Self-publishing: what’s it all about?
I’m going to assume you know the basics. You’ve written a book and you want to sell some copies. You’ve decided not to send it to a “traditional” publisher and you want to go down the independent publishing route. In fact, you’ve arrived at this article because you’re already thinking about buying a cover, which shows that you have a good grasp of what is required when it comes to doing this as an independent author.
Unlike traditional publishing (where the publishing company takes the financial risk, organises the editing, cover art, formatting, distribution, and – to a greater or lesser extent – the marketing), an independent author must do all of these things themselves.
But, despite this, you might still be thinking about yourself as “just” the author. In that case, who is the publisher?
Going forward, I am going to assume that you are doing this as a truly independent author. It’s the DIY method that means that it’s all down to you. You are not using a hybrid publisher or hiring a company to act as your publisher.
You may have chosen to create your book through Amazon (via Createspace or KDP), or via an alternative print-on-demand company such as Ingram. In either case, it is important to remember that in most cases these companies are printers or distributors. They are not publishers.
Createspace even go as far as to list a set of things that you are specifically not allowed to claim they do for you:
CreateSpace is the printer of your book and as such cannot be listed as the publisher.
[Your book] Can Include:
- Printed by CreateSpace
- eStore address (i.e. www.CreateSpace.com/TITLEID)
- Printed by CreateSpace, An Amazon.com Company
- CreateSpace, Charleston SC
- Published by CreateSpace
- Published through CreateSpace
- Printed by CreateSpace Publishing
- CreateSpace, LLC
- CreateSpace Edition
- CreateSpace Logo
So, who is the publisher?
Ingram have a handy definition in their guide to self-publishing:
[The Publisher is] the entity that owns the legal right to make the product available. This can be the same entity as the author, a company formed by the author or a group of authors to publish their own works, a self-publishing service provider that assists the author in bringing the book to market, or a traditional publishing company that purchases the right to publish a work from an author.
As an independent author, doing this yourself, you are the entity with the legal right to make your book available.
Do I need to set up my own company?
No. But you can.
It’s an option that lots of authors seem to take, and it is one way of making your self-publishing into a more “serious” endeavour.
Whether you do or you don’t, what is important, of course, is that you are correctly registered with all of the relevant authorities in your country, so that all that lovely income you make from selling your books is correctly and properly accounted for and declared. If a company structure will help with this, then it is something that you could consider.
(Please bear in mind I am not a lawyer and I am not offering legal advice. If you are thinking about setting up a company to act as your publisher, please make sure you do your homework first.)
The ISBN is the thing that uniquely identifies your book. Each book (and each format of each book) will have a different ISBN to identify it. And that ISBN will contain a fair amount of information.
(If you don’t know what an ISBN is, why it’s important, or where you can get one, then you can read more about ISBNs and barcodes here.)
The prefix to the ISBN identifies the publisher of that book. The first time you purchase an ISBN (or a block of ISBNs), you will need to supply the issuing agency with your publisher details and this will then be held against that ISBN (or block of ISBNs).
When anyone checks that ISBN in the future, the prefix will tell them who the publisher was. In most cases, as an independent author, you will want them to know that you were the publisher of that book.
Buying more ISBNs in the future
If you need more ISBNs for later books, you may need to buy more ISBNs from your local issuing authority.
These new ISBNs will have a different publisher prefix, as each prefix applies to just that ISBN or to a block of ISBNs purchased in bulk. As stated by Nielsen, this is not a problem, as “it is quite usual for publishers to be identified by more than one ISBN publisher prefix”.
Bowker are the company authorised to sell ISBNs in the US. They also curate a database at www.bowkerlink.com called Books in Print.
This database allows you to enter your book’s information, for free, from where it will be available to a wide selection of people who might want to buy it. Conversely, if it’s not in the database, it’s going to be that much harder to find.
The BowkerLink Publisher Access System allows you to communicate your new release titles, as well as price and status updates to a wide audience of book, audio and video buyers. Bowker is the leading provider of bibliographic data and your titles are exposed to many facets of the book industry through this single web application.
Back to our topic for today – publishers – and the question arises: who controls the information in Books in Print? The answer: the publisher does.
Only publishers can view, update or add titles.
Surely they mean “proper” publishers, right?
No. If you have set yourself up correctly and you have the right ISBNs, then you – the self-published author – are correctly identified as the publisher.
If you are a self-published author with your own ISBN prefix, you may register as a publisher.
Nielsen’s Title Editor
Nielsen are the company authorised to sell ISBNs in the UK. They also curate a database at www.nielsentitleeditor.com called Title Editor.
Similarly to Books in Print, this database allows a book’s information to be logged so that it can be made available to the book buying world. And, once again, it is the publisher who is in the driving seat.
Public Lending Rights
Another benefit of being properly listed (for authors in the European Economic Area, at least) is so that you can benefit from Public Lending Rights.
The National Published Archive
If you are based in the UK or Ireland then you will need to send a copy of every new book you publish to the British Library Legal Deposit Office within one month of publication.
This is a legal requirement and the responsibility falls on the publisher. That’s you, remember.
(Other deposit libraries may then also request a copy, in which case you will need to send a copy to them as well.)
Seriously? Do I really need to do all this?
No. There are other options.
But if you are serious about publishing your books and making them a success, then you will want to make sure that they are as easy-to-find as possible. And when it comes time to publish your second, third, or fourth book, and they are all linked together and the publisher details all match… it is starting to look a lot more like a serious publishing business.
What is an imprint?
We have been talking, so far, about publishers. As discussed, for many of you this will mean you or a publishing company you have created.
An imprint is a subsection of a publisher. An imprint can be used to collect together a certain genre of books, or a particular series of titles, from within the publisher’s overall catalogue.
For example, within the traditional publishing world, Penguin Random House is the overall publishing company, but their books are offered for sale under almost 250 different imprints, with different imprints concentrating on classics (Penguin Classics), children’s books (Puffin), and so on. That is, obviously, a large and complicated example. And most of those imprints will operate almost as independent publishers themselves, such is the size and scope of the Penguin Random House empire.
Within a smaller operation – including a self-publishing set-up – an imprint is likely to be a way of separating out books to make them easier to manage and market.
If you write a series of science fiction books, but you also have a set of steamy romances up your sleeve, then you may choose to have two different imprints: one for each distinct genre. All of the books will still belong to the same overall publisher – you – but they will be released under different imprints.
Does this matter?
Yes and no. You can publish perfectly happily without worrying about imprints, but it is all part of your branding and marketing and is very much part of what you should be thinking about now you are a publisher.
Where it might cause concern is in the way that Amazon (them again!) conflates the role of publisher and imprint.
When uploading your book, you will be asked to input the “imprint”, not the “publisher”. They will then perform a security check against your ISBN to make sure that it belongs to the correct publisher, ie you. Unfortunately, if you have entered an imprint name in Amazon, it is not going to match with the publisher name held by Bowker. So you also need to make sure that Bowker has a record of all of your imprints, as well as your overall publisher name.
If this applies to you, then I recommend this article on Joel Friedlander’s blog where he describes exactly this situation and how to resolve it.
What if I don’t want to do any of this?
You can still self-publish your book.
There are companies out there who will take on the publisher role for you. Unlike a traditional publisher, they will often demand a fee rather than paying you, but this is an option that is available (with all the obvious accompanying warnings).
You can also publish exclusively through Amazon, selecting one of their ISBNs, and publishing under a Createspace imprint. The details of your book will be automatically entered into the Books in Print database and you are free to concentrate on drumming up a market for your latest book.
But please be aware of what you are giving up when you do this. One of the benefits of choosing to be an independent author is the control you are given over your book and its potential success. Taking control over the publishing side of that process is one way in which you can help maximise the opportunities your book will have.
If you decide to give over control and to not be the publisher, then it is still worth checking back over the long list of things that a publisher can – and should – be doing for a newly-published book. Will your chosen publisher be doing these things? If not, why not? And will it be detrimental to your book’s chances of success if they don’t happen?