Author Toolbox

Running Your Author Empire

I learned a ton of things this year about running my author business.
I thought about doing this as a series, but seeing as this is the last AuthorToolbox post for the year, I decided to go big.

To learn more about the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop go here.

I got advice from other authors, did a lot of research and had to find my own way. Some of what held me back was old advice – new changes had happened since my author friends had gone through the process, which meant that I had to go through tons of contradicting paperwork to get things right – and another hurdle was actually reading about it: I read so many books about how to do this right, yet it didn’t really help me as a South African author. So let me give you the most up-to-date info I can (and remember that it might be out of date already!).

This is specifically skewed for South African authors (or anyone else who feels like the advice out there is tailored for those in the US or UK).

Let’s talk about getting paid.

Receiving/Sending international payments.

If you’re South African, I suggest you set up an FNB account. They have an arrangement with PayPal and their online banking is really easy to use.

Set up a Payoneer account. It’s easy enough to follow their step-by-step directions. You immediately – upon approval – receive an American bank account and a German bank account. You may apply to get accounts in other countries too. For the purpose of getting paid by Amazon, an American bank account will suffice. This account will be linked to your FNB account for easy transfers. I added the referral link, so if you use it to sign up we’ll both earn $25 as a reward after you’ve received a total of $1000. (Yeah, we can dream big.)

Set up a PayPal account. Just follow their directions to get this done. This is the easiest – and safest – method to pay for: editorial reviews (like Kirkus and others), work done by freelancers (like on Upwork), split royalties on anthologies if you’re the one in charge of the finances, services like IngramSpark, etc. It’s also the safest (and perhaps cheapest) way to receive funds from services like Draft2Digital, IngramSpark and Upwork. (You can use your Payoneer account for these if you prefer.) This account will be linked to your FNB account – do transfers to and from PayPal from your FNB online dashboard.

Having both means that you always have a way to send and receive funds internationally. Otherwise you have to deal with Forex and SWIFT numbers and all that techy stuff that can send you into a tailspin. There is a time and place for Forex, of course, but having the above two services makes it easier to run your author business. (You can easily pay for tuition at foreign institutes from your FNB online dashboard using Forex. Or you can go and stand in a line at the bank so a human can help you…)

Tax stuff and where you’ll need it.

Everyone talks about having an ITIN number. This is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number used by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) of the United States. You need it if you are a non-resident of the US wanting to claim a tax treaty benefit. (Meaning, as a South African you won’t need to pay the withholding tax thanks to our tax treaty with the US.) If you want to know more about ITINs, check out the IRS website.

If you hoped to use any online publishing tool – like Amazon KDP – you needed this for tax exemption (or you would pay tax twice – in the US and your own country – as there’ll be a 30% withholding tax).

In 2018, though, the powers that be have caught on that there are oodles of “foreign” indie authors who would like to use their services but would rather not deal with the IRS and the hassle it causes for, well, everyone to send their original identification documents half a world away. (Maybe they’ve caught on that this is a global economy and that one country isn’t in charge of everything?)

So now you can use your tax number issued by your country instead of this ITIN nonsense.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

If you’re South African and you don’t have a tax number for whatever reason, go to your nearest SARS office (as early as you possibly can and not on a Friday, because everyone goes on a Friday for some odd reason). Make sure you have proof of residence, your ID, bank statement, and everything else they ask for on the SARS website. You don’t want to stand in line only to be told to come back because you didn’t bring everything.

Now you have your tax number, your Payoneer account number, your book as a mobi file, your cover for your eBook: you’re ready to publish.

So go to Amazon’s KDP page. Use your existing Amazon sign in info or create an account if you don’t have one yet.

Fill in the payment page (including the tax interview). You tick the box that you’re not a US citizen and fill in everything in the form they ask you for. (Tax number, American bank account number – use the one Payoneer gave you – address, etc.)

When you’ve successfully submitted this online form (it’s really easy), you’re ready to publish.

Use the steps given and upload your mobi file, add all the info they ask for and voilà! Your eBook is published. You’ll get a confirmation email within 72 hours and if you have any questions, the KDP team is very friendly and fast with their email responses.

When your book sells, you’ll get a report on your Amazon Author Page dashboard (and your KDP dashboard) and you can print it out: it states which book sold, where it sold, for how much it sold and your royalties from the sale. You’ll also get an email when to expect payment.

Remember to keep all records for Tax Season.

*There’s more on Rachel Morgan’s blog about Self-Publishing in South Africa: ITIN, Tax and How to get Paid. It’s a bit outdated, but chock-full of good advice.

*You can check out this post about all the tax stuff – frequently updated – on Karen Inglis’s blog.

Let’s talk about publishing.

I have a couple of posts about the different kinds of publishing. Here they are if you need a refresher:

Understanding Vanity Publishing and Author Services by Iola Goulton.

The Pros and Cons of Traditional and Self-Publishing by Iola Goulton.


Let’s start with what an ISBN is.

According to the International ISBN Agency:

“An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. ISBNs were 10 digits in length up to the end of December 2006, but since 1 January 2007 they now always consist of 13 digits. ISBNs are calculated using a specific mathematical formula and include a check digit to validate the number.”

You can check out their website to learn more about how ISBNs are created and what they do.

What is an ISBN used for?

An ISBN is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format.”

Now you need to know how many you need:

One for the hardback edition, one for the paperback edition, one for the mobi edition, one for the epub edition, one for the audiobook edition.

And that’s just one book. If you’re going to do major rewrites on that book, it will constitute a second edition with a whole new set of ISBNs.

I’ve read that you have to pay for ISBNs. Which sounds ridiculously expensive.

According to the Scott Allan over on the Self-Publishing School Blog:

“ISBNs are free in many countries, provided either by the government or a publicly administered branch. However, in the US and the UK, ISBNs are administered by Bowker and Nielsen respectively and require you to pay.
If you’re located outside the USA you can find out your local ISBN Agency here. While ISBNs are assigned locally, you can use them internationally.
If you live in the USA, you have to get an ISBN through, run by Bowker, the only company that is authorized to administer the ISBN program in the United States. You can purchase ISBNs as a single unit or in bulk of 10, 100 or 1000.”

If you’re South African, though, you don’t have to pay. (Yay!) Everything you need to know is on the Publisher’s Association of South Africa’s website.

Draft2Digital and Smashwords do supply ISBNs for your eBooks at no charge, but they are owned by these companies so you are bound to them. (See Scott’s post for more.)

Anything I missed? Tell us in the comments!

*There’s more on Rachel Morgan’s blog about Self-Publishing in South Africa: Copyright, ISBNs & Barcodes. It’s a bit outdated, but chock-full of good advice.

Working with Freelancers.

I have a post somewhere about why working with freelancers is a good thing. Ah, here it is.

Having a fresh set of eyes on your work really helps. As long as those eyes don’t stay… (Okay, so all the spooky October stuff has me in its grasp.)

If you have an eye for design, you can use Canva to create your book cover. You can always have a new one created and upload that when you can afford it.

Here’s a list (from the Creative Penn) for cover designers.

I use Upwork to hire freelancers, especially for formatting to epub and mobi.

You can get a Mac and the Vellum program (which only runs on Mac) and do your own formatting. Which will reduce costs if you have updates/changes you want to make on files you’ve already formatted. So there’s an alternative to getting freelancers to doing the formatting for you.

There’s not getting away from hiring editors and proofreaders, though.

You can use Upwork to find an editor (developmental, line/copy) or proofreader.

You can also use this list from the Creative Penn to get professional editors to help with your book.

I recommend you look around the list of participants in the AuthorToolboxBlogHop to see if any of them are editors or proofreaders: you’d be surprised how many authors do this on the side to support their writing. We are a brilliant and multi-talented lot, after all.

Pst! I’m offering my proofreading services on Upwork (among other things) FYI. 

If you’re an editor/proofreader/some kind of freelancer that helps authors, tell us in the comments!

*There’s more on Rachel Morgan’s blog about Self-Publishing in South Africa: Formatters, Book Cover Designers, Editors and Other Freelance Publishing Professionals. It’s a bit outdated, but chock-full of good advice.

Going wide.

Some authors advocate to just stick with Amazon KDP Select and all the limits it imposes on you – like not publishing anywhere else. Good for them. I don’t like to have all of my eggs in one basket. So I decided to go wide.

I hit a wall when I wanted to create accounts and upload my books on other platforms than Amazon: turns out being South African meant I’m not allowed to join the club.

But Draft2Digital can reach all of those platforms – and more! – for me and they have handy forms to make me part of their global family. It’s an even shorter form to get tax exemption with them than I had to fill out for Amazon.

And you get a handy Universal Book Link for your book: listing each online retailer your book is up for sale and it can be regularly updated without the link having to be changed.

D2D also provides ISBNs, formatting and other services (some free, some at a reasonable fee). This is just for eBooks, but there is a case for eBooks being more easily accepted by new readers.

If you don’t like the idea of Draft2Digital for whatever reason, you can use Smashwords or IngramSpark (they do eBook distribution and Print on Demand distribution at a fee).

*There’s more on Rachel Morgan’s blog about Self-Publishing in South Africa: Which Platforms to Publish Your Books On. It’s a bit outdated, but chock-full of good advice.

There might be other options out there, so tell us in the comments!

It’s not just one book.


I’m starting with this one because everything below was born (in my own empire) by a book that won a publishing competition. In Afrikaans. Now it’s also available in English. And one day I hope to hire translators to get this story in as many languages as possible across the globe. And they will all be in the formats to follow. Because each book can be more than just that one book and can reach a wide audience.

I’d love to hear about your experience with translating your book(s). Tell us in the comments!


I had a guest post a while back by Natasha Duncan-Drake where she explained the pros and cons of eBooks.

Let’s just say that if you don’t have your book out as an eBook, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of the market.

As I said above, you can use several places to publish your eBook (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc.) or you can go through aggregators like Draft2Digital, Smashwords and IngramSpark.

There might be other options out there, so tell us in the comments!


This is the most cost-effective way to get your book in print.

You must have your content (the book’s inside) in the right size and format, fonts embedded and in a PDF size that the publishing company accepts (some won’t accept a PDF made with MS Word while others are happy to convert your Word doc into their preferred format). Your cover must be the right size and shape (front and back covers with the spine in the right size with the correct font size, etc.), as a print-ready file (print colours, not digital colours), and usually as a PDF (with whatever other requirements they expect).

This can take a lot of work if you’re DIYing it. (There are excellent resources on most of these sites on how to do this yourself.)

With Amazon KDP, you get a template for the book’s insides so that’s easy enough and if you only use your eBook’s cover, you can use their cover creator to create your cover for your print book (only recommended if your back cover will look good in black with your front cover, otherwise it’s very tricky to pull off right). You can also use this advice on how to make your cover in MS Word by Derek Murphy over on the Creative Penn.

Amazon doesn’t charge for changes, they let you know via email if something is still not working so you can fix it, and they have several FAQs that can help you with any step of setting up your book as POD.

Your Amazon KDP POD will only be available through the Amazon stores and only in certain territories where this program is available.

You can use everyone’s favourite: CreateSpace. I haven’t worked with them, but the fact that there’s an option in KDP POD to move your book from CreateSpace to KDP has me edgy and not keen to try out CreateSpace (especially after rumours earlier this year that the program might become redundant and that they’ve retrenched a lot of their workers). You’re welcome to try it out, of course.

There’s Lulu for your POD requirements, but I’ve heard from other Indies that they are prone to make mistakes. (One of my Indie friends had the wrong interiors in her covers – imagine getting someone else’s book in your gorgeous covers. Ick!) They are affordable, though.

We have Groep 7 Drukkers in SA. They do everything from editing, formatting, cover design, printing and they also have an online shop for print-on-demand.

Or you can order a boatload of books from a reputable book printer like BK Bookbinding in SA and do the “hard sell”. You can check out my own experience at that here: Vying for Attention.

IngramSpark is the one company that I’ve wanted to try out: not just because Joanna Penn recommends it (she has awesome advice for Indies), but also because I can get books from Indie authors from my local online stores (no Amazon in South Africa unless you ship from the US or UK) in print (and I know that these authors use IngramSpark). They reach 39,000 retailers world-wide. Which is definitely something to consider as you plan your global take-over.

IngramSpark also has a cover creator for you to use (I’m working on that just for fun) and it has to be sent in as special PDF made according to their specifications. Your interior can be made in MS Word (or whatever program you like) and also sent in as a special PDF (no using the shortcut in Word to convert it).

You have to pay to get it into their system and any errors/changes will incur additional fees. Though they do have an incentive to buy at least 50 books within the first six weeks and have it sent to one address: you get your set-up fee back.

P.S. There’s an importing rule in effect that you cannot import more than three items, below R50 000, in a given year. I’m not sure how vigilant they are with what’s coming into the country and to whom it goes, but it’s something to think about when you order your books from abroad, fellow South Africans.

There might be other options out there, so tell us in the comments!

*There’s more on Rachel Morgan’s blog about Self-Publishing in South Africa: How to Sell Print Books Locally. It’s a bit outdated, but chock-full of good advice.


In January I read an article (I think it was on Anne R Allen’s blog) that audiobooks are the proverbial gold rush right now: you should get in right nowto get the most out of it, that there will be major growth, that the market is relatively small and the demand high.

This was reiterated on several other major publishing blogs. (I’m sure I didn’t dream it. But we all know how vivid dreams can be…)

Anyhow, so I decided that I will take the leap and get “Eens…” published as an audiobook.

Another wall…

ACX is only available to a select few and has built-in exclusivity clauses (like being bound to them for seven years).

When I went in search of a way to get audiobooks done, this one wasn’t available (to me) at the time. It does look good, though. D2D Partners with Findaway Voices to Provide an Alternative to ACX.

One can go all DIY and do it like a podcast. Or you can follow William L Hahn’s advice on how to DIY your audiobook properly.

None of these options appealed to me (the enormous price tag, the possible fraud, the meh quality, not liking the sound of my own voice, etc.) and I wanted to kick this idea onto the compost heap to rot.

But lots of time on Google later, I found a local audiobook production company that can get over all of these hurdles for me.

Audioshelf  is the company I turn to for my audiobooks. You can read about how much I love working with them in my guest post over on the Writer’s Gambit.

I know for reviews I need free copies to give away, but with the system I’m using I only get one author-copy. So no ARCs. But that’s a small trade-off for actually beating the ridiculous system that would’ve kept me out in the first place.

Not only is “Eens…” and “Once…” both available as Audiobooks, their sales surpass that of the eBooks… Check out this post from earlier this week on the Writer’s Gambit: Audiobooks and Indie Authors.

There might be other options out there, so tell us in the comments!


The part we all hate the most. But only because we do it wrong and spend waaay too much time doing it. Here’s what I learned through several webinars, blog posts and books to do this right. I’ll keep this part short.

Email List

This is what you need to keep in touch with your readers. The point: you can sell a million copies of a book, but if you don’t have access to your readers they won’t know about your next awesome book. (There are loads of great resources at the end of this section for you to get it right.)


I’ll do a full post in 2019 about reviews. But in short: it’s the social proof you need for readers to even think about buying and reading your book. No reviews equals no-one will want to spend time and money on something untested. (Advance Review Copies – ARCs – are great to get reviews for launches, there are editorial review sites you can use – you pay for a review and you can use snippets on marketing stuff, and you can set up giveaways in the hope of getting reviews.)

Social Media

Use the snippets from reviews along with the image of your book in a nice image made for each social media channel you use. (Canva has the right dimensions for each site.) Remember to add links to where your book is for sale. Hashtags work well too.


Guest blogs where you get to talk about the world of your book is awesome – readers like that. Interviews and author spotlights also work great. On my own blog I do folklore posts that are relevant to my books – and I make sure that there’s a quote, image and links to my book at the end of the post that is relevant to the folklore discussed in the post.

There are several bloggers out there who are willing to help. Here are a few:

*You can just head over to Nick Stephenson’s blog to get some free video training to find your first 10k readers and get a free eBook (helps with the newsletter part). The blog posts are great too 

*You can also head over to Tim Grahl’s site to learn how to launch a bestseller – there are loads of stuff about connecting with readers, building your platform and selling more books, too.

*And check out this marketing section on The Creative Penn – I’ve read and listened to it all and bought all of Joanna’s books on the subject. Totally worth it.

There might be other options out there, so tell us in the comments!

None of this, though, can make up for a bad book. Write the best book you possibly can. When you’ve accomplished that, then you can dive into the stuff discussed in this post. And then you have to write the next book…

*Disclaimer: I am not a publishing, tax or other expert (except for writing what I write), which means that I am not liable for any losses/damages incurred if you follow my advice. I’m just sharing my publishing journey from the past year, hoping to help those on a similar journey.

Here’s my Goodreads shelf filled with helpful books: writing career. I update it whenever I read something new.

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8 thoughts on “Running Your Author Empire”

  1. This is a brilliant post for anyone planning to self-publish, but especially for South Africans and others living outside the US/UK.

    You ask about translations: Tony Riches has blogged on using Babelcube as his #AuthorToolBox post this month (

    FYI: I’m a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction and clean romance. Yes, editors specialise, and that’s advice I’d add: if you write fiction, you want an author who knows your genre, especially at the developmental and line editing phases (it’s less important when it comes to proofreading).

    I’m also a reviewer, so let me know if you’d like a guest post on reviewing from the blogger’s POV 🙂

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