It’s been a while since I did a post for the Self-Publishing series, so forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. I’ve had a lot of questions over the past two years from self-publishing newbies, and a fresh wave came in when I started blogging about the audiobook production process with ACX.com. This is a company that only works with U.S. publishers. I am not one — I live in Canada. That’s going to be the focus of this post: how to deal with American companies as a non-American when you’re self-publishing your work.
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is an ID given to you by the IRS to keep track of your taxes. Most publishing outlets require that you have one, or will insist in withholding 30% of your earnings.
An ITIN isn’t exactly essential for ebook publishing, but it is extremely handy. I tried doing my own application in the summer of 2011. It was rejected twice — first because I had missed a line on the form, and the second time because my passport copies had not been notarized by a U.S. notary. I was very frustrated the second time, because if my copies weren’t good enough, why not have said that on the first rejection? It would have saved me two months and and some money.
I finally gave up and went through an ITIN agent. There were some minor bumps in the road — such as the IRS setting response deadlines that no one outside U.S. borders could possibly meet — but within three months I had my ITIN.
Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press (formerly PubIt!) program was the only outlet that gave me a hard time about the ITIN. They had to schedule a phone call in the middle of my workday because they were deeply confused when they saw that my U.S. mailing address and address of permanent residence were different. They acted like I was the first person in the history of the universe to do business in America while living elsewhere.
To get an ITIN, you have to have a U.S. mailing address. I’m fortunate that I have friends and extended family in the States, and I was able to use their mailing addresses. If this isn’t an option to you, there are services such as MyUs or postal forwarding through USPS, but these can get expensive.
Most publishing outlets will only pay direct deposit if you have a U.S. bank account, and will insist on cutting cheques (side note for Americans: this is how the rest of the English-speaking world spells ‘check.’ Webster robbed you of the distinction; I’m sorry) for international publishers — less a cheque handling fee. There’s also the possibility that your cheque will be lost in the mail.
I have a U.S. chequing account and credit card, so I can receive direct deposit payouts from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc. The U.S. bank account and credit card I acquired while on vacation. It took thirty minutes to open the two accounts with Bank of America. I have an online-only chequing account, which made the most sense because there are no BoA branches where I live and they waive the monthly fee if you go paperless. My options for credit accounts were slimmer because I’m a Canadian citizen, but I managed to get an account I was happy with.
Having the U.S. account means that not only can I use Nook Press, which has always been U.S.-only, I can have a lower payment threshold with Amazon. The payment threshold for cheques is $100, but only $10 for direct deposit. Having a U.S. account means faster, more reliable payouts.
Kobo Writing Life, one of my favourite publishing platforms, also requires U.S. financial data and an ITIN or SSN. Though I’ve had a few minor issues with KWL (they somehow lost my cover when I transferred Wake from Smashwords), their beautiful dashboard couldn’t be easier to use. Sales are reported right on the front of the dashboard — no clicking through multiple menus like with Amazon. Don’t even get me started on the broken sales report page that Nook Press has. KWL also lets you upload ebook files (they’ll convert them for free, if you need), manage DRM, and set publication for a future date. I wish more publishing platforms offered this option, so it would be easier to coordinate a book launch.
Getting an ITIN can be a long and difficult (and expensive) process, but it’s worth it when you don’t have to try to retrieve the 30% of your income that retailers have withheld. Opening bank accounts and credit cards is much easier, and I highly recommend it next time you travel to the States.
If you have any questions you’d like to submit to future editions of the Self-Publishing Series, put them in the comments below or send me an email.