This website is coming down in a few months (around October, 2023), and the domain will be repurposed. If there is any self-publishing information you want to save before that happens, please make sure to either take a screenshot, or copy/paste it into a document for your own reference.
I originally put all this information together way back in 2016, when there wasn’t a lot to find on the subject, and it was scattered all over the place. A lot has changed since then. Foreign distribution companies have become much more accessible to Canadians, and platforms have come and gone. Meanwhile, there are a ton of new resources available online, created and maintained by people who are much better than I am about keeping things up to date.
I hope you have found some of the tips on here useful. 🙂
[Updated July 2022]
I’ve avoided posting self-publishing tips on this site because I don’t want to get bogged down with a bunch of technical posts, and there are already lots of blogs out there that cover the subject. But self-publishing from Canada has its own quirks, and I had to look all over the place to figure some of this stuff out. I thought it might be helpful to put all this info in one place. 😉
So this one goes out to any fellow Canucks out there who are thinking about going indie.
Getting into Canadian Bookstores
Getting an ISBN
Registering a Copyright
Ordering Copies of Your Paperback
Receiving Direct Payments from the US
Additional Tools and Resources
For the most part, distributing your book from Canada is the same as it would be from the US. Here’s my current distribution setup:
Amazon KDP: Used to add Kindle version to all iterations of Amazon that carry Kindle products. Also used to add print version (paperback/hardcover) to Amazon (previously Amazon Createspace).
Draft2Digital (D2D) [Affiliate link]: Used to add ebook version to most other major online retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc.). Fun fact: D2D can format your ebook files for free!
Smashwords: Used to add ebook version to online retailers not reached by D2D (Library Direct, Gardners, Odilo). Smashwords has recently merged with D2D, which will probably shift some of their distribution processes, which do overlap.
Streetlib: Used to add ebook version to online retailers not reached by D2D or Smashwords. (Google Play, 24Symbols, etc.)
IngramSpark: Used to distribute print version (paperback/hardcover) to various online retailers and bookstores around the world. (I’m just about to start playing with this method. There is a setup fee for each title, but if you are a member of ALLi/the Alliance of Independent Authors [affiliate link], you can use up to 5 coupon codes for free title setup/month.)
BookFunnel + Payhip: Used to sell ebooks direct to customers, with no distributor royalty split (just Stripe/Paypal transaction fees). BookFunnel handles the ebook delivery and customer support to help people get your books downloaded onto their device, while Payhip handles the payment side.
Now, there are some differences from publishing in the US. For example, many indie writers like to use the Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press platform to publish with them directly, instead of going through D2D/Smashwords, but you can only have an account with B&N if you live in the US.
Kobo has also developed their own self-publishing platform, which is open to writers from pretty much everywhere. Apple and Google Play have also both become more accessible in recent years as direct self-publishing platforms. I haven’t bothered with any of these options because:
- I’m already formatting and uploading my book files 5 different ways as-is. I don’t really want to manage more accounts at this point, on the uploading or the payment side of things.
- My existing titles are already on Kobo, Apple, and Google Play via D2D/Streetlib anyway. (And it’s worth the 10% distributor cut for me in terms of convenience. But it’s totally up to you.)
Of course, if you live in Canada, you probably want your physical book to be available on Canadian websites as well. Amazon KDP Print offers an Expanded Distribution option that will list your print book on third-party sites like Barnes & Noble. But be warned: the royalty share for this option is really low, so take that into account when setting your list price. It takes several weeks for your titles to propagate beyond the realm of Amazon.com, so be patient.
While this option might possibly make the print version of your book available to order at smaller/independent Canadian print retailers, it will not work to get you in the door at Chapters/Coles/Indigo (the biggest game in town). Indigo (the parent company) has certain requirements that can’t be met via Amazon’s Expanded Distribution. Listing the Canadian retail price on the book jacket is no problem, and can be done through your cover design, but your print books must be flagged as returnable, which is an option that Amazon does not offer. Flagging your book as returnable means that the retailer (Indigo) can return any or all copies of your print book back to your distributor as needed, with you having to reimburse the value of the returned copies. So you can be in the black with your print sales one month, only to dip back into the red if the retailer sends back copies of your book the next month. Retailers are also more likely to list your book if you increase the wholesale discount, another option that isn’t available via Amazon.
While there are several print book distribution platforms available, virtually all of them (including Amazon Expanded Distribution) use Ingram to fulfill orders of your books worldwide from behind the scenes. So it’s really just easier to go straight to the source and deal with Ingram directly via IngramSpark (and will usually save you a bit of your royalty share, since you’ll be cutting out the middleman). IngramSpark allows for virtually any format and size of print book, but bear in mind that there are certain international sizing standards that will make it easier to get your book listed on various retail websites. (For example, 6″ x 9″ for trade paperback is the industry standard. In cases like this, it’s better to fit in than try to stand out with a wonky size that a lot of retailers won’t carry.) IngramSpark also allows you to set up your distribution however you like, at the wholesale discount of your choice, with the option to make your titles returnable if you so choose.
The one place you probably shouldn’t use IngramSpark to distribute to is Amazon. First off, it’s better financially to deal with the Amazon directly to avoid any extra royalty share splits, plus your books will go live faster once you submit your files, without them having to go through IngramSpark first, and will likely display better availability on Amazon, as opposed to the dreaded 1-3 weeks delivery window.
If you want to keep things simple, just upload your print book to Amazon and select the Extended Distribution option, knowing that there will be some places you probably won’t reach, and there will be some distribution elements you won’t be able to control. If you’re feeling more ambitious, upload your print files to Amazon and don’t select the Expanded Distribution option. Then, upload your print files to IngramSpark, and make sure you aren’t using IngramSpark to distribute to Amazon. Again, there are file setup fees associated with IngramSpark, unless you have a coupon code for them.
When it comes to ebook distribution, you can make it as simple or complex as you like–using a distributor like D2D to do most of your heavy lifting, or going direct through as many (or few) individual retailers as you feel comfortable. Again, either way you choose, you will want to go directly through Amazon KDP. Not only is it easy to use and you ebooks will go live faster, but even distributors like D2D and Smashwords recommend going through Amazon directly.
Overall, my strategy has been to make my books as widely available as possible. Many authors have hopped on the KDP Select train and experienced success, but despite the popularity of Kindle ebooks, they are still only part of the overall ebook market (especially outside the US). The KDP Select exclusivity contract means cutting yourself off from other potential lines of income, which is really only in Amazon’s best interest. There was a time several years ago where Amazon was my main source of income, but it was quickly surpassed by Barnes & Noble. Now, my highest-selling channel is Apple, reaching readers in countries I never would have imagined might be interested in purchasing my English-based titles. None of these non-Amazon sales would have been possible if I had joined KDP Select.
I like to think of it as an investment. It makes far more sense to diversify your portfolio instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. That way if one channel underperforms one month, the others can compensate. And while Amazon is a powerhouse now, anything could happen. It doesn’t make sense for me to tie up all my hard work in one place, with a company I don’t control, and will ultimately do what is within its own best interest.
Getting into Canadian bookstores:
Let’s face it. The Chapters/Indigo/Coles conglomerate is the biggest game in town. While going through IngramSpark can make your print books available to order on the Indigo website and on the in-store kiosks, it is highly unlikely your books will ever be allocated to shelves in stores by the company buyers. As Indigo continues to diversify its in-store offerings, bookshelf space becomes increasingly restricted, and usually reserved for the major publishing conglomerates, who are able to provide deep discounts in exchange for large orders and premium display space. Unless you have taken significant steps beyond self-publishing to establish a small press with a healthy front and backlist of titles that Indigo considers salesworthy, you will have to approach them as you would any independent bookstore for a consignment deal: one store at a time. Trust me, I have worked for this company for 15 years, both at stores and Home Office. If you simply send a copy of your self-published book to Indigo’s Home Office in the hopes Heather Reisman will read it, you will most likely be disappointed. (At this point, I’m required to say that all opinions expressed on this site by me are my own, and are not to be considered any kind of official post from Chapters/Coles/Indigo.)
This isn’t anything against Heather or the company. It’s just that you will be competing with a crazy amount of book samples from traditional publishers, who already have huge catalogues and a strong working relationship with Indigo. And as I’ve already stated above, dedicated bookshelf space in stores is becoming more of a premium every day, so it’s even more difficult for a self-published author to worm their way in.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but you will probably be limited to a consignment deal. This means you have to form a relationship and contract with each store, and take responsibility for providing inventory and picking up returns. Your book will be assigned a generic ISBN (“Consignment Title X”), and will not be listed in the store kiosks. This means you must rely on events and a strong relationship with store management and employees to get your book into the hands of customers, since it will not be searchable unless you’ve gone the IngramSpark route and gotten your title set up in the Indigo system.
How to build a successful consignment relationship:
I’ve seen many consignment authors come through the stores with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, a long line of clueless/high-maintenance authors have given consignment authors in general a bad rep. The few exceptions are the ones who tend to perform the best. This is who you want to be. Let’s cover the don’ts first.
- …be a prima donna. Every store receives multiple inquiries from consignment authors every day, and only has a limited amount of ISBNs to dedicate to these titles, depending on store size and volume. Just because you have a book doesn’t mean you are owed a spot on the shelf. Demanding your own fixed table or endcap in the store once your book is accepted is out too. These spaces are already paid for by traditional publishers for their titles as part of a binding co-op agreement.
- …harass the store manager who handles the consignment program (or any other store employees for that matter) in an effort to get your book into the store. Again, there are limited slots available, and decisions are made at the manager’s discretion. Don’t make it easier to be dismissed for another author.
- …ship your books to the store. The consignment process is a manual one. If you just send over a box of your books, they will likely end up in the store’s receiving area, where all the traditionally-published books go to be processed. Since you will not have an Indigo purchase order or handling unit, this will only confuse the receiver. Your box could end up in a quarantine pile indefinitely. [Exception: Your books are distributed through IngramSpark, and have been set up in Indigo’s system. In this case, you can ask the consignment manager to place an order through the Indigo system to have the books shipped directly to the store.]
- …expect any hand-holding. Consignment is a very small part of the company business. The store staff is there to serve customers and keep the store running, not act as your personal staff. You are ultimately responsible for your own titles and their sales. Yes, the store staff can help you and answer questions, but there is a lot more to selling consignment than just dropping off a few copies of your book and just hoping for a cheque in the mail. Do your homework and take responsibility. (More on that below.)
Steps for success:
- Make sure you have a professional-looking book to sell. You want your book to look as much like a traditionally-published title as possible. (This is actually just a general rule, and isn’t specific to consignment.)
- Order 5-10 copies of your book. Some of these can be given as sample copies to the stores you approach, with a few left over for initial inventory if your title is accepted into the consignment program.
- Call the store(s) in your area and ask to speak with the manager who handles consignment. (It’s best to limit yourself to a geographical area where you can easily handle transporting inventory to the store on an ongoing basis.) If the manager you need is not in, try to find out when they will be in next and get their name and contact email.
- Send a brief email stating your interest in becoming a consignment author at their store, along with the basic details of your book. (Title, genre, cover, product description.) Be polite and professional.
- If the manager you need is in, or you call back when they are working, introduce yourself as an aspiring consignment author and mention your email if you have sent one. Ask when would be a good time to visit the store and drop off a sample copy of your book.
- Visit the store with a few copies of your book. Visit with the consignment manager and try to make a good impression while finding out whether there are any open slots available. If there are no openings at the moment, ask whether they believe any openings might be coming up in the near future. Either way, offer them a sample copy of your book and ask to be kept under consideration. You can also offer more sample copies to be left in the staff lunchroom.
- Once you are offered a contract, decide the price point for your book. On the consignment program, the author royalties are 55%, which means you will earn a little more than half of the list price you give the store. Determine the cost of printing and shipping your book to yourself (including the US exchange rate and any border crossing fees, if necessary), and try to come up with something that puts you in the black while remaining reasonable for the customer, who will likely be looking at your book as an impulse buy. Look at the pricing of other titles in your genre in the same format (hard cover, trade paperback, etc.) and use that as a general guideline. If you have more than one title in a series, you might be able to convince the manager to let you sell all your titles under the same ISBN and price point. (This isn’t ideal for individual title sales tracking, but opens the door to sell multiple titles to each customer.)
- Order more copies of your book to sell, and organize an author event with the store. (Basically, you need to agree with the store on a date and time. The rest is up to you. Saturdays are usually the busiest, which means more potential customers.) Suggest a blurb and image about your event that can be placed in store signage (8.5×11), and write up something that can be used as a brief announcement over the store PA system on the day of the event. (These can be sent via email.) If you are a children’s author, you can arrange a storytime event, where you read your book to any kids who have shown up. (11:00am is usually a good time for this. It’s the unofficial regular storytime for most large format stores.) If you plan to bring anything out of the ordinary to the event (live animal, electronics, etc.), communicate that as well. This will help the manager prepare for things like making sure your table is near an electrical outlet.
- Invest in promotional materials like bookmarks to give away at the event through someone like Vistaprint. (These should have your website info listed on them or a QR code.) Depending on your budget, you can also get a free-standing banner, stickers, magnets, etc. to help you interact with customers and make the table where you will be selling your book stand out.
- Put the word out to friends and family about the event, and consider running an ad in the local paper or a promotional post on your Facebook page. Blog and tweet about it. It’s easier to gain attention if you already have a crowd around your table, and it helps to have people you know in your corner for the big day.
- On the day of the event, show up early with your books and promotional materials. Get in touch with a manager to find out where to set up camp. (Ideally, this will be somewhere close to the front of the store where traffic is highest, or in the children’s section if you are a children’s author.) Make sure you get ISBN stickers from the manager for your books and use them to cover the bar code printed on the back. Only books with your Indigo consignment ISBN will be counted as sales. If any of your books get scanned at the cash desk by the barcode that is printed on the cover of your book, it will cause an error. If the cashier is unaware that the book is from your event, it will likely be sold as a dummy SKU, which isn’t traceable back to you. [Exception: Your books are distributed via IngramSpark, and have been ordered through the Indigo system. In this case, Indigo’s cash system will recognize your title when it scans at the cash desk and you will be reimbursed accordingly via IngramSpark.]
- Greet customers passing by your table and invite them to stop by in a friendly, non-aggressive way. (“Hi there. I’m a local author. Can I tell you about my book?”) Give them a brief overview of what your book is about and maybe tell them a little about yourself if they seem interested. (It helps to practice this in advance with friends or family before the big day to get comfortable.) Offer one of your bookmarks even if the customer doesn’t pick up a copy of your book. It at least puts your name and website in their hands. It’s better to stand and circulate the area around your table than to sit behind it and wait for people to come to you. The most successful consignment authors are dynamic and approachable. If someone expresses interest, offer to sign a copy of your book for them after they have purchased it. (If you personalize the book with the customer’s name, it won’t be returnable.) Make sure they get one of your bookmarks as well. If they like your book, you want them to be able to find you online. Thank them and encourage them to let you know how they enjoy it.
- Stay at the store as long as you feel is appropriate. I have seen authors stick around for half the day, trying to reach as many customers as possible. If you need to go to the bathroom, you can ask a staff member to keep an eye on your table to let people know you will be back shortly. If you are committing to a long day, ask the manager whether you might be able to use the staff lunchroom to store and heat up a meal.
- Make connections among the staff members with small talk. If you feel comfortable, offer them a free sample copy of your book, or ask whether they have had a chance to read any of the copies you dropped off for the staff earlier. Having a staff member back your book can be extremely helpful because once your event is over, you book will be hidden on the home shelf as “Consignment Title X” in the system. Yes, someone could stumble across it, but no one will know to look for it there, unless a staff member knows about it and helps them. If a staff member is enthusiastic about your book, you can ask them if they might be willing to make it a Staff Pick. This is a huge foot in the door because the store’s Staff Picks are prominently displayed either on a table at the front of the store, or in the front alcove, which are both high traffic areas. This is like getting a paid co-op display for free.
- When your event is over, decide how many copies of your book you will leave behind on the Lacal Authors table. (Unless you’ve won a Staff Pick spot, 5 copies is probably enough.) Keep track of this number for inventory purposes and pack up the rest. (Some authors don’t leave any copies behind and only sell during events. This is up to you and the consignment manager to decide.) Sign the copies you are leaving behind and ask whether they can be stickered as “Signed by the Author”. Make sure all copies have your consignment ISBN sticker in place. (You can tuck one of your bookmarks in each copy as well.) Check out with the manager.
- Once you find out how many copies you sold, you can create a basic PDF invoice detailing the list price, copies sold, and 55% royalty for the amount you are owed. (The consignment manager should be able to email you an invoice template.) Make sure you include a unique invoice number, your name, consignment ISBN, and contact information on the invoice, including mailing address. Email it to the manager handling consignment. If you do not send an invoice, you will not get paid. [Exception: Your books are distributed via IngramSpark, and have been set up in the Indigo system. In this case, no invoice will be necessary. IngramSpark bills Indigo for the books they ordered, and IngramSpark passes your royalty share on to you.] This invoice is sent to Indigo Home Office to be processed. Eventually, you should receive a cheque in the mail. (In a perfect world, payment terms are 30 Days End of Month, but in my experience, it can be quite a bit longer.) If several weeks go by without anything showing up, get in touch with the consignment manager to make sure your invoice was sent, and that your contact information is correct. Save the receipt attached to your cheque once you receive it, and make sure you remember to claim the amount paid by Indigo on your annual income tax.
- If you are leaving copies of your book in the store, check back every month or so via email to find out how many copies have sold. Make sure you include your title and consignment ISBN in the request. Send additional invoices as needed on whatever schedule you decide.
- Set up another event, if you like. If you have been easy to deal with, the store will be happy to have you back. Good sales for you means money for them as well. Some authors come back every few months, and others might do a few days in one week before coming back a month later. It’s all about how much time and effort you are willing to put in. Just bear in mind that certain times will be off limits, such as the Christmas season, when the store staff is far too busy to support an author event.
Whew! If all of this sounds like more than you really want to deal with, that’s totally understandable. I’m a hardcore introvert, and have never done a consignment event. (But I’ve watched a lot from behind the scenes and had a low-key, ongoing consignment deal set up that I could run passively because I worked at the store.) A consignment event is definitely a lot of work for potentially not a lot of payoff. (Let’s say you’re earning $5 profit from each copy of your book that you sell after Indigo’s cut, plus production costs. How many copies can you sell per hour that you’re at the store where you’ll feel the time and effort is worth it?)
Extroverts definitely do better in this area, as they are generally more comfortable approaching strangers to talk about their book, but customers can be leery about a stranger coming up to them to try to sell their book. A lot of the consignment sales that come through the cash tend to be from customers who are more interested in supporting a local author than the book itself, which leads to the question of how many of the purchased books actually get read. I have literally never heard a customer come into the store to follow up about a local author they purchased from, which means sales of consignment books are usually limited to times when the author is around to hand-sell them.
This might be painful to hear, but for most customers, the purchase is something like a donation to a cause they’ve decided to support that day. On the other hand, having an event at the store, where your family and friends can come and celebrate your book can also be a nice payoff to the solitary process of writing your book and bringing it into the world. Going through with a consignment event is something you should only worry about doing if you feel like it will be something you would enjoy, since it might not be as profitable as you would think.
Getting an ISBN:
In the US, you (or your distributor) usually has to purchase an ISBN, but in Canada, ISBNs are free. While many distributors will offer a free ISBN as part of their publishing services, the distributor will then be listed or flagged as the imprint/publisher of record for your work. Many indie writers are OK with this (especially in the US, where the only other option is to pay for an ISBN yourself), and distributors are quick to point out that your work is still your own. My thought is that the self-publishing world as we know it today is still a relatively new and expanding industry. It’s difficult to see at this point what the long-term legal/rights implications are of this arrangement. Since Canadians can get ISBNs for free anyway, I would rather eliminate any potential confusion and keep everything strictly in my own name.
What you will need an ISBN for:
Basically, an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique identifier used throughout the book industry to track titles and sales by format. So each title/format combination requires its own unique ISBN. (The ISBN for the ebook version of Title A can’t be the same as the paperback version of Title A, or the hardcover version, etc., even though they all contain the same story/content. Each format is considered a different slice of intellectual property to be licensed.)
So, you will need to get a different ISBN for…
- The ebook version of your title that will be distributed through everyone other than Amazon. (Amazon uses their own unique identifier called an ASIN, which is generated automatically.) You can (and should for both tracking purposes and your sanity) use the same ISBN for your ebook title across all of the other retailers and distributors. For all intents and purposes, the non-Kindle ePUB version of your book is considered to be the same format across all other retailers and distributors.
- The print version of your title. (Each print version of the same title must have its own, unique ISBN. The paperback version cannot have the same ISBN as the hardcover, large print, etc.)
- Any other format of your title. (Audio, special or anniversary editions, etc.)
In the beginning, it might not seem like that much to manage, but you’ll probably want to think about setting up a spreadsheet with all your titles that includes things like the various ISBNs for each format, Amazon’s ASIN for the Kindle edition, print page count, publication date, etc. (It’s very useful to have all your data in one place.)
Important to know:
Bowker manages all ISBNs in the US, and their catalogue is used as a reference for many book retailer platforms, including Amazon, who pings them whenever you add an ISBN to the print version of your book on the KDP platform. If the data isn’t a match, you won’t be able to proceed with publishing your print book. All of the title, author, ISBN, and publisher imprint data must match verbatim. (I’m talking right down to using the same kind of apostrophe in your title. If Bowker has a curly apostrophe on file, and you enter a non-curly one on Amazon in your title field, you will get an error message. Trust me, I know.)
All this means that in addition to getting your ISBNs from ISBN Canada, you must also register them with Bowker to get anywhere with Amazon’s KDP Print (or most other print distributors). While you can also manage your ebook ISBNs on the Bowker side of things to keep your metadata accurate, you really only need to worry about your print ISBNs.
How to set up your ISBNs:
- Register as a publisher through ISBN Canada. You can do this either under your own name, or a company name, if you have one. After your initial setup is complete, you will be assigned a publisher prefix that will be inserted into all your ISBNs to identify you as the publisher.
- Once you have an account, you can log in, request ISBN blocks and manage them here.
- In your ISBN Canada account, create a new ISBN for your book. If your are setting up a print edition, click the little box at the bottom of the screen that says ‘Send confirmation by email’ and hit Update. This will be your proof of ISBN prefix ownership for Bowker. If you’re setting up an ebook, your work is done. You can enter your new ISBN into the various distribution platforms when they request it.
- If you are publishing a print edition, email PAD@bowker.com to let them know you are a Canadian publisher looking to set up a new account with your Canadian ISBN prefix. They will want the following info: Company name (or your name), Company address, City, Province, Country, Postal Code, Primary contact, ISBN prefix, and Documentation of ISBN ownership (an attached copy of that email from the previous step). Once they review your information, they should set you up with a My Identifiers account, which is their ISBN management platform.
- Log into My Identifiers and go to My Account > My Identifiers/Manage ISBNs (same thing). Plug in the ISBN for your paperback.
- Click on the ISBN and fill out all the relevant fields. (Title, author, etc. Audience is ALWAYS ‘Trade’ when selling books to the general public.) REMEMBER: All data entered here must match EXACTLY with what you enter for your paperback title when adding it to KDP. Bowker considers any part of a title beyond a colon (:) as a subtitle, and will usually bump it (or tell you to move it) to the subtitle field. You will need to replicate this split on KDP, or you will trigger an error message. Each field must match exactly when Amazon pings Bowker, or the KDP bot gets angry. As far as Amazon is concerned, if the information doesn’t exist or match Bowker, then it must be wrong.
- Save your changes and check back in a day or so to see if Bowker has updated your changes in their system. (Just look up your ISBN on My Identifiers again and look for a green checkmark in the Status field.) Now you’re ready to upload your Canadian ISBN paperback to KDP and beyond. (Finally!) When entering your imprint name on KDP, use the publisher name that is listed on Bowker under the Sales & Pricing section. (This should be the individual/company name you provided Bowker to set up your account.)
If you run out of ISBNs, you can submit a request to ISBN Canada through your account for another block. You will also have to email Bowker again to explain the situation and ask them to add the new block of ISBNs to your existing My Identifiers account.
For more details on the nuts and bolts of ISBNs, check out this Wikipedia article.
Registering a copyright for your book:
First off: I am not a copyright lawyer or legal expert. Whether or not you decide to register a copyright is totally up to you. Many writers have debated this point online, and I’m sure you can find lots of related blog posts if you decide to look, so I’m not going to get into that debate.
But if you do decide to register a copyright, you can do it here. Each title you register will cost $50, and you can register either before or after you publish.
Highly Recommended Reading:
- The Copyright Handbook published by Nolo Press. (You can usually find a used edition for a decent price on Amazon. I’m not linking because they put out a new edition every so often.)
- Canadian Copyright Law published by Wiley.
Sadly, most authors have little to no idea of how copyright law actually works, which leaves them vulnerable to terrible contracts and scams (regardless of whether they decide to register their copyright or not). Your books are intellectual property. It is within your best interest to understand how to leverage and protect them.
Copyright might seem boing, but understanding how the laws work (both in Canada and beyond, since we are selling our books internationally online) is critical to understanding your rights and how to license your work. Both of these books are written in layperson terms and are great resources. The Magic Bakery by Dean Wesley Smith is also a solid introduction to copyright to help get you in the right mindset of how powerful copyright can be if leveraged properly.
Ordering copies of your paperback:
Amazon KDP (Formerly Createspace)
These books are shipped from the US, and you will be charged in US dollars, which can be a real pain, depending on the exchange rate. Also, they do not accept Paypal, so if you’re using a Canadian credit card, you will get hit with exchange fees on top of the exchange rate. (Check out the banking section below for a way around this.) The only time when I find Amazon KDP helpful, is when I’m running a Goodreads giveaway, and I want to drop-ship a single copy of my book to a third-party winner. (Amazon has multiple warehouses in the US and Europe, which means it’s much cheaper to ship straight from them to the end customer/winner than for me to physically ship a copy from Canada via Canada Post.)
When you order multiple copies of your book in a single shipment, the courier services will often slap a surprise brokerage fee onto your shipping cost (which never seems to have any clear explanation of how it’s calculated, as far as I can tell), charging you when they arrive at your door. This can really add up (especially on top of the higher Priority shipping option), and prevent your order from being delivered if you’re not around to pay the charges. In my experience, this seems to happen if I order 10+ copies.
The other downside of ordering 10+ copies is that usually the order will end up shipping by DHL instead of UPS, unless you’ve shelled out for Priority Shipping. (This is not a hard and fast rule, but it has always been my experience.) DHL is way slower than UPS, and I’ve had shipments where the tracking information from DHL did not exist at all and took weeks to arrive.
Basically, if I order from Amazon KDP, I try to keep it to 5 copies or fewer. This means it’s likely to be shipped by UPS (which is trackable, and only takes about 3 days in my experience, once the books have been printed and the shipment has been picked up from the warehouse), and it should avoid brokerage fees as well. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t get around the exchange rate, and is not always cost-effective if you need a lot of units. Which brings us to…
Blurb is my new best friend. They ship from within Canada and charge me in Canadian dollars. They also offer volume discounts (10+ copies = 10% off, 20+ copies = 20% off, etc.), as well as the occasional promo code to save even more without a minimum order quantity. I don’t have to worry about surprise brokerage or tax fees either. The print quality is on par with Amazon KDP, with orders being fulfilled by international distribution powerhouse, Ingram/Lightning Source (without any of the painful ‘title setup fees’ Ingram usually charges if you deal with them directly). Honestly, I’m kicking myself for not trying Blurb sooner. But you might also want to try…
If you’ve set up your print books with IngramSpark, you can bulk order through them as well. (Again, if you have an account with ALLi/the Alliance of Independent Authors [affiliate link], you can use monthly coupon codes to get around the pesky setup fees.) Presumably, this will be a little bit cheaper than going through Blurb, since you’re cutting out the middleman, but I haven’t gotten around to trying this option yet. If nothing else, the quality will be the same, since Ingram fulfills Blurb’s orders here in Canada.
So it looks like we’ve come full-circle here, and this might seem counter-intuitive… but if you only need a few copies of your book, you can also order them as a customer on Amazon.ca. The benefits of this include: no exchange rate or border-crossing fees, and fast, free shipping. You will end up paying more per unit, since you won’t be buying the books at cost like you would through the other platforms, but you will also get some of this money back as royalties. (Also remember that you have the power to adjust your Amazon retail price temporarily if needed.)
Just for the record: I am not a tax lawyer or expert. I’m only sharing information based on my own experience.
OK, so things are WAAAY easier now on the tax front than they were back when I started. The most important thing to know is that when you get paid by your US distributors (D2D, Smashwords, Amazon KDP, etc.), they withhold 30% of your earnings (in addition to their royalty cut) as tax.
The good news is that Canada has a tax treaty with the US, which means that once you properly identify yourself as a Canadian citizen within the eyes of the IRS, the amount of withholding tax goes down to 0%. (This doesn’t affect your royalty share.)
What used to be a runaround of IRS forms is now a simple online document/tax interview. (The format and delivery varies from one company to another, but they’re all basically a digital W-7 application form.)
First, you will need to fill out some version of this online form for every US-based distributor you work with. You’ll also need to fill out a new one every 3 years or so with each distributor to make sure your information is current. (Usually, the company will send an email to remind you.) You’ll need to fill out your basic info (date of birth, address, citizenship, etc.). You will also need to provide your Social Insurance Number. This last piece of information is necessary to provide the IRS with a foreign tax identifier. If you don’t provide this information, your application can’t be completed. (Think of it like when you have to give your SIN to a new employer when you start a new job here in Canada.)
Your Annual US Income Tax Documents:
Since you are outside the US, it can take quite a bit longer to receive your annual income tax documents (AKA: 1042-S) than a typical Canadian T4. (I’m talking around end of March.) You can now receive all your 1042-S docs online, which helps to shave off the mailing time. You will need a 1042-S for each US-based company you work with, just like you would need a T4 for each Canadian company you worked for during the previous year.
Most companies will email you when your documents become available to download. Amazon is usually the slowest in my experience, and up until this year, I don’t recall receiving an email notification from them. This handy link will take you to Amazon’s Tax Central, where you can find all your documents when they are ready. (Just use your KDP credentials to sign in.) If it’s April, and you’re still missing a 1042-S from someone, get in touch with the company’s customer service department to request one.
Again, I am not a tax expert or an accountant, so how you choose to report your writing earnings for your Canadian income tax is up to you. (Some people stick with entering their royalties as ‘Other Income’, which is very easy, but claiming them as ‘Self-Employment Income’ allows you to claim related business expenses against your earnings.) However you or your accountant decide to do it, you must report your writing royalties as taxable income. You will need to use an average exchange rate from the year the royalties were earned (USD to CAD) from the Bank of Canada to convert your earnings properly into Canadian Dollars for income tax purposes.
Receiving direct payments from the US:
Some companies like D2D, Smashwords, and Streetlib pay via Paypal with no minimum royalty threshold. (D2D and Smashwords pay out monthly, while Streetlib pays out quarterly.) Amazon KDP doesn’t use Paypal, so the only payment options are cheque or direct deposit. If you’re getting paid by cheque, your royalty earnings must be at least $100 USD, which can take awhile in the beginning to add up. Plus, you have to wait for the cheque to arrive in the mail and hope it doesn’t get lost.
The direct deposit option is WAAAY better. No minimum payout threshold, and instant, monthly royalty payments. Plus, it’s also supported by D2D. The trick is that you need a US-domicile bank account (as in a chequing account with a branch that’s physically in the US), as opposed to a Canadian-based US currency account. I use RBC, which has a branch located in Georgia.
I use two RBC accounts:
US Checking Account: I use this to to accept direct deposits from the US ($3.95 USD/month service charge). I also funnel my Paypal royalties into the same account. It comes with a US Visa Debit card, which is also handy for making business-related payments (web hosting, image licenses, etc.) in US dollars without getting slapped with foreign conversion fees like you would with a Canadian credit card.
Canadian Savings Account: I use this to filter money in and out of the other two accounts as needed (1 free transaction/month, no monthly fee). You might find a different Canadian currency account works better for your banking needs.
You can link all your RBC accounts online and move your money to or from the US very easily. I opened my accounts in person at a local branch, and they were very helpful for setting everything up. To open the US Checking Account, I needed two pieces of ID and a $100 deposit to transfer into the new account. (Not sure if this policy is still the same.)
Additional Tools and Resources:
These are not necessarily specific to self-publishing from Canada, but they are tools and resources that I have found extremely useful.
For years, I formatted all of my books manually. Even though I had gotten it down to a science, it was tedious, mind-numbing work that took more time than I really wanted. Then I discovered Vellum. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a game-changer this software has been for me. It’s easy to use, and creates beautiful books in a fraction of the time I used to spend. (The downside is that it’s on the pricey side, but you only pay once for the license, and receive all updates for free. Also, it only works on Mac.)
Recently, Amazon expert and software geek Dave Chesson has developed an alternative to Vellum that is more affordable, and works on both Mac and PC. Atticus launched in 2021, and has been evolving quickly in an effort to match and possibly surpass the tools available in Vellum. (Which has pushed Vellum to become more innovative and competitive in turn.) I haven’t tried Atticus yet, but I’ve heard great things, and I’m keeping an eye on it.
Up until last year, I had always just written all my manuscripts in some version of Word/LibreOffice/OpenOffice software. I could never understand what the big deal was with this Scrivener thing so many writers seemed to talk about. Then I tried it and fell in love.
It’s like a digital binder for your manuscript. There’s a section for character sketches. A section for research. A section for notes. (You can include images and links in these areas.) You can view these sections as a corkboard. You can move scenes or chapters of your manuscript around to re-order them–a total nightmare in any kind of office software. You can tag scenes or chapters for easy reference. You can set a word-count goal with notifications. It’s awesome.
I used to have multiple document files for all my notes that were separate from my manuscript, but now I have everything in one file that I can navigate easily while I’m writing. I wish I had started using it years ago.
Amazon Category & Keyword Software:
Making your books discoverable is super-important. Selecting the correct categories and keywords for your books can make a huge difference in reaching the right readers and can even boost your ranking if you play your cards right. Amazon is always tweaking their system and adding new categories in an effort to match as many readers with the most relevant books possible, and they are at the cutting edge in this area.
Publisher Rocket (another software baby by Dave Chesson) is a dashboard that allows you to peek under the Amazon hood to find out how competitive keywords and categories are, so you can find that niche that’s relevant to your book, but not overly crowded, so you’re actually visible.
I would also recommend Dave’s Mastering Keywords and Categories course, which is a series of videos that explain exactly how to get the most out of Publisher Rocket. (You can use Publisher Rocket without it, but the course really made a difference for me.)
General Writing and Publishing Tips:
I was recently pointed to this link by a writing student named Megan. It includes resources on skill development, conferences and conventions, poetry resources, and more.
If you are interested in screenwriting, check out this post on writing for theater and film (which also includes links to additional resources on dialogue, script formatting, etc.), submitted by writing student, Anna.
The Alliance of Independent Authors/ALLi also has a ton of great podcast videos on YouTube that range from beginner to advanced on both writing and publishing.
Publishing Industry News and Updates Worth the Follow:
- The New Publishing Standard (Blog)
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Blog)
- Joanna Penn/The Creative Penn Podcast
David Gaughran has countless resources that are worth checking out in this area, and many of them are free. He has a newsletter, a blog, YouTube videos, and even a full course that’s totally free (Starting from Zero), with no strings attached. His books are also super helpful and worth the read (plus, he’s got a great sense of humour).
This year, I discovered Becca Syme–a Gallup-certified Strengths coach, who focuses on helping writers of all levels figure out how to leverage their unique combination of strengths, overcome blocks and burnout, and take their writing to the next level.
Becca has tons of YouTube videos known as the Quitcast, plus a series of awesome books, a Patreon, coaching, and courses. (I’ve listened to all of the Quitcast videos, read all the books, and become a Patreon follower, but I haven’t taken any of her courses yet.)
When Becca talks about quitting, she doesn’t mean you need to quit writing. She means you need to quit doing the things that are holding you back, like making certain assumptions. (Question the premise!) She has this uncanny knack of being able to explain exactly why you do these things in a blame-free way that completely changes your perspective. I can’t recommend her highly enough, and I’ve found the Gallup Strengths test she bases her coaching on to be really insightful and fascinating.
Publishing and Writing Craft Courses:
I have the lifetime subscription to both the lectures and courses with WMG Publishing, which are taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. (They write the course material together, but Dean is usually the presenter.) Dean and Kris have 30+ years of writing and publishing experience each. They are also insanely prolific, and multi-time bestsellers.
Kris and Dean are blunt, no-nonsense types, who have no problem telling you how it really is when it comes to both craft and business. They have literally seen it all. You might want to check out their respective blogs first to get a feel for them before shelling out for a course.
Whew! Hopefully, someone out there will find this info helpful. If you have any questions, let me know. 🙂