establishing your publishing business

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 1/2006

Establishing Your Publishing Business

Establish a publishing company. Unless you are a company, you cannot obtain a Library of Congress Catalogue Number (LCCN) or purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), both of which are critical for marketing your book(s).

Business Structure

Determine the structure of your publishing business. There are three types of structures:

(1) Sole Proprietorship

(2) Partnership

(3) Corporation

Of these, sole proprietorship is the simplest. As a sole proprietor, you are the only person involved in your business. All profits and losses are yours and are part of your personal income/loss. You can move money easily between your business and personal accounts. At tax time, you complete and attach an additional schedule to your 1040.

The partnership becomes more complicated. In this structure, two or more people are involved in the business. Profits and losses are the responsibility of the partners—and these are not based on each partner’s contribution to the business—each member is equally responsible to ensure the bills are paid. Contributions, responsibilities, etc. should be drawn up by a lawyer. A partner should bring something to the company his or her counterpart cannot.

A corporation is more complicated still. In this structure, you are confronted with state and federal regulatory requirements. Accountability is more complicated, and you must adhere to specific guidelines for operation.

Unless you are a businessperson or you really want to bring in a partner, I suggest going with the sole proprietorship—at least, in the beginning.

Register your business

If you have concerns regarding your business structure or have questions on setting up your business in your area, consulting an attorney is appropriate at this point. With a sole proprietorship, you can probably do everything without legal services (and their accompanying fees). If you do not know where to go to register your business, start with your local Chamber of Commerce. If your area does not have a chamber of commerce, go to the county courthouse (or the city government section of your phonebook). Setting up the business, at worst, will be a time-consuming nuisance. At best, it will be easy. Just make sure you have everything done so you do not end up on the wrong side of some vague ordnance later (taxes, zoning, etc.). Your home is probably not going to be a commercial bookstore (I advise against it). You may conduct some mail orders depending on how you want to operate. If so, you’ll probably need to collect sales tax for purchases mailed within your state—unless your state doesn’t have a sales tax. If things work out for you, you will have managed to get your books in bookstores either through a distributor or through your own tireless efforts (you will be, in other words, your own distributor).

Name your company

You are a publisher. Make sure your business name implies that and avoid putting your name in that of your business. You want to create the illusion of a small publisher (which, indeed, you are) vice a self-publisher.


I took an on-line course through my local community college called Publish It Yourself: How to Start and Operate Your Own Publishing Business presented by Steve Payseur. Additionally, I continue to study Tom and Marilyn Ross’ The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing from Writer’s Digest Books. Another good source to check out is The Publishing Game, Publish a Book in 30 Days! by Fern Reiss.

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