You've undoubtedly read here previously that you should own your ISBNs. Being the publisher of record for your books gives you complete control over all aspects of publishing and selling, including access to markets and distribution channels. It also means your intellectual property is yours to manage as you see fit. One of the ways to establish this is to publish under your own imprint. To further explain the benefits of setting up an imprint, we asked BW member and authorpreneur, Carole P. Roman, to share her experiences...
There are many avenues available to self-publishers these days, from DIY platforms like Smashwords and KDP to full-service subsidy publishers that offer all the adjunct services like editing, cover design, etc. as part of a package (or a la carte). Technically these companies are simply facilitating the actual print or electronic copy of your book, they do not serve as a publisher. But often they will sell or include the ISBN as part of the deal, making them the publisher of record for your book. This is not a good idea.
If you choose KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) an offshoot of Amazon, they will provide you with a free ISBN and when you open your book it will say KDP Services as the imprint or publisher. This is appealing to the novice, as most people see this as an unnecessary expense. Why spend what you don’t have too?
An interesting question, but for the uninitiated, it can cause greater expense and a whole lot of work down the line.
The Limitations of Being Exclusive to Amazon
Originally, I used CreateSpace, the forerunner of KDP, and found myself limited to having our books available mostly through Amazon. Many bookstores do not want to carry books with the KDP or Amazon imprint. They see it as a conflict of interest, as though they are supporting a competitor. While we did indeed have mass distribution sales, the books sold for pennies, and how we priced them affected the entire bottom line. Some books were priced out of their range, just to make a few measly cents selling to a library or institution, such as a school.
Schools and institutions may be purchasing your books, but bookstores and other retailers as I pointed out earlier, will shy away from an imprint that reads Amazon.
Selling exclusively through Amazon can be limiting. While they do hold a major portion of the market share, there are still many other outlets, such as libraries, small independent bookstores, as well as large retailers like Barnes and Noble, or Walmart that purchase books.
In the end, we realized that independent bookstores and other retailers in competition with Amazon did not want to stock products with the KDP imprint. It represented Amazon as the publisher, and they would be enriching their competition.
The Importance of Being the Publisher of Record
So, essentially we became our own publishers.
When we decided to go wider with distribution, I bought ISBNs from Bowker and created an imprint for our books. I had first investigated purchasing ISBNs when a more experienced author told me about IngramSpark. IngramSpark is one of the largest distributors of books, worldwide. They have an enormous reach that can get your books into stores everywhere. I contacted Ingram and they told me I could not load my books on their site with the CreateSpace ISBN.
I looked at the cost of moving them and while the ISBNs were expensive to buy, the biggest cost was losing the thousands of reviews I had accumulated.
I decided to keep my books on CreateSpace, buy a bulk lot of ISBN’s from Bowker (better value with bulk), and then put them on IngramSpark in both paperback and hardcover (you need a different ISBN for each edition anyway).
As a good amount of my books are children’s fiction and nonfiction, hardcover editions are more popular with libraries, making them attractive to those outlets.
This way I didn’t lose my reviews, the IngramSpark books were clumped with the Amazon versions and all was good with the world.
Now, while I do still publish with KDP, I use my own bulk-purchased ISBNs that are good across multiple platforms.
This also serves as a sort of safety net. When CreateSpace closed I panicked about the ownership of the ISBNs. Would my books go out of print, like my author friend whose publishing house closed down? Owning my own ISBNs protects my intellectual property and I can make it available for as long as I want, wherever, however, I want.
Setting Up Our Imprint
We chose the name "Red Feather Publishing" because it had personal significance. To our dismay, the name was already taken. So we went with plan B and combined the street addresses of my two sons (ensuring everyone felt included in our venture) and arrived at "Chelshire Publishing Inc." as our imprint. We liked the classy sound of it.
Using Legal Zoom, we incorporated. It was less expensive than going through a lawyer, coming in at about one hundred dollars, or so. They took care of the formalities and we attached our real names to all legal documents, leaving a clear record of who is in charge, as well as ownership.
How to Choose a Name for Your Imprint
We had a combined stock of close to seventy books. One book was written by my grandson, another was the rookie effort of my younger son, added to the fifteen successful books written by my older son, plus my approximately 50 titles.
It was a diverse list: fiction, nonfiction, children’s, self-help, and a variety of genres from my son.
We chose the name because it seemed elastic enough to fit any type of book. Our imprint is the name of our publishing house regardless of the type of books we may produce.
If we chose a name like Linens and Lace, or Cracked Linoleum, what "customers" would we be attracting? While it’s fun to experiment, you have to remember to treat it as a business. A less specific imprint name will provide a suitable umbrella no matter which direction your writing may take you. However, if you are certain that your imprint will only publish a single genre, then a name that evokes that genre could help solidify your brand. Whatever you choose, choose wisely and by all means, it should sound professional and "legit".
Pen Names and Bank Accounts
On another note, keep in mind all checks will come to the company/imprint name. You will need to set up a business bank account to deposit them. This is something you should do whatever the legal entity you publish under—your own name or a pen name—as your accountant will undoubtedly advise.
Speaking of pen names. This is another advantage of publishing under an imprint. In our case, we write under multiple pen names, (often one for each genre) so this allows us to manage the financials of our family publishing biz more efficiently.
What Are the Benefits of an Imprint?
Having your own imprint legitimizes you as the author and gives the impression that your books are good enough to be published by a publishing house.
Many people are wary of indies and won’t buy a book if they think it is self-published. Using an imprint not only looks more professional, but it also makes it possible for those smaller bookstores to purchase, opening up new markets.
It’s nice to have all our books under one imprint, as I send out flyers several times a year. We print up thousands, making Chelshire the representative showing off its collection.
Is Having an Imprint Worth It?
Yes, I think so. Anything that enables your brand to get in front of as many eyes as possible is a good thing.
Award-winning author Carole P. Roman started writing as a dare from one of her sons. Her nonfiction series, "If You Were Me and Lived in..." combines her teaching past with her love of customs and culture around the world. She has expanded her nonfiction culture series to include historical times periods. Roman just published her first adult fiction novella, Bulwark, as Brit Lunden. If you’d like more information on Carole P. Roman, connect with her at: