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!

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.

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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.


Guest Post: The Thrill of a Published Book

by Ruth Madison

We who dream of being authors anticipate for years holding a book in our hands with our name on the cover, the pages filled with out own words.

It is an amazing moment.

 But if can also feel a bit…unreal.

You’ve waited years for what you’ve written to be a proper book and now when you flip through the pages and see your own words, it feels like it must be a joke. These are your words and someone has put a binding on them, but they still look to you like the words you typed into Scrivener and saw scrolling by on your computer screen every day. Who hid them inside a book cover?

And then for us worrying types, it gets worse.

You’re on a high for a week, showing your book to everyone you know. But then worry catches up with you. You’ve accomplished this huge goal, but there’s another one waiting for you.

Will anyone buy it? Will anyone read it?

You start to worry that it will just sit there and not move a single copy and your publisher will wonder why they gave you this chance.

Then you see your sales figures. And it’s selling.

Another huge thrill that lasts a week or so. People are reading your work! People are connecting with the story that you have told!

Until worry catches up again. What if everyone hates it?

What if they think it’s awful and feel cheated and get angry at you? And you become consumed with anxiety again.

Then some reviews get posted. And they aren’t terrible. No one is yelling. Several people liked it and they thank you for writing it and you read their words with tears in your eyes (authors need your reviews like faeries need your claps!)

Yes, having your book published is quite a roller coaster ride.

I feel a little foolish for exposing the truth of my feelings like this. Aren’t I supposed to be just glowing with pride from the moment I get a contract until…well, forever? Is there something wrong with me that the thrill wears off and is replaced by worry each time?

Maybe there is! But I think it also helps me in being a career author. The high has to wear off so that I can go back to writing the next book, seeking to feel it again. Writing and drug addiction. Yeah, that’s totally the comparison I wanted to make. It’s true, though. Thrills never last forever, but they feel so good that we go back to doing whatever it was that allowed us to feel them in the first place. I’m glad for me that’s writing books. I’ve got plenty more ideas and I’ll keep chasing the elusive high that lasts.

Ruth’s first two books have just come out in their second editions…


Paperback / Kindle /NookSmashwords







Paperback / Kindle /Nook/ Smashwords

Visit Ruth at her site!