Jacquelyn Smith

Self-Publishing Tips for Canadian Writers

I’ve avoided posting self-publishing tips on this blog 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 into one monster post. 😉


So this one goes out to any fellow Canucks out there who are thinking about going indie.


Online Distribution:


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

Amazon Createspace: Used to add paperback version to Amazon.com

Smashwords: Used to add ebook version to all other major online retailers (B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.)


Now, there are some differences from publishing in the US. For example, many indie writers like to use the Barnes & Nobles PubIt! platform to publish with them directly instead of going through Smashwords, but you can only have an account with B&N if you live in the US.


Of course, if you live in Canada, you probably want your book to be available on Canadian websites as well. Createspace offers an Expanded Distribution option for $25 that will list your paperback on Amazon.ca. But be warned: the royalty share for this option is really low.


As far as Canadian ebook distribution goes, you can manage this through Smashwords. They already publish  your ebook to iTunes.ca and Kobo through their Premium Catalog program. Kobo has recently opened up their own publishing platform, and their royalty share program is very competitive, but it looks like they only pay out if your balance is over $100, which can take a while in the beginning.



Getting into Canadian bookstores:


Let’s face it. The Chapters/Indigo/Coles conglomerate is the biggest game in town. If you want to be carried in their stores, you will have to approach them as you would an independent bookstore for a consignment deal: one store at a time. Trust me, I have worked for this company for 10 years (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.


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. Also, the print book business isn’t getting any bigger. Dedicated shelf space for books is slowly being taken over by gift or toy product. With limited space at a premium, 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. So far, I’ve avoided this option, but I might change my mind at some point.


Self-published books that do well in bookstores are usually local interest titles. For example, the Camp X books by Lynn Phillip Hodgson started off on a consignment basis at the Oshawa and Ajax Chapters stores, which are local to the setting of the books, and grew in popularity from there.


Getting an ISBN:


In the US, you usually have to purchase an ISBN (unless a distributor provides you one for no cost), but in Canada, ISBNs are free.


First, you will need to register as a publisher. 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. You can sign up, request ISBNs and manage them here.


These ISBNs can be used when you add your book to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. Remember: The print version of your book must have a different ISBN from the ebook version. For more details on the nuts and bolts of ISBNs, check out this Wikipedia article.


Registering a copyright for your book:


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.


Ordering copies of your paperback from Createspace:


I learned this one the hard way. When you order copies of your paperback from Createspace, you have two shipping options: Standard and Priority. If you are ordering multiple copies of your book, you should probably choose Standard.


When you order multiple copies of your book in a single shipment, the postal services slap a surprise import/customs fee onto your shipping cost, 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 with cash (in exact change) or cheque.


The import fees don’t seem to apply when you order your proof copy (which makes me think there is some kind of weight threshold involved). I usually order my proof copy by Priority, and budget my time to ship my bulk orders by Standard.


Getting a US tax ID (ITIN):


Just for the record: I am not a tax lawyer or expert. I’m only sharing information based on my own experience.


When you get paid by your US distributors (Smashwords, Amazon KDP/CreateSpace, etc.), they withhold 30% of your earnings (in addition to their royalty cut) as tax. To get around this, you need a tax ID from the IRS. Then you can collect 100% of your earnings, but you will still need to report them on your Canadian income tax just like any other income you receive.


The IRS is going through some changes between June-December 2012 with the ITIN process, so it has become more difficult to get one now than it was when I got mine, but it’s still possible. You will need to apply by sending an original ID document (usually your passport), and you must apply yourself, not via an acceptance agent.


Here are some helpful links:


W-7 Application (This is what you submit to the IRS.)

W-7 Application Instructions

Createspace Letter Template (You must send a completed version with your W-7.)

W-8BEN Form (This is what you submit to Createspace, Amazon KDP, Smashwords, etc. with your new ITIN from the IRS so they will stop withholding your royalties.)

W-8BEN Example

Createspace W-8BEN Info (Where to mail your completed form.)

Smashwords W-8BEN Info (Where to mail your completed form.)

Amazon KDP W-8BEN Info (Where to mail your completed form.)


And here are some general form tips:


W-7: For Canadians, the Treaty Country is Canada, and the Treaty Article Number is Article 12 (XII).


Createspace Letter Template: The ‘To’ section should include your first and last name, and Createspace Member ID. (You can find your Createspace Member ID on your Createspace Member Dashboard, just below the orange ‘Member Dashboard’ header.)


Receiving direct payments from the US:


Smashwords pays royalties via Paypal, but Amazon will only send you a cheque if you don’t have a bank account inside the US, UK, or Europe. (Even then, your balance must be at least $100 for Amazon to pay you.)


If you have a bank account in the US, you get paid monthly as long as your balance is $10 or more, which is a much better option. I use RBC. (Remember: The account you need is not just a US currency account, but one that is with a branch that is physically in the US.)


I opened three RBC accounts:


Canadian USD Savings Account: I use this to accept US funds via Paypal.

US Checking Account:  I use this to to accept direct deposits from the US.

Canadian Savings Account: I use this to filter money in and out of the other two accounts. (I don’t use the Savings account very often since I usually write myself cheques from my US account instead. 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.)


Whew! This was an epic post. Hopefully, someone out there will find this info helpful. If you have any questions, let me know!


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6 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Tips for Canadian Writers

  1. Ivanka

    I really wanted to thank you for all the above info, it was really helpful! Just a quick question, for a Canadian author would it be better to put my ebook up at Kobo on one’s own (and remove it from the distribution of Smashwords) and would I then also still require an ITIN and W8Ben with Kobo since i believe it is a Canadian company? If you happen to know offhand that would be wonderful, if not thanks for the wealth of info already provided.

    1. Jacquelyn Post author

      Hi, Ivanka!

      I looked at the Kobo Writing Life program shortly after it launched, but I didn’t end up using it, so I can’t give you any firsthand feedback, but here are some of things I took into consideration:

      * Competitive royalty rates (comparable with Amazon)
      * Minimal lag time when publishing or updating pricing, etc. (No middleman, like Smashwords)
      * More control over design of the final product (Smashwords’ Meatgrinder program means your uploaded ebooks can only have basic formatting.)

      * An additional ebook file to format and upload (assuming you’re still using Smashwords for other retailers, and Amazon KDP)
      * You must be earning more than $100 US/month to get paid monthly (which can take a while to build up to at first from just one retailer), otherwise you only get paid twice/year.
      * If you are adding existing books you already distributed to Kobo via Smashwords and then turning off the SW distribution, it creates 2 possible issues: First, there will probably be a lag time when you will have 2 listings for the same title, which will be confusing to customers. Second, once your Smashwords listing on Kobo eventually gets taken down, it may also remove any ratings or reviews you’ve built up on the original book listing on the Kobo site.

      If you decide to take the plunge, I would advise starting with new titles you haven’t released via Smashwords yet before going back and switching over existing titles. That way you can build up some ratings and reviews on the ones directly published on Kobo before possibly sacrificing any on your older ones.

      I’m not 100% sure about the tax situation. Kobo was originally owned by Indigo, then they sold it to Ratuken, a Japanese company. But from what I have heard, they don’t withhold taxes. (Either way, an ITIN wouldn’t be necessary with them, since they aren’t based in the US.) Just make sure you report your royalty earnings on your Canadian income tax forms. 😉

      Hope this helps!

  2. Jen

    While Kobo says they don’t pay out until you reach 100 bucks, they actually DO pay out lower amounts twice a year – every six months. I had no idea they did this until the money ended up in my account. I had actually pulled my books off Kobo Writing Life and had them submitted via Lulu.com so I could get paid when I discovered this. I may go back to Kobo Writing Life now that I know they do pay out under their stated threshold.

    Lulu is also another option for Canadians. It’s free, and it gets your book on Amazon (including Amazon.ca, .co.uk, .au and others) but the royalty is very low. It also submits your ebook to everything (iTunes, Barns and Noble, Sony, Kobo), including Kindle (that being said, I prefer to use the KDP program). Lulu pays out via Paypal when you have $5 in royalties. Same deal with submitting the ITIN via W-8BEN to get the full amount of your royalties. I’ve been really happy with them – just wish the print royalties were more, since I’ve avoided Createspace because they don’t pay out until 100 bucks and then do it via cheque (which makes NO sense since Kindle pays out via EFT … it’s not like it’s not possible).

    1. Jacquelyn Post author

      Thanks, Jen! That’s good to know about Kobo. I still haven’t experimented with them.

      If you’ve thought about trying Createspace, they do pay by EFT, and there is no minimum royalty threshold. (I get dribs and drabs from them once a month.) I submitted my banking info for the same account I use for my KDP payments, which is physically located in the US through RBC.

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