Is Self-Publishing Only For Americans?

Is Self Publishing Only For AmericansThe multiple self-publishing hurdles for non-US authors.

Self-published authors, who like me, have the misfortune to reside outside the US know all too well of the handicaps and barriers that they have to accept, or break down along the route to getting their books self-published and promoted.

There are issues such as extremely high shipping costs, and excessively long delivery times for POD books and higher minimum royalty payments that are only payable by check to non-US accounts, and not electronically as they are for US accounts.

Even when they overcome issues such as these, further hurdles and worse, firmly closed doors await them along the way in trying to broaden their markets and promote their books. Yes, self-publishing an ebook on Kindle KDP might be easy and available to almost everyone, but after that things can get a little more difficult. Only for Americans is it a walk in the park.

I recall how shocked I was when I discovered that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press was only for Americans, which has since been relaxed just a little now to include a very small handful of other countries. What? As a major competitor to Amazon Kindle, it was a nasty surprise to find out that I was geographically excluded. Okay, the workaround was to publish with Smashwords, who then aggregate to B&N, but it was clear that B&N did not think that authors in the rest of the world were really worth bothering with. B&N is clearly only for Americans, and stuff the rest.

Amazon’s Createspace treats international authors with disdain.

Then there is Createspace, an Amazon company, but it never feels like it to me. In my case, I am still paid by check, (on three different currency based markets, £, $ and Euro) and have a ten times higher minimum royalty payment threshold than if lived in the US, (on all three markets) and the postage and shipping charges on my POD orders are so staggeringly high that is cheaper to order my own books retail from Amazon US.

Note: Createspace, at long last, after only 12 years of waiting, now pays me by EFT.

The example below shows my cost price of $3.89 from Createspace, but when the book is shipped the total cost is $18.27 per copy if I want it delivered in a week. If I am prepared to wait 2 months (yes, 2 months!) for delivery, the per delivered book price is still close to $9.00. My book is listed on Amazon for $13.95, and normally with free delivery! Can you believe that it is cheaper and quicker for me to buy my own books retail from Amazon than from my own POD supplier, who happens to be Amazon?

Yet if you use Createspace in the US, shipping costs are negligible, so this is not an issue at all. But cheap, it seems, is only for Americans.

However, and get this, my POD books are NOT produced in the US, but in Europe. So in fact, they are produced closer to me than they would be if they were produced in Seattle and posted to Denver! Unfair? Most certainly. Okay, my example is for one copy, but believe me, it doesn’t get much better for volume orders. Shipping 100 copies only reduces the per unit shipping cost by about 45%, which is still way in excess of the wholesale book price.

Createspace shipping charges

Creatspace delivery charges

$14.38 to ship a $3.89 book? If you are a non-US self-publisher, you can forget all about using POD.

The Amazon no-go zones.

Onto less illogical matters. A couple of years ago I tried to use Kindle Publishing for Blogs as a means of book promotion, only to find out after completing my registration, that the service was available only for Americans. Okay, so US authors could promote themselves through publishing their blogs on Kindle, but again, bad luck if you weren’t American.

In the long years since I self-published my first book, I have hit so many doors that are closed to non-US authors and self-publishers. Book promotion sites, self-publishing platforms plus a few US based book bloggers and book tour services, who without shame, forthrightly said that they are not interested in anything but US titles and authors, all add up to making it very difficult to compete. The rest of the world counts for so little? Were William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Jane Austen and Douglas Adams all American?

Then there is the IRS.

All this is, of course, is on top of the hoops that non-US authors have to go through to get an IRS TIN or EIN number to avoid getting hit by 30% of their earnings being lost to US withholding tax. Yet even when a non-US author gets an EIN or TIN and is officially recognised by the US IRS, it does not necessarily mean that life gets easier. Ok, the IRS recognises that you can now legally do business in the USA, but that doesn’t mean that Amazon does. As I discovered to my chagrin yet again very recently.

Yet even when a non-US author gets an EIN or TIN and is officially recognised by the US IRS, it does not necessarily mean that life gets easier. Okay, the IRS recognises that you can now legally do business in the USA, but that doesn’t mean that Amazon does. As I discovered to my chagrin yet again very recently.

Kindle’s latest innovation, Kindle Scout, (1) looked like a great opportunity to me, so I went to Amazon’s Kindle Scout web page, which asked me to log in with my Amazon KDP account. Great, I’m in. Then I read all about how I could submit a book under the program.

But, after navigating through pages of links to be able to read the fine print in the FAQs, I discovered that once again I might have a problem, with this small entry in the Kindle Scout FAQs.

Who can submit to Kindle Scout? 
Any author who is 18 (or the age of majority in the place they reside) or older with a valid U.S. bank account and a U.S. Social Security number or Tax Identification number can submit. (link)

I am an adult and I have a US tax identification number, but I do not have a US bank account. A small matter I thought, but worth checking. So I sent an email to Amazon asking for clarification.

Amazon’s reply:

At this time, only adults with a valid U.S. bank account and a U.S. social security number or tax identification number is eligible.

BANG! Another US-only door slammed firmly shut for non-US self-publishers. And they couldn’t even get their grammar right in their email! Sure, there is no mention that non-US authors can’t use Kindle Scout, but as one needs to be a US citizen or resident to be able to open a US bank account, it’s just another way of slamming the door on non-American authors without bluntly saying so.

There are no borders for Amazon, so why are there barriers for authors?

One might think that the obstacles that non-US self-published authors face can be explained away as a rights issue. But self-published authors have, and grant publishers such as Amazon global rights to their books, so there are no geographic boundaries whatsoever at play here. Amazon sells books and ebooks in a globalised market. By way of proof, another Kindle initiative, Kindle Singles, has no restriction at all on non-US authors. So why is there on Kindle Scout?

Yet another Amazon Kindle product, Kindle Unlimited is geo-protected as Amazon states:

Q: Is Kindle Unlimited available to customers living outside the US? 
A: Kindle Unlimited is currently available only to US customers on Customers in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Canada can sign-up for Kindle Unlimited in their local Amazon marketplace. 

Note: Kindle Unlimited is now available in more countries, but unfortunately, not mine.

Bad luck if you live in Belgium, The Netherlands, South Africa or Australia, which by the way, does have its own Kindle Store. While this is a subscription service to rent ebooks, it is a penalty for non-US self-published authors, who are not given access to cheaper reading.

Globalised opportunities for Amazon, but not for authors.

Globalisation is not what it seems when it comes to Amazon. Ask all the Amazon workers in fulfilment centres in Ireland, who while they work for the giant there, don’t even have a Kindle Store in their country, which has a rich literary history and culture. And no, Ireland is not part of the UK, so Amazon UK doesn’t count.

Yes, it is okay when you are a US multinational corporation to pay the bare minimum of income tax in any country of your choosing, such as Ireland, and then legally but not morally, avoid your US tax obligations. Yet in return, offer nothing in the way of services to the countries that offer such havens. There are no national borders for Amazon, so why do Amazon and other US companies use borders as an excuse to penalise thousands of authors and readers?

It seems that self-publishing is designed in most part for Americans and the American market, but on the other hand, international tax avoidance and cheap labour is a border-free opportunity for all US corporations such as Amazon.

If Amazon can operate freely in a borderless world, why can’t it at least offer the same for their self-published authors on KDP and allow non-US authors the same opportunities as their American counterparts? Surely it’s not that difficult.

As currently, it feels like bias and an unfair lockout.

Anyone who has read my blogs over the years will know that I am an avid supporter of self-publishing and that I have found ways to overcome many of the obstacles faced by being a non-US self-publisher. But if I was to offer advice to a new non-American author considering taking the same path it would be to get an IRS number, publish only in ebook form on KDP Select and forget about the rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s easier than fighting un-winnable battles. Self-publishing is run by big US companies and they have every right to make the rules, no matter how unfair they may seem.

But if I was to offer advice to a new non-American author considering taking the same path it would be to get an IRS number, publish only in ebook form on KDP Select and forget about the rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s easier than fighting unwinnable battles. Self-publishing is run by big US companies and they have every right to make the rules, no matter how unfair they may seem.

So if you are not an American self-published author, all you can do is accept the handicaps and make the best of what you can get. But if you are an American self-publisher however, perhaps you should understand that you get access to all the advantages, which are not always available to others.

*Update (1): Kindle Scout is now available in a handful of countries.

This to some this might sound like a very long moan. But to be fair, is all of what I have listed, fair?

14 thoughts on “Is Self-Publishing Only For Americans?”

  1. Hi Derek,

    I do agree with many of the points you make in your article. However, as of April 2013, non-US authors can opt for EFT payments both from KDP & CreateSpace. I am proud to be one of many who took action to change this: I wrote to Jeff Bezos with a reasoned, detailled argument pointing out how EFT payments would save Amazon 7 million dollar a year in production/handling/staff costs incurred by issuing checks, especially using banks that don’t have corresponding banks outside the US. I also pointed out in Europe we have phased out checks almost completely over thirty years ago. Most banks wiill not take them now, or if they do, they want 35% of the nominal value of the check amaount as commision.

    On the subject of POD, what irks me is that if, say, a reader in Spain orders a paperback copy of one of my books, it is printed in Luxembourg (which takes advantage of tax incentives for Amazon) and sent off poste-haste, yet if, as the author who happens to reside in Spain, I have to order my POD author copies from the US, incurring all the extra cost and time penalties you so correctly cite. Apart from the time & cost that means I cannot promote my books at signings etc without incurring a heavy loss per copy. Yes, in my book, that’s discrimination.

    Being excluded (through pure geographical reasons) from participating in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards (I’ve given up looking at the conditions on this so it might have changed this year) and Kindle Scout is also insulting. With the latter, if you read the general conditions you will at first see that non-US residents might be included, but then, in the elegibility clauses, the words US bank account holder (i.e. US Social Security Number without which you can’t get a US bank account) crop up. More discrimination. Will someone please explain to me how having a US Social Security Number and bank account makes you a better writer?

    Amazon tout themselves as being cutting edge (remember drone deliveries) but they live in the 19th Century when it comes to the rest of the World. For me it boils down to one simple question: are they a company with global reach or not? If they are, then they should apply that equally to both their customers (readers) and their customers (writers) wherever they may reside.

    This is the 21st Century Amazon – treat your non-US authors with respect; anything else could be construed as something akin to Alabama in the fifties and sixties.

    1. Thanks for you great comment, Eric. You had me immediately check my Createspace account, but no, EFT is still not available for me in Switzerland. Ha, and we do have banks! In the Createspace FAQs it says:

      “We currently offer direct deposit payments in U.S. Dollars, British Pounds, and Euro to members with a bank account in the U.S., U.K, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and The Netherlands. There are no minimum payment thresholds associated with the direct deposit payment method.”

      So I’m still stuck with £100. Euro100 and $100 minimums. It’s ok..ish for the US$ accounts, but for my books sold in Spain and France? I might be waiting years to get my equivalent of $25 sitting in limbo, as the European accounts have a minimum that is equal to nearly $200!!

      As for KDP, yes, I do receive royalties by EFT, and that’s what makes me so cranky about Createspace. They are hoarding the royalties of 1,000s of authors with their ridiculously high Pound and Euro account minimums. It’s close to theft.

      My basic argument though is that after a non US author goes to all the trouble of getting an IRS number, which can take months, that should be enough for Amazon. After all, the US government has granted the author the right to earn money in the US, and the author has registered that right with Amazon.

      And yes, Amazon are being a little selective about being a global company.

      1. Hi Derek,

        Being in Switzerland, can you hold a bank account in an EU country? That would seem to solve the problem as far as CreateSpace/KDP’s EFT payments are concerned.

        Also, both CreateSpace and KDP have now made it far easier for non-US residents to provide their tax info if they live in a country with a tax treaty with the US (which Switzerland has). You no longer need the TIN with all the hastle that entails; you just fill in the ‘forms’ on CreatSpace and KDP and that’s that.

        1. Hi Eric. Opening bank accounts in other countries has become next to impossible, and mainly due to US intervention in the international banking system. So no, that’s not a viable possibility. And with regard to tax treaties, they exist, but they do not negate the responsibility to collect withholding tax by US companies, as is the case with anyone who is not US resident, and earning any form of income in the US such as authors on Amazon. These treaties in fact strengthen the necessity for companies paying non US vendors to withhold 30% and pay this sum to the IRS. But what these treaties allow, is that the withholding tax can be claimed back, but as my accountant has told me, the cost of this procedure is not worth the effort unless the sum held is in the thousands.

  2. Derek, about the Amazon Scout Program, maybe a check account opened online in Bank of America through could work. Since I’m from Venezuela, opened one and I receive my payments from Amazon on that account. They also provided you with a prepaid Master card.

    1. There may be loops that one could use, Breeze, but wouldn’t it be easier if Amazon just got reasonable and stopped playing with borders? Are they global, or not?

      1. Yes, you’re right! It’s about playing with fair rules. All this situation remember me Moneyball, the movie. How this manager, Billy Beane initiated a revolution in Baseball business, changing paradigms about how to choose players. I found it very similar to what happened with self publishing in the last years. But is logical to highlight that the democratization of the process to publish books that Amazon preaches has mutated in a labyrinth with a lot of hidden corridors.

  3. Thank you for this, Derek. I was considering CreateSpace but will now try another route. I live in South Africa and have discovered that Amazon will not pay me for many sales in global shops because I have not reached 100 limit worth. They have told me that the only way they will pay me what is owed – is for me to close down my entire KDP account. I assume this would mean losing all my hard-won reviews as well. So I’ve had to take that loss because it appears that there is no one to fight for our rights on this matter. As result – and to save myself losing even more money – I have removed my books from all global shops except US and UK. So there is loss of opportunity for both for me and Amazon itself. The other problem I have is that in certain global shops at least two dollars are added to my price – making my book uncompetitive with others in its range. Again, reducing my opportunities to sell and therefore income for Amazon itself. It makes no financial sense. They say these charges are ‘regional operating costs’ and local taxes. ??? Why doesn’t Smashwords have this problem?
    Then they refuse to pay me other than by a check through the post. No EFT. No PayPal – which would solve everybody’s problem regarding this whole stupid fuss with bank accounts. They are, as you say, working in the 19th century. I have never felt so discriminated against and misused by an organisation before in my life.
    Smashwords have promised some innovative changes this year – which I hope will mean some innovative ways for us to promote our books on their sites and affiliated sites. I sell more through Smashwords through B&N and Apple than anything I achieve through Amazon. So closing that Amazon account entirely like they advise, is an ever-looming option.

    1. You’re right, Malla. KDP and Amazon have created so many traps and loopholes that it’s impossible to navigate their international prices and payments. And I agree. If Smashwords can consolidate all international earnings, why can’t KDP? I think the answer is simple. Amazon don’t want to, and won’t, as there are so many little opportunities to garner extra profits. For Amazon that is, and not for self publishers. As for Paypal, you will never see it from Amazon, as Paypal is owned by Ebay, which is of course Amazon’s biggest competitor.

  4. Wow, I thought it was bad here, but I guess we Americans should stop complaining. I ordered ONE of my debut novels to be rushed. It got to my home in two days, but the shipping was $15.95. The 2nd tier was three days and that was $9 and something. The lowest price is reasonable but takes about 10 days. And I don’t know what happens if you are not home. I ordered 200 of my books and was a nervous wreck until I got them.

    1. It is a nasty rip off, Sherrie. Especially when you consider Amazon’s delivery charges are minimal when purchasing the same books from their online store. But for some reason, Amazon cannot seem to do much with Createspace, other than rudely profiteer from authors.

  5. Oh man this, to put it simply, sucks. As most of us here at RoughTradeBlog are either authors of fiction and poetry or nonfiction, we have all considered self-publication as a viable route to getting our work out there (for it is a little different…), but could not imagine if we lived outside of the U.S. and had to jump through all these hoops. Well, we’re going to check out your book, regardless, so hope that cheers ya up!

  6. Derek. Having recently been through the process, I agree with all of your points i.e. it is ridiculous for a company of Amazon’s size to not provide equal facilities to all of its global customers. I fail to understand why they don’t and can’t find a commercial logic for it.

    But – and there is always a but – one of the key steps in the marketing for my first novel, Best Eaten Cold, has been to encourage the first few hundred contacts in my fledgling mailing list to buy it and, hopefully, to review it. So far, around 70% have chosen to buy it in the paperback format. I think it would have been a mistake for me to only release on eBook formats.

    As such I don’t agree with your recommendation to only release on eBook. At least not for people like me who are right at the beginning of the process.

    The plan is working well so far and my goal is to have a solid presence once I start the next phase of my marketing. It wasn’t such a huge effort to put the paperback together and I completely avoided the ridiculous American shipping costs by soft launching, buying my draft copy from Amazon UK and then resubmitting once I had reviewed.

    If I need a lot of physical copies for my future marketing, I will almost certainly find another printer.

    Tony Salter

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