It’s one thing to decide you’ll self-publish your new book. It’s quite another to take all the steps necessary to become a publisher. Here’s the point you must understand: publishing a book starts long before the book is written. Publishing is a business, not an afterthought. So establishing a business was my ﬁrst step.
A business needs a deﬁnition and a name. I started with the name, something I could use as a publishing imprint on my books. I didn’t want anything that would identify me too closely—not my name or a street address, nothing too cutesy, but something that would lend itself to a neat little logo. After coming up with several ideas, only to discover by way of a Google search that the name was already being used, I looked around the room where I was sitting and realized that all four of my cats were there keeping me company. My ﬁrst thought was, “This is like living in a cat house.” Then, realizing the unfortunate connotations of that word, I switched to German, coming up with Katzenhaus Books and a simple black cat silhouette as a logo.
Next I asked myself what I wanted this business to do. The answer was fairly straightforward. Katzenhaus Books would produce, publish, promote, and sell one or more books of original historical ﬁction. It would remain ﬂexible enough to expand into other book types. Perhaps eventually it would be able to offer similar services or advice to other writers who were seeking independent publishing choices.
Any business needs capital and a ﬁnancial plan. During my academic career, I had relied on research grants to support the writing process, a publishing contract to pay production costs, and a publisher to bear the burdens of advertising and distribution. All I had to do was write. Now, all those expenses came back to me. I started my ﬁnancial analysis by comparing several years of our living expenses against our income to discover how much discretionary income I had to play with. After deciding how much I could afford to risk on this venture, I did some research on self- publishing companies to estimate the total cost of a typical book. What I discovered was a wide range of offers, depending on how much help I was going to need.
UPDATE: To get an idea of what the various publishing services cost, check out this chart from Bibliocrunch. You'll see that they can easily run into thousands of dollars, but in terms of the resulting quality of your book, the investment can be extremely important.
The next step involved an honest examination of my own knowledge and abilities. I had easy access to most of the research materials I would be using, so I would not need to do a whole lot of initial travel. I’m a professional historian, a pretty good writer, and an experienced copy editor. Writing was not going to be a problem. Advertising and distribution remained question marks, but I had some experience in doing book signings and conference presentations. I was also an experienced webmaster. When it comes to book design, on the other hand, I’m pretty much out of my element. While I might have an idea or two about how I wanted a particular book to look, I was going to need someone to do the actual cover and interior layout. It appeared that I could afford to pay for some contracted design services and handle production costs out of the nest egg I had identiﬁed. Then I worked on establishing a book price that would make it possible to re-coup my expenditures.
My private resolve was to produce the book I was eager to write within the next two years. Then I needed to sell enough copies first to restore the savings account and then to accumulate enough of a cushion to ﬁnance any future book. I gave myself an estimated eighteen months to two years to accomplish that. If, at the end of four years, I had not made a proﬁt, I would retire from the publishing business and take up knitting or crossword puzzles.
That left only two more things to be taken care of. The first was easy. On my next federal income tax form, I simply declared myself a "Sole Proprietor" business. The form does no require "proof" of any kind beyond a few simple questions about the year you started the business, its name and category, and contact information. That's it. You've become a business owner.
Next I checked with my county clerk's office to see if I needed a business license. I'm not offering legal advice, here, because your state may have different laws. I learned that I did not need a business license in Tennessee so long as I did not have sales that amounted to more than $3000.00. The amount does not not include royalties, because you do not owe a sales tax on books that someone else sells. I did pay a $15.00 fee to register my business, but that was the extent of my responsibility.
Creating a business is really easy. Don't fail to do so.
Portions of the above blog have been taken from my book, "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing," available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, and Smashwords.com.