This is an excerpt from Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. It is available from Amazon and Smashwords for $4.99, Amazon UK for £1.99 or as a FREE PDF right here.

First of all, the legal stuff and a quick disclaimer. I am not a lawyer or an accountant, so none of this section, or indeed this entire book, should be considered legal advice, tax advice or anything like it. It is merely a starting point for you to conduct your own further investigations into tax and copyright laws relating to your country of residence.


Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, the first thing you need to understand is that there is a difference between “publishing rights” and “copyright.” If you sell a story to a magazine, or a book to a publisher, you are not usually assigning them the copyright. Rather, you are granting them some of the rights you have under copyright for the period defined in the contract, usually meaning they can publish and sell your work under certain conditions.

Open a trade-published novel and flick to the copyright page. The book is still copyrighted in the author’s name, usually in the form you see from my copyright notice (the year is the date of first publication): Copyright © 2011 David Gaughran

As for the rest of your notice, you can choose whatever wording you like. If you want, you can copy the notice from my page. You have my permission. (Don’t forget to insert your own name rather than mine, you don’t want all those royalty cheques heading my way.)

Copyright Law

Copyright law varies from country to country. The information included here is for the US, but there are links in the Resources section for other countries.

Your work is copyrighted as soon as it is tangible. In other words, once it makes its way out of your brain and onto the page (or even a computer screen), it is copyrighted. You might hear of writers posting a manuscript to themselves to ensure they are protected—this is known as “poor man’s copyright” and it’s a myth. It doesn’t afford you any additional protection under the law. Your work is copyrighted as soon as you commit it to paper or pixel.

You will also hear people talk about “registering” copyright, which is optional but advisable. Registering your work will grant you additional rights and allow you to, among other things, sue for greater damages if someone plagiarizes your work. It costs $35 to register your copyright online in the US (go to, but even if you don’t register your copyright, your work is still protected and you can still post a copyright notice at the front of your manuscript. You should note that the additional protections from registering your copyright in the US will only be afforded to US writers.

Another myth, especially among novice writers, is that they should register the copyright of their work before submitting it to an agent or editor. Let me be clear: a reputable agent or editor is not going to steal your story, and you shouldn’t be submitting to any other kind. Registering your copyright before submitting can’t hurt, but will serve only to mark you as an amateur.

Some people worry about their ideas being stolen. Let me also stop that one in its tracks. Experienced writers will all tell you the same thing: ideas are ten-a-penny. The art, and the sweat, is in the execution. To learn more about copyright law (and every writer really should), get yourself a copy of The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman.

Creative Commons

Even if you decide to give work away for free via creative commons, you should still attach a copyright notice to it that protects others profiting from your efforts.

You might want to consider a Creative Commons License, which doesn’t alter any of your rights under copyright law but is an addition to them that instructs users in how they may share, amend, or use your document. There are many different licenses, with various restrictions. The Free PDF Edition of this book, for example, is able to be copied, shared, printed, and e-mailed, but not amended or used for commercial purposes. Attaching a Creative Commons License does not preclude you from exercising commercial rights. You can learn more about all the different kinds of licenses at:


A quick primer: ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique code that identifies, among other things, the publisher of the book. You will recognize it as a string of 13 numbers sometimes seen on the title page of a book near the copyright notice or, more obviously, printed, along with a corresponding bar code, on the back of print versions.

Authors need to purchase an ISBN to publish a print book, but don’t necessarily need one to publish an e-book. Amazon does not require an ISBN for e-books published through KDP, as they assign their own unique tracking code. The same goes for Barnes & Noble’s digital publishing arm, PubIt.

An ISBN is required to publish with some of the other retailers, like Sony and Apple; however, Smashwords are able to assign a free one if publishing to those distribution channels through them. If you opt for the free ISBN Smashwords offers, they will be identified as the publisher of your book on these sales channels. If that’s a problem for you, they also sell individual ISBNs to US customers for $9.95. You also have the option of assigning your own ISBN (which you can also do when uploading to Amazon).

There are some self-publishers—usually those who put in all the hard yards prior to the rise of e-books—who think you aren’t a real self-publisher unless you own your ISBN. I don’t agree with that, but if you want your own ISBNs, for whatever reason, or if you are planning print versions of your book, then go ahead and purchase some.

Bowker is the only official source of ISBNs in the US and sells only to US writers (for links, and for other countries, please see Resources). A single ISBN costs $125 (although some authorized resellers charge $99), a block of 10 is $250, a block of 100 is $575, and a block of 1000 is $1000. The system is clearly tilted towards larger publishers. Obviously, most self-publishers, no matter how prolific, will not get through 1000 ISBNs.

You might be tempted to share a larger block of ISBNs with a group of other writers—don’t be. They are non-transferable, so the original purchaser will be officially registered as the publisher of your book.

I haven’t purchased any, as this is an expense that can be avoided. I don’t see the advantage of adding one to my Amazon listings and I’m happy to use the free version from Smashwords. If having Smashwords listed as your publisher bothers you, you can always spend $9.95 and get your own if you are in the US. When I expand into print versions of my work, I will purchase ISBNs, but I’m not purchasing any for digital editions. You should note that you must have separate ISBNs for hardback, paperback, and digital editions, and that your free Smashwords ISBN cannot be used for any other edition.

Setting Up Your Own Publishing Company

Establishing your own company is by no means imperative; it’s a personal decision. I publish all of my books through my company, Arriba Arriba Books. At the moment, the company doesn’t have a website and the domain redirects to my blog. In the future, I may set up a website and possibly sell my books directly through it, but for now, it’s just a name. I don’t intend to publish any other writers through this company (and authors should think very carefully before going down that road); it’s just for me.

If you decide to set up your own publishing company, there are a range of corporate structures you can use, and I can’t give blanket advice as to which is most appropriate. It will depend on your own personal circumstances. Just make yourself aware of all of the regulatory and filing requirements in your particular country/state, as well as all of the tax implications.

Of course, you don’t need to set up a company at all. You can just publish through your own name. But again, consult an accountant or tax professional about the relevant tax implications, which vary from country to country, and state to state.

Tax and International Writers

Amazon, Smashwords, and the other retailers are obliged to withhold 30% of an author’s royalties unless they are provided with a Social Security Number (which only US or US-based writers will be able to do). They will hold onto this money until an author is able to clear his or her tax status with them, but only until the end of the tax year. After that, the money will be passed to the IRS. International authors can still apply to get the money back—it just becomes more hassle, so it’s best to take care of it sooner rather than later. (Please note that you cannot file tax forms with the IRS until you have actually published.)

To claim it back, or to prevent tax withholding in the first place, the process has become streamlined and is far less hassle than it used to be. I blogged about it in detail here, and make sure to read the update at the top of the post for the latest information.

24 Responses to Practicalities

  1. Emma Darwin says:

    Worth mentioning, perhaps, that as I understand it, the small extra protection you get from registering your US copyrights is restricted to US citizens, so it’s a waste of money if you’re not one.


  2. Thanks Emma, I’ll make that clearer above.


  3. joan says:

    Hi David, I am a UK author about to publish to kindle. I phoned IRS and got an EIN number over the phone. I told them I was UK based and they said that was ok – so have I got the wrong thing?
    Also what do you know about cheque payment as opposed to ETF payment for non-US income?


    • Brian says:

      I’ve also got an EIN – I wasn’t happy about having to send my passport overseas. You still have to fill a W-8BEN form and send them to amazon and smashwords (addresses in their FAQ’s). Both got received and my smashwords account page (on the edit/update payee information) has at the top “Your W8 tax form was received on …..and your withholding is currently set at 0%”. I received a strange email which I think was from Amazon in which states that I have a valid W-8BEN.
      Getting my EIN cut out a lot of time and potential stress. I’m one happy bunny.
      The payment bit means that if you give them a bank account for them to send the money to (I’m speaking of Amazon here) the amount threshold before they send you the money is lower (£10.00, or E10.00 (don’t have a euro key)). If it’s a cheque it’s (from memory) £100.00, etc. I’d love to have an american bank account because I’m currently waiting for my earnings (from to get above the $100.00 mark before they send a cheque but if you’ve got an american bank account it’s $10.00.
      Please correct me if I’m way off track.


  4. I’m finding your ebook very helpful indeed. The link to Christine Pinheiro’s guide doesn’t work – neither does the one given in your ebook.


  5. Pingback: How to Self-Publish – Phase 2: Uploading | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent

  6. Ana says:

    David, somebody mentioned that you do workshops in London?


    • Hi Ana. Not really. I’ve given a talk about self-publishing in a bookshop, and I taught a workshop as part of the Festival of Writing in York last September. I’ve a couple of similar gigs lined up for next year, but nothing in London at present. I’m not 100% sure it’s an area I want to get into on a more regular basis.


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  9. radford46 says:

    Hi David Please let everyone know that EIN registration has now moved to Ohio. The number is 1-267-941-1000 (not 1009). Then press 2 and 2. I also noted from the IRS website that the EIN registration is only valid for three years and then has to be renewed.


  10. Pingback: Self-Publishing World » The Self-Published Author and the 30%

  11. Hi David, thanks for your generous site for self publishers. I purchased your ebook “Let’s Get Visible”. Unwittingly I didn’t make the connection that this information was directed for Kindle ebooks, not the traditional print book selling on Amazon. I’ve only briefly begun to read through it. Does this info apply to print books selling on Amazon too? If not do you have a recommendations for a guide to selling print books on Amazon?


    • Hi Teresa. Much of the information in Let’s Get Visible focuses on increasing e-book sales and many of the techniques won’t help with print sales at all. I had a quick look at your website, and if you are selling photo-heavy/illustrated/coffee table books and are primarily going to sell in print, then maybe Let’s Get Visible isn’t the book for you. Please feel free to return it to Amazon for a refund (which you can do within 7 days of purchase – if the time has elapsed, let me know).

      As for alternative recommendations, I’m afraid I don’t have any. Because over 90% of my sales are digital (and most of my writer friends are the same), I don’t tend to focus on print sales at all and don’t know of any resources these days that focus on that either. If I stumble across anything, I’ll post it here (and if you do, please return and let me know).


  12. Nicholas Lim says:

    Hi David,
    I also purchased “Let’s Get Visible” and found it very helpful. I’ve a limited company that will have royalties paid to it: do I have to have a formal contract between me as the author and the company, assigning rights, to provide the correct legal paperwork to the tax authorities?


    • Hi Nicholas, for all sorts of reasons – not least that I’m neither a lawyer nor a tax specialist! – I can’t give you specific advice on what corporate structure would suit you best, and how to handle the royalty paying stuff. What I can say is that most self-publishers I know in the UK have set themselves up as sole proprietors, and then they don’t have to worry about such formal contracts for royalty paying. I absolutely can’t say whether a similar set-up would be optimal for you – that depends on all sorts of stuff particular to your own situation, and, as I said, not a lawyer/tax expert. I would imagine there are tax implications either way, so you might want to check that out.


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