Updated January 2018
Self publishing for Canadians can be profitable, but there are a lot of little differences that you might not learn until you go through the process. American authors don’t have to deal with some of the decisions we do. I’ve put together a brief overview of some of the major self publishing platforms and the pros and cons.
But first, a few pieces of info about things you’ll need to know regardless of the platform you choose.
When you self publish, the printers like Amazon, Draft2Digital, Lulu, Smashwords etc automatically withhold 30% of your royalty earnings for US taxes. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that has a tax treaty with the US, your amount of withholding could be less. Canada is extremely lucky – our tax treaty withholding is 0% (thanks to Article 12 of the US/Canada Tax Treaty).
This does not automatically reduce your withholding – you need to tell the platform not to take your money. To do this, you either complete their online tax interview (Amazon and Draft2Digital do this), or you have to fill out an IRS tax form called a W8-BEN and send it to the platform (either electronically or by snail mail). Once this is on file, they will not tax your royalties in the US – you do, however, have to claim them on your Canadian income tax. The W8-BEN used to require you have an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), but you are now allowed to enter your Canadian SIN in its place.
The International Standard Book Number is the 13 digit number by the bar code on each book that currently starts with 978. This is how people find your book and is mapped directly to that format of your book. If you are selling print you need this number. You can also use an ISBN for ebooks (although Amazon and other platforms will assign their own file number to it in lieu of an ISBN – for instance, Amazon uses the ASIN – Amazon Standard Identification Number). Some print-on-demand platforms offer free ISBNs, and their ISBNs list them as the publisher of record. If you get your own ISBN, you are the publisher of record, which looks a bit more professional.
Unlike our neighbours to the south, who have to pay for ISBNs, Canadians get them for free.
Yep, free. All you have to do is register with ISBN Canada. You can get as many as you like.
You’ll need a different ISBN for each format of the same book. So a different one for a trade paperback, a mass market paperback, hardcover, an ebook etc. But that’s fine, since they’re free!
Score one for the maple leaf.
Be aware – if you publish under a pseudonym and don’t want anyone to know who you are, you will be identifiable via your Canadian ISBNs, as you are required to list a real name and address as publisher when applying for your ISBNs. The ISBN database is searchable, so any books you give a Canadian ISBN to will be searchable to your registered name and address.
If you want to be truly anonymous, you could incorporate as a business to use a business name as the publisher, use a free ISBN from print companies that offer one, or use the platform-assigned number (ASIN etc) for digital work.
WHERE TO PUBLISH
Some publishing platforms are what they call aggregators, who publish to multiple outlets. For example, Lulu publishes print to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more, while they also publish digitally to Amazon, Nook, Kobo and many more. You can also choose to publish directly to an individual platform, although you’ll have to manage your work across many more sites. There are pros and cons to each – aggregators usually give you a little less in royalty, but make up for it with having only one place to manage your work.
Here is a rundown of some of the more common publishing platforms.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – No (see KDP)
Createspace is Amazon’s print book publishing platform. They offer various trim sizes and options for print.
The main reason I decided not to go with them is their payment structure. They do NOT pay Canadians out via electronic funds transfer or PayPal. For a new-to-self-publishing person, this can be a big deterrent. You have no idea how long it could take you to sell enough print books, especially since ebooks are so much more popular for indie authors. You could be waiting forever for a cheque.
- You get extended distribution beyond Amazon for print.
- Bulk orders and author copies are available, so you can purchase a copy for the print cost. This saves you money if you need to order in bulk, but I do not believe they have a Canadian printer, so there is duty/exchange to worry about.
- They don’t pay Canadians electronically. You can use 3rd party apps like Payoneer, but you’ll lose royalties. You can get paid electronically if you have a US based bank account.
- Canadians are restricted to receiving physical cheques. They don’t issue cheques unless you have $100 of royalties (per currency) in your account. If you make 120 bucks US but only 30 Canadian, you only get paid the US.
- It seems likely they’ll be phasing Createspace out in favour of KDP Print in the future (in October 2017 they shut down the Createspace eStores). No official word on this, but they currently have two print platforms, and KDP is the newest, so it looks like that’s where they’re moving in the future. In January 2018, Createspace laid off some of its workers, so chances are the shut down and move to KDP Print is coming soon.
Paperback – No, but they can generate a file for you
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes (Amazon, Apple, Nook, Overdrive, Kobo and many more.)
Draft2Digital is one of the platforms I currently use. Their site is really easy to navigate, their payment structure is clear (10% cut in addition to the cut the platform takes … so Apple takes their cut and then D2D takes their cut – pretty standard) and their upload was really fast. They also have automated services to add bios, publishing info and other stuff to the back of your book (I don’t use these and can’t speak to them).
I uploaded a formatted epub, but you can also submit Word files (and submitting a Word file means they can create a paperback file for you as well). They can supply ISBNs or you can bring your own. Currently they get you on Amazon, Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Inktera, Overdrive, Playster, Scribd, Tolino and 24Symbols. The nice thing is that you can opt out of any of them at any time and they are looking to add more in the future.
- They pay out via lots of different methods, from cheque to PayPal to Payoneer to direct deposit and more. I was able to set the threshold for payment which was great. They pay out once a month as well.
- Gets you on every major platform but Google Play.
- VERY easy to use.
- Has an online tax interview, which took no time at all.
- Publishing a book is very easy. Lots of keywords and categories available to add to your book.
- Lots of great auto services like new release announcements, adding books to a series, publisher profiles, author bios etc, that are automatically added to your book if you want.
- You can set up pre-orders.
- You can set prices for different locations, so you can customize the price for Canada, Australia and other countries and not just base it off the US price.
- When there’s an issue with your book during the process, it actually tells you exactly what the problem is. This makes fixing it much easier. When I was with Lulu I’d get a generic “fix your NCX file” or something, but no idea of WHAT to fix. D2D is much clearer on what the issues are.
- Super fast replies from their help people.
- You can set a pre-order for very far in the future.
- Royalties are lower for Amazon/Kobo etc than going direct (to be expected with any aggregator).
- If you want to use AMS ads or KDP Select, you can’t do that through their Amazon feature.
- Amazon books can’t be priced free; they still have to be price matched at Amazon.
- You can’t set a pre-order for an Amazon book.
- No revenue splitting, but they are trying to add it as a feature soon.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
There is a waiting list to get on Google Play, which is one of the downsides to it. I was recently accepted (November 2017), and have limited experience with the platform.
Overall, it’s fairly straightforward and easy to get your books up here, but I did have to use Chrome instead of Firefox, which was annoying. I’ve had a few instances where the book has stopped processing and I’ve needed to contact help to push it through. Firefox does work, it just seems to hiccup a bit more.
They allow you to sell for free and you can make your book available on Google Play and Google Books. Their store also updates with your changes very fast.
- There’s a huge Android audience out there, and this is the place the majority will be buying their books, so it’s a good idea to get on here.
- Fairly easy to set up.
- Changes appear online live immediately – including price changes.
- You can enable pre-orders.
- You can get paid via bank account, PayPal and other methods.
- You can schedule price promotions.
- Google discounts your book, so if you want to sell for $4.99, you’ll have to mark the price as $6.48 on Google Play. It’ll be discounted to $4.99 at that price. Here is a chart for the conversions:
Price You Want – Price You Set
0.99 – 0.99
1.99 – 2.40
2.99 – 3.93
3.99 – 4.99
4.99 – 6.48
5.99 – 7.78
6.99 – 8.32
This chart is usually pretty accurate, but you may need to keep an eye on the discounting price to make sure it’s accurate (so other platforms won’t price match to it).
- Their sales reports are only downloadable – you can’t see sales on the page which I find annoying. There’s not a lot of customization.
- There is a wait list to sign up. It’s hard to find the sign up waitlist. But I can help with that.
- If you are waiting or don’t have time to wait, there’s only a few aggregators that can get you on Google Play at the moment – Streetlib and PublishDrive are the two main ones.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kindle is the most popular ereader (especially in the USA – 75% of all readers), and you can publish to it via this program. Readers can also download Kindle for their PCs or apps for their phone.
You may also enroll your ebooks in KDP Select, a program which allows your book to be part of Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where readers can borrow the books to read. A share of the KDP Select Global Fund is earned based on how many pages of your book are read by readers who borrow it. Marketing perks allow you 5 days of offering your book free or 7 days of offering it on discount per Kindle Select period (which is 3 months – you can opt in and out of the program).
Despite being Canadian, most of my book audience is American. After I sold on all ebook platforms for awhile, I elected to do Kindle Select for my Brookline University books. I had very little success with it – it seems unless you got in awhile ago or you’re in a genre that is popular with KU readers, it’s hard to get traction. The payouts have been shrinking as well. You may want to test the waters on all platforms first to see where the majority of sales come from before deciding on Kindle Select.
In 2016, KDP unveiled print books. There is no extended distribution beyond Amazon (and they don’t get your book on Amazon.ca yet either which SUCKS). They do pay out electronically to Canadians the same way they do with KDP.
Author copies and proof copies are available, but you can only buy from the stores they distribute to, which means ordering your proofs/author copies from the US store, which is expensive. Email Amazon and ask them to distribute print to Amazon.ca – the more they are asked, the faster it will happen.
- The most popular platform out there. In 2015, Kindle had 75% of the US market (followed by Apple at 12% and Nook at 9%) and around 95% of the UK market. (Canadian market isn’t that great – we’re a Kobo nation lol.).
- Kindle Select allows you to promote with freebies and discount deals if you are exclusive to Kindle and your book is available nowhere else. But without Select, you have to do discounts manually and it doesn’t show as a sale or discount, just the price.
- Readers without a Kindle can still get the program/app for the smartphone, tablet and computer to read your books. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware of this.
- You can set a pre-order for your ebooks, but only 90 days in advance.
- Pay out via electronic funds transfer directly to your bank account (EFT, so there are no transfer fees). They pay out any amount, so if you earn it, you’ll receive that payment.
- You make good profit on print books sold here – way more than Lulu, so I switched all of my print books (except any hardcover) to be sold to Amazon through KDP Print. (I still use Lulu for author copies because KDP doesn’t print to Amazon.ca yet)
- Print allows you to choose between glossy and matte covers and between white and cream interior paper. I’ve heard the cream paper is a bit darker than the norm. Once you choose, you can’t change it.
- Their sales reports recently got a makeover and they’re much easier to read.
- To access the deals and KU/KOLL, you have to be exclusive to Kindle. This could be a deal breaker if you sell well on another platform or want your book available to Kobo readers in Canada.
- There is no way to split payments between co-authors. Kindle desperately needs to add revenue splitting. All platforms do, really.
- Payments are made about 2-3 months after sales have occurred. This is normal, but not as quick as some other platforms.
- Could prevent Canadians (who are primarily Kobo users) from thinking they can get your book. A lot of people are not aware of the Kindle app, or they don’t want to use it since it’s not available on other ereaders, only tablets and computers.
- Author copies and proof copies (which have PROOF printed across them), are only available to us via the US, UK or other Amazon stores they distribute to, not the .ca.
- No extended print distribution beyond Amazon either at this point.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kobo is not as well known in the US, but thanks to its partnership with Indigo bookstores, had about 46% of the Canadian ereader market in 2012 (Amazon was 24% and Sony 18%). I suspect it’s way higher than that now since Sony quit the ereader game in 2014. Kobo also has a market outside of North America (20% of the market), but in the US hold around 4% of that market.
They allow downloads from the Kobo store, but you can also sideload epubs and PDFs downloaded elsewhere on the devices which means people can download books from other sources and load them on the Kobo (like borrowing from libraries), so they aren’t restricted to the Kobo store.
You can publish to Kobo via an aggregator, but the earnings were higher using the Kobo Writer’s Life platform, which is easy to use and has a few features not found on other platforms.
- The Kobo Writer’s Life platform is easy to use. I find it the second easiest of all of the publishing platforms.
- Higher payouts than using an aggregator to get on Kobo.
- Kobo dominates Canada so there’s a good chance your friends and family are using Kobo over Kindle. We are the only English speaking country not dominated by Kindle.
- They allow you to sell your book for free if you want. This is only possible on some platforms.
- They allow you to set sale prices as well so your readers can see the regular price and sale price.
- You can do pre-sales for your ebooks.
- They have a promotions program – some don’t cost upfront (they take a percentage of any sales you get) while others cost (usually under 25 bucks). They will place your book up in their deals section. You have to be proactive with marketing when you get a promo, but I did quite well with a featured deal.
- They’ve recently added a KDP Select-like program in certain countries that you can opt-in to – and you DO NOT have to be exclusive to Kobo to participate, which is great. Hopefully they’ll expand it to other markets soon.
- Updates to the site are very fast.
- Their customer service has been fast and really great.
- You can set which territories to sell in and you can set prices for most of the big ones (allowing you to price match to the US price or give some countries a deal on your book).
- Distributes ebooks to Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Angus and Robertson (Australia), Whitcoulls (New Zealand), FNAC (France), WH Smith (United Kingdom) and many others in many countries (26 million users in 190 countries).
- If your material is interesting to a US audience, you may not have a lot of sales to US readers here.
- Their sales reports need work. Too many clicks to get where you want, and it’s complicated to see all of your info. They also don’t seem to have a way to export your sales info to Excel or other applications. There is no payment record or payment info visible.
- Payouts are at a minimum of $50 paid via EFT 45 days after the end of each monthly period. They no longer pay out every 6 months regardless of earnings, so it could take a really long time to get your money if you use Kobo directly.
- No revenue splitting between co-authors, which sucks, but is fairly common.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – Yes
Ebook – Yes (Kobo, Nook, Apple, Amazon Kindle, any retailer in the Ingram distribution network)
Lulu offers print books as well as ebooks.
I’ve sampled their mass market paperback size (not eligible for extended distribution), their trade paperback (eligible) and hardcover (not eligible), and all are extremely well done. I actually prefer them to Amazon for the look and feel of their print.
Lulu has printers in various countries, including Canada, so your shipping costs are pretty good, even for bulk orders (About $163 CAD dollars shipping within Canada for 100 copies of a 6×9 print book). A lot of Aussies tend to buy print books from my Lulu store, as I’ve been told Amazon shipping costs can be really high for them, but Lulu has an Aussie printer, so it’s much more affordable.
Their ebook service is only okay – they submit to all of the major platforms. In their distribution management area, you can choose which places to sell on, including Nook, Apple, Amazon and the only downside – “Kobo and everything else”. You can’t do Kobo separately from “everything else” so if you want to publish to Kobo via Kobo Writer’s Life you can’t use Lulu to get on anything else in the Ingram network.
Lulu’s biggest pro is they allow revenue splitting – so if you have a co-author, you can both add your payment info and decide how to split your royalties, and they’ll take care of it. It’s amazing to me they are the only platform that can do this.
- Payout is a $5 threshold via PayPal.
- Lots of choice for print books. Various trim sizes, binding types and page types to choose from. Only some are eligible for distribution beyond Lulu, though.
- They often have special codes to use at checkout to get discounted print books, and it doesn’t cut into your royalty. This is great for promotions you can pass on to readers or to buy a bunch of your own books (at cost!) to sell at readings/conventions etc.
- You can create your own promos (that do hit you in the royalty).
- Lulu has a Canadian printer based in Toronto, so you can do bulk orders with no duty/exchange. The store is also offered in CAD.
- You can split royalties between two authors. This is great if you co-write as you can set the percentage each person receives. It’s one of the only platforms that work well for paying co-authors.
- The royalties for ebooks are pretty good. Not as good as being directly on the other platform, but fairly close, especially for Apple.
- You get on pretty much every platform – Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Apple iBookstore, B&N, Kobo etc.
- Changing cover/price/content etc is easy. Beware that if you change content in a distributed print book (eg. distributed outside of Lulu to Amazon et al), you have to buy a proof copy for yourself each time you push an update or correction, however minor.
- I really like their converter. It converts well formatted Word files into PDF really well, and their entire creation process for print books (and ebook) is very easy. They have a cover creator as well.
- You get your own store website page to sell from and royalties are much higher here for print than through Amazon. But just try and get people to shop here … people like their Amazon!
- Free ISBNs if you don’t want to get your own. This is great for anonymity.
- I like their sales reports better than all of the other platforms. It exports to Excel and is very easy to read.
- Mark up for distributing print books is ridiculously high. The only size that qualifies is 6×9. Manufacturing costs for a 200-300 page book would allow you to sell for $10-15 and make a few bucks profit on Lulu – but only a few cents on Amazon (not kidding). My print book published from Lulu to Amazon usually got me anywhere from 56 cents to a just under a dollar. The book sold for $14.95. On Lulu, it nets me over 5 dollars. There is a good chart here with info on retail markup. I now recommend KDP Print for Canadians getting print on Amazon.com – although Lulu gets it on Amazon.ca and KDP Print will not (yet).
- With Lulu, their extended print distribution outside of Lulu is all or nothing. You either distribute just to Lulu or to everywhere. You can’t choose only Barnes and Noble or only Amazon etc. You can’t choose particular Amazon stores either (so you can’t do KDP Print for the .com store and Lulu to get on the .ca).
- There’s no pre-orders available for print or digital.
- You can’t set prices based on location. You choose your base currency and others are converted from that.
- Removing your ebook from the distribution channels takes time. If you want to go into KDP Select, it can take upwards of a month or more to get off of Apple via Lulu.
- The cover image size for ebooks is really weird and makes the book covers look fat and squatty. Other platforms have better sized covers that look more realistic – Lulu seems stuck with an old picture size format for old ereaders.
- They are VERY strict about epubs. I can run mine through the International Digital Publishing Forum epub validator and get no errors and they will still say something is wrong. And it’s very vague (ie “there’s a problem with your NCX”), so you’ll spend hours trying to correct it. Their help videos aren’t helpful, their knowledge base is awful, and I’ve spent over a week resubmitting – and you only get it sent back to you after they’ve reviewed it, which can take a few days. If you can’t get it corrected and keep submitting in hopes you actually found the issue, they’ll threaten to close your account. They never used to be like this, and I’ve recently decided to switch to Draft2Digital because of it. And I’ve been with Lulu since 2006.
- Overall, I think their ebook publishing needs a big overhaul to compete with other platforms. They have a huge benefit with revenue splitting and they really need to leverage it. They desperately need to modernize their ebook publishing.
- Their print is really great quality, but the low distribution royalties are an issue, but one they won’t be able to fix unfortunately. But for author copies, Lulu can’t be beat.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes (Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd, no Amazon)
Smashwords is an ebook only publisher. They payout monthly via PayPal, regardless of how much you’ve sold, which is really nice.
You can also sell your ebooks via their site. They do not publish to Kindle, however, they do have options to publish mobi files on their site so Kindle users could buy your book from the Smashwords site if they wanted (and knew how).
A nice feature of Smashwords is the site allows readers to download up to 20% of the book in various file formats to see if they like it. It’s a great way to try some indie authors. They also offer book files as epub, mobi, pdf, html, txt, lrf, rtf and more. You can also gift electronic works to others via the Smashwords site. The site also has an app.
- Popular platform with lots of publishing options.
- Publishes to other popular platforms (not Amazon, but mobi is available)
- Pays out monthly with no minimums, so if you make a few cents, you’ll get it. They pay out via PayPal as well, so it’s handy for Canadians.
- They have a smartphone app, so people can read on their phones.
- Also gets your ebook available to libraries via Overdrive.
- You still have to get on Amazon if you want to have access to the largest marketplace, so that means managing ebooks in two locations.
- No print books, so you will have to deal with more than one publishing platform if you want print books too.
- Their publishing guidelines and requirements are a bit stricter than others, but honestly, this just helps you get your ebook in the best format possible (Apple has the most stringent guidelines, so if a site publishes to them, they’ll be more stringent with the files you submit).
iBookAuthor (Apple iBookstore)
You can sell on the Apple iBookstore by using the iBookAuthor site to prepare your book. You can only submit your file with a Mac computer, because the program you need to do it is Mac only. If you’re on Windows, you’re out of luck and have to use an aggregator.
Barnes and Noble’s Nook reader is the second most popular in the US. You can publish to it via their site Nook Press, or through an aggregator. I have no experience with the Nook Press platform, as I’ve always used an aggregator.
This is a pay service that will get you on most of the sell channels. There is a set up fee for the format (print or digital or both), as well as printing and shipping costs, and it costs if you have to make a correction to your book files. The upside is with IngramSpark bookstores have the ability to stock your book, as returns are accepted. However, this benefit does cost you, unlike the other platforms, which have no fees. Occasionally they have deals to waive the set up fee for new sign ups, so keep your eyes open for deals if this platform interests you.
Owned by Ingram, they offer print on demand to full publishing. There are set up fees, change fees and a high cost for author copies. Like IngramSpark, you can accept returns which would allow a bookstore to order your book. Whether they would or not is the question.
Publish to Google Play, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Tolino, Overdrive, and many more. Free ISBNs, 10% cut.
Publish to Apple, Google Books, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Overdrive, Barnes and Noble and more.
Getting in Brick and Mortar Stores
If you are looking to get your print book into brick-and-mortar stores, Createspace, KDP Print and Lulu etc will not do that. Books are not listed at a 40% discount for stores through these platforms. They don’t offer returns either, and for this reason no bookstore would order it.
An option might be to talk in person with local bookstores to see if you can work something out with them.
If you are interested in getting into bookstores, look into IngramSpark and Lightning Source, but be prepared for it to cost you. There is no guarantee a bookstore will order your book, but they would have the ability to.
Avoid anything connected to Author Solutions. They are the parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Tafford Publishing, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango. They also have partnerships with: Archway Publishing,WestBow Press, Balboa Press, Inspiring Voices, Abbott Press and Lulu’s Pro Publishing Solutions. Author Solutions and its products are not print-on-demand services like Lulu, Createspace etc, but vanity presses which cost you money by selling expensive publishing packages. The lawsuit against them is summarized here.
You can do the work of publishing your book yourself or hire someone to do it for half the cost these services offer. Visit writing message boards to ask for recommendations for editors, formatting experts, marketers etc.
Overall, self publishing for Canadians is fairly easy and affordable. If you wanted to, you could publish a book without putting out a single cent. (Granted, the quality might be questionable depending on how talented you are!)
Costs you may incur would be your choice. You could hire people to handle everything from cover design, to ebook formatting, to your author website design. What you spend is up to you.
If you have any pertinent info to share about self-publishing for Canadians, feel free to comment!
There’s lots of great chat about indie publishing at KBoards.