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Death & Taxes

There’s an old saying about only two things being certain in life. Sadly, literary success isn’t one of them and neither is an easy life – particularly when dealing with bureaucrats.

One of the most wonderful and simultaneously worst things about being an indie author is that you are in charge of everything.

As many others have already discovered, writing the book is only a minor skirmish in the ongoing campaign to get your book out there and selling copies on a significant level.

I’m currently trying to battle my way through the US tax system – and I’m a Brit!

The trouble is, Amazon is withholding 30% of my income (from their North American sites) as I haven’t yet proved to them that I’m a taxpaying UK citizen and – as we have a tax treaty with the US – should get 100% of my royalties and then pay tax over here.

It’s not an easy process.First of all I need to get what’s called an ITIN from the US revenue service.

Now, you’d think (ha, ha) that Amazon/KDP might provide some useful advice so I had a look at their FAQ pages and found the following gem:

‘You may apply for an ITIN… The application may take up to 8 weeks and requires that you submit certain documents.’

What Amazon neglected to mention is that one of those ‘certain documents’ is a letter from Amazon to verify that they are withholding some of your royalties! (By the way if anyone else needs that letter, it’s here.)

I can’t just blame Amazon though. The information provided by the IRS is not exactly crystal clear. I’ve already had two goes at the application and dutifully sent my passport to the US Embassy as I thought this was what I had to do to prove my identity.

But no, unless I want my passport to disappear to Texas for up to three months (no thanks, I fancy a trip to France later in the summer), I have to go in person to the embassy in London to prove it’s really me!

I mean, come on! I thought we were supposed to be allies and all that. Because of selling and buying a house, I’ve had to send photocopies (not the real thing) of my passport to various solicitors etc to prove I’m not a criminal doing a spot of money laundering.Why is this so much more complicated?

The ironic thing is we’re not exactly talking about millions of dollars in royalties here. Is it really necessary for me to take a day out to go to London and back just to prove I’m a British taxpayer?

I used to like Americans. Huh!

Put To Shame

‘If the eyes are the window to the soul then a cover should be the window to a book.’

William Webster, 2013

When selling a house, ‘kerb appeal’ is crucial. You might have the most amazing home but if your property looks ugly, untidy or uncared for from outside then it’s going to be a battle getting potential buyers to take a closer look.

It’s the same with books. A bad cover suggests lack of care or pride in your work.

Which is why Cristian Mihai’s recent post on the same subject left me feeling rather embarrassed.

That’s because out of the books I’ve published to date, the one of which I feel most proud is The Tale Of Findo Gask. The novel won me a national UK prize for new writers in 2005 and has had some very good reviews (as well as a few just okay ones) since being released on Kindle.

So, that begs the question, why did I give it such a lousy cover?

Cover for the original print version

Cover for the original print version

When the book originally came out in print, the publishing company and I worked with a designer to produce the cover. Unfortunately, the publishers went bust and when I decided to republish independently on Kindle in December 2011, I didn’t have a digital copy of the original cover or any way of getting one.

At the time, the whole world of indie publishing was new to me and I was so excited about making Findo re-available to readers that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the cover but quickly put something together using Photoshop.

I wouldn’t claim I that I ever felt the new cover was perfect but I did think it was ‘okay’ and would ‘do for now’.

First cover for Kindle edition

First cover for Kindle edition

Soon after, I moved on to putting together digital versions of a collection of short stories, two other novels under my own name and, more recently, an adventure novel under a pen name.

Somewhere along the way, Findo’s temporary cover kind of got forgotten.

Then, a few days ago, I read Cristian’s post in which he commented: ‘I’ve seen some ugly book covers out there. Really, really ugly, and I’ve been trying to figure out why on Earth someone would do such a thing.’

His words made me think about my cover for Findo. I cringed inside and realised I was doing my book a huge disservice.

Findo front cover#2So, to cut a long story short, the book now has a new cover.

I’m still not sure it’s perfect but hopefully it’s a big improvement. The cover has an element of drama, it gives a clue as to what the book’s about – and stylistically it matches the cover for my novel The Vault.

It will be interesting to see what effect the new cover has. I haven’t done very much promotion for it but Findo will be free to download for five days from tomorrow.

So, thank you, Cristian for giving me a much needed kick up the backside.

And if the new cover tempts you then please click on the links and download a copy – but wait until tomorrow (Monday) if you want it for free:

Findo on Amazon.com

Findo on Amazon.co.uk

Lazy Literary Agents In Self-Publishing Money Grab via Argo Navis

Excellent insight into some dodgy manoeuvrings in the publishing world.

Who’s The Daddy?

Blow the trumpets, roll the drums… I’m a proud father once again!

My novel The Vault is now available in print. (Hope you didn’t think I was talking about children – that would be far more radical and much more frightening.)

The final proof of the book was approved last week and a box of copies of the real thing are – hopefully – winging their way across the Atlantic and should be touching down here next week.

Vault front cover Mar 13In the meantime, though, The Vault is already available via Amazon for the very reasonable price of either $14.99 or £8.99.

I’m continuing to sell the book in aid of my favourite charity, the disaster relief charity ShelterBox, and am giving 50% of all profits to the organisation.

The book is a murder mystery with four intertwining stories. The main thread is about a young schoolboy who’s trying to escape a gang of local thugs but there’s also an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, a sex offender on the run and the police investigation into the discovery of three bodies in a lake.

If anyone’s interested in buying a copy of The Vault – in paperback or Kindle format –  you can find it at:

Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

As you can probably imagine, I’m delighted to reach this new milestone. It’s more than six years since The Tale Of Findo Gask was first published so it’s very exciting having one of my novels available in print again.

Those of you with keen eyes who helped with the design process for the cover of The Vault might notice a couple of minor tweaks – the title and my name are a bit bigger (stands out better on thumbnails) and the cover is now a dark purple rather than actual black.

In other news, I’m waiting anxiously for my car to be fixed. The electronic dashboard died recently and at the moment there’s a large hole where my instrument panel should be!

(Makes me long for the days of real instruments with needles that move rather than digital displays… and windows that you could wind up and down!)

Watch Out – Wolves About!

Authors aren’t always that worldly-wise. After all, we’re creative types, known for having our heads in the clouds rather than engaging with the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

It’s not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with ‘real’ life – just that there’s so much more excitement to be had in our private alternative reality – and all those stories clamouring for our attention.

Once we’ve written our books, though, the big question is ‘what now?’ – and that’s when a healthy dose of caution is needed.

In many ways, the advent of e-publishing has given us a huge amount of freedom. But for indie authors who want to actually sell books writing the things is (believe it or not) the easy part. Even once all the editing is done and we’ve got a (hopefully) professional standard product we’ve then got to sell and market the thing.

Like many other indie authors I’m on a big learning curve here. There’s a big, baffling world out there and mastering it takes a lot of skill and knowledge.

It’s also common knowledge that increasing numbers of people are turning to self-publishing. Which means – surprise, surprise – there are also growing numbers of wolves and sharks circling around looking for easy prey (and easy money).

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic. Don’t know if that’s a result of being a journalist or whether cause and effect are the other way round. I also have a tendency to be careful with my money.

Which is why when promoting my books I’ve stuck – so far – with the free options. But I’ve noticed the growing number of websites, blogs etc offering to promote my books for me. Some only charge a few dollars but I can’t help wondering about how ‘real’ this help is.

Some sites boast about their thousands of subscribers but my inner skeptic says: ‘Sure, but how many of them are indie authors like me who are trying to sell books and how many are genuine readers looking for the next great novel?’

I know most sites are only charging a few dollars for a listing but there are a lot of indie/self-published authors out there and a few dollars from each one of us will soon mount up. Makes me wonder how much money is being made.

I was partly prompted to write this post by reading Cameron D James’ piece about the difficulty of engaging with readers rather than just fellow authors. I also read a recent post by Michelle Proulx about entering her first book contest and wondering how ‘real’ the contest was.

Then yesterday I came across the Writer Beware site run by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. This lists not just fake writing contests but also warns authors about all sorts of other scams out there – ranging from literary agencies run by convicted fraudsters to publishing agreements where you have to sign away exclusive rights to your work. (There’s also a Writer Beware blog if anyone wants to keep track of the latest alerts.)

Anyway, having waffled on and probably come across all doom and gloom, here’s a question for all my fellow authors out there. Can anyone recommend any paid advertising options that work? Or have you taken part in a contest that has led to real results? Or any other thoughts on how to be a successful indie author?

The Radical Button

Big moment. I hit the radical button yesterday and uploaded the final cover design for The Vault.

Vault full cover Mar 13 SM

I hope it meets with approval as all your feedback and votes helped played an important part in the final decision!

From the selection that I asked you all to vote on, the red cover with the image of the locking mechanism and the black cover with the picture of the boy in the woods came out equal first with 39%. However, another 21% of you voted for the third version. Since this also used the photo of the woods I decided that was the winning image.

Helped by comments made on the blog and via Facebook, I pulled everything together for the version above, which I uploaded last night to CreateSpace.

And – as if that’s not enough excitement – this morning I ordered two proof copies of the book. Unfortunately, since I’m on the wrong side of the pond, I won’t get to see them until the end of next week.

It’ll be a special moment having a hard copy in my hands. Then – assuming everything’s okay – the next part of the fun starts. Trying to sell the things!

In the meantime, I don’t think I’m going to do any gardening today. The snow’s back and I’m staying inside. Oh well, I’ll have to write instead.

Pick & Mix

I need help! Not just the psychiatric kind but opinions on a book cover. Below are three possible images for the cover of the print edition of The Vault.

If you saw any of these in a book shop (or store!), which – if any – would you pick up?

Huge amounts of gratitude will be sent your way for any votes cast. If you don’t like any of them please tell me why. Pick and mix options are also possible.

Virtual flowers/bottles of favourite tipple will be mentally beamed to you via the ether in response to any helpful feedback. Poll and comment box below:

forest BLACK smVault lock red SMforest dark SM

Back To Work

So, the excitement of my latest KDP promotion is over. No massive results to report – but I did hit NUMBER ONE in Germany!

_60269167_banksy1

Thanks to Susanne from the xtme.de website, I had over 100 downloads of Findo Gask from Amazon’s German site on Monday. This got me to #170 in the overall free books listing and #1 in the Action & Adventure category on Amazon.de! Does this mean I can claim to have an international bestseller best freebie now?

Anyway, back to work now. Got to finalise the cover design for The Vault then I can get the presses rolling on the print version.

Today’s images have no particular relevance other than I love Banksy’s art – and was delighted to read that the piece ‘stolen’ from a wall in London (above) has now been withdrawn from sale.

Banksy-street-art-london-3-650x540

Stop Spoiling Self-Publishing!

I almost started this post with an expletive but changed my mind because I want to keep my PG rating. However, I’m starting to get really fu.. annoyed.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself giving up on many novels downloaded onto my Kindle. And that’s not like me. In the past it was extremely rare that I didn’t get to the end of a book.

And it’s not just me. A friend got her first Kindle for Christmas and recently posted on Facebook asking where she can find good free books because ‘there’s a lot of dross out there’.

Sadly, the problem is getting worse. Too many wannabe indie authors are self-publishing without properly checking their books are fit for release – and the danger is that they’re driving potential indie readers back to the ‘safety’ of corporate publishing.

That’s not to say all mainstream novels are perfect. I recently read Ken Follett’s Winter Of The World and spotted a couple of bad edits.

However. There are limits and mine are being stretched to breaking point. As an indie author myself I want to support fellow writers and I regularly download books that are on promotion. But – although I have found a few gems – I seem to increasingly be rolling my eyes and pressing ‘delete’ before I’ve read more than a few chapters.

I don’t think books have to be error free. I can cope with a few tpyos or strange stylistic quirks. But when the typos are coming every page and are coupled with bad grammar and continuity errors I draw the line.

Last night I gave up on a crime novel when one of the main characters switched from third person to first person and back. (This was the straw that broke my patience not a lone mistake).

Sometime the errors are easy to understand. But sometimes they’re mistakes that a basic spellcheck would find. I recently waded through a thriller where the first third was well edited but it then progressively deteriorated. One sentence started with the word ‘ut’ instead of ‘But’!

I’m sorry but that’s unforgiveable. (I’m still toying with whether to ‘name and shame’.) It was almost as if the author started off with good intentions but got so excited about publishing that they gave up on the proofreading part way.

What I also find disturbing about this and other examples is that the books in question often have quite a few four and five star Amazon reviews. Maybe other people can ignore the mistakes but my fear is that friends are writing glowing reviews without having really read the book in question.

Which again, defeats the purpose of reviews, brings the honesty of the whole system into question and ultimately is only going to drive more readers away.

(I have the same problem with all these indie authors who ask each other to ‘like’ books on Amazon in return for a reciprocal ‘like’. If you haven’t actually read and ‘liked’ the book in question, how honest is this?)

So please, fellow authors, don’t rush to publish a book that’s not ready. Your audience isn’t going to vanish if you wait a few months. Take the time to proofread, edit and re-edit. You’ll probably get more readers – and money from real sales – if you do it properly.

NB. For anyone tempted to do a quality check on my work then my novel The Tale Of Findo Gask is free until (and including) Monday 25th February. Click on the links below:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Experimental Giveaway

My favourite novel The Tale Of Findo Gask is on promotion via Amazon for the next five days – and I’m waiting to see if the book’s new blurb will have any impact.

Findo paperbackFindo was first published – in print – after winning a national UK competition for new authors back in 2005. But the company behind the award went bust not long after and my treasured publishing contract turned into just another piece of scrap paper.

Then ebooks came along and Findo was re-published in December 2011. But – even though it’s been out for longest – it’s the worst-selling of all my novels, both in terms of actual sales and free downloads.

I probably should have stopped to think about this a long time ago but was more fixated – like I suspect most authors are – on the next great ‘Work In Progress’ rather than worrying about petty issues like marketing and publicity.

A few weeks ago I wrote a rant about indie authors who don’t even properly edit their book blurbs. Then I had to come clean and admit in a subsequent post that – although grammatically correct – my blurb for Findo just didn’t ‘sell’ the book.Findo cover

So now I’m hoping that my more dynamic new blurb will tempt more readers to try Findo. I think it’s a wonderful story – full of excitement and adventure, with a strong dash of romance, all underscored with some biting analysis of modern society and the world in which we live.

I must admit I am a bit biased. But I do wish more people would take the opportunity to see whether I’m also right!

If you want to download a copy, it’s free from today until Monday 25th February. Click on the links below:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk