Saturday, 31 May 2014

Self Publishing in Canada

I went to a panel at Anime North 2014 called "Self-publishing & Marketing", because the former is something people are suggesting to me, and the latter is something I'm terrible at. Here's a rundown of what took place, with a bunch of embedded links. (A more in depth report of AN2014 will come... well, after the in depth report about OAME...)

This was a one woman panel by JF Garrard, president of Dark Helix Press (more on that below) and multicultural fantasy author. Her first book ("The Undead Sorceress") came out in April, and coming soon is "The Literary Elephant" (subtitle: A beginner's guide to indie publishing). She handed out some info and book codes at the panel. She's also blogged a few times at AHA: Authors Helping Authors, so if you want more information about her publishing journey, go have a look there.


JF mentioned that there are three ways to publish - Traditional, Vanity, or Self-Publishing. The traditional route involves Query Letters to publishers, and may necessitate you getting an agent. If you end up selling your product for $1, publishers would take 70 cents and the agent 15 cents, leaving you with the remaining 15 cents. Of course, publishers often won't often take big risks and the market is ever changing.

Vanity publishing gives up a lot of your control, and will cost money, but the trade off is you have less to do. They'll handle things like copy editing and marketing... while potentially taking some rights to the work, and summing things up in monthly reports (ie- you may not know how many copies you've sold at any given time). Then there's Self-Publishing. It's entrepreneurial, and like building a house, there's a lot of overhead - the publishing step itself is actually easy.

FIRST: Editing. Probably the most costly step, if you want to do it well, because editors charge per word. This isn't "proofreading", this is looking at the plot and the continuity of characters and setting. A few websites tossed out were "" (cheaper but more amateur) and "Preditors & Editors".

SECOND: Formatting. Make sure your gutters/margins/page numbers are done properly, particularly if you're going with a print book. (The digital route makes things easier to take it down, reformat, then put back up - though I imagine that will cost money and readers.) There are online templates (see "Smashwords"). Also so many FONTS! Notably an eReader audience can change fonts after the fact if they want, and there's a reason Times New Roman and Ariel have remained popular through the years.

Or do your own art! ... Maybe not.
THIRD: Cover art. If you get someone else to do the art for you, they retain the copyright. That means if you want to use the image for anything other than your book cover (bookmarks, postcards, basically anything in terms of marketing) you'll need the artist's permission... unless you buy the copyright from them. This was recommended, as it then becomes a one-time fee, you won't have to constantly check back with the artist, and you won't have to worry about a possible veto. The artist for JF's book even asked her straight out if she wanted the copyright. Make it legal, draw up a contract, agree on a cost that isn't prohibitive (maybe $25), and let the artist keep the work in their own portfolio.

As far as the art itself goes - try to be very specific. Provide references to the artist for what you have in mind, using multiple visual sources if necessary. (Wouldn't you be annoyed if you got a vague description, then sunk hours into something only to be told "no... something's not quite right"?) If you're creating your own fantasy setting, you might also want to consider having a map made, and included inside as a reference.

Now, the business side. At this point, we'll be getting into some more uniquely Canadian issues.


FOUR: Picking a publisher. A lot of self-publishing sites are owned by US companies (and the exceptions are International companies). They'll take 30% off the top of your proceeds to go to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), unless you have an exemption number. So you'll have to deal with getting that. There also aren't any Canadian platforms (except Kobo which JF didn't have any info about), and there's bandwidth charges depending on the country where your book is bought (eg. between Canada and Europe). If you're creating a big novel, you may want to go with a flat rate on bandwidth.

The good news: In Canada, your ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is free. And if you own the ISBN, you are the publisher, not "Amazon". (Apparently in the US an ISBN costs something like $100?) However, you do have to register for the number, and there's a lot of forms and waiting periods involved. Begin by setting up an account with Library & Archives Canada (even that has a waiting period of a week as they verify you're a real person). Different ISBNs are then needed for hardcover, paperback, and electronic versions of the book, so get some "en bloc" (seemed like they give you 10, then you have to use all of those before you get more). Once you have the number, you can generate your own bar code and add it into the book.

You may also want to consider incorporating yourself as a company in order to publish. An audience member pointed out that there are tax benefits if writing isn't your primary job - the increase in income can be held within the company, and corporate taxes are going down. JF was originally going to publish within her husband's company, but decided to create her own ("Dark Helix Press") instead, as her husband's company is technology based. But wait, there's more!

You can be a Federal or Provincial Corporation - and it's best to go with the former. With the latter, you would need to re-register your company in the other provinces in order to sell your book there... and you may not be able to if your company name is already taken out-of-province. Which leads into the problem of name generation. JF: "All animal names are taken." She figures she lucked out with "Dark Helix" because "Dark" might have been seen by others as negative. Don't have your heart set on a name is what I'm implying here. You may also need to look into your "author name" if there's a lot of other "John Smith"s out there.

Okay! You now have an edited, formatted book with a cover and the ability to publish. At this point, publishing itself is EASY. Twelve hours after you upload it, it will be live. But there's still STEP FIVE to consider before you tap the 'Enter' key...


Marketing is a black hole. Do we even know what works? Who looks at billboards and ads?? If you take the book personally to places, between the trip, hotel, and meals, one hopes you can break even. One thing for certain: You'll need a WEBSITE. People will want to know more, like have you written anything else. You can get a free website with blogging software. (I've also learned that a domain name is pretty simple, I registered "mathtans" with "".) Personalize your site. "If someone is going to do an interview, they're not going to interview your book." Be a person online. You also cannot be an 'introvert writer' here, you have to get the word out, or at least get other people to help you do that.

A word about Kickstarter campaigns. It's a good way to test the market and raise interest while getting funds, but be careful what you promise. If you're pre-selling your book as an incentive, you're committed to following through. You'll also need to do constant campaigning not only during the run, but also provide updates after the fact so people know you're making progress. Rob Barba has a good set of articles about setting up a Kickstarter over at MuseHack, just do a search on that site.

Consider also online forums within your genre of book - both Goodreads and LinkedIn were commented on. Online radio shows are often looking for guests, and if it goes well, you might even be invited back. By the way, all of this stuff should be looked into before the actual publishing date. For more information on Marketing and things like "Blog Tours", I recommend reading my summary of Linda Poitevin's session at CanCon 2013. In the end, don't expect to earn $50,000 from self publishing, that sort of income is likely reserved for an author who was already known after going the traditional route.

There were questions all through this session, a lot of which I've incorporated; one that came up at the end was the idea of a serial novel. (Wasn't me.) If you're planning to publish "chapter by chapter", how does that work with ISBNs? Each book needs a different ISBN, but the ISBN allows people to look up the work as a whole... so it was thought that you could use the same ISBN for each chapter, then again to publish as a whole. Anyone else know about that? There was also a media group present, "" who were recording this session (and a number of others at AN), so you can check out their site in about a week's time.

Also going to throw in a plug here for my friend Andrea Milne's set of posts about self publishing. And her book that resulted, if you like dystopian novels with female protagonists.


I am not the sort of person to jump into things without considering all the angles - and this session helped me to do some of that. In the end, could I self publish? Well, no - not and be a teacher too. I know other teachers have, but I always seem to have too much on the go. Which isn't to say I'm ruling it out (and I am planning on taking some leave) but I've already sunk tons of time and energy into one failed project. I need time to fully analyze that one first.

That said, if you're willing and able to self-publish, all the best to you! Hope this panel summary was of some use.


  1. By the way, when I first saw that first image, I thought it was some kind of crazy inverted polyhedral die ... and I immediately wanted one even if I couldn't figure out how it would've worked!

  2. Okay, my first comment didn't take, but my second one did. I'll try again, if I can remember how I composed it:

    I've followed many stories for about five years or more about the goods and bads of self-publishing, particularly ebooks. And for whatever reasons, the thought scares the heck out of me. Probably because I know that I'm one to cut corners here and there and settle for something that might be good enough, even though I know that if it doesn't look good enough, people will never open it up to find out how good the work inside is.

    (I think I self-published the comment better the first time -- except for the publishing fail.)

    1. Technical glitches - something that didn't really come up! It's kind of fascinating that you see it as a problem because you'd "settle" while a perfectionist would see it as a problem because it would never be "perfect"... surely there has to be a happy medium somewhere? "Good enough" is pretty subjective anyway. Glad I'm not alone in being troubled by the concept at least.

      As to the crazy picture, maybe there's a marketing idea in that as far as dice go! Can one roll flexagons?

  3. Self-publishing is something we've discussed a lot in the literary world. Absolutely, most people vastly underestimate marketing.

    I have a bit of a marketing background, so I wouldn't say that what works is unknown, but the issue is that it isn't formulaic. You can't say well, just have a website and a blog and a Twitter and people will come. Not even remotely true.

    The deal with marketing is that you have to have something distinctive about what you're selling, you have to be able to identify who wants or will like that distinctive quality (i.e., your target market) and you have to be able to reach them. That's very easy for something like a business product (though many businesses do that badly) and very difficult for art and writing. Traditional publishers struggle with this one a lot too. Being well-known already for something makes it a lot easier to distinguish yourself fast (you have an established market) but it still takes effort and it's not always enough... a friend is a professional musician with a lot of fans, but most of them don't buy his fiction.

    To a large degree, particularly in this social media era, you are selling your persona. (My professional writer persona is not exactly me.) You can't have a singular formula for what works for everyone's distinctive persona. And you have to keep trying things and evaluating and re-adjusting.

    Marketing and selling also takes a tremendous amount of getting over yourself. You have to put yourself out there--this means in person as well as online, since a face-to-face interaction is still generally more valuable. You have to be genuine, since no one likes being 'sold to' but you still have to promote yourself (without being smarmy) and you have to accept that a lot of people won't like you and also accept that some people may like you. The latter is surprisingly difficult... most people, at least writer-people, tend to self-deprecate a lot and that's a great way to kill people's interest. ("Hey, I liked your blog!" "Really? I thought it was terrible, I mean, so-and-so did the same thing but way better." "Hmm, now that you mention it...")

    I think the other thing to remember is to think of the long game. You are more likely to grow very slowly, and hope that it will eventually (I mean over years) snowball into something bigger. The person who jumps in and suddenly makes a ton of money either has an expensive marketing team behind them to generate a lot of buzz fast (if you know what you are doing, spending money on advertising works) or they are the exception.

    But even still, marketing isn't something you do once and relax. You do it constantly and consistently. It's a lot of effort.

    1. Excellent points, particularly about the idea that there's no formula to follow... this is possibly why I struggle with it. Along with the fact that I already have a self persona and a teacher persona, so another is pushing it -- but that said, the fact that I'm not really aware of how big a discussion point this is out there, that's a sign I need to expand my circles.

      Also interesting how a musician may have trouble selling art, etc, I hadn't considered the implications of being somewhat "pigeonholed" - but I guess that happens in genre works (and casting!) all the time. I wonder if that could end up being a downside to having your own company?

      This is probably why people make so much money in public relations, they get paid to figure this out, and can promote you without the self-depreciating problem. For those who can't afford that though, as I said, you raise lots of excellent points, thanks for adding them in here.

    2. I'd wanted to address the point about companies earlier, as in addition to my writer-persona, and my marketing-persona, I also have a business-persona that can talk competently about taxes.

      First, the person who said you should register a corporation is giving bad advice. I have 4 corporations--none of them are for writing. They cost money to set up and maintain (there's a small amount of necessary legal and accounting work each year). Count on a few hundred to a couple thousand or so in annual expenses in administration costs... not worthwhile if you aren't making more than that in sales. Yes, there's an advantage of lower taxes (which is negligible if you aren't making much money) and limited liability, but it seems unlikely that most self-published authors are going to run into significant liability issues. Corporations are overkill for most people. (And you can always set one up later.)

      My writing business and teaching business runs as a sole proprietorship, which is that I don't have a formal company made up.... it's just me. I could, in theory, operate under a particular name without registering it (you don't need to register a name as a sole proprietorship) but the business name is "Sonal Champsee." (Sometimes I use "Sonal Champsee, Writer" just to keep things straight.) Most writers and artists work this way, even if they have other jobs.

      And even without a company, in the business side of publishing writers get pigeon-holed all the time. That's why Stephen King wrote literary stories under the name Richard Bachman and other names for years. (That's since been revealed and he's been able to combine the two.) But the branding, marketing, etc.... that is a big complicated field. And frankly, one that writers shouldn't worry about until AFTER they have written and polished a piece. (It's too easy to paralyze yourself wondering about marketability while creating.)

      As for the different personas, they are all me, but I emphasize different qualities. The landlord side of me calls for a lot more cynicism and harshness than the writer/writing teacher side. (I can't imagine a worse creative writing classroom with a teacher threaten to evict students if their work isn't up to snuff.)

      I might talk ABOUT my struggles with (for example) rejection and figuring out who I am as a writer on the blog, but I talk THROUGH that elsewhere. It's all still me, but I make conscious choices over what I write about and where.

    3. I don't know about the corporation thing, and if "should" came across in the post that's my fault - JF just said it was how she went, and someone in the audience brought up the tax thing. To me, it felt like it made sense in terms of "branding" (which I tried to do for my serial), but yeah -- the King (and more recently Rowling) pen name thing did occur to me too as I was typing the previous comment.

      Still, one thing at a time, I suppose - you have to be known to be pigeonholed. On the bright side(?), I'm not paralyzed about this stuff, it's more something on my radar than something I'm thinking I have a serious chance at. Perhaps because I need to consider getting better filters for my brain first.

  4. I will try one more time to comment, just in case my browser has decided to cooperate this time. The thing with books is, almost all the "marketing" is done by your cover, book description, and meta-data. Make an attractive cover that clearly defines your book, write a solid description that lets people know what it will do for them (yes, even for fiction: what kind of entertainment is this story?), and make sure you've assigned the right categories when you uploaded the file.

    After that, you mostly leave it alone. Keep writing your blog and being yourself online. Put an image of your book in the sidebar, and make a dedicated page with more information and then leave it alone. Make friends with people who are interested in the same things you are. When you find someone who is interested in the type of book you write, if it seems appropriate, ask if they'd like a copy in exchange for a sincere review.

    Occasionally post a twitter or blog post about your book, just to remind people it's there, but not often enough to be irritating. And write more books---the best advertisement for an old book is a new one being released, and vice versa.

    If you put together a print-on-demand paperback (assuming you can go through CreateSpace from Canada), that also helps promote the ebook because it doubles the visibility. Books already have greater visibility than blogs, but a paperback really helps, even if nobody ever buys it but your own family. For one thing, it gives a reference price against which the ebook price can look like a great bargain.

    Don't worry about sales. If your books are available where people are shopping, and if you can get some reviews, and if the cover and blurb look like other books in your genre, then some number of sales will eventually come. Your book is not going to sell like something in the steamy romance section, but if you published as a DIY enterprise, that shouldn't matter.

    Sales will be slow. They will grow over the long, long haul. You're not going to get rich. But hopefully, by the time you're ready to retire, you'll have a bit of supplemental income. Looooooong game!

    1. I'm glad you tried once more! (If I knew how to fix the technical glitches people are having, I would. >.< ) It all makes a lot of sense - particularly the description and cover as cornerstones for marketing. I'm reminded of when I was trying to come up with a description for my Time Travel story... that stuff's hard, and worth doing right the first time.

      Sliding this towards the personal, I think "the best advertisement for an old book is a new one" is even how I'm leaning these days -- if I can try something else (with the time to properly work at it!) maybe I can spark interest in older stuff. Or if not, at least I'll have the newer stuff! Of course, at this point it's not actual books, and I'm not even looking for income, but in the long term, who knows?