The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 2: The Beginning Professional Publisher.
However, if you’re like most publisher (unwilling to spend money unless absolutely necessary) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.
Congratulations! You’re considering publishing your own work! Or perhaps you’re already publishing, and just want to go back over the basics.
This chapter will walk you through the initial steps.
You And Who?
One of the first things for you to think about is whether you want to publish just yourself or if you’re also going to publish other people.
Maybe you don’t want to be a big publisher. Maybe you just have a mother–in–law with a fascinating story that you want to capture. Maybe you have a friend who has this collection of poetry that you’d like to publish for them. Maybe you have other projects of the heart that you’d like for the world to see.
Or perhaps you just want to publish yourself, and you’ll never touch someone else’s manuscript. It’s your House, and yours alone.
Or possibly you have kind of a head for business, and you’ve always wanted to be a publisher. So you plan on being a bigger press, and working with many artists.
One of your first decisions will be to figure out your size, both current and future.
I started off knowing that I wanted to publish other people. I knew that I have a good head for business, and that I liked business.
It still took me three years before I added another writer. I needed to make sure that all the aspects of my business, in in particular, the accounting, were in place before I more than doubled the complication of adding another person.
Adding one more person after the first didn’t triple the complication. I knew it would grow more complicated, but once the infrastructure was in place, it just meant a bit more work.
You may not know that you want to publish other people. Perhaps you haven’t done any publishing yet and so you don’t know if you’re going to like it or not.
Or perhaps you think you’ll be a bigger publisher, only to find out just how much work it is, and decide to publish only yourself.
While that initial decision is important, it’s also important to realize that you can change your mind later.
My advice would be to start small and grow from there. Get your toes wet, then your feet, then decide if you want to move further into the water.
The Name Game
Once you’ve some idea of your size, if you’re going to be just strictly you or a stable or writers., you get the fun job of picking a name for your press.
As a writer/artist, you already understand that names are important. Part of the name game, though, is to match the name of your business with your plans.
I would suggest that you choose a more serious, professional name. On the one hand, it might be funny if you became a best seller and during an interview, made the interviewer have to say the name of your publisher: Mac–Fluffy–Snuckums Press.
On the other hand, if you do write a best–selling novel, you’d like people to take you seriously. That will be easier if the name of your publishing house sounds professional.
If you really want to name your publishing business after your cats, possibly just use their initials: MFS Press.
Another thing to think about: choose a name that doesn’t reflect a single genre.
Perhaps you only write science fiction, and so you want your press to reflect that, and plan on calling it Spaceship Monkeys Publications.
I would caution against this. You’re limiting yourself with that kind of name. While it’s indicative of what you’re writing today, as an artist, you’re also limiting your growth. Who’s to say that you might not read some fantasy book and decide, “I can do better than that.” Then go on to start to love the genre and become a best–selling author in that genre.
I’m not saying choose a bland, generic name. But choose one that will allow you to write in all genres, that will still fit ten, twenty, fifty years from now.
Once you choose a name, the internet will be your friend. You must do searches on that name, both how you’re spelling it as well as alternate spellings. You may have picked an absolutely awesome name—only to find out that someone else is already using it. So be sure to look around before making your final decision.
You may also want to check with other people about the name you’ve chosen, people who are in different social circles. They may see something about your name, or know that it’s disrespectful slang.
You have a great name for your publisher. You have some idea of who you want to publish, the size you want to get to.
Now, you need to start thinking of that publisher as a separate entity.
It is a separate business from your writing. It will generate separate income.
You need to set up a separate bank account for your publisher. This will make it very easy, later, when it comes time to do your taxes, as your income for your business has been separate from your other income.
In addition, you need this information before you start setting up accounts with distributors.
Before I could open a bank account for my publishing business in Washington State, in the US, I needed to get a business license. You will need to check with the laws of your country/state/province to see what’s required as part of your banking laws.
If you’re an American, I would also recommend getting an Employee Identification Number, or EIN. This will also become important later. You’ll use this number instead of your own Social Security Number for setting up distributors, signing contracts, etc.
Everyone will tell you that you need to get a web site and use your publisher’s name as the domain, such as www.FlyingPinkMonkeys.com.
In general, this is good advice. Let me explain why.
Suppose you want to submit your work to a review site such as Publisher’s Weekly.
Publisher’s Weekly is used to dealing with traditional publishers, not authors. They expect to receive books from publishers.
This means, as part of your cover letter, you list the name of your publishing company, as well as the web site. You need to look like a business to them if you want them to take you seriously.
You may want to set up someone as your publisher as well. That way, all correspondence comes from someone who is not you. This could be a friend of yours, who agrees to be your publisher. Or it could be just a persona you assume.
Do you need to spend a lot of time and effort on your publisher’s website up front? Not necessarily, but you should start building it as soon as you start publishing. It’s easier to just add to an existing site than to have to build it from scratch when you have a dozen books.
Another site that you need to build (or make sure that your authors build) are your author website or sites. This is not the same as the author’s Twitter account, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. (It may or may not be where the writer, primarily communicates with their fans. Building up that web presence is for author, not the publisher. However, as a publisher, you might be encouraging your authors to build up their social media sites.)
Your author site preferably has the author name as the domain (www.LeahCutter.com) This site contains information about the author’s books.
The landing page for the author site should contain the following:
- What’s just been released
- What’s coming
- How to contact the author
- Signing up for the author’s newsletter
- Social media links
- Upcoming events
These are the pieces of information that readers want to know. Tell them about your cats in your social media posts. Tell them about your books and your business up front.
If you write in series, you might want to create a separate page for each series, so readers know what order the books are in. If you have a lot of books, you might want to think about creating a FAQ to direct readers to the book they should start with.
Some writers choose to put the majority of their effort into their author site, and just use the publishing site for correspondence and for publishing. Their publisher’s site is static, with links to their author site as well as a page for retailers.
If you decide to sell books through your website, I would recommend doing that on your publishing site, and keep the businesses separated.
If you’re publishing more than one person, you need to put more effort into your publishing site. If you’re also offering services, such as editing, cover design, career advice, I would recommend doing that through your publishing house, and keep your writing separate.
There are many different ways to run a business. You get to choose how to show yours to the world.
Talk with other writers to find out what they are using. Make sure it’s an actual web host. There are a lot of fake services out there.
Whatever service you use, I cannot recommend strongly enough to use whatever privacy service your web host offers. (If your web host doesn’t offer a privacy service, go find another web host.)
Let me explain what a privacy service does.
When you register your domain name, you need to fill in information, such as your name, address, phone number, etc.
That information is now public record. Anyone can access it.
That is, unless you use your web host’s privacy service.
If you use your web host’s privacy service, a casual inquiry will show the web host’s information, not yours. (For those of you more technical, it’s what’s returned with a WHOIS command.)
Perhaps it doesn’t matter to you now that your address and phone number are easily available.
What happens if you write the next Harry Potter book? You might not want to move, but you might have to if anyone with a computer can figure out where you live.
Assume success. Plan for victory.
As part of your plan, you should decide which distributors you’re going to use for your work, such as (for today): Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Draft2Digital, Createspace, Audible, etc.
Make a list. Then do some investigation. There are horror stories about every single one of those platforms.
Which ones will you choose, going in with your eyes open? They’re all businesses. Sometimes you have to put up with unpleasantness in order to do business with a partner.
Decide your pain points. Do your research. Read the terms of service for each and every partner.
Then, and only then, set up accounts with them.
The three things you need to remember about first steps:
- Decide who you want to publish.
- Choose a professional sounding name for your publishing house.
- Your web presence is important. Choose a good host and use their privacy service.