(Welcome to the latest installment of The Path to Publishing, a series on starting a small press aimed either at the writer who wants to improve their stature or the editor who wants to run an independent publishing house. If you missed the last two posts (on distribution and the factors going into the decision to start a small press), you can find them here.)
by Gideon Marcus
If you’re here, it means you’ve decided that you want to start your own publishing company or are at least interested in applying the lessons I’ve learned in the process of running Journey Press to your career. You’ve already learned why you might want to do it (boiled down: frustration with the “traditional” process) and how to get your books before the eyes of readers.
Today, let’s talk about the actual infrastructure of your business. It’s important to establish a good, expandable framework from the beginning, one that can grow as you grow. While it means extra work and costs up front, in the end, you’ll save a lot of time.
Name and Logo
If you’re starting your own press, your press needs to have a name and some kind of identifying image. These will end up on your book spines, on your website, your stationery. While logos can be changed, names are harder once they’re established.
Think hard about your press name. I chose Journey Press both for its clear connection to Galactic Journey (my three times Hugo-nominated web presence), because it’s easy to say, and because it sounds reasonably professional. I can’t imagine having to call bookstores and introducing myself as something silly like “Recalcitrant Panda Productions.” I know such names are in vogue, and you can do whatever you want, but goofy names are both difficult to remember and smack of amateurism.
At the same time, keep in mind that you’ll want to establish a web presence and register the name in as many places as possible. There are sites which can tell you if a chosen name is available across a number of platforms. However, even if the name you want is unavailable, sometimes there are workarounds. I’ll discuss this further in the Web Presence section below.
As for logo, our avatar is the Pioneer 1 space probe, and a wonderful artist did a great adaptation for us. Again, this is a connection to Galactic Journey. I also really like Pioneer 1.
We also have a simple comet-based logo we use for spines and emails. Any good marketer will tell you to keep your brands consistent and not have multiple logos. Oh well!
You do not need a formal entity to do business as a writer, or even as a small press. We made the decision early on to establish an LLC for a couple of reasons. For one, we’re preparing for the future. It’s best business practice to have a business separate from its individual owners, not just for liability reasons (insulating you from potential suits), but also for continuity. You’re creating something that has value that you may want to sell some day or hand off to someone else. The less it’s attached to you, the better.
Also, having a separate business means you can apply for lines of credit in the business’ name. Some credit cards offer competitive cash back rates, hotel or airline points, or other perks, so if you can afford to pay it off each month, an additional card to pay your business expenses can offer real benefits. But this only works if you’re not planning on carrying a balance and paying interest, and if you can get greater value from the benefits than the annual fee. If you aren’t confident about those two things, it’s better not to play the game at all.
I can’t offer a primer on how to form your own entity; every state has its own procedures and costs. That said, states make it easy to establish entities — they want your money, after all! A quick internet search will get you going. Keep in mind that you don’t have to establish the LLC in your own state. In fact, it’s often desirable to look for a state that has no yearly fees and low or no corporate taxes. We chose California for personal reasons, but California charges $800 per year to keep your LLC open, so it isn’t great if you’re an entrepreneur working on a shoestring. A little research in this area can go a long way.
I cannot stress the importance of this. Maybe you hate math. Maybe numbers terrify you. The fact is, if you’re making your own money, you need to keep track of it. For taxes, for tracking the success of your efforts, for ensuring the proper payment of any other writers you may be publishing, for making sure you haven’t missed anything.
We’ve used a couple of bookkeeping programs for our business, Xero and Quickbooks. Both are online applications these days. Janice, our accountant, greatly prefers Xero — it’s simpler, more streamlined and intuitive. Quickbooks has been around a long time and tries to be all things to all people, and it probably has features you don’t need. In the end, either will do the job.
If nothing else, importing all your bank transactions into your accounting software, making sure your account total matches your bank statement, and categorizing your transactions can make a huge difference for the future of your business. Having all of your information in your accounting software means you can easily make reports on the profitability of your books. If you’ve got other writers you’re publishing, it’s easy to figure out what you owe them. Come tax time, you’ll have no trouble giving the IRS and state authorities what they want, and you’ll have the data to back you up if they ever come auditing.
Speaking of taxes, business expenses are deductible. Are you glad you’re keeping track of them in your accounting software?
Hand in hand with business accounting is getting a business bank account. It’s much easier to track income and expenses when they aren’t commingled with everything else your personal finances. Plus, there are often benefits associated with opening business accounts, like cash bonuses or frequent flier miles, if you can meet certain minimum requirements.
In the course of your business, you will inevitably have to deal with contracts. I’m not talking about the contracts you’ll see when working with Amazon or Ingram. I mean the ones you’ll be drafting for use with your contractor. Some folks will work without them, but they’re always good to have.
Some examples of people you’ll be dealing with where contracts are desirable/necessary:
- Cover designers
- Authors (publishing contracts)
- Foreword/introduction writers
While there are templates online, you really want to consult with an attorney, particularly for publishing contracts. I’ve taken a year of contract law, and I was senior law clerk at a firm for several years, and I still consulted a professional.
Yes, it costs money, but you’re setting yourself up for the future. Once you’ve got your base contract, you can use it any number of times.
As for what rates you should pay or what terms make sense for contracts, that’s its own article, which I’ll eventually get to. 🙂
If you want people to know about your books, they have to be able to find you. That means a website and social media. How you use them will be the subject of a whole other article, but in terms of infrastructure, you want to get your online real estate as soon as possible.
While you can avail yourself of free website providers like Blogger or Dreamwidth, you really want your own domain, preferably with a .com ending. It’s just way more impressive and memorable than “someindepedentpress.blogspot.com”
Of course, we didn’t take a .com, and that was dictated by a number of circumstances. Journeypress was already taken for most endings, and we didn’t want to use .org, which suggests a non-profitmaking organization. Ultimately, because of the popularity of Galactic Journey, we decided on galacticjourney.press — then, in one breath at conventions and such, we could say, “Come to the Journey at galacticjourney.org and to Journey Press at galacticjourney.press”
Using a .press domain has been mostly fine. The only downsides have been booksellers occasionally forgetting that it exists and putting in .com by accident, and I’ve found mail can take a little longer to receive (Journey Press emails to editor @ galacticjourney.press are actually rerouted gmail addresses).
The more the merrier, but you’ll find certain ones are better for different things. We”ve found that the sweet spot between professionalism and engagement is Twitter. Journey Press has a Facebook account as well, but it’s much less trafficed and harder to expand its audience. Some folks like using Instagram for business, and even Pintrest and Tumblr. Whatever works — just get your name quickly, or a memorable alternative. And it’s best if you have the same name across all platforms.
Don’t neglect the tangible items you’ll need for your business. They include:
This can be a 3’x3′ space in your bedroom or a rented space downtown, but it’s where you keep all your business-related stuff handy. The more organized you are, the faster operations will run. Also, dedicated space can be tax deductible.
The Journey Press office is a 10’x15′ room in our house with a lovely bay window looking out on our backyard. Janice and I both have adjustable standing desks. We don’t deduct the space because we also use it for leisure.
A filing cabinet
You’ll want a place to store those contracts and other legal documents. Trust me — you do not want to have to dig for these things, or worse, not be able to find them at all.
A workhorse black and white printer is invaluable for printing drafts, contracts, bookplates, you name it. I recommend HP Laserjets — we have a 4200.
A good color inkjet is useful, too, but in my experience, the cartridges are expensive and never full when you need them.
Contracts need to be signed. Sometimes you can do it electronically, but often contractees (and organizations) want wet signatures. So a decent scanner is useful.
With your infrastructure in place and distribution channels chosen (and books written, of course!) you’ll next need to find ways to process sales. We’ll be talking about that in the next installment.
Thanks for tuning in!