Updated October 7, 2018 (Draft2Digital info)
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.
U.S. Withholding Taxes
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, Draft2Digital, GooglePlay and others 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 as royalties. 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.
You have to claim your book income on Canadian taxes as either royalties (Line 104) or self employed income (Line 135). Which you choose depends on if you’re going to take deductions for expenses – self employed allows you to do that, royalties does not. (Note: I’m not a tax expert at all, but this is what CRA told me – verify yourself as I am not responsible for CRA coming for you lol).
The US platforms you use should send you a 1042-S form for taxes – it’s the “Foreign Person’s U.S. Source Income Subject to WIthholding” form. It will show how much you made in US sales in US dollars. The problem? Sometimes I don’t receive one. It’s shown in US dollars. It doesn’t show sales from other locations. In other words, it’s not a great way to keep track of your income.
Because of this, I keep track of my income myself, so I can report it in Canadian dollars. So everything I receive as royalties I keep track of in an Excel file so it’s easy to report it at tax time. This is especially useful because other platforms, like Kobo, don’t send you anything. And they’re Canadian! So you must keep track for taxes.
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 a 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 PO Box for ISBN sign up, 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.
As of August 27th, 2018, Createspace is shutting down and moving all of their print book operation over to KDP Print. KDP Print offers almost all of the same services as Createspace did. I never used CS because they paid by cheque only if you’d earned $100. I use KDP Print now and find it very easy.
Paperback – No, but they can generate a file for you if you submit a Word doc.
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. Since I’m Canadian, I always try and set the Canadian price equal to or lower than the US price because we always get screwed with the exchange and I’m not doing that to readers lol.
- 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.
- You can’t see your pre-orders. Only Apple (who provides the info daily), Kobo, and Barnes and Noble (weekly estimates) provide pre-order info, and currently it’s not available on your dashboard. You can contact D2D directly and they can look it up and tell you. Hopefully they can add this soon.
- Delisting a book can take awhile for Tolino subsidiaries (bol.de and Thalia) and especially with Overdrive and Bibliotheca which can take 7-10 business days. If you are pulling your books to go wide, give yourself some time to make sure they’re gone.
- I’ve had issues with 24Symbols not removing my books from their servers. This happened distributing them via Lulu, so be aware and check to make sure they really delist them.
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 accepted in November of 2017.
Overall, it’s fairly straightforward and easy to get your books up here, but I did have to use Chrome instead of Firefox at first, 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. There’s no waiting for approval like Amazon.
- You can enable pre-orders.
- You can get paid via bank account, PayPal and other methods.
- You can schedule price promotions.
- Payments are electronic and they pay out the month after the sale which is fast.
- 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 so, so annoying.
- 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.
- You are required to make about 20% (that’s the minimum) of your book available on Google Books. On the plus side it makes your book a little bit searchable and maybe more discoverable, but the downside is 20% of your book is online.
- Their tax interview is very confusing. First question is are you a US citizen, you check no. Then it asks if you’re a Corporation, Intermediary or Tax-Exempt Entity. You might assume Tax-Exempt Entity because you’re an individual who doesn’t have to pay withholding, but that is wrong. Choose Corporation and then indicate the income is NOT connected with your business operations in the US (yes … even though you sell books there). This gets you to the W8-BEN form you need to fill out.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
KDP allows you to publish digital books to Kindle and print books for sale on Amazon.
Digital books can be opted in to the 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).
It seems unless you got in KDP Select years ago or you’re in a genre that is popular with KU readers, it’s hard to get traction. The payouts have been shrinking, and Amazon has recently been taking back page reads and earnings when innocent authors are targeted by bots inflating page reads. 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.
KDP also offers print services that have replaced Createspace. There is now extended distribution beyond Amazon, and there is distribution to 6 other Amazon stores (UK, France, Japan, Germany, Spain and Italy). The extended distribution gets your books on the Canadian Amazon store, but at a lower royalty rate – 40% versus 60%. Previously paperbacks weren’t available on the .ca at all, so this is a step in the right direction.
Author copies and proof copies are available, but currently they are NOT available for the Canadian marketplace (through the .ca store) so you have to buy your proofs or author copies from the US store. (I use Lulu.com for my author copies because of this)
- 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).
- 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 you choose.
- Readers without a Kindle can use an app to read your books.
- You can set a pre-order for your ebooks.
- 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.
- 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’s been a lot of issues with KU in the last year. Many authors have had their page reads slashed in half when they are (unfairly and unknowingly) targeted by bots that inflate page reads on random books to hide which book they are actually inflating reads for. Other unscrupulous “authors” have been gaming the system by book stuffing (adding tons of extra and mostly previously published content into a KU book and encouraging readers to flip to the end so they get credited with more page reads than they should). Amazon has recently come out with rules regarding bonus material to combat this. Other “authors” have been offering incentives to people to review their book (which is against Amazon terms of service). Amazon has been slow to react to these scammers, especially well known ones. This has resulted in diminishing revenues for legitimate authors in KU. Basically, KU is a bit of a landmine at the moment, and many authors have left the program to go wide.
- There is no way to split payments between co-authors. Kindle desperately needs to add revenue splitting. All platforms do, really. Lulu is the only one that allows this.
- Payments are made about 60 days 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 ereaders, only tablets and computers.
- Author copies and proof copies (which have PROOF printed across them), are only available to Canadians via the US, UK or other Amazon stores, not the .ca yet, so they cost a lot more than they should.
- Canadian paperbacks earn less in royalties than paperbacks on the US, UK and other stores (as they use extended distribution and not direct to the store)
- Word has it the covers print a lot darker than other places. Make sure you order a print proof to check the colour/brightness/contrast.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kobo is not as well known in the US, but thanks to its partnership with Indigo bookstores, had 46% of the Canadian ereader market back 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.
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-orders 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.
- The 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, which is a big issue if you want to look at past payments at tax time.
- 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. I had to contact them and ask to pay me out since I switched to D2D.
- 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 prefer their print books over Amazon, but it’s not worth distributing to Amazon as the royalties are so low.
Where Lulu excels is author copies. 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).
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” which includes all the stores in the Ingram network (many of which are very hard to get off of if you decide not to be wide anymore). I also find Lulu weirdly really strict about epub files – files that passed the epub validator would fail at Lulu, and they you only got a vague message about why. They also use a totally outdated image size for their digital covers – they look fat and squatty compared to modern ebooks on other platforms.
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.
Overall, Lulu needs to overhaul and modernize their digital book program, but their print is decent – and for author copies they can’t be beat.
- 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 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. The hardcover printing is NOT done in Canada though.
- 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 print 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 as even with only 40% royalty, it’s way higher than what Lulu gets you.
- 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.
- There’s no pre-orders available for print or digital. In this day and age, that’s insane.
- 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 an old, outdated size that looks weird now.
- They are VERY strict about epubs but not helpful when it comes to telling you what’s wrong.
- 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, Overdrive and more. No Amazon)
Smashwords is an ebook only publisher. They payout monthly via PayPal, regardless of how much you’ve sold, which is really nice.
Ebooks are sold via their own site and distributed beyond Smashwords if you choose. They do not publish to Amazon, 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.
Formerly called Nook Press, Barnes and Noble’s Nook reader is the second most popular reader in the US. You can publish to it via their site B&N Press, or through an aggregator. I have no experience with the 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 do so.
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, 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.
Also … avoid trademarking common words … or any words. We don’t want a repeat of #cockygate.
Overall, self publishing for Canadians is fairly easy and affordable. If you wanted, 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, editing, book formatting, proofreading, 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!