Publishing E-books from South Africa

Updated to add: A lot has changed since I wrote this blog post.  Instead of writing a new one, I’ve updated this one.  Note the link to resources right at the end :).
10 December 2012

I’ve just published my short story collection as an e-book.  Here is a summary of what I’ve learnt about self-publishing e-books and a collection of links to helpful online resources.  Things are a little more complicated if you are not a resident of the USA, UK or Germany, as you will see below in the section on Tax.  It’s a long post but  I hope it’s helpful! 🙂

The KB Writers Cafe

The best resource for anything related to e-book publishing is the Writers Cafe forum board at Kindle Boards.  This is a fantastic forum on any aspect of publishing your book – from opinions on your book cover design to help on formatting problems or advice on how to promote your book.  It’s also not a bad place to find readers although they have some tight rules on self promotion.

Proof reading and editing.

One of the flash points of self publishing e-books is the lack of quality control. Many self published e-books are riddled with errors.  Get an editor and proof reader to go over your book before you publish it.  The last thing you want are reviews of your book complaining about typos and spelling mistakes, discouraging other people from buying.

I could not afford professional editing.  For the developmental edit, I used the online writers critique group Critique Circle.   This worked particularly well for my short stories but it is also possible (although time-consuming) to have an entire book  critiqued there. I’m planning to find local critique partners and “beta” readers who I can exchange critique favours with in the future.

For the proof reading stage, I used Hazard Editing .  They asked me to submit a sample of my work to see if it was ready for proof reading, and then assigned my document to a proof reader who did an excellent, fast and thorough job and also made some suggestions for how I can tighten up my stories a bit.  They were very affordable, even taking the R$ exchange rate into account.

Designing a cover

A professional, attractive cover is absolutely essential.  Many people base their decision to buy or not to buy on the cover.  There are SO MANY ebooks out there  and filtering based on the cover is a quick and easy way to deal with the information overload.  I am lucky enough to be able to create my own covers, but if you don’t have the necessary skills  this is another area where it may be worth paying a professional.

Whether you are doing it yourself or paying somebody else, keep in mind these special considerations:
The cover must look good at thumbnail size, (around 100 px wide)  and when viewed in grey-scale as it will be if somebody is shopping for books on their Kindle. Your title and author name must be large enough and in a simple enough font to be legible at this small size. The recommended format is JPEG. not smaller than 500 pixels on its shortest side and not longer than 12oo on its longest.  (Edited to add:) The recommended size depends on which distributor you plan to use.  For example, at the time of writing Amazon KDP states that covers should not be shorter than 1000 pixels on the longest side, with a recommended size of 2500 pixels on the longest side. It should be roughly rectangular and “book-like” in its shape, be in RGB colour mode.  The resolution can be anywhere between 72 and 300 ppi, keeping in mind that a higher resolution image will increase the file size of your book.

Write a book description

You need to create a short description of your book.  This description will be featured on the book’s page on Amazon, Smashwords or whichever platform you choose to sell it from.  Without a compelling description,  many people wont buy your book.  Your book description is not a synopsis of the plot but more like a “teaser” to get readers interested.  It should make clear what genre the book is and be written to appeal to your target audience.  If your book is very short – for example, if you are publishing a single short story – it is a good idea to make this clear.

If you are publishing with Smashwords, you need a short version of 400 characters or less.  For Amazon Kindle Direct, the limit is between 40 and 3000 but the shorter, the better.

Who to publish with?

While you can theoretically sell your book from your own website  it makes more sense to take advantage of one of the many e-book platforms out there.  You create an account with them and upload your book to their system.  If there are no formatting problems they create a page on their site  from which readers can buy your book.  Some of them (like Amazon) have the ability to make your book available to millions of readers.  Unfortunately, many of these platforms only allow you to publish with them if you have a US bank account.  The following platforms are available to “international” (code for Not American) writers.

Smashwords is much smaller than Amazon, but it has some advantages. If your book is formatted according to their style guide (see the section on formatting below)  it becomes part of their “premium catalogue” which means that they distribute to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony and Kobo, to all the different devices and e-readers that these platforms support for example, Apple with its iPad and iPhone.  If you cannot get onto the premium catalogue for some reason, your book is still available but only from the Smashwords website itself.  To read more about how Smashwords distributes books: http://www.smashwords.com/distribution

Smashwords allows you to make the book available for free (much more difficult to do at AKD) and it is apparently better for sending free copies to potential reviewers.  It also has special features such as letting you generate coupon codes that readers can use to get special limited time discounts.

Smashwords only pays you quarterly which is a downside, but on the upside (if you don’t have a USA or UK bank account) is that they can pay via PayPal.  To read more about how Smashwords calculates royalties etc: https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Royalties

I’ve read that people often experience problems in formatting their books for Smashwords,  but I did not have any problems myself.  Because they are still comparatively small, Smashwords is great at quickly responding to your questions and their responses are from real human beings who have actually read your query 🙂

(Edited to add:)

XinXii is a new platform that does pretty much what Smashwords does — distributes to platforms that are not otherwise available to non-US residents such as Barnes & Noble and the IBookstore. An advantage over Smashwords is that it also distributes to Amazon as well, which Smashwords does not.  Another advantage is that it accepts a wide range of formats than Smashwords does, including EPUB, which makes it easier to upload a well formatted book.

They also pay with PayPal, and allow you to create coupons for your books.

Amazon Kindle Direct is Amazon, so it’s huge and has all the advantages that go along with that.  It makes your book available to millions of readers (as long as they have Kindles) and has a sophisticated system that puts your books in front of readers who may be interested in buying them using their “suggested books” feature.  AKD allows you to apply Digital Rights Management (DRM) to prevent people from copying your book.  You don’t have to DRM your book on Amazon, but you can – see section on “DRM and piracy” below.

(Edited to add:) AKD has a special “Select” program that you can join if your books are not available on any other platforms.  If your books are on Select, you can make them available for free download on certain days, and your books are available to be borrowed by Amazon Prime members.  You are paid every time your book is borrowed.

AKD has some disadvantages for international authors as they pay you by sending your royalties to you bound up in a small hide bag, carried by a runner holding a cleft stick.  OK – not really.  They pay you per cheque.  In my case, that means my bank takes off at least R125 per cheque, so that is not so good.  I’m planning to use auchtionchex.com to get around this problem.  (Edited to add: I am using a service called “Payoneer” to get around that problem.) Here is a link to Amazon’s page on how they calculate royalties: Royalties FAQ

(Edited to add)

 Kobo is an interesting option for South African authors as Pick and Pay have recently started selling Kobo Readers, and have a link to the Kobo bookstore on their website.  Kobo is relatively new, but some writers report having success with them.  They sell their books in the universal format called “ePub”.  Like Smashwords, you can make your books free on Kobo. And a great advantage to non US based writers is that they pay via EFT, so none of the royalty hassles one has with KDP.

Tax

This is the biggie: if you are not in the US or UK, all platforms, Smashwords, AKD and whatever else you may use, will subtract a 30% tax on your royalties unless you take some steps to prevent this.  You need to prove that you live in a country that has a valid tax treaty with the US ( South Africa has such a treaty), get a valid  U.S. tax identification number.

(Edited to add: The best information I’ve found to guide you through this process can be found here. )

The following links explain the process and contain links to the relevant documents you will need.

You don’t need to set this up before publishing your book, as it will probably take a long time for enough royalties to accumulate.  And Smashwords actively prevents you from following this procedure before you’ve sold a certain number of books, as you will see if you follow the link above.

Formatting  and publishing your book

(Edited to add: I’ve just written an article explaining ebook formats, which you can find here)

Before you can publish your book you have to make sure that it is in the right file format for the platform you have chosen and that all the paragraphs, headings etc are correctly set up.   This is not particularly difficult but it does take a lot of time and can be frustrating and time-consuming. Smashwords and AKD  do things quite differently.

Smashwords requires that you do all your formatting in Microsoft Word and that you submit a .doc file.  Once you upload the formatted .doc to their system it goes through the notorious Smashwords “meatgrinder”  and if there are any problems the file is spat out with an error report, which you need to go through and fix before you re-submit.  To avoid this, download and work through the truly excellent Smashword Style Guide .  If you stick to the guidelines in the Style Guide your book should be accepted into the premium catalogue.  If your book makes it through the meat grinder it is immediately available on Smashwords, but it takes time for it to be accepted into the premium catalogue and so be available through Apple and the other platforms.

If you want to re-upload a newer version of your book, you can do so quite easily and at any time.

If you want to got the whole hog and have complete control over your formatting, read Guido Henkel’s guide: http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/

AKD allows you to do your formatting in a number of different ways and I’ve read the people experience fewer problems with errors preventing publication compared to the Smashwords meatgrinder process.  I found that it was very useful to format my document using the Smashword Style Guide, and then to put the resulting .doc file through the process recommended by Amazon formatting guide as well: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?ie=UTF8&topicId=A17W8UM0MMSQX6

Once you upload your book to AKD, there is a 24 – 72 hour delay before your book goes “live”.  After that, it may still take time for details such as your book description to appear.  In that time between uploading your book and before it goes live, you cannot re-upload new versions. So if you find you uploaded a version with mistakes, you have to wait for it to become live before you can re-upload a better version.  I speak from bitter experience 🙂 .

DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) prevents people from copying your book.  It is an attempt to force people to buy a new copy instead of pirating it for free.  This is a controversial issue, but I’ve read some compelling advice that it is better to avoid DRM as it frustrates your readers without preventing piracy.  For example, readers often want to be able to load your book onto more than one type of e-reader.  DRM prevents this.  It is easy enough to strip the DRM so if somebody wants to upload your book to a pirate site, they will do so whether or not you have DRM.   Some people say that piracy is only harmful to really big name authors, as the rest of us benefit from our books being distributed widely to many readers.  Who knows if that is true – only time will tell.  This is one of those topics that will be causing flame wars for many years to come.

Promoting your book.

I’m leaving this to the end, but it is really one of the most important topics.  Your book may be fantastic, and available but if nobody knows that it exists, no one will buy it.  I’m still heading into the world of self promotion so I have no personal experience to draw on yet – but in the mean time, here are some resources I’ve found to help you:

Some useful discussions on Kindle Boards:

Edited to add: You can find a list of resources for self-publishing here

31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. normsnj
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 12:57:07

    Hi Masha, while I have no desire to publish an eBook I found your article really interesting. Hope all goes well. Looking forward to browsing through my Kindle list and seeing your title.
    All the best
    Norms

  2. mashadutoit
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 12:58:17

    Thanks Norms! It’s been fun learning about this new world 🙂

  3. emmanence
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 13:25:02

    If you’re looking for a local writers and co-critique circle, Hugh Hodge who edits New Contrast magazine is running regular workshops based on the seven ages of man in Shakespeare’s ‘As you Like it’ which he’s calling ‘As you Write it’. Though its meant to stimulate you creatively with awesome exercises, a key feature is building a community of people you trust to critique your work in a way that is not ‘ooh, that’s lovely’ but also not ‘you suck, get a life’… in other words, constructive and honest feedback…

  4. mashadutoit
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 13:26:11

    Brilliant, sounds like just what I need. Thanks Emma

  5. Jean Young (Malla Duncan)
    Jul 14, 2011 @ 10:50:52

    Hi, Masha! How nice to see another Cape Town writer publishing on Smashwords! I wish I’d read your blog before I’d started – it would have saved me some time wading diligently through Mark’s wonderful Smashwords guide. I’m on Smashwords as Malla Duncan. I write women’s contemporary thrillers. Have you joined Goodreads.com ? Also a good site for writers and you can link your blog there on an author’s page. I haven’t as yet got all the elements required for marketing – still struggling with a Facebook page! But will definitely look into all your wonderful advice and information.
    Your art is just superb! I’m awestruck. So sorry I missed it at Grahamstown – was also there the first few days in the freezing cold.
    Best of luck on your way forward! Jean

  6. mashadutoit
    Jul 14, 2011 @ 14:57:53

    Hi Jean – thanks for your lovely comment. I’m going to go looking for you on Smashwords and Goodreads now. I recently discovered Goodreads and have been adding books and meeting people there. I still have to create an authors page – one of the many things on my to do list! I left Facebook long ago and am reluctant to return. Google+ is far more attractive at the moment. So many endless opportunities to waste time 🙂

  7. Nicky Grieshaber
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 18:09:40

    Hi Masha, this is such useful information – thank you for taking the trouble to set it all out with such care. I haven’t yet gone into all links (I still intend to!), but in the meantime: How does one set a realistic price for an e-book, and what sort of percentage difference should there be between the e version and print version? I have a non-fiction book of about 150 A5 pages (+- 40 000 words) I’d like to look at publishing this way.

    Thanks, Masha.

    Nicky

  8. mashadutoit
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 18:54:31

    Hi Nicky – hope you find it useful. About the pricing – that is a very controversial and fraught area, as you can imagine. From what I can gather, everyone is still trying to figure out what will work. Here are some links that you may find useful: http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php?topic=74070.0 http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,58472.msg980574.html#msg980574 http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php?topic=72744.0

  9. Jeffery Kempson
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 17:51:43

    Hi Marsha,

    Thanks for your interesting data on e publishing.

    The 30% US tax deduction sounds like the major restriction. Talk about excessive greed. Specially if you don’t live there.

    I have written an 85,000 word semi romantic/adventure novel set mostly in the Okavango Delta area of Botswana. The MS has been edited etc. but I suppose the proper spelling of some words would confound the US editing process. A graphic artist also designed a cover for me, which could be scanned.

    The novel has been turned down by 5 local publishers, some with the proviso that the MS is publishable, but not suitable for their imprint.

    Is there any point in me pursuing the e publishing option?

    Best regards,
    Jeff

  10. mashadutoit
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:45:24

    Hi Jeffery – thanks for sharing your experience. Whether or not to go the independent e-book publishing route depends very much on what your goals are, and what you are willing to do to achieve them.

    While some people achieve financial success, it’s hard work and requires an aptitude for promoting your book yourself (although that is more and more the case with traditional publishing as well, where authors are expected to promote their own books!).

    Maybe it helps if I share my own experience. While I liked the idea of seeing my book in print, it was far more important to me to have people reading my stories as soon as possible, and I was not willing to put up with the usual 3 month-to-a-year cycle of even getting a reply back from the publishers. As a total unknown writer writing short stories in a genre that most South African publishers are not interested in, I did not really stand much of a chance anyway.

    I’m also very interested in social media and comfortable with the need to learn new things such as how to blog and how to engage people I’ve never met through online technology. This part is important because as an independently published author, you need to create an online profile and personality for yourself, spend lots of time trying to persuade people to review your books etc.

    I’ve gathered some links for you that may help you decide – but I would also recommend that you join a forum such as Kindle Boards (http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html) where there are many people far more experienced than myself to answer your questions!

    – Should you Self Publish? Ten questions to ask yourself: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/should-you-self-publish-ten-questions.html
    – Comparison – Independent vs Traditional Publishing : http://jacqvern.blogspot.com/2011/04/business-of-writing.html
    – Self Publishing is not always the best answer : http://www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2011/self-publishing-is-not-always-the-best-answer/
    – The Case For Self Publishing : http://www.thepassivevoice.com/05/2011/the-case-for-self-publishing/
    – Will Self Publishing hurt my chances? : http://www.thepassivevoice.com/07/2011/will-self-pubbing-hurt-my-chances/

    Hope that helps!

  11. mashadutoit
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:55:37

  12. Noxy
    Jul 27, 2011 @ 21:31:03

    This is an incredibly useful collection of advice. As a beginning author considering to go the self-publishing route, I found this invaluable. Thank you very much!

  13. mashadutoit
    Jul 27, 2011 @ 23:01:43

    Hi Noxy – I’m glad you found it useful! And good luck with your self-publishing project. Have you looked at Kindle Boards? It’s the best place I’ve found for help and advice.

  14. Andreas Louw
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 15:15:20

    Hi Masha

    I bought Writing Fiction 4 Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy – VERY helpful. Randy has a monthly newsletter where he refers to other authors. One that stood out to me was John Locke. He has sold over a million books in 5 months and then wrote a book as to how he did it. You can find it all on Kindle or go to his blog http://www.donovancreed.com.

    I’m on verge of publishing my first book, but that tax thing and payment systems are a mess (as you know).

    I started a blog yesterday, but both my blog and blogging knowledge are non-existent, so the blog still has no ‘look’ to it and no content.

    Hope this is helpful.

    http://andreaslouw.blogspot.com

  15. Susan
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 09:27:11

    Dear Masha, I’m so glad you provided such a detailed account of your ebook publishing experiences on your bog. I printed it and studied it! Have discovered my bank Standard charges R192 to deposit a us dollar cheque!!! Maybe there’s a possibility for writers who want to put stuff on Amazon to club together or asking Amazon to delay payment until it reaches lets say 200 dollars. I’m investigating and will yet you know what I find. Thanks again for the wonderful blog. Fellow writer and marketer of her own books, Susan Ziehl

  16. mashadutoit
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 10:51:08

    Hi Susan – I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’m soon going to write a follow up about everything I’ve learnt since then – about marketing and print on demand etc. The cheque charge is so annoying. I have heard some people say that they got amazon to delay payment as you describe so that is a possible option. Do let me know what you find, and good luck ! 🙂

  17. Elaine
    Nov 19, 2012 @ 07:20:11

    Browsing delicious.com I noticed your website book-marked as:
    Publishing E-books from South Africa Masha. I am assuming you bookmarked it
    yourself and wanted to ask if social bookmarking gets you
    a large amount of targeted traffic? I’ve been considering doing some social bookmarking for a few of my sites but wasn’t certain if
    it would generate any positive results. Many thanks.

  18. Gina Havenga
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:48:02

    Hi Masha
    I have written three suspence novels, none of which have been published. The first two I will admit are a little pedestrian, however, my third I would like to publish and obviously the way to go would be on an e-book platform. I’m still learning a lot and since I’m a technophobe I find the process quite daunting.

    This year I will create a blog and ‘get myself out there’, as they say.

    I agree with you about Kindle boards. I have read, though, that their conversion programs
    will leave blank spaces where I have used South African-isms or South African slang. If I change these words in my work, I feel the character of the story would be lost. So I am going to use Smashwords or Xixii.

    Thank you for all your wonderful advice, it has been the most helpful yet. And your blog is inspiring, I must say.

    Gina, Cape Town

  19. mashadutoit
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 15:39:55

    Hi Gina — just a quick note — I’m not sure where you heard this: ” I have read, though, that their conversion programs will leave blank spaces where I have used South African-isms or South African slang.”

    That is not the case at all! None of the publishing platforms, whether Amazon KDP, Smashwords, or Xinxii, will change the text of your book, so this is one thing you do not need to worry about.

    The only thing which *might* happen is if you use certain letters such as for example, a letter that is not in the English alphabet. Then, if the book has not been properly formatted, a odd symbol may appear instead of that letter. But even in that case, if the book has been properly formatted as an ebook, that should not happen regardless of where you publish it.

    *Masha du Toit* * * Masha’s Online CV

    Masha’s Blog

    Masha’s Books

  20. gina havenga
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 16:05:00

    Thanks Masha, I’m thrilled.

    Gina

  21. aaroux
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 16:10:18

    What a lovely selfless blog! Thank you for the info and I wish you happy and successful publishing.

  22. FunkyJL
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 08:03:27

    I found the following on the KDP site:

    https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=AE24XS35AM53P

    “Getting Paid

    Separate royalty payments for each Kindle Store in which you have chosen to distribute your title will be paid automatically by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or check approximately sixty (60) days following the end of the calendar month during which applicable sales occur, once threshold is met. ”

    Does the EFT apply to South African citizens?

    Also thank you for all the advice, this is a really good starting point for SA authors.

  23. mashadutoit
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 09:12:58

    At the moment — South Africans still cannot be paid via EFT. I’ve found the best compromise is a service like Payoneer who essentially charge you a small fee to let you use their account, and forwards you the money.

    *Masha du Toit* * * Masha’s Online CV

    Masha’s Blog

    Masha’s Books

  24. Rob Hope
    Jul 08, 2013 @ 10:08:26

    Hi Masha,
    I’ve been trying to sort out the “getting paid” knot with Amazon, and cannot find any way to access the Payoneer option that you mentioned in the revision above. A reply I received from Amazon merely refers back to the cheque payment system. How did you manage to access the Payoneer facility?
    Regards,
    Rob.

  25. mashadutoit
    Jul 08, 2013 @ 11:26:17

    Rob, payoneer is not part of Amazon – they are a separate company — you can find them here http://www.payoneer.com/

    You will see there is a link to their “support centre” at the top right if you need to ask them any questions.

    *Masha du Toit* * * Masha’s Online CV

    Masha’s Blog

    Masha’s Books

  26. Berdine
    Nov 21, 2013 @ 10:11:39

    Hi Masha,
    Great blog. I’m glad there is also someone from South Africa that has ventured into the eBook self-publishing industry. I have started self-publishing since 2009, and have never looked back. I would encourage all writers to do this, especially if you have been turned down by a traditional publisher. For those who are interested, I recently wrote an eBook Self-Publishing guide for South Africans. You guys are welcome to check it out at the following links. It will be available till 20 November at a special price.

    Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/378212
    Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GOVPY32

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    Aug 04, 2014 @ 18:02:01

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  28. marianludewig
    Nov 06, 2014 @ 17:13:39

    Hi Masha. I am also in South Africa and just published my first book on Amazon. I have been searching around how one get paid and everybody recommended Payoneer, but now i believe that Amazon does not do payments to South Africans to Payoneer. Please assist.

  29. mashadutoit
    Nov 06, 2014 @ 17:30:51

    Hi Marian – congratulations on publishing 🙂 I’ve not had any problems with using Payoneer on Amazon so far, and I know at least one other South African writer who uses that service regularly. As I understand the process, you simply fill your Payoneer account details into Amazon where you would normally fill in your own bank details. The money is then paid into Payoneers bank account, and they then forward it to you less a cut for themselves. Amazon doesn’t “know” (or care, I would presume!) that they are paying Payoneer rather than paying you directly, so I would be surprised that they’d have any specific problems with South Africans using Payoneer. It is possible that there’s some angle on this that I’ve misunderstood, though. Where did you read or hear about this particular problem?

  30. David Henderson
    Nov 12, 2014 @ 12:21:54

    Thanks so much for the article Masha, I know it is an older post but really think there is still great info inside for us South African publishers!

  31. Iren
    Apr 17, 2015 @ 21:46:56

    Thank you very much for such a good and helpful article!

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