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The Business of Writing for Self-publishing authors

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How to look after the business side of being a self-publishing writer

Joanne PhillipsSelf-publishing authors - also known as ‘indie' authors or author-publishers - have had a steep learning curve these past few years. Getting to grips with the various sales channels available to them, producing top quality ebooks and paperbacks, and finding a place in mainstream outlets have left many writers struggling to keep up with the paperwork. What follows is brief guide to the essentials your self-publishing business needs - because it is a business, even if you only publish one book!

(NB: While this guide has been produced with self-publishing authors in mind, it is just as valid for traditionally published authors, although they may not be able to access their own data as readily as indie authors.)



Self-publishing authors need to register as self-employed in the country in which they are liable for tax. In the UK, once a year you will need to fill in, or ask your accountant to fill in, a self-assessment form.

Tax Withholding and EINs

Authors earning money from sales in the USA who live outside of the USA will need to obtain either an EIN or an ITIN in order to prevent the withholding of 30% of their earnings. It's worthwhile sorting this out early on, even if you don't anticipate selling many books in the US. There is a very helpful section about it on this self-publishing author's website:

Many countries have tax treaties with the US, including the United Kingdom, so once you have obtained your EIN you can fill out the necessary forms (currently a W8-BEN) and receive all of your earnings without any being withheld.


If you are publishing a print edition of your book you may need to purchase an ISBN.* These are purchased through Nielsen in the UK and Bowker in the US. ISBNs can usually only be purchased in blocks of 10, and can take a few weeks to be issued so order them as soon as you decide to self-publish. If you are publishing your book only in ebook format you will not necessarily need your own ISBNs - Amazon will give you their own ASIN, and eretailers like Smashwords or Kobo will allow you to use a free ISBN. Similarly, if you publish your paperback via CreateSpace* you will have the option to use a free ISBN, but be aware that in this case the publisher of record will be CreateSpace, not you or the publishing imprint name you might wish to be using to self-publish your books.



The first - and arguably most important - aspect of your business to keep on top of is your royalties. When you publish your ebook via Amazon's KDP platform, for example, the payment you get from Amazon (70% or 35% of list price, depending on price selected) is called a royalty. Because Amazon has e-stores all over the world, you will receive separate royalty reports for each channel, and for each book you have for sale. Amazon issue these monthly, and pay your royalties into your bank account two months in arrears.

If you are using CreateSpace for your paperback books, your earnings from sales are also called royalties. If, however, you are using another Print On Demand company, such as Lightning Source, your share of the sales may be known as ...

Publisher Compensation

It's important to be aware of the different terminology to avoid confusion. Remember, when you self-publish you become the ‘publisher', therefore many companies who are supplying you with services will treat you as such. Lightning Source pay their publisher compensation monthly three months in arrears.

Supplying Book Shops

You may supply your local bookshop with a few of your titles (if, say, they are unable or unwilling to order them from CreateSpace). In this case it would be usual to supply them on a sale or return basis with a discount on the cover price (or list price), which is usually 40%. For example, you would take or send 5 copies to the bookshop, along with an invoice stating the quantity, list price, and discount offered. The bookshop will keep the books for a mutually agreed period, and then contact you with payment for the books that sold and a request to collect the books that did not sell. It's important to keep track of how many books you have sent to a particular bookshop or other retailer as the payment often comes in for books sold many months later.

Other Earnings

While authors earn money mainly in the form of royalties on books sales, there are many other sources of income, for example: earnings from books sold by hand to friends and family or via a book signing; income from talks or workshops; online sales of your books or other writing-related material.


Production Costs

The major expense incurred by self-publishing authors are those that relate to producing their books, whether in ebook or paperback format. Editing, proofreading, formatting, typesetting, cover design, uploading files to printers, distribution costs - all these must be recorded and receipts kept securely. These direct costs are only incurred on the production of a new title, whereas the following costs will be continuous throughout the year...

Running Costs

These include such expenses as marketing and advertising, website hosting, stationery, accountancy fees, and a myriad of other costs unique to each situation. If it relates directly and exclusively to your business activities it is a valid expense to offset against your income when you come to fill out your tax return. If there is a proportion that is used for personal activities then it's advisable to get advice from an accountant. For example, using your own car to travel to book signings does not mean your car is a business expense! You can, however, claim a per-mile amount, or you can claim for travelling expenses by train.


When you have only one or two titles to keep track of, it's tempting to record everything - and there is nothing wrong with keeping extensive records, they will certainly help you remember what worked in terms of sales or what didn't work so well in the future. Problems start when you find you are spending a disproportionate amount of time on admin and not enough time writing! Decide early on what to track and set up a system to make it easy. Tracking sales per title on a monthly basis will allow you to see when a particular book is selling well - or not so well. Keep all your receipts for six years, and keep at the very least a basic record of income and expenditure to assist with filling in your self-assessment

This article is a follow-up to Joanne's recently revised The Business of writing, an extremely useful article about how to look after the business side of being a writer.

Joanne Phillips lives in Shropshire, England with her husband and young daughter. She divides her time between writing novels and freelance indexing. She's the author of commercial women's fiction Can't Live Without, The Family Trap and Cupid's Trap, and the Flora Lively Investigates series of cosy mysteries. Can't Live Without was an Amazon top 100 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear on category bestseller lists. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing at

Connect on:
Twitter: @joannegphillips

Other articles by Joanne on the WritersServices site:

The Ins and Outs of Indexing

How to Market Your Writing Services Online

The business of writing

She is also the author of a major series for the site - WritersServices Guide to Self-publishing