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So, You're Thinking Of Starting A Publishing Company
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If you've ever thought of starting your own publishing company, you may not have considered all that's involved. You'll need various skills, some software, plus stubborn perseverance -- and a few good tips wouldn't hurt.
It's not for the faint of heart, but it does have serious advantages. The most obvious is that it affords you total control over the finished product. Of course, all the responsibility that entails presents the foremost disadvantage, too.
If you're reading this, you're probably a writer. Well, are you any good at it? (Hint: you should have said yes to that; if you harbor serious doubts about your craft, then hone your skills a bit more before reading the rest of this article.) All right, are you also an objective and fairly ruthless editor? A writer needs one of those, but these days you'll probably have to do the job yourself. You'll need a good proofreader, too; and you should get in the habit of meticulously going through your own material several times before handing it on, so as not to waste those fresh eyes. At this point, I'm assuming you already have all those skills, and that you're seriously thinking of taking on the level of control referred to earlier.
Okay. Can you also format text for a print layout, handle graphic design well enough to produce a book cover, compose functional web pages, and deal with business contracts? Don't worry (yet). It's all right if you answered no to all those. Since you've read this far, I've gained a little faith in you -- but from here on out you'll need to have a great deal of faith in yourself. Not to mention stubborn perseverance. Since any of those functions you're not capable of performing on your own will have to be farmed out to third parties (which will drastically affect your bottom line). This has to be said, so let's just get it out of the way: skills like these present a steep learning curve. This doesn't mean, however, that they can't be mastered. In fact, any person who is already computer literate and not intimidated of adapting to new programs can do so. There are various programs out there to get you started, some of which are free (and I'll give you a few tips on this further on.) You'll probably purchase new software in the long run, but there's no need to spend thousands of dollars on it now. Your biggest initial expenditures will be of your own time and effort.
On the other hand, that's the beauty of it, too. Theoretically, at least, you could be up and running for under a thousand dollars. (Although it'll actually end up costing significantly more, what with one thing and another.) For that, you get your own imprint -- and after that, setting up each new title will cost little more than a hundred dollars. I suspect the sound of this rekindled your interest.
Here's the thumbnail sketch. If you intend to be a business, you have to behave like one. This means setting up at least a DBA (Doing Business As) with your state government. (If you do everything under your own name, you might avoid this, but I don't advise it.) Depending on the state where you reside, that'll probably cost upwards of a hundred dollars. (Though I'd actually recommend going a bit further and establishing an LLC, which costs more and falls under "one thing and another.") Either a DBA or LLC allows you to open a business banking account. And, at some point, you'll probably be asked for an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which costs nothing and is relatively painless to obtain.
That's just the beginning, though. Every book requires an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Incidentally, don't refer to these as ISBN numbers; it's redundant and makes you sound like an amateur. And don't bother buying these one at a time, either. If you're going to be a publisher you'll need at least a block of ten. Americans have no real choice but to purchase them through Bowker. The cost is $275 for that block of ten, or $125 each. In the UK, you're forced to go through Nielsen, where the price for ten is ?121.98. Canadians are lucky in this respect. They can acquire them from the Canadian ISBN Service System -- where they're free. Go figure.
All right, let's say you've done all that. What's more, you have at least one book ready to go (which assumes that the writing, editing, proofreading, formatting, and cover design are already complete). Isn't that enough? Well, no, actually. Now you'll need a printer.
Let me say that I've seen many books produced by many printers, with decidedly mixed results. If you decide to go with a small printer, they'll be more likely to tolerate any foibles in your preparations, but they'll also expect you to place an order for a certain number of books (with the price per copy descending sharply as the quantity of the order increases). Then you'll need to consider warehousing, shipping, and whether you intend to accept returns. I don't recommend this route for many new publishers. Unless you're absolutely positive you can sell a certain number of copies, you might end up with a lot of books sitting in a storage locker somewhere.
These are just the crests of the waves in a somewhat turbulent ocean, and you should be prepared to make a few course corrections once you're underway. I'm certainly not discouraging you from setting out, merely advising you of the weather. If and when you do embark on this, I wish you a safe passage.
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