Why Self-Publishing Authors Should Consider Establishing Their Own Imprint

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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.

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