Why You Should Consider Starting Your Own Small Press

I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR by Next TwentyEight. CC BY 2.0.
I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR by Next TwentyEight. CC BY 2.0.

I’ll start with my usual disclaimer when I talk about anything related to the law: This is not legal advice, just information. What works for me won’t apply to everyone.

Now that that’s out of the way – I’m so excited to share the news that I am starting my own small press! I’ve given a lot of thought to the business behind being an author, and here are the reasons I’m talking the plunge:

1. Legal Considerations

Family law – In Canada, if a married couple divorces/separates, any business assets owned by one of the spouses are not considered common property and aren’t divisible. The exception is if the business assets were used for family benefit, or if both spouses owned/ran/contributed to the business. By having the writing stuff clearly separated out from personal finances, it is more likely that if an author ends up divorced (in Canada), an ex-spouse won’t be able to claim a share of those assets/income.

Estate planning – When an Amazon account holder dies, their Amazon account supposedly dies with them. In real life, lots of accounts continue to live on because a family member or friend has the password and doesn’t notify Amazon that the original account holder is dead. However, if you want your heirs to be able to legally continue your business after you’re gone, having royalties paid out to a business rather than an individual would support the ability of the account to live on with the business.

As part of your estate plan, you could assign rights to your books, characters, worlds, etc. to an heir who wants to continue writing under your pen name. Or if your heir has no interest in this but would want to keep selling existing works, having the distributor accounts continue to exist would make life easier for them. Another option for your heirs would be to license out your worlds, characters, etc. and have ghostwriters continue your work.

2. Business Considerations

  • Some service providers/distributors/contractors will take you more seriously if you’re a “business”. This isn’t unique to any one industry – I see it all the time in lots of industries.
  • Coming up with my press’s branding (a work in progress) has helped me conceptualize my author branding.
  • Reserving and registering your business name protects it if someone else comes along and wants to use the same one. This is especially useful if you think your business might grow – for example, if you make enough money that there are tax benefits to incorporating. Incorporation would make no sense for me right now financially, but might someday be useful to also provide increased liability protection. For example, if I become a bestseller, learn lots about the industry, and decide to expand my press to publish other authors, liability would be a much bigger concern.

Practical Tips On Starting Your Own Small Press

  • To show that my small press is a real business and doesn’t exist in name only, I will open a business bank account, and do business with contractors and distributors using my business name.
  • I plan to open both a Canadian dollar and a US dollar account for the business. This is so that I don’t lose money on royalties paid out in USD. If I needed to take the money out on a regular basis to live on, this wouldn’t help me, but I plan to reinvest book revenue back into the business. So USD will come in, stay in the account until I need to pay contractors, then USD goes back out and I don’t lose money on the exchange rate.

Downsides To Starting Your Own Small Press

Of course, there are downsides to starting a small press to self-publish your books. Some of these include:

  • Increased costs (another domain name, annual registration fee for your business, etc.). These costs run a few hundred dollars in my province, which my budget can handle, but for some people this is prohibitive.
  • Increased time and energy required (paperwork required to start the business, maintaining two websites, marketing, etc.). I’m starting up as a sole proprietorship so the paperwork is pretty minimal, but I don’t know how it works in the US.
  • More complicated taxes and record keeping. This isn’t a huge deterrent for me because I’m self-employed in my day job and have to deal with claiming expenses, etc. anyway, but it might be more than some people want to take on.

If you do want to start up a small press and don’t think you can handle doing your own tax return, but can’t justify the cost of an accountant, I have found tax software like Turbo Tax to be very helpful. Alternatively, there are lots of other great programs if Turbo Tax doesn’t float your boat, and I’m sure there are similar programs available in the US.

Some Resources

Finally, to end this mammoth of a blog post, here are some resources I found really helpful when considering the implications of starting my own press:

Basic pros/cons of starting a small press – http://www.independe…e.php?page=1810

Starting a small press as a strategy to get your self-pub books in bookstores
http://devlovepress….ress-publisher/

A good post about business planning for small presses
http://indeliblewrit…ur-own-way.html

“Why Small Publishers Fail” – some good advice about things to avoid
http://accrispin.blo…publishers.html

Everything on this author’s blog. She’s a lawyer/author and she has awesome advice about:
– registering with the US copyright office
– small presses
– pen names
– contracts and negotiations
http://helensedwick.com/blog/

Big, Exciting Things Are Happening in 2015!

New Years Eve 2010 - Dubai Fireworks by Sarah_Ackerman. CC by 2.0.
New Years Eve 2010 – Dubai Fireworks by Sarah_Ackerman. CC by 2.0.

For those of you who have been following my blog, encouraging me on social media, and supporting me as critique partners and writing group buddies – thank you so much! In 2014, I was able to make some changes in my life that have hugely increased my happiness and productivity, and which have helped me move closer to my goal of publication.

As a result, I’m thrilled to share this big, exciting news – I AM SELF-PUBLISHING MY FIRST BOOK THIS SPRING! This is something I’ve been dreaming of in a general way since I was a little kid, and something I’ve been working toward more specifically for the past couple of years.

Aside from my big book-related news, here are some other highlights from 2014:

  • I left a demanding day job at a traditional law firm to go into business for myself. I made some financial sacrifices to do this, but now I work mostly from home, am my own boss, and do work that I feel really good about. (This was a HUGE, exciting change).
  • I had a pretty major knee surgery and worked super hard on my recovery.
  • I started taking art lessons (good for creativity!).
  • I travelled to Boston for the New England Crime Bake conference, and for some book research and sightseeing. This was my first “international” trip by myself! (I know Canada-US isn’t a big deal to lots of people, but it was pretty cool for me!).

How about you? What were your highlights from 2014, and what are you looking forward to in 2015?

“No one wants to read about a supermodel” – How bestselling author Marie Force proved them all wrong

Last month, the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada were incredibly fortunate to welcome bestselling author Marie Force to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a wonderful writer – I highly recommend her Fatal series and the new Green Mountain books – and a funny, engaging speaker. Here’s what she had to say:

True North by Marie Force. The book that no one wanted would go on to launch a bestselling self-pub career.
True North by Marie Force. The book that no one wanted would go on to launch a bestselling self-pub career.

“No one wants to read about a supermodel.”

Those are the eight words that changed Marie Force’s life. Before she was a self-pub sensation bringing in seven figures a year, she was just a regular suburban mom who worked a day job, cared for her family, and dreamed of making it big in her traditionally published novel-writing career.

The problem was that no one wanted to publish the work that she believed in most. It took six or seven novels before she was traditionally published, and even then, there was no golden ticket to success or creative freedom. After receiving significant interest from agents and editors about True North, the tale of a supermodel who yearns to find true love, the book was ultimately rejected by every single person who had expressed interest in it.

The reason? See above.

So Ms. Force did something incredibly brave – she self-published True North. In 2010. When she was under contract to publishers for other work. This was before everyone and their dog was self-publishing, and there was a very real chance that she would get sued. So she didn’t talk about the book, just quietly put it up for sale, and waited to see what would happen.

The first month, not much happened at all. True North sold 50 copies.

Then Ms. Force put the book on sale for a week, for free. The book sold 10,000 copies that month.

After that, she didn’t look back. After years of writing, modest sales, and numerous rejections – she was once blacklisted from an agency for querying too many times in one year – Ms. Force pressed on with self-publishing. By her measure, it took 25 books to “make it big”, and she had a full time job until 2011 (she was first published traditionally in 2008). Now she has employees of her own, an e-pub formatting business, and is asked to fly all over North America to talk about the business and craft of writing.

It turns out, people did want to read about a supermodel after all.

Aside from being brave enough to go for self-publication, here are a few other things that contributed to Ms. Force’s success:

She isn’t afraid to write what she wants to write. In Marking Time, book two of the Treading Water series, eighteen-year-old Kate moves to Nashville to pursue a singing career and falls in love with her father’s 45-year-old friend. As you can imagine, publishers were not enthusiastic about this – but readers loved it.

Marking Time by Marie Force.
Marking Time by Marie Force.

She keeps up a constant release schedule. It was no surprise to me to hear that Ms. Force writes 6-7 books per year. Everything I’ve read or heard from “big-name” self-pub authors indicates that one of the major keys to success is substantial, sustained output.

She interacts with fans. With a Facebook group for every series, Ms. Force has given her fans dedicated spaces to discuss her books with other readers. They are free to post spoilers, debate plot points, and they get extra content (such as a free short story only available on the group page). Fans who sign up for a newsletter can also opt in to a mailing list, from which they will sometimes receive actual snail mail from the author (Christmas cards, swag, etc.).

 

 

 

 

 

Tips from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations

Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.
Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.

As a member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC), a Canadian chapter of Romance Writers of America, I am fortunate to have access to a wide variety of guest speakers, workshops, retreats and other writing events.

At RWAC’s April meeting, we were very pleased to welcome guest speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations, and an author himself.

So without further ado, here are just a few highlights of Mark’s presentation:

  • The 3 “P”s of self publishing success;
  • Pricing advice from Kobo; and
  • Inside information on how books get featured on Kobo and why.

 1. The 3 “P”s of self publishing success

As we all know – and have heard ad infinitum – patience, practice, and perseverance are the only ways to really be successful as a writer. “Overnight” successes make for sexy headlines, but in most cases, years of effort have gone into those successes. What distinguishes Mark’s advice from this old (but true) chestnut is the fact that he expands on the traditional advice to just keep swimming – er, writing.

From a branding perspective, the trick is to just keep writing with your target audience in mind (think of Stephen King’s Constant Reader). If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach with your book – guess what? You probably won’t. In addition to this, you need to provide the best all-around book that you can, which means it must be of superior quality in all respects, not just in terms of writing. According to Kobo’s statistics, the success of a book is directly related to the quality of its editing and cover.

2. Pricing advice from Kobo

In his time at Kobo, Mark has observed that three things are necessary to ensure sales when pricing an e-book:

  • pricing deliberately;
  • pricing responsively; and
  • pricing often.

Authors are most successful and achieve highest sales when they price deliberately, taking into account things like genre (romance prices are low compared to other genres, but more units are bought by the average reader), book length, and comparator titles. They should also be aware of the dreaded “Dead Price Point” – $1.99. For some reason, books of all lengths and genres sell poorly at $1.99, and do better at either $.99 or $2.99 and up.

Pricing responsively refers to the idea that self-published book prices don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – static. Since the author is in control, she has the power not just to take advantage of marketing opportunities, but to create them for herself. If you’ve written a book set on Halloween, for example, why not offer a sale in the days leading up to the holiday?

Or say you’ve written a series. You might want to consider making the first book free. In one example, Kobo found that 12,000 readers downloaded a free e-book, but only 2,000 actually opened it, and only about 350 read the whole thing. Of those who read the book, however, 50% went on to buy more books from the author, and the total downloaded units helped push the book higher in the rankings to increase its visibility.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try different pricing strategies. One bestselling author found that when she increased her book’s price from $5.99 to $6.99, her sales improved at iBooks and Barnes & Noble, stayed the same at Kobo, and decreased at Amazon. While many authors would have panicked at the hit on Amazon (the Holy Grail of self publishing, to some), the author decided to wait a while and see what happened. To her delight, sales at Amazon went back to previous levels within a week and a half and stayed high everywhere else, meaning she was now moving more units than ever and making more money on each book.

3. How books get featured

When asked how Mark and his team decide to feature an author in Kobo’s digital “front window”, the answer was simple – it’s a combination of serendipity and good planning on the author’s part. On the good luck side of things, Mark has featured artists that he has gotten to know through conferences, readings, podcasts, and networking. But no matter how much he or the marketing team likes an author, they still have to take into account the financial realities of selling books online.

The biggest challenge to an e-book retailer in promoting indie authors is price point. When a book is priced at $.99, the author’s share is $.45. This means that Kobo’s share of a sale is $.54, before costs associated with processing a credit card transaction. On the other hand, an author’s share of a book priced at $9.99 is $6.99, leaving $3.00 for Kobo before costs. This doesn’t mean that books priced at $.99 don’t get featured, but it does mean that when there is a choice between two equally great books, the one that will generate more money (or at least not cost Kobo money) is the one that gets top billing.

 

For more information on Kobo’s self publishing hub, check out Kobo Writing Life here. While it’s no secret that I’m seeking traditional publication (it says so on the “About Me” page of the website), I am intrigued by the concept of hybrid authorship. If and when I’m ready to go ahead with self publication, working directly with Kobo looks like a great choice. (I have not been remunerated in any way for blogging about Kobo – it just looks like a genuinely great bunch of people who believe in indie authors).