A Book Publishing Company Start-up Checklist

Many authors who decide to start a self publishing company seem to think writing a book is the first step. That's backwards. Authors who write a book first and then start a self publishing company are usually operating in "I'll show them all...” mode after receiving one too many rejection slips from big trade publishers. One of my favorite posts on this blog was a little story I wrote about the two publishing universes, and why self publishing can be the better option for many authors. The first thing on your check-list for starting a publishing company should be an ISBN block. Without an ISBN block, nobody will take you seriously as a publisher because you haven't taken the first necessary step.

The next thing you need is a platform to market your books. In many cases, the author is the platform, that's what the trade publishers look for in a new author. If you are famous in some field, by right of family name or professional accomplishments, you have a platform from which to sell books. Just don't assume that being the winner of the World Prize for Astrology will help you sell detective novels or cookbooks. It can't hurt, but the platform works best if it's aligned with the product - books in this case. If you have achieved fame and fortune in some other field and you want to write detective novels, go ahead and do what you want, but if you only have fame and you're trying to earn fortune, write what you know you can sell.

Now that we're solidly in the second millennium of the Internet age, authors have the option to write a book and build a platform at the same time. Some choose to do it with blogging. I mix blogging with a tradition page oriented website, but the bottom line is you'll know whether or not your book stands a chance before you finish it. It's not just the total number of visitors to your site that tells the story, it's the feedback from strangers reading your unedited prose. If you start getting e-mails asking you when the book will be published, you're in pretty good shape to start your own self publishing company or sell out to a big trade publisher. The closest parallel in history may be Charles Dickens writing novels for serialization in newspapers before they were published as book, but it's not a close parallel because he was a genius and we aren't.

Still, before you worry about finishing writing your first book, do you have the production talent lined up or self taught, and can you afford to pay for the bits you can't do yourself? I've never met a professional in the publishing business who would edit a manuscript or layout a book just because you begged really hard for help. You can get plenty of amateur help that way, the results will be hit-or-miss, but self publishing isn't something you should plan to do on a $500 budget your first time out, with half of that going to the ISBN block. I spent something on the order of $10,000 for my first self-published book (which bombed) and about $2000 on the second, when I opted to dump the offset printing model and move to print-on-demand with Lightning Source. I did get a book out for under $500 once that earned it back a hundred times over, but that was after I had learned how to do just about everything myself.

Here's my five point checklist for starting a book self publishing company:

#1 ISBN Block
#2 Platform for Marketing
#3 Internet Site (can combine with #2 if you're good)
#4 Production preparation
#5 Finish writing the book if #1 to #4 go well

If all you really wanted was to get your book on Amazon and to your family, then sign up with a subsidy press, pay a few hundred dollar fee, and save yourself a lot of heartache. A publishing company is a business, not a hobby, and the odds of failure are greater than the odds of success. Still, it beats being a trade author:-)

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