feeling inadequate ...
Stephanie Zia said…
Thank you John & Julia. Very pleased to be here. Yes, Amazon now pays Kindle royalties via bank accounts as well. I often look at the blackbird in the morning and think if it only knew!
Anonymous said…
Some REALLY useful stuff here, many thanks!
Stephanie Zia said…
Correction John! Amazon do pay Kindle royalties via bank accounts but only UK royalties at the moment. CreateSpace do now pay $ into UK bank a/cs so hope it won't be too long...
Jan Needle said…
thanks for that stephanie - fascinating. what i really need, tho, is not someone telling me exactly how it's done, but coming and sitting next to me and doing it for me. then i feel i might achieve my full potential.
(as an idle swine, if nothing else...)
CallyPhillips said…
Hi Stephanie, I did comment earlier but clearly couldn't prove I wasn't a robot. I don't think I am. Maybe US Tax think I am. I sent off for EIN a month ago (they say it takes 4 weeks) but have heard nothing. So I'm interested in the 'call the embassy in your country' line. I'd like more info when/if you have it as to whether I should wait for nature to take its course, or apply again via phoning an embassy or what the hell... I didn't evisage it being a problem but I've actually SOLD some ebooks - miracles never cease and so it's becoming a grim reality in the near future. I can't face reading all that small print AGAIN though so any tips on what the hell to do will be greatfully received. BTW, your ebook saved my life last week when I needed a quick answer to a question re formatting for Kindle. Thanks for that. Now, lets see if I'm still a robot or a human being?
Emma Barnes said…
Thank you Stephanie, that's really helpful. I will be buying your e-book!
Unknown said…
Ditto - I'm about to buy your ebook too. Self publishing seems such a minefield to a beginner, so a few wise words will go a long way. Many thanks.
Welcome, Stephanie! Very useful info about the EIN - I have my letter from Smashwords but have yet to go through the rest of the hoops for an ITIN, rather daunted at the prospect, so Amazon (and Smashwords) still have some of my money!
Dan Holloway said…
oops, sorry, that's me - it used a very old blogger account!
Thanks for a very very useful post! (And now I'm off to buy your book.)
Stephanie Zia said…
Thanks for all these positive comments! Glad to hear the book was useful, Cally, & will let you know of any more EIN feedback.
Anonymous said…
Hi again! I've just this minute got off the phone from the US Embassy in London and their IRS Dept said that EINs aren't available from them at all. You have to call the IRS in the USA on 0012679411099. Don't know what office that is. It's currently closed.

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