When an author decides to publish their own book, there are many questions to be answered. It’s the first of these questions about self-publishing I want to address in this article, and that has to do with starting a publishing company.
Some authors will decide to simply print copies of their book for their own use, or as gifts, or to sell occasionally at private readings or meetings. This type of publishing can be done by an individual without any need for a company structure.
It’s when you decide to approach publishing as a business with the intention to market your books to the wider world, list them on online retailers like Amazon.com, try to get them into bookstores, and essentially to become a competitive publisher, that’s when you need to set up a company if you don’t have one already.
Existing Companies Can Be Publishers Too
Some new self-publishers won’t need to start a new business, since they already have a business structure of some kind. Consultants, therapists, and free lance writers, for instance—all candidates for self-publishing—usually do business as a company, and can publish their books in the same way they do the rest of their business.
If you don’t have a company already, you’ll need to start one. The laws of the local area where you live will govern the exact process by which you set up a company. And keep in mind that you should make the decision about what kind of company to have in consultation with an attorney or your tax adviser. There are three basic types of companies that can be book publishers:
- Sole proprietorship—The simplest business model, an operation controlled by you alone.
- Corporation—A commercial entity is created in which you and others hold shares. Most complex business structure.
- Partnership—A contractual relationship in which two or more people exercise control of the company.
Most new self-publishers will undoubtedly decide to be sole proprietors.
The next step is to pick a name for your publishing company and head down to the County Clerk’s office, or whichever government body performs the same functions in your municipality. Here in Marin County, north of San Francisco, we file a Fictitious Business Name Statement (FBN). Here’s how it works:
- You pick a name and conduct a search in the county records, and the state records, to see whether anyone else is operating under that name.
- You file the form and pay a fee
- You publish a legal notice in one of the newspapers approved by the County Clerk, for three or four weeks.
In the end you receive a document certifying that you are operating under the name. In my case, I went through this process when I first started Marin Bookworks.
The advantage is that now you can go to a bank and establish a relationship with the bank as a business. This will come in handy as your company matures and has need for more banking or financial services.
Decide whether you want to use your home address, or the address of a postal-services company like UPS Stores as your business address.
Getting Your ISBNs, and Getting Into the Book Trade
First stop to getting set up in the book publishing industry is to buy your ISBNs. This is the beginning of introducing your company to Bowker, keeper of the basic bibliographic resources in publishing, as well as the ISBN provider and administrator for the United States.
These ISBNs will identify your books but, more important, will identify your company as the publisher. Go to RR Bowker’s MyIdentifiers.com website and pick one of the packages.
- Single ISBN, $125.00—Bowker advertises this as a good deal for self-publishers, but it looks expensive to me.
- Single ISBN with bar code, $150.00—This is also advertised as great for self-publishers, but savvy self-publishers know that printers like Lightning Source and publisher-service companies like CreateSpace will provide you with a bar code of your book’s ISBN automatically and at no charge. Keep looking.
- Blocks of 10 ISBNs, $325.00—We have to live with these charges for numbers, so this is your best deal for almost all self-publishers.
If you thought you were going to be doing a lot of shipping from your location, you could also purchase a Standard Address Number (SAN) at Bowker, but you can wait on this until your printing and distribution options have been clarified.
Off to BowkerLink
Armed with your new business name and business bank account, you’re ready to finish your introductions. Bowker provides the Bowkerlink.com tool for publishers.
This free portal allows you to market titles through Bowker products to many sectors of the book industry including wholesalers, distributors, retail chains, independent retailers, online retailers, schools, libraries, and universities.—Bowkerlink.com
Further in Bowker’s site you will find out that
* Books In Print® and Global Books In Print® websites have over 3000 subscribers including retailers, libraries and publishers.
* Bowker has over 1800 library customers including The New York Public Library, Harvard University Library, and the British Library. Including branch libraries, over 5000 different locations can access your data.
* Over 60 booksellers access your data. Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Follett are among the major retail customers for Bowker’s data.
* School systems are a growth market for Bowker and the New York Department of Education is a leading school user of Books In Print information.
Your data is circulated to all of these customers free of charge and there is no cost for submitting data to Bowker.
You’ll want to register for a free account and fill out all the approriate fields to register. One of the great resources of BowkerLink is access to the Title Information Record for each of your books. This is where you will fill out the details of your book once you’ve settled on title, subtitle, and all the edition and pricing information that will complete the record.
When you complete the Title Information for Bowker, your book will automatically be entered in their system, and recoverable with the unique ISBN that you assign to it.
You won’t have the information yet to complete the entire Bowkerlink publisher profile, since you don’t have distributors, discount terms, or a host of other information that will eventually become part of this record. That’s okay, you will be coming back here soon enough.
Why Go to All the Trouble?
You’ve now established your company in the records of the publishing business. Any book you publish with the ISBNs you purchased will be traced back to you and your contact information that you provided. It’s a good idea to keep all these records up to date.
And here’s why it’s worth doing all this: Many successful self-publishers realize that it’s much easier to publish their second, third, and fourth books, particularly in the same niche as their first book. This is how a publishing company can become a real business.
Photo: Jan Murin