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Should Indie Authors Use a Publishing Imprint?

Do indie authors benefit from having a publishing imprint? What even is an imprint? In an earlier “Notes from the Field” post, BW author, Carole P. Roman, talked about her experience publishing under an imprint. We wanted to delve deeper into the topic so we asked David Wogahn, author of the book, “My Publishing Imprint”… [Read More]

Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.com

Do indie authors benefit from having a publishing imprint? What even is an imprint? In an earlier "Notes from the Field" post, BW author, Carole P. Roman, talked about her experience publishing under an imprint. We wanted to delve deeper into the topic so we asked David Wogahn, author of the book, "My Publishing Imprint" to share his insights so you can decide if an imprint is right for you.


According to Bowker, 66,732 print book ISBNs were registered by self-publishers in 2007. Fast forward to 2017, this number had ballooned to 879,587. Perhaps even more significant is the growth of Amazon's market share during this period: from 3,804 to 751,924*.Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.com

In just 11 years, Amazon’s free ISBN—naming them as publisher of record—has increased its market share from 6% to 85% of all self-published books in the United States.

It seems most indie authors have decided that owning their ISBN is of no importance. Perhaps they don’t understand why it matters or don’t see the value of ownership.


Note - If you're a follower of the BookWorks blog, you know where we stand on the subject. Review these posts for more on the importance of purchasing your own ISBNs:


But it’s also worth noting that during this same period, the number of books published using an indie imprint—usually a name chosen by the author—increased by 205%.Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.com

Does any of this matter? How do you decide what’s best for your situation? That’s what I’d like to talk about in this article.

Whoever Pays for an ISBN Is the Publisher of Record

When I talk about an imprint name or using a publishing imprint, I am saying that one has made the decision to buy an ISBN. This is how you get a get to choose the name of the publisher. And where is this name displayed to the public?

  • It is part of your book’s listing in online stores.
  • It is featured prominently on IndieBound.org (a website often checked by retailers when approached by self-publishers interested in booking events or stocking books).
  • It is recorded in book industry databases used by wholesalers, distributors, libraries and industry professionals.
  • It is listed on your book’s copyright page.
  • It is part of your book’s sales and promotional materials.

The publisher name of a book using the free ISBN from KDP Print is “Independently published” (free ISBNs from CreateSpace show “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.”) All book industry databases show this publisher name, not just your book listing on Amazon.

Also important to know is that the owner of the ISBN has certain rights. For example, a print book using the free Amazon ISBN can only be printed by Amazon. An eBook using the free Draft2Digital ISBN can only be distributed by Draft2Digital.

A Branding and Marketing Investment

Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.comWhether you invest in an imprint or not often comes down to your branding and positioning objectives, and how you plan to market your books.

I’d venture to say that there is no bookstore in America that is willing to order books from Amazon for an author-reading event. Bookstores do not like Amazon and they know who owns the CreateSpace/ Kindle Direct Publishing imprints.

What if you are building a publishing brand, or have a business that offers products or services related to the subject of your book? Perhaps it makes sense to brand your books in a way that relates to and enhances these other ventures. This is what Sam Williamson did when he named his publishing imprint Beliefs of the Heart Press, and what the Content Marketing Institute did when it bought ISBNs in its name.

An imprint using your personal name or books published using a free ISBN from KDP communicates “self-published.” If you are approaching media outlets for interviews, which publisher sounds more professional: Meredith Wild or Waterhouse Press?

Does a Publishing Imprint Help Sell More Books?

Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.com

Books In Print® combines the most trusted and authoritative source for bibliographic information with powerful search, discovery, and collection development tools to streamline the book discovery and acquisition process.

I get this question a lot. To answer, I ask the author or business the question: how important is your publishing venture? If you are a hobbyist, then sales probably aren’t that important.

But if you have plans to treat publishing as a business, then the name you use as publisher takes on greater importance.

Your publishing imprint name is searchable on Amazon.

Outside Amazon, your imprint name is found in industry databases including the most important one of all, Bowker’s Books In Print.

You have direct control over your metadata, and it is metadata that makes your book discoverable online.

Do You Need to Set Up a Company?

That is optional. There may be banking, legal or tax reasons to set up an LLC, a corporation—or even file for a fictitious name and operate as a sole proprietor—but this is not required to buy ISBNs.

By the way, if all you want to do is keep your social security number private or have some separation from your personal affairs, anyone can obtain a free EIN, Employer Identification Number. You can use an EIN instead of your social security number when filling out tax forms for online selling in stores like Amazon. You do not need to be an employer. Click here for details: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/employer-id-numbers.

Is It Ethical?

This question frustrates me. Is it unethical for your dentist or plumber to use a made-up name instead of their own? Of course not. These are called fictitious/trade names and it is a legal and ethical way to conduct and brand a business.

The democratization of publishing has enabled anyone to be a publisher. For those that have come to rely on using publishing imprint names to make decisions, this can be challenging. Bookstore owners, reviewers, and even readers must now evaluate a book using other methods (the cover? reading it? the author?) rather than dismiss it out-of-hand because it is not a publishing imprint they recognize.

Make the Decision That Is Right for You

Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.comIn my book on this topic, My Publishing Imprint, I share that several well-known authors have chosen the free Amazon ISBN for their books and it doesn’t seem to have dampened their success. People such as Bella Forrest, Chris Fox, K.F. Breene and Mark Dawson to name a few.

In the own-your-destiny camp, you have other successful authors who are building their publishing ventures around an independent brand. People like Barbara Freethy, Huge Howie and Meredith Wild.

What should you do? My reason for writing My Publishing Imprint, and this article, is to educate indie authors about their choices and the consequences of those choices.

Book reviews are typically tied to book edition’s ISBN and you cannot change the publisher without changing the ISBN. Being able to use any printer is also something to consider. And don’t forget the importance of branding.

When it comes to making this decision, one that cannot be undone without republishing a book, I’m reminded of a quote by the Roman slave turned philosopher, Publilius Syrus:

“Rivers are easiest to cross at their source.”

*All numbers taken directly from Bowker’s “Self-Publishing in the United States” reports. These reports also include eBook ISBN assignments but as most of us know, all major eBook retailers do not require an ISBN. Including a reference to them in these numbers would grossly understate eBook publishing activity. (The 2012-2017 report is available here.)


Do indie authors need a publishing imprint? by David Woghan for BookWorks.comDavid Wogahn is the president of AuthorImprints, an award-winning professional publishing services company that publishes books for authors and businesses using their own publishing imprint. Clients retain ownership, control, and all royalties.

David is also a LinkedIn Learning author and the author of five publishing books including My Publishing Imprint and the forthcoming The Book Review Companion.

During his 35 years in publishing and online media, David has worked for the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and was co-founder of the first online publisher of sports team branded websites known today as the CBS College Sports Network.

Learn more about David’s books at DavidWogahn.com and get his free guide, Professional Self-Publishing and the Bestseller Launch at AuthorImprints.com.


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10 thoughts on “Should Indie Authors Use a Publishing Imprint?”

  1. Wow, this is a subject I have been waiting to hear from others about for some time now. I chose to pay for my ISBN with both of my books, but with the second I also chose an imprint. What I worry about now is that I used my pen name which is on all my work, and in which mostly everyone calls me by. Now that I am reading your article, it sounds like I should have used a made up name along with my made up imprint. Confusing, but I am happy to have learned all I did with this article. Thank you.

    1. David Wogahn says:

      Hi Gippy, thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Monica Rodriguez says:

    You asked the question, does this help an author sell more books, but then you didn’t talk about sales. You talked about your imprint being searchable and your book being in the database booksellers use. These aren’t sales. The answer is in the numbers. I know plenty of indie authors making a good living while never having bought an ISBN. Has no one heard of Joanna Penn?
    Also, you said you won’t have control over your metadata – I don’t think this is true at all. When you upload a book to Amazon, you have the opportunity to choose keywords (metadata) whether or not you use your own ISBN. The keywords, in addition to your name or the book title, are what readers use to find you. No one is searching for a book by the publisher or the imprint.
    I have gone back and forth myself on the issue of using ISBNs, but this post did not convince I need them.

    1. David Wogahn says:

      Hi Monica, thanks for your feedback. I didn’t mean to give the impression that everyone needs to buy ISBNs. Publishing and marketing objectives matter a great deal in this situation. I have clients and colleagues with clients who receive book orders from outside Amazon because their books are discoverable in the Bowker data feed. Amazon just needs metadata important for their retailing purposes while the Bowker records have far more metadata fields to support the broader market, not just retailers.

      As it turns out, Joanna Penn has an imprint called Curl Up Press: https://curluppress.com/.

  3. Jemima Pett says:

    The one thing I wish I’d done at the start was to get my own ISBNs. It seemed a big investment, and more work, when I only had three books out, and I never expected to sell any paperbacks anyway.
    Three books I would say is the tipping point.
    After that, reissuing them with their own ISBNs is a big task, and complexities such as whether Amazon stop showing the ISBNs no longer available, which still give the game away that you’re not a small publisher but an indie author, and a bookshop may still avoid buying your books from Amazon.
    So, I would urge authors who have dipped their toe in the water, and want to publish more, not only to use a publisher name (mine has been Princelings Publications, right from the start) but to invest in those ISBN packages. Remember you’ll need one for every platform you’re on, so I need five for every book. 100 go quickly at that rate!
    Great post, thanks!

    1. David Wogahn says:

      I’ve heard many stories like this. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice, Jemima.

  4. Colonialist says:

    I agree that the way to go is to have a genuine publisher name. In the case where my normal publisher was nervous about one title, I started my own. That doesn’t make it any the less genuine, and it gives buyers a feeling of reassurance.

  5. David Wogahn says:

    Great feedback, thanks Colonialist.

  6. P. S. Stern says:

    I feel it somewhat depends on the intended market, and also how serious as a business one intends the writing endeavour to be.

    For an eBook only available on Amazon (making use of Kindle Select for example), the ‘free’ ISBN from Amazon would suffice. Similarly with using Smashwords or D2D.

    If you plan to ‘go wide’ or have an actual physical book, particularly with the intent to be available in bookshops and libraries, then I’d say owning your own ISBNs is a must.

    Important to note it almost never makes sense to buy a single ISBN! Always buy in bulk, it’s much cheaper than a singular purchase, and you need an ISBN for every format (ebook, paperback, audiobook, etc.), not just for each title.

  7. David Wogahn says:

    Thanks for sharing, PS. Just to clarify, you don’t need an ISBN for Kindle eBooks and in fact Amazon doesn’t offer them–free or otherwise. They just use their ASIN.

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