Words, Words, Words

How to start a publishing company

In this do-it-yourself, micro-niche world, more writers are turning to self-publishing. When it comes to leapfrogging the gatekeepers at traditional publishing houses, self-publishing is a great option. But just as more authors are taking the publishing bull by the horns, many entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily writers themselves are also looking at starting a publishing company. 

So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of starting your own publishing company? I’m going take a look at some of the main questions budding publishing entrepreneurs should consider, and offer some tips for making it work.

How does a publishing company work, exactly?

Publishing companies traditionally assign, create, acquire, and distribute written works in hard copy format.

They may specialize in one genre—say, children’s books, sci-fi, or self-help—or they may publish a number of different genres under a variety of imprints, like having a romance imprint or a travel imprint. 

Imprints are effectively sub-publishing houses that operate under the umbrella of the main publishing company, but are run with a degree of independence.   

Historically, these operations were prohibitively costly to start up and operate, giving the owners disproportionate control over what might see the light of day in print. Authors were often forced to pitch their works to numerous houses before getting published — if they ever got published at all. 

These days, publication is much more democratic. Anyone with a few pennies to scrape together can get their memoirs or a one-off novel published in a professional-looking book format of sufficient quality for selling on Amazon or giving to relatives.

But what if your ambitions fly higher than that?

Why starting a publishing company makes sense

As mentioned before, if you’re a fairly new author with just one title completed, starting a publishing company might be jumping the gun a little. For most people in that position, publishing your book with an established self-publishing company is the way to go.

However, there are a variety of circumstances that lend themselves toward looking deeper into creating your own publishing company, especially if you are of an entrepreneurial mindset. 

We’ll go into that in depth below. But just as a checklist for whether you might consider starting your own publishing company, here are a few major selling points why you might choose this path: 

Creating a series

If you have a series of books you plan on publishing, or if you’re in a position where you can imagine publishing several series, having your own publishing company might be the way to go to maximize control and profit.

High-risk material

If your area of focus is going to be something with a higher chance of liability issues—like health-related books or technical material—separating your personal assets from a publishing company might make good legal sense.

Professionalism

The advantage of today’s cheap self-publishing is anyone can publish a book. But that’s also the disadvantage. 

If you see yourself as a serious author or publisher of other people’s works rather than one of the 24 percent of the population that fancies themselves a writer based on often dubious evidence, then starting up your own publishing company is a good way to position yourself as a more serious entrant into the industry.

Branding / expansion

If you already have a solid brand from a series or a successful book you’ve shepherded through the process, you might consider opening your shop up to include other, similarly-oriented writers.

(Note: This article is offered as general information. This has not been vetted by legal experts. Starting any business is tricky, so consult with lawyers who have experience in the field before launching your own publishing company.)

Starting your own publishing company, the benefits

A professional brand

As anyone who has ever written a book knows, finishing it is a major accomplishment requiring a metric shit-ton of discipline and hard work. There’s no shame in putting out a self-published book or two as a point of pride, or in order to bypass traditional publishing houses.

As anyone who has ever written a book knows, finishing it is a major accomplishment requiring a metric shit-ton of discipline and hard work.

But if you’re looking to make your mark on the larger world of publishing with the work of other authors, it’s hard to over-emphasize how important it is that these books or magazines come from a professional publishing company. 

Bookstores, libraries, and other distributors are reluctant at best to accept works that are self-published. 

Just seeing a book on a publishing house imprint demonstrates that a professional company vetted, edited, and refined this material. Long before bookstore buyers et al even crack open the cover, there’s already a mark of quality.

Tax and other financial benefits

If you’re self-publishing the odd novel here and there, the tax man is likely to see your expenses as part of a hobby, and you’ll only be able to take deductions from the income you make from writing.

With a publishing business, on the other hand, the IRS may allow you to take deductions from your non-writing, publishing expenses. The government is extraordinarily encouraging about new businesses, understanding that start-ups inevitably lose money at the outset. 

They’ll give you big tax breaks to offset your losses — but only if you’re operating as a business.

Liability protection

Heaven forbid something gets published that is inaccurate or that prompts a lawsuit. However, mistakes do happen, especially when you’re dealing with tens of thousands of words.

By creating a publishing company, your personal assets won’t be on the line, only those of the company.

Branding a publishing company

Another great reason for launching a publishing company is branding opportunities. If you can carve out a niche for yourself, you can connect with like-minded writers with works that appeal to the same types of readers. 

Form here you can create a synergy around your publishing company’s brand that will make its impact greater than the sum of its parts. 

Not to mention that recruiting your own stable of writers means you’ll have access to their individual fanbases, which you can then leverage into your larger business’ marketing.

Words Words Words

How is a publishing company funded?

It’s likely to require a small-business loan or other traditional business funding to get up and running when you’re launching your publishing company. 

But once you’re out of the gate, there are several ways to generate income aside from the actual selling of books:

  • Advertising: Selling ads is a tried and true way to generate cash and to link up with like-minded products and services that may be of interest to your customers.
  • Affiliate programs: Online content publishers have tremendous reach and influence over the decision-making of their readers. If you can get an affiliate deal with an online magazine or product site that might resonate with your type of publishing, you can generate tons of cash.
  • Digital products: Digital is the world of the future, and you’ll want to make extra money with very little investment in materials by maximizing your presence with Kindle-ready books and other digital publications.

Pitfalls of starting your own publishing company

Nobody said starting any business would be easy, and starting your own publishing company is especially fraught with potential setbacks. 

Here are some to watch out for:

  • Lack of commitment: As with any new business, you’ve got to understand this is more than a day job. You can count on long hours and losing money for the first couple of years as you get up and running, so be certain of your dedication before launching your own publishing company.
  • Unpreparedness: We urge you to study, study, study the topic of starting your own publishing company before pulling the trigger. Consult with other publishers, consult with lawyers who have expertise in the field, gather as much information as you can, because you don’t want to be blindsided by something you should have known once your ass is hanging out there in the wind.
  • Wrong business partner: A business partnership is like a marriage, so be sure you’re compatible with your partners in terms of vision and approach.

Conclusions

What qualities does a publisher need to succeed?

A publisher, like any entrepreneur, needs to have a certain nimbleness of thought combined with a relentless work ethic and an upbeat approach to the business. They need to be savvy about what kind of works they can successfully market, as well as having a sharp eye for recruiting the right teammates. 

Publishing is a business, it’s true. 

But there’s more to it than that. It’s a business like no other: at its heart, publishers transmit thoughts, dreams, information, and aspirations. 

One common trait you’ll find especially with successful publishers is they have a passion for the written word. Crucially, that passion must translate to running the business as well.

If you decide to go into publishing, you’re joining a noble, ancient line of dreamers who are also hard-nosed business people. You should be proud of your passion and your choice, but also be prepared to fight to make it a reality. 

Hopefully, these tools can help!