THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING AUTHOR CHERYL KAYE TARDIF

Mystery, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, horror & YA by "Cheryl Kaye Tardif" & romance by "Cherish D'Angelo". Cheryl is represented by Trident Media Group in NY.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amazon's DTP, Smashwords, Withholding Tax, International Authors and ITINs

As a Canadian author using Amazon's Digital Text Platform (DTP), my journey has been less than hassle free, so I'm posting today to help other non-US authors get through the headache of withholding taxes and IRS forms.

If you're a non-US author and you've noticed your royalty checks don't match your numbers online, it's most likely because a withholding tax has been implemented--30% on average. But there's a solution.

First, a non-US resident and DTP publisher/author does NOT need a US address or a US bank account. Amazon will mail you a check. I've been getting them for months and I'm in Canada.

However, Amazon will withhold approx. 30% of all earnings of non-US residents UNLESS authors have an ITIN, which you must get from the IRS.

For Canadian authors, this is how I did it:

1. I contacted an "Acceptance Agent" in my city. There's a list of Canadian Acceptance Agents on the IRS website.
2. I had Smashwords send me a letter stating I was selling my books through them. You need one letter only from one distributor, and when I asked Amazon they were completely uncooperative and refused to send me the letter. UPDATE: Createspace is also great about sending the letter you need, if you deal with them. You just need one letter from one retailer.
3. I filled out the W-7 form at the Agent's office, he photocopied my passport and he sent these out along with the letter from Smashwords (who are aweseome about giving letters).
4. It took about 7 weeks before I got my letter from the IRS with my ITIN.
5. Now I must fill out the W-8BEN form and send one to each US distributor (Amazon, Smashwords etc). Once they process it (in about 3-4 weeks), I'll then start receiving 100% of my earnings and will pay tax on it in my country.

Smashwords has great instructions on all this on their site. I don't know why Amazon hasn't done the same. Smashwords also has links to all the forms and the address for sending the W-8BEN. Again, Amazon could take some pointers on customer service.

As per Smashwords, here are the important links you need:



Is this a hassle? Most definitely. Especially since Amazon does nothing to assist its international publishers/authors.

Is it worth it? Yes. Why should 1/3 of my earnings be held back? I'm Canadian, I pay my taxes here.

Smashwords is fighting to have this hassle removed, and I support that. There's no reason for it. Amazon and Smashwords are acting as my distributor.

If you're Canadian and need assistance with this process, please email me via my website.

Amazon, I would be happy to work with you on a page for your Canadian & other non-US authors that would clearly and easily walk people through this process.

Does anyone know the correct mailing address for sending in the W-8BEN form to Amazon?

UPDATE:
After emailing Amazon's support, I finally received an answer.

"We need to receive a physical copy (paper form) of the W8 that contains a US tax id and that is signed in blue ink. Please put the supplier code/vendor code, vendor code: DUVNS in the upper right hand corner and then mail it to the below address. As soon as we receive it, we will update the account and reimburse withholding that has been deducted this year. Note: withholding can only be paid back in the current year it was deducted.

Amazon Digital Services
Attn: Vendor Maintenance
PO Box 80683
Seattle, WA 98108-0683

If you have further questions, please write back to us at dtp-support@amazon.com."

Please note that you may want to check to ensure that the "supplier code" is the same for everyone. I have no idea if it is or if it's linked to my account only. If you know the answer, please email me at cherylktardif (at) shaw.ca.

UPDATE: One writer reported to me that the supplier code was different than mine, so your best bet is to email DTP support and ask them.


UPDATE: May 18, 2011 -
- Createspace will send you the letter you need to get the ITIN rolling, if you sell your books via them.
- Smashwords has a Google Chrome bug that is preventing emails to go through to them via the customer support link at the top of Smashwords.com. If you've emailed them about this or any other matter and haven't heard back from them in 3-5 days, your email may never have reached them. They're working on this issue. In the meantime, try IE or another browser.
- From Mark Coker at Smashwords: "At Smashwords, authors request the letters through their payee profile at https://www.smashwords.com/account/payee. They can request the letter once their account balance reaches $10.00."

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
http://www.cherylktardif.com

18 comments:

DanielleQ.Lee said...

Thank you so much for sharing this Cheryl!!!

Eileen Schuh: said...

Is this just for authors who are self-published, or for those whose publishers list them on Amazon and Smashwords? Is it the same for Barnes and Noble?
Eileen Schuh, Author
Schrodinger's Cat
http://www.eileenschuh.com

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

If you're independently publishing using any eretailer, you are self-publishing, and YES, all this applies to you. :-)

If you use Smashwords to distribute your works to B&N, Sony and Apple, then you don't have to send them your ITIN, just Smashwords as it's Smashwords that pays you.

I highly recommend authors do NOT use Smashwords to distribute their Kindle ebooks. Using Amazon's DTP (Digital Text Platform) is easy and you'll make more $.

Wisdom-Corner said...

Hi!
I am from India and going through the agony of trying to publish my ebook on Amazon kindle.Have written to dtp support at Amazon for the witholding letter.Do they give the letter easily without driving you in circles? It was a relief to come across your site and know that I was not the only stressed out international author. Thanx for sharing your experiences.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Getting the letter from Amazon is like pulling teeth...from a baby. For some reason they aren't cooperating on this issue.

You'd have better luck signing up at Smashwords and getting the letter from them. I had no problems when I asked them. Good luck!!

In the end, once all the behind-the-scenes paperwork is taken care of, selling via Kindle (and Smashwords and KoboBooks) is completely worth it!

Cheryl

JodyKihara said...

THANK YOU for posting this, Cheryl!

One question: do we have to go through an acceptance agent, or does this just make it easier? I assume they're going to charge a fee... was it a lot?

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hi Jody,

You don't HAVE to but it is so worth doing. I paid $65, and my agent filled in all the forms and mailed them.

The disadvantage to not using an acceptance agent is that you may fill your form out incorrectly; it's a bit tricky. If you do it wrong, the IRS will mail it back to you and you have to start all over again. So for less than $100, hire an acceptance agent and have a sense of peace that it's done right. :-)

Cheryl

JodyKihara said...

WOW I would definitely do it if it was only $65 - no question! But I phoned 2 places here (I'm in Vancouver) and it's going to cost me $300!!! Yike.
Do they need to see you in person? (Because if not, I'll use the one you used!)

Cheryl Tardif said...

Jody, even for $300, I would do it. Once you start really selling your ebooks, they'll take much more than that off your royalties. 30%.

However, you may want to call some other acceptance agents. I saw mine in person, and it makes sense that you would have to for ID purposes, but you'll have to ask.

Make sure it's an "Acceptance Agent" listed at the link I gave in my article. There are other people who will authorize passports for $300 and that's ALL that they do. They don't fill out the forms for you and they don't file them. So be sure to ask what you're paying for.

UPDATE ABOUT AMAZON:
Amazon just sent me a check for all the withholding tax they deducted before my ITIN was registered with them, so that was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting to be reimbursed.

JodyKihara said...

Thanks for all the great info on this Cheryl.

And just to let others know, if there are several acceptance agents in your area, phone around to find out their fees, because it varies greatly. The ones I phoned ranged from $150 to $400. Yes you read that right - FOUR HUNDRED! Might as well drive a few miles more to save $250!
Here is the link again to the list:
http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96839,00.html
And as Cheryl mentioned, ask exactly what's included.
If you're not filing a tax return and are doing this just for the withholding tax issue then the filing is called 'with exception', so make sure the acceptance agent understands the reason you're doing this, so that they're quoting the correct fee.

Me said...

Hi Cheryl,

I'm a Canadian author as well, trying to get this setup. I was able to get a letter from CreateSpace with no problem.

Any chance you can tell me what your agent put for part 'h', as well as the "treaty article number"? That seems to be the only "confusing" part of the form.

You can PM me at email AT jrobertkennedy.com if preferred.

Thanks,

Rob

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hi Rob,


If you're talking about the W7 form, in section h, it has Exception 1(d) Book royalties.

I highly recommend you use an acceptance agent to fill out and submit the form. They know exactly what is needed in each section. If done incorrectly, it'll cost you a lot of wasted time and energy.

Cheryl

JodyKihara said...

Rob, I'm agog to hear about CreateSpace providing the letter, because Smashwords has NOT come through for me on this one. Did you send the request by email, and did they know what you were talking about? Please do tell!

I phoned several acceptance agents (to get pricing) and my understanding is that you *have* to do it through an acceptance agent...? One (very helpful) guy explained that the reason it costs so much is that he had to go down to the States to get certified, and jump through all their various legal hoops. But I'm curious to know if you can do without...?

Cheryl Tardif said...

Jody, you don't have to have an acceptance agent to submit your ITIN forms. But it really helps speed things up if you do. :-)

I know authors who have tried to do it themselves and filled the form in incorrectly or didn't do something correctly, so the IRS didn't approve their ITIN. The authors then had to go through the whole process of resubmitting their forms and proper ID.

I think if a writer is just going to publish one book, then applying for an ITIN might be too much of a hassle. However, if you're a professional author, just do it and do it right the first time. :-)

I'm surprised that Smashwords hasn't helped you with the letter, but I'm wondering if perhaps it's because you used their tech support email at the top of the page at Smashwords.com. They've been having a lot of problems with email not getting to them.

You may want to try contacting Mark Coker directly and he may be able to forward your email to the correct person in charge of those letters. mc@smashwords.com

Good luck!
Cheryl

JodyKihara said...

Hi Cheryl
Thanks for the additional info... I was hoping to save some $ as the acceptance agents in my area are SO expensive... but sounds like this is still the best way to go.

I emailed Mark at Smashwords, as you suggested - it turns out the letters hadn't even gone out yet so that was a rather frustrating 6 weeks of waiting! How did you know that their customer service emails weren't going through...?

thanks again,
Jody

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hi Jody,

I had some other questions for Smashwords and when I didn't get a reply I mentioned it to Mark. He told me there were some issues with the customer support email and I even sent a test email. They've been working at fixing it, but for some reason emails end up in Cyberhell somewhere.

If you email Smashwords and don't here from anyone in a week, I suggest you email Mark directly. I'll see if he'll give me an email address for someone who handles the letters directly.

Cheryl

Cheryl Tardif said...

'hear'...good grief, I can't spell today.

Cheryl Tardif said...

It appears that Smashwords has a little Google Chrome bug that is preventing anyone using this browser from sending emails via their customer support link at the top of Smashwords.com.

While they work at fixing this issue, if you've had no reply to an email sent to them via Chrome, try using IE. It is working fine.

I'm also working on getting a contact name/email addy for someone at Smashwords who can help international authors with the letter they need for the IRS, to get the ITIN thing going.

Cheryl