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The Author, Editor, Publisher: Your Roles
Understanding the basics of self-publishing.
It’s important to understand your role as an indie-author-publisher (or self-publisher).
You started as an author or author/illustrator. But then you made a business decision to bring your books to market yourself. You are publishing and marketing your books yourself.
Keeping the Roles Straight
It’s important to keep the roles straight when you become an author-publisher so you know when to make strategic decisions.
Author. You are the author! You wrote the book.
Illustrator. You may or may not be the illustrator, the person who creates the images to go with the story. You may hire an artist. As the publisher, you can choose the illustrator, determine the method of payment, lay out the contract details, and the illustrator can choose whether they want to sign your contract.
Publisher. The publisher is the person behind the business of bringing a book to market. Publishers are in charge of editing, layout and design, production (ebook and/or print), distribution, and marketing. Of course, the publisher gets the benefit of profits at the end of the year.
Printer. A printer is a company that takes your formatted manuscript to print and bind into a final print format. This includes offset printers and print-on-demand (POD) companies such as KDP-Amazon, Ingram, Lulu, BookBaby, or Bookvault. You pay for a service (printing and binding), and they perform that service.
Distributor - From POD. Some POD companies include distribution as part of their services. Ingram sends books to its sister company Ingram Wholesale, which makes your book available to all wholesale markets. KDP sends books to its sister company Amazon.com (in all countries), so your book is available in all Amazon markets. Other POD companies feed into Ingram or Amazon. Some companies, however, feed into other systems. Lulu and Bookvault have apps to connect to a Shopify, Woocommerce, or other online store platform. When a book is ordered on your Shopify store, they will print, bind, and ship.
Full-Service Distributor. The legacy publishers deal with full-service distributors who fulfill orders on all platforms. They usually have a dedicated sales force that pitches books to bookstores, museums, gift shops, and other traditional book markets. They work with publishers who have at least $50-100,000 in sales and require an inventory of all titles.
Why Does This Matter?
I hear self-published people talking about their books in strange ways:
My publisher is Amazon.
I distribute books through Amazon.
My printer is Amazon.
Wrong on all points. YOU are the publisher. KDP, a division of Amazon, is a POD printer/distributor with whom you work. Instead, you should say, “My book is available on Amazon.”
If you only work with KDP/Amazon, your books are only available there! (Unless you sign up for Expanded Distribution, which just means that KDP sends the book to Ingram and takes an extra percentage to do that.)
Be sure to express your business in accurate terms, and understand the various roles played by those you work with!
I can’t publish anywhere else because Amazon needs an exclusive. Wrong. If you KDP print, then you can also do any other printing you like, whenever you like (as long as you own the ISBN. See below.) KDP ebooks does have an exclusive arrangement if you opt into the Kindle Unlimited marketing program. There, you agree to exclusive ebook distribution in return for various marketing programs such as free days or discounted days.
Books only sell on Amazon. Wrong. Look around. You’ll see books in school libraries, gift shops, grocery stores, and many more physical locations. Online, you see books at the major retailers such as Amazon, Apple, Googlebooks, and Kobo. But you also see them on publisher’s websites, educational distributors, subscription box sets, and much more. ANY of those markets could carry your books. One of the biggest jobs you have is to reach out and make sure your books are available in those marketplaces. Selling on Amazon can be a set-it-up-and-forget-it method, but ignoring the book and the wider book market doesn’t bring sales. Instead, I work to find new distribution markets each year.
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Knowing the Publishing Roles Helps Answer Questions
Free ISBNs. Many POD companies offer free ISBNs. Should you take them up on that? Does it matter? Yes! When you register an ISBN (in the US), whoever owns that ISBN becomes the publisher of record. Using a free ISBN means that you are abdicating your role as publisher to the POD company. If you want to print elsewhere—publishers should be able to move to different printers for any reason—you can’t because you don’t own the ISBN.
Can I Publish This? You are the publisher! What do you think? Will you be able to market the book and make a profit? Can you reach the right audience to buy the book? Every time I publish a book, it’s a calculated risk whether it will earn money. But the decision is still solely mine!
Can XXX Use My Book for ZZZ? As soon as you write a book, the US Copyright Office protects it. When you publish a book, that particular form of the story is copyrighted and cannot be used by anyone else without permission. However, if you wrote a retelling of Goldilocks and the three bears, a folk tale long in the public domain, anyone else can write and publisher another retelling of that tale. You only copyright the particular expression of a story. See this for more on copyright.
Can I hire XXX to edit my book? Yes. You may hire illustrators, copyeditors, layout and design graphic artists, marketers, and more. Still, you are the publisher. You are just hiring freelance help to bring the book to market. It’s a good business practice to have a contract in place for freelance work, so I have found a literary lawyer that I like to work with when needed. It’s just good business.
Do I have to pay taxes on my publishing business? Or does Amazon pay taxes for me? Yes, you must pay income taxes on your publishing company’s profits. Depending on how your company is set up (here’s a good tutorial), you’ll have to pay income tax. Amazon and other online platforms are responsible for sales tax, which varies by state and country. If you sell direct from an online store, you’re also responsible for sales tax. Or, if you sell directly to a consumer, you have to pay sales tax. Consult your accountant for more information.
What other questions do you have?