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Shipping Books from Home – Tips to Alleviate Postal Headaches

Shipping books from home: avoiding the headaches at the post office

Many authors have a love-hate relationship with shipping books from home. They love getting the instant income, they hate trekking to the post office, waiting in line, having to painstakingly write out all the different addresses. But you can have your cake and eat it too–just set up an in-home mailing system. In many cases, your postal carrier might be able to pluck the envelopes out of your mailbox, saving you time and stress. To get started shipping books from home, check out our five things you absolutely need:

Boxes and Padded Envelopes

When you ship books from home, it can feel like Oprah giving away carsThis one goes without saying. You can buy shipping material in bulk from Amazon, which will make those big shipments a breeze. We like to keep a variety on hand, including padded mailers for paperbacks and slightly larger ones for hardcovers, and boxes for bigger shipments. Make sure you grab some good, strong tape, too.

Take stock of the size of your books (height, width, spine), then calculate how big your shipping materials should be. Here are the sizes we use for our 6×9 books:

(Note: While there are boxes that  measure 6×9, we’ve found they’re almost a little too tight for your books. Better to size up an inch or two)

Postal Weigher

Media Mail is the cheapest shipping option for books, but you’ll need to know the weight of your package. You can buy a postal weigher from Amazon for about $16. Make sure you get a big enough one to handle those larger shipments, as books run about 1-1.5lb each.

Account to Purchase Postage

When you sell books from your website, you make more money. Find out our best tips for shipping books from homeDepending on how you’ve set up your online store, you might be able to do everything without having to access PayPal. WooCommerce for WordPress lets you do it all-in-one, provided you give them a credit card. We prefer the security of PayPal, and can access our customers’ shipping information fairly easily. There, it’s one-two-three clicks to having a perfectly sized label for US Orders.

However, we noticed a price discrepancy on PayPal vs USPS for international orders. To prevent those $25-$50 shipments from coming back, we go direct to the source.

Peel and Stick Labels

You can print off your labels on regular paper, but it’s much easier to use Peel and Stick Labels, already custom formatted for PayPal or USPS. Then it’s as easy as, well, peel and stick!

Swag and Add-Ins

One of the benefits from buying directly from the author is that the author can add additional swag into the bag. Maybe a bookmark with a coupon for free shipping, or a rubber bracelet with your website on it. Your customer will enjoy the extra stuff!

But above all else, don’t forget to sign it!

Things you need to know when shipping books from home


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Conventions, Events, and Sales Tax

Sales tax for authors

We consider ourselves old pros at attending conventions. We can schpiel with the best of them, schmooze and deal, and have big book-carrying muscles. While we’ve got a really great blog post on conventions, today, we’re going to focus on the less-sexy aspects of events: sales tax and other business legal stuff.

Disclaimer: Not lawyers or financial advisors.

Sales Tax is A PITA

Sales Tax is one of those things that most authors don’t think about until they’re signing up for a convention and there’s a paragraph about them having to manage their own number. So how does one go about doing that?

Just like every state has their own sales tax rate, every state has a different process for granting a license for selling. In most cases, the convention will provide paperwork for you to apply for a temporary license or a special event license. For that, you’ll need your business’s EIN number and enough time to get your certificate in the mail.

But for other states, like the great state of Texas, you have to actually set up your business in the state. That means every quarter, you’re logging into the website and telling them how much money you made. Yes, even if you aren’t a Texas resident. Yes, even if you made zero dollars.

Do You Have To?

A lot of authors see all this work and ask themselves, “Yeah, but do I really have to?” Some conventions won’t let you register for a show unless you have a state-provided ID #. Others, they post a warning that state tax auditors are wandering around and will want to see your certificate. And the wonderful state of Louisiana will show up at your table at 2pm in the afternoon on Sunday and ask for a check.

What happens if you don’t submit your stuff? Well, you’ll be hit with a fine (it’s not too much, maybe $10, depending on the state). Or they could bar you from selling in the state again.

Bottom line: Ignore Sales Tax at your own risk.

What About Online Sales?

This is the source of a lot of confusion for US-based authors. Here’s the bottom line: For online sales, you pay sales tax for customers who reside in your state. 

So if you’re based in Florida, all Florida sales will be charged a sales tax. If you live in Florida and your customer lives in Alabama, then no sales tax is necessary. This law is constantly being deliberated, but as of right now, this is the way it is.

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Becoming an Authorprenuer

Many self-published authors are perfectly content uploading their book, doing a little promotion, getting a few bucks, and that’s that. But for the rest of us, we find ourselves becoming business owners. And while we don’t recommend starting your own Zazzle store and spending all your profits on snuggies and coffee mugs (*ahem*), we do have a couple tips for the brand new authorprenuer.

Disclaimer: We aren’t lawyers and none of this is legal advice or tax advice. 

Start an LLC

The very best bit of advice we ever received was to incorporate a sole proprietorship LLC before we really got rolling with the business. An LLC gives you a couple of things that help with your business life. First, with an employee identification number (EIN), you can establish business checking accounts. This will allow you to separate your business income from your personal income, which is always a smart idea. If you’re planning on doing any kind of convention or show, you’ll need an EIN to apply for sales tax licenses in many states.

Come tax time, you’ll be able to funnel all your income and, more importantly, losses, through your LLC. You can only write off business expenses if you have a business, so if you’re planning on spending a lot, it might be worth it to get one started. Drove to a far-flung city for a convention? Write off the mileage. Had lunch with a beta reader? Write off the non-alcoholic expenses.

Separate and Keep Track of Your Expenses

Speaking of expenses, if you’re planning on having a lot of them, it might be a good idea to get a separate account for your bookish stuff. Amazon deposits our royalties into the business bank account, and we use those royalties to pay for eBook ads, editing, and more (like a real business!). If you’ve got your business income separate, you’ll be less likely to overspend on coffee mugs and snuggies.

As well, if you keep track of your expenses all year long, you should categorize them into the major tax categories. Then, when April rolls around, you’ll be able to assemble everything quickly. (Need help? We’ve got a great custom system we can build for you)

Experiment, but Don’t Go Crazy

Essentially, you want to get to the point where profits exceed expenses. But the old adage “you have to spend money to make money” remains true. You’ll need to invest in a cover designer or at the very least an editor. You may want to spend money on advertising, like newsletters or Amazon ads. The key here is to experiment, but as with everything else, keep good records. If you’re using the same Facebook ad set over and over again, and finding absolutely no return on investment, why continue?

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