For centuries the process for an author to get published has remained relatively unchanged. The author writes his work, mails it off to a publisher, and waits, and waits, and waits. When the author gets his rejection letter, which happens 95% of the time, even for the good stuff the process starts all over. For J. K. Rowling or J.D. Salinger type work the usual submit and reject process takes up to two years. This period can be longer for the merely competent writers, or if the writer doesn’t send out multiple queries at a time.
Within the last few years a movement has exploded, much in part due to the advent of the internet as well as the availability of high speed internet to the home user. The “self-publishing” house has gained in popularity with writers who do not want to wait the time it takes to get picked up by a traditional publishing house. Companies like Lulu, Publish America, and Author House dominate the market for people who want to self publish their works. Although these companies provide a rapid means to publish works, it is much more efficient, and rewarding economically for an author to start their own publishing company to release their works. If an author is planning to release more than two books, the savings over time are tremendous. The main thing to consider in starting your own publishing company is your goals as a writer, and your experience as a businessperson. Authors wanting to start a “Micro-Publisher” (a term I invented) will need to learn all aspects of publishing including: book writing, editing, typesetting, cover design, distribution, advertising, sales, accounting, tax preparation, etc.. Developing all of these skills takes effort and dedication, but if you have already produced a manuscript of quality, this should be no problem.
So you are interested in starting your own Micro-Publisher? To make sure that Micro-Publishing is your best choice, you need to formulate your goals as an author. How many books do you want to sell? Where do you want them to be available? After you have formulated your goals you need to determine if you are willing to do the tasks required to insure your success. Are you willing to call bookstores, newspapers, and T.V. stations?
Are you willing to do book signings, speak in public, be interviewed on live T.V. or radio? Are you willing to take the time to learn the technical skills of the book formatting process? Are you willing to learn the laws of business ownership and taxation? If you are not willing to take the time become an expert on a specific skill, are you willing to pay someone to do that task for you?
Once you have determined that you have the ability do what it takes to Micro-Publish, you need to determine if you should Micro-Publish at all. Some works lend themselves to Micro-Publishing more than other works. Travel guides, local historical fiction, city/county histories, and biographies of local historical people all lend themselves well to the Micro-Publishing market. These books often are turned away by traditional publishing houses because they simply do not sell enough to be worth their time or investment. If you are a romance, sci-fi, poetry, or novel writer Micro-Publishing probably isn’t for you. Those types of books are only successful if they are released and marketed to a national audience. I can tell you from experience it is hard enough dealing with a book on a state wide level-never mind a national book. Take it from me if you live in Maine, do you really want to be sitting on the phone all day calling every bookstore in California?
Now that you have determined that your book is a Micro-Publishing candidate you now need to make yourself official. The first step in doing this is come up with your name. Make it a good one because you have to live with it for a long time. Just don’t use your own name like John Doe Publishing, it sounds lame and it broadcasts the fact that you are self published. Remember if you are a good self publisher and follow your steps correctly, most people will not even realize you are self published. Now that you have a name it is time to file with the IRS, and State and Local governments, for taxation purposes. All you need to do is contact those taxation bodies and request a taxpayer ID number. There are forms, usually online, to fill out and it is a quick and free process in most cases. When you receive your tax ID numbers you need to register your business in your state and local area, if applicable. In Kentucky it cost me $40 to set up as an LLC. A local business license costs $50 here.
Now that you are licensed and ready to be taxed, it is time to open up a business checking account. If you go to your local bank where you have your personal account they will usually have a type of business checking that is free. If they don’t, go to another bank. The banking market is too competitive to be paying a monthly fee for a checking account.
After you get your account opened you will have to put some dough in it. This is what’s called an owner investment. A good rule of thumb is to add up all of the expenses it is going to require getting your first book out and put that amount in there if you can. If you can’t afford that it will just take you longer to release your book. Remember starting your own Micro-Publisher is slightly more expensive to start up than most “self-publishing” company plans, but after book 2 and 3 you will be way ahead of the game.
The next step in the Micro-Publishing start up process is the most important step. Buying your ISBN’s. This step is what makes you an official publisher on paper. Nay Sayers will rant and rave that this is not true or you are not a “real” publisher”. In the eyes of the industry, the only thing you need to do to fulfill the minimum requirements of being a publisher is to fill out a form and shell out some bucks. You get your ISBN’s by going through www.isbn.org. In America this is the only place to get them legitimately. Do not buy them from somewhere else or you may have another publish company on record for your book (but that is another article). As of March 2007 the minimum fee for ISBN’s is $269.95. Sounds pretty high, but the good thing is that get you ten of them. For those who don’t know, an ISBN is a glorified serial number which allows bookstores, libraries and other organizations to have quick access to find out how to get your book in their store. You publishing company’s name, address, and phone number are attached to the ISBN, along with the information about the book itself. Each book has its own unique ISBN number. There is also a number called a SAN# which you can get. It basically attaches your company name and address to a simple 7 digit number. I haven’t really used it yet but for the extra $75 I bought it anyway. You also will want to register through the Library of Congress.
Now that you are an official publishing house what do you do now? You have to figure out who is going to print your books, as well as how you are going to get them to market. As a master of efficiency, I have discovered that the best way to do this it to use a company called Lightning Source (LSI). LSI is a printing company loosely affiliated with Ingram Distributing, the major book distributor in the U.S. Using the “print-on-demand” (POD) technology, lighting source is able to fulfill orders from the publisher as well as orders through Ingram Distribution and other distributors. LSI basically allows the author to upload their cover files and book block in the form of print ready PDF files. LSI can then use those files to fulfill orders as they come in. The advantage to LSI is the fact that the setup fees are really fair. For my book Free Kentucky it cost $74 for the set-up fee. The fee is based on how many pages the book is. For fist time users LSI requires that a proof be purchased at a cost of $30. This is actually a good policy so you get the idea of what the book will look like and how formatting looks on a real book. Once you have published your first book through LSI they do not require the purchase of a proof for subsequent titles. A good thing about LSI is their fair cost per book. They charge a flat rate printing charge for books, but do offer volume discounts and various promotional offers. My 164 page book costs $3.36 per copy to print. That is the lowest cost per book for POD that I have come across in my research. For a book that lists at $14.95 that leaves me with gross profit of $11.59 per book. With that much wiggle room it not too painful to give good discounts to gift shops to carry my book.
The LSI distribution model is what sets them apart from the rest of the completion. Within 3 weeks after my books went to the printers, my books became available on every online bookseller. Customers also had the ability to order it directly through every brick and mortar store too. LSI allows you to set the discount amount to encourage stores to purchase the book. My book is discounted 47% through distribution. That means that I get $7.92 per book fulfilled directly through LSI. I do have to pay a printing charge of $3.03 per book distributed- leaving me with a profit of $4.89 per book for a product I never had to touch, see, or bill for. Each month LSI sends you a royalty check based on your sales.
Now that your book is available to stores, and you’re going to get paid, now the really hard part starts-marketing. If you are bothered by calling or emailing people you don’t know, do not Micro-Publish! You must be a people person, confident, and willing to take rejection. You must also be creative in your marketing. I have come up with a marketing system which has worked great for me. I call it reverse marketing. What most authors will do is start calling bookstores encouraging them to sell their book. After it gets in a few stores they will try to set up book signings. After they do a signing or two they will write newspapers and T.V. stations trying to get more publicity. It is a systematic, thought out plan. In reverse marketingI do everything backwards.
I have found the most efficient thing to do is quickly get your book in some gift shops. Forget the bookstores at first. If you use LSI people can still get your book, and some stores may even pick it up on their own. Once the book is available somewhere start calling and emailing T.V. stations and newspapers. This is totally a numbers game here. Email and call as many as possible. I did this and out of about 20 T.V. stations I got 3 interviews. Newspapers were a lot less fruitful; out of about 70 papers 2 reprinted my standard press release. Once you get a T.V. interview scheduled, start calling bookstores and gift shops in the viewing area to set up author events and to carry your book. It is amazingly easy to get a store to carry your book when you call them up and say, “I am the author of Free Kentucky it is a book about the best free things to see and do in the state of Kentucky, I’m going to be on the WLEX 18 Midday show on the 23rd publicizing my book, people are probably going to come by and ask for it. I just wanted to let you know in case you may want to have a copy or two available in the store. It is available through Ingram Distribution”. This is the script I used verbatim. It is amazing how easy it is to sell a book that already has TV exposure. The purchasers will actually thank you for letting them know and promise to order. I also use the same tactic for setting up author events. With the power of TV, or even a good local magazine or newspaper review behind you, more people are willing to work with you.
Final Random Thoughts
This article is intended to serve as a bare-bones outline on how to start your own Micro-Publishing company, and how to market your book. I intend to expound on some of the specificities in future articles. Do not rely on this article for any legal, accounting, or tax related advice, contact a professional for that. I will say the biggest surprise in my company’s young life is the difficulty in dealing with independent bookstores. I had erroneously figured that the independents would jump at the chance to showcase a local author. Outside of a few distinguished exceptions, the total opposite has occurred. I have received bad treatment, and in most cases no response to any communications I have made to independents. It is apparent to me why the independents are getting put out of business by the majors. I would strongly recommend that new authors go after the majors first then the independents last. Gist shops have generally been receptive which is exactly what I expected. If you can actually get in touch with a person at a gift shop they are usually happy to speak with new authors.
Starting a Micro-Publishing company is not a way to “beat the system”. I can almost guarantee that if you go through this rout you will not sell as many books as you would through a traditional publisher. I have a friend, who is a local author, who released a book within a few days of mine. I Micro-Publish and he has a traditional publisher. He flat out sells more books than me. My sales are in the same neighborhood, but I’m sure he sells more. All that being said, I make a tremendously higher amount per book than he does. At minimum I make over 3 times as much per book than he does. Because I am not familiar with his contract details, it could very well be 4-5 times higher per book. Does he sell 3-5 times more books than I do? Definitely not. Micro-Publishing is not a golden path to fame, and the best seller list but in many cases it is the most efficient way to profit from sales of a limited interest book, and get it to market. Do your research, plan your work and work your plan, learn more here.
About the Author
James Bilodeau lives and writes from Bowling Green, Kentucky. James earned his degree in Social Science from Western Kentucky University. As a part of various literary projects he has written about many topics and interests. James has been an active part of the tourism industry for many years, most recently working with the Kentucky Department of Tourism.