Why Self-Publishing Authors Should Consider Establishing Their Own Imprint

cupped hands holding small icon of a house

Today’s guest post is an excerpt from Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs by consultant David Wogahn (@wogahn).

Since 2012, the year I began working exclusively with self-publishers, I’ve helped more than 100 authors create self-publishing imprints. Some of these were formed as corporations and LLCs, but most were in name only. The common thread between all of them—one of the earliest decisions made—was to choose a name under which to buy an ISBN, short for International Standard Book Number, a unique number assigned to every published book.

Early in the ebook revolution Amazon declared ebooks did not need an ISBN. Much to the consternation of Bowker (the official U.S. issuer of ISBNs), and the publishing industry itself, ebook self-publishing platforms had no choice but to follow Amazon’s lead. Even Apple, which launched iBooks by requiring an ISBN for ebooks, was forced to abandon its position.

“Who cares?” many self-publishers declared as they forged ahead. Bowker did not or does not adequately explain the value of assigning one, so what’s the point?

I can’t argue with them.

But like the other technology-fueled revolutions of the past 30 years, self-publishing is becoming more sophisticated. I’ve been thinking about what value an imprint (and ISBN ownership) provides the author/publisher, and what the consequences are for using, or not using, an imprint.

I know this may seem like minutia to new writers. But I’ve learned that these early decisions can and do have a long-term impact with little or no chance for fixing or correcting, short of re-publishing.

Is a lack of planning or investment fatal? Of course not. But it is much easier if you understand those implications early so you can make an informed decision. Consider the following.

A publishing imprint is the name of your publishing company. This name is:

  • Displayed to the public wherever you sell your book.
  • Recorded in book industry databases used by retailers, book wholesalers, and book distributors.
  • Listed on your book’s copyright page, and often included in your book’s sales and promotional materials.
  • The name assigned to your ISBN(s). It can be an invented name or the name of one’s existing business, or some variation. Self-publishers can use their author name, but I think it is preferable to create a distinction between the author name and the publisher for public relations and brand-building reasons.

In the last ten years, books that use an ISBN registered by self-publishing imprints (Bowker calls them Small Publishers) increased 205%—from 14,952 in 2008 to 45,649 in 2017.

The first question that usually follows is: Do I need to set up a company under this name? The short answer is that there is no requirement, but depending on your circumstances, it might make sense.

One consideration is whether you want to accept payment in the name of your imprint. Financial institutions will want to see proof that you are authorized to be “doing business as” (DBA) this name, so you will need to formally register the fictitious name. Check with your city, county, or state, and consult your tax or legal adviser about your individual circumstances.

You can certainly skip this step, do it just before your book’s release date, or after you’ve already published a few books. But I believe you want to decide on a name for your imprint early for one important reason:

Marketing a book before its release date—sending out advance reader copies (ARCs) to get reviews and blurbs—is one of the most effective marketing activities you can do. You will be promoting your ARCs and doing pre-publication PR using the name of your imprint.

Another reason to consider selecting your name early is that it is an important metadata element. Depending on the words it may help your book show up in search results—on Google as well as Amazon.

A name other than your own helps create (and maintain) a public record separate from you the author. As many of us know there continues to be a bias by many in the media, book retailers, and some readers against self-published books. A unique name, with no ties to your own, could help your marketing efforts. It certainly won’t hinder your marketing like the use of your own name as an imprint name might.

Is this considered unethical or deceitful? No! You are no different than any other small business seeking a future of self-determination. Many writers dream about writing full-time. And I think it helps authors maintain a healthy distinction between us as writers and us as business owners. It may also be helpful in establishing the legitimacy of your business when it comes to filing taxes.

Where is your self-publishing imprint name used?

Here are five key places an imprint name can appear or be used, many of them publicly visible:

  1. Books In Print, the official registry of U.S.-published books. Maintained by Bowker, this is the sole company authorized to sell ISBNs in the U.S.
  2. Library of Congress filing. Besides the imprint name, you need your publisher identifier from your ISBN series to start the process. The publisher name you enter must be the same as the one you entered as publisher when you bought the ISBN. (The free ISBNs issued by CreateSpace or KDP Print do not qualify.)
  3. Distribution accounts through services such as IngramSpark and KDP Print. This is especially relevant if you plan to enable pre-release ordering for your book, which means you need to choose a name before beginning the process.
  4. Book sales pages setup by individual retailers, such as Amazon. This displays automatically for books available via pre-order (e.g., Amazon Advantage or IngramSpark).Register Your Book
  5. Business filings: Banking and other account setups.

It would be disingenuous for me to say that you must have a self-publishing imprint or that the name associated with the ISBN is important for sales success. Which is the right path for you and your book? It will depend on your long-term goals, but it is a decision you make once, and it cannot be changed without re-publishing your book.

Note from Jane: For straightforward advice on copyright and other registration for self-publishers, check out Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs by David Wogahn.

Posted in Guest Post, Self-Publishing.

David Wogahn is the publisher of The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, published annually since 2009, and the president of AuthorImprints.com. He is also the author of Register Your Book, a Lynda.com publishing course, and a past instructor for IBPA’s Publishing University. Learn more at BookReviewerYellowPages.com where you can check out a directory of 2400 book bloggers.

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Paula Cappa

David, you say that it is not considered unethical or deceitful to have your own self-published book as an imprint. I have to say, that’s not the reaction I’ve seen out there. Many book reviewers refuse to review books with these imprint names because the authors are suggesting the book is published by a legit publishing house, when in fact the book is not. Reviewers have a right to know if they are reading a self-pubbed book or not. I’m a book reviewer for Amazon and Net Galley so I can appreciate clarity on this. When I review self-pubbed books,… Read more »

Harald Johnson

Sorry Paula, but I take exception with your characterization of not being a “fair player” in this industry. First, as a Indie self-publisher, I am in the publishing business period. Publishing is publishing, no matter whether “traditional” or “self.” I’m just as “legit” as any press or other publishing house. My covers are just as professional and my editing is at the same level (I hire the same editors!). I’m just not saddled with the old ways of thinking that many—and maybe you—are concerned with.

Paula Cappa

Thanks, Harald, for your thoughtful reply. You make good points. You sound like you are a savvy and experienced businessman. I’m sure you know, if you’ve been in this industry for a while that there are scores of authors who self-publish and do not have your publishing business savvy or use the professional publishing standards to produce their books. For the average writer, this is quite a learning curve and expense. And with all the false marketing going on out there, fake book reviews, phony indie houses, and social media bots making fake best seller sales, etc., the self-pubbed author… Read more »

Harald Johnson

Fair enough, Paula. Let’s all raise the level of independent publishing.

Dario Ciriello

“Most people don’t decide to open a publishing business first and then write a book; it’s the opposite.” *chuckles and raises his hand* Actually, Paula, I am one who did exactly that. I started my imprint, Panverse Publishing, in 2009 to publish a series of novella anthologies, followed by several novels by other authors. When I wrote a memoir in 2011, I published it through Panverse, followed by two of my own novels, a collection, and a book on writing craft (you can read the whole saga in my interview elsewhere on Jane’s site). To my point, though: when I… Read more »

Paula Cappa

Dario, yours is a fascinating story. My comment was responding to David’s comment (“What should a ‘business’ do if they plan to publish books? … to build a brand associated with their organization.”). I was referring to authors, not businesses or organizations, who write first then decide to imprint the self-pubbed book under a business name. I agree the workload of editing, formatting, printing, tracking sales/royalties etc. is overwhelming and without the proper study and research in the industry, it’s a highly difficult task. But I think the difference is also that you were publishing other authors and not just… Read more »

Sophie Kisker

When I buy flowers from Blooming Buds down the street, I don’t expect the owner’s name to be Blooming Buds. BB is his business name, and is as legit a business name as FTD or another powerhouse floral company. My imprint is my “business” name.

Lissa Johnston

I like the idea of creating an imprint. But does that mean the ISBNs I purchased under my own name would be useless?

Harald Johnson

Interesting post, David. There’s another reason for doing it that you don’t mention (unless I missed it): Taxes, Privacy, Identity Theft. Anyone (in U.S.) receiving book income from a retailer like Amazon must give a Tax ID number. Unless the author has set up a legal entity, e.g., LLC, then they must give their personal social security number. That’s way too risky in my view. So I have an LLC for my publishing business which gives me an EIN number vs. a SS number that I can give to anyone who needs it. Much safer and more professional at the… Read more »

Harald Johnson

Ah, good to know about the EIN; thanks. Of course, there are other reasons to form a legal entity, but that’s another conversation.

Debra Klein

I soon hope to have my first novel completed and am starting to focus on how I will get it published. This informative article and the follow-up comments were timely and enlightening. Thank you, all!

Ralph Brooks

I need help selling my books

Paula Cappa

Hi Ralph: I direct an authors group in my community and we discuss the rigors of book selling regularly. We have found that one of the best things you can do (assuming you have a well-written book, professionally produced) is to get authors in your genre to review your book, and get lots of customer book reviews who will post on Amazon. When readers see 50 to 100 reviews they are more inclined to want to read your book than if you only have 5 to 10 reviews. Also, blogs, Facebook, and your author website are good places to talk… Read more »

David W. Gates Jr.

Thanks for the article. I spent a good deal of time researching this topic when I was getting ready to publish my books. In my case I had the LLC already, but did NOT want this name out there associated with books for my topic. But even after creating the imprint or Bowker, and publishing through IngramSpark other retailers still pulled the business name. So when I viewed my books on say B&N the business name I used was showing up as the publisher. This was even after I created the Imprint at Bowker. In order to get mine fixed… Read more »

Patricia Ann Florio

David, some three years ago, after a writers’ retreat in Chianti, Italy, my friend Donna blurted out, “I think we should publish this,” meaning, all of the fine work the writers had produced in those 7 days at Borgo San Fedele. I didn’t know that among the 14 women in our group, there was a Broadway playwright and Minnesota artist and a number of award-winning writers. I had received two Norman Mailer scholarships awarding me two nonfiction workshops. Leaving the driveway of the beautiful Borgo San Fedele, Donna Ferarra and I made a pact and Jewels of San Fedele was… Read more »

Julie Brown

Looks like a beautiful and well-produced journal. What an inspiring story, Patricia!

[…] If you’ve decided that self-publishing is for you, David Wogahn recommends that self-publishing authors should consider establishing their own imprints. […]

Linda McLean

Thank you so much.

[…] If you are self-publishing, you have to think more about the details of the business side than a traditional author. Nathan Bransford parses what it costs to self-publish a book, David Kudler shares a CSS trick for new and old Kindles, and David Wogahn explains why self-publishing authors should consider establishing their own imprint. […]

[…] https://www.janefriedman.com/why-self-publishing-authors-should-consider-establishing-their-own-impr… “Since 2012, the year I began working exclusively with self-publishers, I’ve helped more than […]

Ernie Zelinski

I self-published my first book in 1989 and used the company name Visions International Publishing along with the imprint VIP BOOKS. I have used the company name and imprint ever since and have now written and published 17 books. In September, my books reached the milestone of having sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide (this includes the foreign editions as my books have been published in 22 languages in 29 countries). I believe that having my company name and the imprint have helped me get the over 111 foreign rights deals that I have gotten (without using a North American foreign… Read more »

Cheryl Kaster

Total newbie here but the case for having an imprint makes sense. I will be publishing non-fiction on the topic of Notarial services done with “integrity, diligence, and skill.” Admittedly, a real niche market.

My hope is that when I am no longer writing, having an imprint would bring with it an already-established reputation for the quality and value of information previously published.

My main question is: How much does it cost to get an imprint?

[…] Why Self-Publishing Authors Should Consider Establishing Their Own Imprint […]

D. J. Irvine

Some really interesting facts and tips here. I have a question. Do you automatically own the copyright to you book or is it something you have to pay for extra?

Jane Friedman

You automatically own copyright without paying, but you have to register the work for the full protection of the law.


Thanks for the information