The Internet may be global, but so many financial services aren’t: a look at the business of writing

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time online this week. Not writing, although my laptop is the tool to accomplish that, too. No. I was trying to do right by governments of countries I visit this year. And just a second ago, I stumbled across another hurdle I need to cross. I’ll get back to that. Online, you can access virtually any website on the web, maybe with the exception of the North Korean web, not that there’s much of interest for me there. But I can easily access anything else. In the past three years, I’ve been to several conventions in the U.S., in several states. And while the U.S. seems to be a “bloc”, a country with similar rules, it actually isn’t.

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6. We’re in the final stages of proofing the text.

Traveling to the U.S. to sell books can be tricky. Here are some examples:

  • Illinois: no one form out of state is allowed to sell. We had to organize for an official book store to handle all the sales for us. It was a logistical nightmare, but on the upside: no hassle with government web sites.
  • California: easy peasy. Simple and straight forward to fill in the necessary information online and pay your dues online by credit card.
  • Colorado: not only do you need a state license, you also need one from the local city/county. A logistical nightmare. I’m currently engaged in getting things lined up for GRL this fall. And yeah, I managed to get help form a nice gentleman from the state of Colorado, and I’m still struggling with the city & county of Denver. I don’t yet know how this all will end
  • New York: I’m still not sure how this will end. Like Colorado, they seemed to dislike the EIN (a federal company identifier number issued years ago when I started publishing) my company has. I managed to get through a multi-page form with a gazillion questions for a six hour (!) book sale. Crazy. But alas.
  • Florida: Easiest of all. You don’t need a sales license if you’re only going to a con once every blue moon and don’t sell regularly.

Here in Europe, all sales are done from your home country, at least when you’re in the EU. Easy. Sadly, there is no equivalent in the U.S. where every state does things differently. In this aspect, it’s a lot easier to do business in the EU.

When I first started publishing books, I had to get some things ready in the U.S., like the aforementioned EIN number. That was easy enough. And since my country (Sweden) and the U.S. have a double-taxation agreement, I don’t have to pay taxes in the U.S. Amazon makes me fill in a form every couple of years to avoid them withholding taxes on my sales. But getting money from Amazon? That is a different story. And Amazon isn’t just “Amazon”, it’s ACX (audible), it’s Createspace and it’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Not to mention Apple, Barnes & Noble (Nook) etc. Each and every one of those companies have their own process.

Originally, only Amazon would send money to my Swedish bank account. The other Amazon companies I worked with, Apple as well as Barnes & Noble required a US bank account. I tried to open an account back in 2013 and failed. Why? Hold on to your horses: I happened to have studied with a member of the European Commission twenty something years ago, and that makes me – by default – a national security risk… You can read the post I wrote back then, if you’re interested. In the end, my sister opened an account on my behalf and for several years, my U.S. royalties ended up there. We closed the account this year, as things have improved and particularly since my books are nowadays published by another publisher.

The cover for the coming audio book of Family Ties, my first. I just got the files from Michael and will review them next week. I look forward to the release of my first audiobook!

Until this morning, when I realized that the Amazon company ACX, where my audio books will be published, doesn’t send money to banks outside the U.S. and the U.K. Another problem to solve… *sigh*  I know that many of my friends don’t take the whole sales licensing as seriously as I do. I do that for two reasons: a) I want to do right by the societies I visit and b) given current political tensions, I just cannot risk to make a mistake and be banned from entering the U.S. Doing the right thing is more important than ever before, but it’s not easy. I just want to get the audio book out to my readers / listeners…

The tools may be global, but much of the legal framework underneath or behind the scenes are highly local, and as an author it’s not always easy to understand all the implications, so I’m spending a ton of time reading up. What’s the alternative? Well, I could stay home and not travel, or I could hire a lawyer, but we all know how unaffordable that is. Last year, at GRL, I sold for a couple hundred dollars, now tell me how many lawyer hours that would pay… It just makes no sense. I still need the licenses, so I do the best I can.

Oddly, when people think about the job of being an author, the often picture us, smoking a pipe and writing in front of an open fire, deep in thought, whereas in reality, we spend as much time as every other person with a day job on bookkeeping, finances, etc. Those are the days I don’t like my job very much. And unlike a baker who sells his bread locally, and only has to deal with his local laws, I sell my wares globally, and have to deal with the fallout of that. It’s complex, to say the least.

What are your experiences, dear fellow authors? Similar? Different? Any great tips? Solutions?

Have a wonderful day and a great weekend.

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Hans

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