Authors are becoming creative when it comes to marketing and publishing a book. For those who forego the agent and traditional publishing house, a host of options make reaching readers more possible and affordable than ever.
But going it on your own is hard work. It’s time-consuming. It can be expensive. And let’s not mention how overwhelming and lonely it can be when publishing a book.
Some authors are opting to collaborate with other authors and are coming up with all sorts of creative ways to work together, share the load, and reduce personal expenses. I think this is ingenious; but I am concerned that authors protect themselves against future problems that could arise from these collaborations.
Take the case of Fifty Shades, an ebook trilogy by a previously unknown author, E. L. James, that became a huge international success. Random House eventually bought book publication rights and Universal bought the movie rights. The ebook trilogy was originally published by indie publisher The Writers Coffee Shop, and when Random House purchased publishing rights, the small publisher made a ton of money.
But now Reuters is reporting that one of the partners in the indie publishing group could be awarded $10.7 million in a settlement because one partner claims she was defrauded out of her share of the Random House purchase.
Lesson to authors: forge your publishing partnerships with care.
Publishing a book is your business
It literally pays to be informed when publishing a book. Recently I had an author friend tell me she was purchasing a batch of ISBNs with some other authors so they could take advantage of Bowker’s bulk purchase price for 10 ISBNs. This caused me concern. When you purchase ISBNs from Bowker and register your books, you become the publisher of record. So who among this collective of authors was to become the publisher of record? And what happens if one of those books becomes a sensation? Who claims the royalties? Is there an agreement in place? Has a publishing company been set up? You can imagine the potential issues.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some things authors need to know in order to protect themselves and their books.
Set up a publishing company
Writing is a business. The first order of business is to set up a simple company under which you will publish your books.
In his article How to Create, Register and List Your New Publishing Company, Joel Friedlander writes about why setting up a publishing company is important and includes some basic steps on how to go about it.
I already had a magazine publishing company, so when I decided to publish books, I simply broadened the scope of my magazine publishing company. When I renewed my Virginia State license, I added book publishing as a part of my business model. Every locality has laws related to setting up a business, but it’s a rather simple process in most situations.
Get a tax ID and set up a business bank account
When I added book publishing to my business model, I called the IRS, the U.S. tax agency, and they told me I could keep the same EIN. An EIN is not necessarily attached to a business type but rather establishes the fact that you are doing business in the U.S. An EIN is free. If you are not a U.S. resident and want to sell in the U.S., you need an ITIN.
Once you have EIN and a business license, set up a business bank account. With online banking, most banks will allow you to link your business account to your personal account. Route all of your royalties and other payments and expenses through your business account. This is also useful for accounting purposes as you can easily see your income and expenses on your bank statements.
Register your own ISBNs through Bowker
This is one expense I don’t recommend you share when publishing a book. Registering your ISBNs, whether you are a self-published author or an indie publisher, establishes you, or your company, as the publisher on record.
Indie author and publisher Karen Myers calls it future-proofing your book. You control the Books in Print data, your book is always traced back to you, regardless of distributors and booksellers that may come and go, and most importantly, an ISBN provides proof that you own the publication rights to your book. Karen’s article, Why Indie Authors & Publishers Should Buy Their Own ISBNs, is worth a read. She offers some solid reasons why owning your ISBN offers you protection.
Set up contracts with collaborators
Indie authors collaborating is a fantastic idea. By offering marketing support and working together to reach readers, you can create a strong base more quickly.
If you are going to collaborate, set up solid contracts that outline exactly who owns what, who gets royalties, who is responsible for expenses, and so on. Publishing an anthology of flash fiction with other authors on Kindle or iBooks is one way I’ve seen new authors working together. It’s just too easy to group your stories and upload them to Amazon. Set up a contract, even for these small projects. Make sure you establish that you are only offering one-time publishing rights for this project and that you have the right to publish the same work again in any format you choose. And of course, establish how royalties are shared.
Apply this same philosophy to every collaborative effort. If your books become bestsellers, you won’t regret having a firm contract that clearly states your publishing rights.
Read contracts carefully
While this seems to go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway. Reading contracts with an eye for detail is especially important if you are entering into a publishing or distribution arrangement. You may decide to work with a company that provides publishing services. There are many services there, and each has a different business model.
Make sure that by working with a publishing service, whether it be book formatting, cover design, or distribution, that you own the publishing rights.
This great article by Dave Bricker, Self-Publishing Scams: Keep the “Self” in Self-Publishing, talks about unethical publishing services that represent themselves in one light, but then slip a contract by you that takes away your publishing rights. Authors often use these services to save time, money, or headaches. Don’t make the mistake of saving a little to end up losing a lot.
Protect your investment
Publishing a book is an investment. Do the work, spend the money, take the time to protect your precious manuscripts. If you have the great fortune to produce the next Fifty Shades, you won’t regret putting all of the pieces in place to protect your bestseller.
I created a FREE checklist for you that includes all of the steps you’ll need to take to set up and safeguard your publishing business. Click below and I’ll send it to you right away.