I recently responded to a call for ideas with a recognized niche publishing house that wanted to create a non-fiction imprint. They liked my idea but asked me why I don’t do it myself since I own a publishing venture.
It’s a fair question.
My response was a partial truth that was less risky than saying “I just don’t have time.” The fact of the matter is, I don’t want to make time. Not right now.
Publishing always involves a level of risk. Depending on your involvement and position within the publishing venture, that risk is relative. A writer, for instance, risks the time investment she makes in writing and sending her manuscript to agents and publishers. That’s a relatively low risk.
Editors, too, have a risk. Their risk is in the time it takes to put out a call for submissions, read and evaluate submissions, the selection process, proofreading, publication layout and other pre-publication considerations … you get the gist. I was willing to put forth this level of risk in the idea that I presented to the publishing house and still am, but … if I were to pursue the nonfiction publishing idea myself, that would result in a whole new level of risk I’m not ready for just yet.
Publishers not only have a time investment at their risk level but also a monetary investment. A publisher has to put the word out that they are looking for editors then market for submissions and ultimately invest in publication costs and the selling and marketing of the finished product. That’s a big risk.
I’m certainly not risk averse. I believe I’ve proven that.
My publishing venture is still in its infancy stage. I don’t mind putting out calls for submissions. I won’t mind paying the pittance I’m offering to writers when I accept their works for publication, and I won’t mind the expense of marketing the finished product in hopes of selling the books I am planning to publish. However, I’m a firm believer in managing risk intelligently.
Since Garden Gnome Publications is still brand new and I am still yanking on the shoestrings to get it off the ground, to start an imprint now while the initial idea has yet to succeed would be a foolish thing. The last thing I want to be is a fool.
Your Fool-Proof Recipe For Starting A Digital Publishing Venture
There are any number of ways to start a publishing company. You can take investors, you can use your savings, or you can give it a go on a limited budget – what we call “shoestringing it.”
This method I’m about to share with you will work for the low-budget guys, publishers operating on a shoestring.
- Your first step is to draw out your plan. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but you do need to address what you want to publish, the format you plan to publish in (print, digital, both), an estimated cost of production, and your schedule for publication (especially if you are planning ongoing projects). Will you publish your own writings or the writings of others? You should have a 1-year, a 5-year, and a 10-year plan.
- Set a budget. Don’t do anything else until you decide how much money you are willing to spend on your website, your book production, payment for writers, etc. Be realistic. Nothing can kill a business plan more than unrealistic expectations. Don’t plan to underpay writers (you don’t want to overpay them, either), and be realistic about which aspects of the process you can do yourself and which parts you’ll have to outsource.
- Build a website. Having a website today is essential to any business. I’ve seen start-up publishers rely on nothing more than a Facebook page. While having a Facebook page is a good thing to have, it is suicide if that’s all you plan to have. By the way, don’t be cheap and think you can use a free web host. If you’re serious about successful publishing, buy a domain name. It looks much more professional.
- Start taking submissions. Without something to publish, you can’t call yourself a publisher. If you are publishing your own writings, then you can start working on the production of your book (more on that a little later). You can use this phase to build your social media presence. Get your Facebook page designed, establish a Twitter presence, claim your Google+ page, etc. Use these outlets to put out calls for submissions, and don’t forget to write, publish, and distribute a press release.
- Choose what you’ll publish. This is the pre-editing stage. You’ve put out your call for submissions. Start reading through them and decide what you want to publish.
- Edit your work. One of the biggest mistakes new authors and publishers make is not hiring a good editor. Believe me, people talk. If you sell one book and it’s poorly edited, that person will tell others. It will kill your sales. If you are self-publishing, hire a good editor that specializes in your niche. If you are a publisher focusing on the writings of others, you should have a slate of editors at your disposal ready to help you improve your product.
- Put your books in print. Whether you plan to publish in print or in digital format, you need to hire people who understand the process. There are plenty of POD companies you can use for your print books. Many of them now offer digital conversion services. If you are publishing in digital format only, then be sure you have at your disposal professional people who understand the value of formatting for each e-reader you plan to target. Formatting your books for each device is just as important as having your book edited. Make sure you get this part right too.
- Start marketing. If you haven’t already started a blog, then you should do that now. Marketing your books is one of the most challenging aspects of publishing. It’s more difficult than writing, editing, or formatting for e-books. It can also be costly and time consuming. You can do it all yourself, hire a publicist to assist you, or employ volunteers who like your products to help you promote your books. The best method is to use all the resources at your disposal. Don’t just do it all yourself, and don’t just rely on your publicist or your fans. Create a community around your publishing brand. Get as many people from as many quarters involved as you can.
Running a publishing company is as much a business as it is anything else. It requires an investment in your time, your money, and your energy. If you’re going to do it right, you need a solid plan. The good news is, whether you are a writer or a business professional serving a non-writing-related niche, you can be a publisher. You just have to count the costs and make sound decisions based on a workable plan.