Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: Money matters for self-publishers

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Dealing with money and totting up figures … It’s not exactly the first thing a writer imagines when they’re thinking about their next book. But if you’re self-publishing, you’re not only working creatively—you’re running a small business. If you want your business to succeed (because paying the bills allows you to keep writing, right?) it’s important to make sure that the ‘money’ side of things is all in order.

The business of writing

Once you’ve written your book and scheduled the release, the first thing you should do is to set up a business bank account.

A business bank account allows you to monitor the money you’re earning from your books. Apart from the satisfying feeling of watching the royalty money roll in, a separate account makes it easier for you to organise information for your accountant at tax time. It also means you know exactly how much money is available to cover production costs of your next self-published title.

Business bank accounts are a must for collaborative authors—the ATO requires separate bank accounts for partnerships. But the ATO also recommends a business account for any small business. Having a business account that allows you to accurately balance your self-publishing budget (you have a self-publishing budget, right?) is just smart financial sense.

The problem with Amazon

The main problem for independent publishers is that Amazon is a US company, so in every market except Australia, you’re being paid in foreign currency.

In the bad old days, Amazon used to pay Australian authors by paper cheque. Fortunately, those times are long gone, but now you have to be prepared to receive EFT (electronic funds transfers) from overseas. Almost every Australian bank wallops you with a hefty surcharge for foreign transfers—$15 to $50 AUD or more per transfer, in some cases. But you don’t want to be losing your hard-earned book royalties on bank charges, do you?

Solutions to the surcharge problem

Payoneer and PayPal are both financial services companies that provide digital payment and online transfer services. You can sign up for an account with one (or both) of these services, and direct your royalties into this account. Then, when you reach an account threshold that you determine, you can automatically transfer the money into your local Australian business bank account. Transfer costs are usually small (certainly smaller than with a direct transfer, although there will be fluctuations depending on the currency conversion rate and your bank’s processing or landing fees).

Use Payoneer for Amazon, and/or PayPal for other aggregators—you can do a comparison of Paypal fees and Payoneer fees to find a service you prefer.

Having a foreign currency account is also really useful for times when you might need to pay for book production services overseas—with a $USD account, you can pay a cover designer, order author copies from Amazon, or pay for advertising campaigns with US companies like BookBub.

Aggregators and other platforms

You can make the same banking arrangements with aggregators like Smashwords and D2D as you do with Amazon: provide the details of your PayPal (or Payoneer) account to accept foreign currency royalties, and set an appropriate threshold for automatic transfers into your local bank account.

If you’re published on other platforms individually—Kobo, Nook/Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Tolino, OverDrive etc.—you can make a similar arrangement there.

Tax time! Oh, the joy

Yes, it’s getting closer to June as we speak—so it might be time to get your tax details in order. Luckily, you’ve now got a separate business bank account that lets you track different income streams, shows you how much you’ve really made in royalties, and allows you to monitor withdrawals that you might be able to claim as business expenses at tax time.

For pete’s sake, make a budget!

Every small business goes through financial ups and downs. We all love to write, to create enthralling worlds and beautiful words … but we’ve got to pay the bills too. Without a budget for book production costs, you might be tempted to blow money you’ve set aside for personal expenses. Don’t do that! Work out how much your costs are likely to be for each release—take into account editing, proofing, typesetting, cover design, promo and marketing—and stick to your budget. Successful budgeting could make all the difference to your writing career.

If you’d like more info about banking, budgeting and small business finance, the ATO are really helpful on the phone.

And if you’re still confused, I recommend you talk to your accountant—or a specialist accountant for the arts. Creative Plus Business (a great organisation for information about arts and business) has a good list of suggestions for arts accountants here.

Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family, and her latest book, White Night (Allen & Unwin), was published in March 2018. Find her at or on Twitter or Instagram.

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