Keeping Track of Money (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Once your books start selling you’re going to have a business bank account with a big (or maybe not so big) pile of cash in it. You know you want to use some of that to pay yourself, some to pay your authors but then you also know you want to use some of what’s left for advertising or for saving up for future editing and cover design. How do you keep track of how much money you have for each thing and not overdraft your account?


I have tried a number of different systems from Excel spreadsheets to to the “envelope system.” Then I found the YNAB program:

YNAB stands for You Need A Budget. And you really do! Let me show you some screenshots of my YNAB budget and take you through a little bit of how it works:


So first, every time money comes in or goes out you record it on the account page (number 1 above). Then the balance that you have appears in “available to budget” (number two above). You divide that into each category (the first column) as you desire until the “available to budget” is zero. This way you know what every single individual dollar is doing for you! The third column (circled above) are like your envelopes. Any money you put into them stays there and builds up as each month goes by and you add more to that category. If you spend it that’s recorded on the account page (number 1 above) and it shows up in the second column, automatically updating your “envelope” to how much you have left.

You can also put a note to yourself when you set up the categories if you want to have a particular percentage of your income go to each category. For example the “Cover Artwork” category could also say “Cover Artwork 2%” and each time you get money in, you put 2% of it into that category. The YNAB does allow you to be flexible, though, since you can always see how much you have in each category and if you need to pull some from something you don’t use as often for an immediate need, you can.


Eventually you get to a point where you’re recording your money in as income for the next month. So when you get money for, say, July, you record it as available for August and it shows up in August’s “available to budget.” This way you are always working from and paying bills from money that you earned already the previous month and is in your account. There’s no speculating.

It will take a few months of sales to get you there. Many sales channels, as with most businesses, will pay you in March for money earned in January. So there’s going to be a two month lag to start seeing money for your first sales. (This is called Net-60 and it means that the business has 60 days from the time you earned the money to get you paid. So for money earned in March, April first they know the full amount of March’s money and then they have 60 days so they will likely pay you at the end of May. Some, like Smashwords, only pays you quarterly and that based on how much of your money they have managed to collect from their sales channels. So there can be a bit of a wait for your cash).

You can also save for yearly or irregular bills by adding a small amount to the category each month, such as paying for this website which happens annually.

Here you can see some of the categories that I have. There’s also payroll, taxes, and paypal fees and a “to invest” category. I figure I can save a little bit each month until I have enough to put into a high-yield savings account and start generating some interest to put back into the business. But I’m not even close to that yet!

Membership fees are for professional organizations like Romance Writers of America and small business guilds.YNAB4

I completely adore YNAB. I use it both for Dev Love Press and for my household finances (you can easily create another budget and switch between them). It gives me a lot of peace of mind knowing exactly how much I have that I can spend on each thing and allows me to switch amounts around if I really want to buy a thing or a service that I haven’t budgeted enough for.

That said, I have not tried many official business softwares like Quicken. In the future I may need to upgrade to a system that has payroll included in it (Right now I pay my authors through Paypal and I have a category of money just for the Paypal fees).

I highly recommend trying out the free 30 day trial. Also, sign up for the web seminars teaching you how to use it. They are free and plentiful!

The cost to buy it is a one time $60, however you can save $6 by buying it through my referral link here. I bought it for $54 through another person’s referral link (after the trial period I went back to her website, which is where I first heard about YNAB, and bought it through her link). You get $6 off and I get $6 for you buying it through me, so it’s a win-win.

Whether you use this system or another, you’re going to need something that helps you manage your money!

There’s a lot of advice on this in the book Publishing for Profit by Thomas Woll. He has a ton of information about money management for publishers and some of it is a bit over my head, but I’m processing it piece by piece and integrating it into my business. He also has an appendix with recommended software for publishers that integrate sales, inventory, royalties, etc. I’ll be looking into some of those to see if they will be better than YNAB paired with a whole lot of Excel spreadsheets.

The book also has a number of suggested spreadsheets for things like Profit and Loss statements (to determine if a manuscript you want to acquire will be worth the cost to produce it) and Editorial Plans, Comparison of Books Sold, etc. I highly recommend picking up a copy. It will give you a great sense of the business side of publishing!

Writing Contest: First Sentence Prompt

We wanted to do something fun and get those creative juices flowing since nice summer weather can be such a distraction to writing!

Introducing: a prompt contest

How does it work? Below you’ll find a first sentence. We want you to develop that sentence into a scene, a story, or maybe even a book. Minimum is 2,000 words.

What is the deadline? You will have until September 1st (2014) to submit your entry to (subject line: contest entry)

What will you win? A $25 giftcard to! (Your choice whether a digital code or a physical giftcard)


There’s no entry fee, we just want to see what you come up with.

UPDATE: I originally thought we’d do a random draw for the winner from the entries, but the feedback I’m getting is that that method isn’t very inspiring. So Carolyn will judge the entries and declare a winner sometime after September 1st and before September 15th. We will randomize the entries to ensure a lack of bias.

(In the future we’d like to run a more formal contest with a publishing contract as the prize, so stay tuned for news on that!)

If you agree, we’d like to post selections from the entries here at the blog (with attribution to you, of course!) All entries must use this sentence as the first sentence of the piece (though you can replace “she” with a character name if you would like):

  She turned the corner of the ramp and eyed the doorway in front of her, unsure that her wheelchair was going to fit through.

Your entry only needs to be 2,000 words, but if you continue to develop the story after the contest we’d love to see the finished result. Follow our submission guidelines here:

Starting a Small Press Publisher: What Is It You Do?

It can be hard for people outside the book industry to understand what publishers are there for.


When I told my family that I was starting a publishing company, they thought what I meant was that I’d be charging writers to format their books for them and put them up for sale. That’s what’s called an Author Services Company (or Vanity Press) and the vast majority are super scamy.

If you’ve been a writer for any amount of time I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that publishers don’t charge authors, they pay authors. You as an author should never be asked to pay fees or to pay for publisher’s services. That’s because authors are not a publisher’s clients.

The authors are not my clients.

The authors are, to make an analogy, my manufacturers. They create the product that I then sell. (By the way, going back for a moment to the legal side of things, my accountant has told me that the authors are 1099 contractors for me and as such I need to have them fill out a  W-9 form providing either their social security number or the EIN of their own business identity in order to report on taxes how much I’ve paid them. Check with your own accountant about this).

So who is my client? Readers. Anyone who buys books.

What’s the problem with Author Services Companies?

As with most things, you have to look at what the incentives are. If I’m making money from charging an author to edit her book or format his book, then what motivation do I have to hussle and sell that book? I’m already making money! Why would I care if it sold? I would be incentivized by the wrong thing.

The way publishing companies are set up is that we get paid when the book sells. We are incentized and motivated to sell that book as much as possible because the more money it brings in, the more money we all make.

I could have created a company around charging a small fee to format someone’s book or upload it to Kindle for them, and there’s be nothing wrong with that (as long as I was upfront with the authors about what service I’m providing), but that’s not being a publisher. That’s not the business I’m interested in being in.

So what do I do?

Get the book ready to sell and then sell it! Basically all the things on this list I either do or coordinate the hiring of someone to do and then I do all the publicity and talking to bookstore reps too. I hope that this series is illuminating the many things that a publisher does do for their authors’ books…there’s plenty of work left between finished manuscript and finished book!

Publishers Are Not God

I’m an author as well as a publisher so I know how it is. You send out your work and once there’s finally interest in it you’re so thrilled that you accept any offer you get. Getting your book any contract is not the best thing for your beloved story. You want to get it the right contract. Sometimes even a great publishing house isn’t the right fit for you and your book, so be cautious when accepting an offer.

I saw a really sad example recently. I met someone online who had written a disability memoir and I wanted to learn more about her book so I could feature it in our monthly newsletter. I asked and she sent me the link to the book’s Amazon page.

I don’t want to call anyone out, but the page was awful.

The cover of the book was one of the most unprofessional I’ve ever seen. It was a home photo of the author slapped on a white background with text that looked like the whole thing was created in Word. The description was blah and not formatted. There were no editorial reviews or blurbs.

And there was no ebook version.

That can be fine, but it depends on the kind of book you have. Disability memoirs from unknown people don’t really sell in bookstores. Ebooks are where the sales are for that market. To not have one was just begging to have zero sales.

I asked the author to check her contract and the publisher never asked for e-rights, so she is free to put it up herself on Kindle and Nook, etc. But of course she went with a publisher partly because she didn’t want to learn to do all those things herself and said that she didn’t have any money to put into it (to which I said if she has the edited files than she doesn’t need any upfront money).

The author of this book gets to know that she’s an author and tell people she published a book. That’s a great thing! But I doubt she’ll get many people engaging with her story and actually buying her work.

When you’re considering an offer from a publisher, please look at their track record. Look at the covers of the books they’ve already done, look at the blurbs they’ve gotten, make sure that they can produce a quality product and actually sell it. Don’t be afraid to say no and get a better offer. Your rights to your work can get tied up for years with a publisher and you want to make sure that you’ve placed your book with people who will care about it and nurture it the way you have.

Optimizing Your Amazon Sales Page (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Getting your book found on the Internet is different from getting your book found in a bookstore. In a store, publishers can pay extra for special displays like the ends of the shelves or the tables at the front and that’s great for visibility. Online you have to do some other things to gain visibility.

blogpostproduct page


This to some is a scary word (or acronym, I should say). It stands for Search Engine Optimization and means setting up your page to be as friendly to search engines as possible. Sometimes people try to use tricks to scam the system and that’s why Google and others are often coming out with updates that change how SEO works. But the basics remain the same: keywords, tags, high-quality links. From what I can tell, it really isn’t complicated at all!

The high-quality links is something to work on for your publishing company’s individual website rather than for the Amazon or Barnes and Noble sales page. It means that search engines see it favorably if other people link to your page, it shows that they find something valuable there. The software will crack down on you, though, if the links back to your page are from link farms and scammy pages. Build links slowly and organically for your personal webpage!

For your book’s sales page at Amazon and other e-retailers, keywords are something you’ll want to pay attention to.


You’ll want to come up with about 13 keywords that someone looking for a book just like yours would type into a search engine to find it.

Brainstorm lots of words. Words that relate to the subject of the book, the genre of the book, some of the key elements of the book. Then take your list of words and plug them into a tool like Google Keyword Search. This tool will give you an idea of how popular that search term is and will give you some ideas about related keywords that might be searched more often.

Also look at the categories on Amazon’s Kindle store. Figure out which category or “theme” (this is a new thing!) your book would best fit in and then use those words as some of the tags (Amazon will ask you for 13 tags when you are uploading the book).

Book Description

You may already have your back cover copy, which is the snappy and intriguing few paragraphs that will entice people to pick up your book. That same copy will be the description you use on the e-retailer’s page. See if you can work in a few of your keywords to the description in a natural way. Then you’ll want to repeat those same keywords as tags too.

Page Presentation

The most important thing, though, is that the description of the book makes people want to learn more. It should match the tone of the book too so that it gives people a sense of what to expect.

You can use some html coding in the description area (it used to be Amazon’s own language there but now html works). Here is a good overview of the html you can use: Some people will suggest updating the book description from the “author central” page, but if you’re the publisher and you have lots of authors you aren’t going to be the one updating those pages. You’d need a different Amazon account for each one, I think. I haven’t actually tried it on any of the authors other than myself. I would suggest telling the authors to claim their author page and fill it out with headshot and bio.

You want to make full use of this ability without going overboard with fonts and changes. This page is your store front and it needs to look beautiful and inviting. You don’t want a bunch of text crammed together but you also don’t want wild changes of formatting and text size every couple of words either!

How I’m Doing It

Right now I’m happy with our keywords and tags, but the look of the descriptions could use some polishing I think. I recently experimenting on the page for (W)hole and I’m going to be working on updating the others now that I see that the html actually works! I will probably still tweak (W)hole’s also. I like to add in the endorsement quotes on the description page too.


From Manuscript to Book (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Sometimes authors wonder why it takes a publishing company so long to go from manuscript to book. There’s good reasons for it!

There’s a lot that goes into getting a book into shape and ready to sell.

For each of these things, you’ll need to decide if you are the best person to do the task (thereby saving on costs) or if the book would be better served by hiring someone else to do the task.


Someday perhaps we’ll have a staff of people but for now it’s just me and a bunch of people that I contract for individual jobs.


The first step when you get a new manuscript that you want to publish is to do a content edit. If it’s your own book of course you’ll want to hire someone else to do this. I usually do for all the books we have. I might do one pass of editing first and then once the author has worked on those changes, send it out to another professional content editor.

The author doesn’t have to take all the suggestions that come up. The purpose here is to make the story itself better: tighten it up, make sure the conflict is strong and serves the story, make sure everything makes sense and flows from one plot point to the next in a believable way. This will do a lot to make the book better.

Next you’ll want a copy edit to check on facts, style issues, and consistency.

After that you need a line editor or proofreader to scour the manuscript for typos and mis-spellings.

After each of these edits the author will go over it and make sure of all the changes. You and the author need to come to an agreement on changes at this stage before you can move on to getting it out for sale.


The book will need to be formatted for print and ebook. There are lots of people you can hire to do this, but it’s one task I prefer doing myself. This will involve things like putting together the look of the front matter (the copyright page, notice of other books available, etc.) This will look different in a print book v.s. a digital book (examples of mine at the end of the post). You’ll need to choose how a new chapter looks (Do you call it Chapter One or Chapter 1 or One? Do you have it in a different font from the rest of the text?)

Ebook formatting isn’t too intimidating. The key factors are that you should not have page numbers and you should not have hard tabs (tabs should be created in the formatting, not by hitting the “tab” button. You can find these in “find and replace” with ^t).

For most ebook vendors you won’t need to have it in their formats, they will take a Word document and turn it into their own format. But you may still want to get a program like Calibre to convert between formats (This is particularly good for ebook giveaways and free review copies that you can give people in whatever format they would prefer).

Cover Design

Cover design is crucial. You may have heard not to judge a book by its cover, but nearly everyone does! You can put together a cover yourself with GIMP (ironic name for my business to use, don’t you think?) or Microsoft Paint, but it’s usually painfully obvious that you did it yourself and it makes the whole thing look unprofessional.

There’s lots of great book cover designers out there and having a high quality cover will do a lot for your book sales and credibility.

For example, I’m super proud of the cover for The Boy Next Door, which I did myself. I paid for high quality stock images, I modified them into the characters, I picked the fonts, I picked the color, I blended it all, I got feedback.

The Boy Next Door







But look at it next to the pro designs for (W)hole and The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend and it’s still a little bit…lacking.











You’ll want to have your cover designer put together both an e-book version and a print version (and for that you’ll need to know the dimensions of the paperback including the spine width, which depends on the number of pages, and you’ll need to have your back cover copy ready or an ability to add it later with your designer).


There are different names for this, but I’m talking about the quotes of endorsement from other authors in the genre or from reviewers. Look for well known authors with books similar to yours and reach  out for quotes. It’s beneficial to both of you. That author will get their name on a book and you’ll get an endorsement. You’ll also be sending out pre-pub review copies, so when you get reviews in from that you can pick a flattering line and put that on your book. Figure out where to place this on your cover and include it in the book description.

Back Cover Copy

After the cover, this is the next most important element of selling a book (in my opinion!). It’s difficult to get back cover copy just right. It’s got to be interesting, to the point, snappy, and draw people in. It has to intrigue while not giving away too much. Writing this kind of copy is a real art form unto itself.

You can hire someone to work on it, but most of the services I’ve seen for this the person doesn’t read the book, so it’s not ideal. For Dev Love Press the authors and I work together on these descriptions, trading drafts and suggestions. Though actually, Annabelle has such a talent for it that I often just end up putting her copy on it directly.

Setting up Publicity

You’ll want to put together a plan for how you are going to market the title. I’ll go into more detail about how I do that in a future post!


If you’re only going to be doing ebooks, you don’t strictly need an ISBN. If you’re doing print books, you’ll want to be the owner of the ISBN. If the company you’re working with offers you free ones, it means that their name will be listed as the official publisher. For self-publishing that doesn’t matter a whole lot, but to build your company you’re going to want to be the owner of your own ISBNs.

I buy them through and buying in bulk will save quite a bit of money.

An ISBN identifies both the book and its edition so if you have a hardcover and a paperback you’ll need two for that book. If you decide to put an ISBN on your ebooks (I don’t) you’ll need a separate one for that, etc.

Apply for Copyright

A literary work is automatically the property of the author, but it is good to officially register it with the copyright office. Typically you would put the copyright in the name of the author but in some cases you might use your name as the publisher. Make sure this is part of the contract between you and the author.

It will involve a small fee and sending a copy of the work to the copyright office. More info here:

Sending for Pre-Pub Reviews

Four or five months before your publication date, you’ll be sending out what’s called ARCs to reviewers. ARC stands for either Advanced Reader Copy or Advanced Review Copy. These can go out before the proofreading is done and before the cover is done. Traditionally they were sent out with plain cardboard covers, but these days a rough draft cover is okay as long as it clearly says ARC on it. You’ll want to send a cover letter with it too telling the reviewer about your new company and what the book is about. (Make some business letterhead to send it on too).

We’ve had wonderful luck sending to The Romantic Times. I was intimidated at first to try them, but I decided I had nothing to lose and they’ve actually been wonderful to work with. We’ve gotten two print reviews, one web review, and done a print ad with them. Being able to show that our books got good reviews from a respected magazine in the genre makes me really proud.

Here are some places to send (but definitely look into magazines in your company’s genre!) Also consider looking into book review sections of your local newspaper. They may also be interested in a story about a local entrepreneur starting a publishing company.

(More info here:

You can also send review copies to book review blogs but it’s less critical usually to do that ahead of the launch date. Blogs depend less on these books being brand new than print reviewers do. (A later post will go into how to get reviewed at book blogs).

Choose Distribution

You need to decide who you’ll be working with to get the book out.


For the print book, the most important thing is that you work with a service that will get you in the Ingram database. If your book is there, bookstores will be able to order it.

The big choice is between Createspace (owned by Amazon), Lightning Source (LSI), or a local printer. I would cross off the local printer right away because most print shops are not equipped to handle something as specialized as professional book printing. Lightning Source is well respected and is what indie publishers have been using since before “indie” became a euphemism for “self-published.”

Personally I find LSI a little intimidating to get started with and I’ve been very happy using Create Space. Now that I’m starting to grow a little bit and working on expanding into more print sales I will be researching and reconsidering LSI.

LSI does give you more choices and has hardcover as well as paperback options. For just getting started, Create Space is simple and easy. (The only paid service on Create Space I ever use is the expanded distribution for $25).

(Post later on how to get into bookstores)


The big choice you have here is whether to enroll your books in the “Kindle Select” program. It requires that your book be exclusive to Amazon for ebook format for 90 days at a time. In return Amazon gives you the ability to run promotions like free days (that can help you gain visibility) and countdown deals. Typically I start a book out exclusive to Amazon, take advantage of those deals and then don’t renew after the first 90 days. So three months after launch I add the ebook to the other channels. I am strongly considering changing that for the future. I have not been finding the Kindle deals to be doing as much as they once did for sales.

The other big channels are Smashwords, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, and a handful of others. You can get distribution to Nook and Kobo through Smashwords, but it’s often a better deal to upload directly with each one. Smashwords’s big advantage is that they make your book available in every ebook format from HTML to PDF to Epub and .mobi (Nook and Kindle formats).


Getting your book uploaded is a pretty straightforward process. Just follow the instructions. One question that you’ll get asked is about whether you want to add DRM to your books.

DRM decision: I never put DRM on any of my books. It is supposed to discourage pirating, but in practice it usually doesn’t at all. Being a player of video games, I’m used to DRM being something that punishes the honest people buying something and does nothing to deter pirates. Put a Google Alert on the name of your books and authors and send take down notices to any pirate sites where you find them. That’s about all you can do to combat piracy. Here’s an article about DRM when it comes to book selling.

In a future post I’ll go into details on optimizing the look of your books’ pages as well as SEO and keywords/tags.


Oh man, I have promised you SO MANY future posts! Don’t worry, I’ve already got drafts started on at least half of these!

Sample front matter for paperback and ebook (for the ebook versions, keep the front matter as brief as possible. You want to make sure people can see a sample of the story itself and also that they don’t feel cheated by a huge file that is mostly filler:

print front matter


ebook front matter