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.

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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!