A Cheapskate Guide to Creating a Publishing Company

Ken Coffman is a novelist and owner of a small publishing company called The Armchair Adventurer. Coffman writes:

I did it. You can do it too. I am no business expert. I do not know the optimum way of doing things. I don’t care. I used this on-the-cheap method to create my company. If there are better methods, then use the comment field to inform the world. In advance, I thank you for your service to mankind.

1. First of all, dream up a unique name. Google it and make sure it is not being used by someone else. Surf over to godaddy.com and make sure the domain is available.

2. Now surf over to the Company Corporation (www.incorporate.com) and create a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation). Register your company in Delaware or Nevada. I picked Delaware like most other corporations. Why? Because I said so, that’s why. It’s $99 for the economy method and another $120 for the filing fee. Save up your money, you can afford it.

3. Register your domain name(s) with godaddy.com. Pay for five years so you don’t have to hassle with the yearly payments to keep it active. If you don’t have a host for your domain, you can use the service(s) godaddy provides, but that’s not how I do it. There are a billion server services in the world. Use your favorite.

4. Now you have to register your foreign corporation with your state. This may be done online, maybe. Trust me, any interaction with the government will be frustrating. Don’t sweat the small stuff, just roll with it. There are traps, so avoid them. You are not going to sell anything directly, this avoids the sales tax trap. All of your sales will be done either out of state or via a supplier that pays the sales tax, like Amazon, brick and mortar book stores and the like. You’re providing a publishing service. You are not hiring any employees.

5. Now that you have an LLC and a state business number, you can open a bank account for the business. Like government agencies, banks are a pain in the ass too. Fair warning.

6. Register and reserve a block of ISBNs at http://www.isbn.org. Don’t bother creating a bar code at this time, this will be done when designing the cover after you’ve picked a sales price.

7. Like almost everyone else, you’ll use Lightning Source as your printer and listing services. Surf over to lightningsource.com and register your company. If you know how many pages your novel is, then you can get a printing cost. Then you can decide how much markup to allow the reseller (I give them 55% to encourage them to carry my book). Then you can pick a resale price.

8. Find a graphic vendor or partner. I’m a writer, not a graphic artist. I provide photographs and sketches to my designer friend who creates the cover. His software can create the bar code (which includes the ISBN and the resale price).

9. Now you have a PDF for the cover, the front matter and the novel text. Upload that to Lightning Source. Magically, if you want, a review copy will appear. If you like the look of it, approve it and you’re in business. Lightning Source will take care of listing your book with Amazon and Ingram.

10. Now comes the hard part. Your books will not sell themselves. You have to get out in the world and sell them yourself.

11. Let me say a few words about taxes. I think everyone should have a small business and look at all spending as either tax-deductible or not. All business expenses are deductible. Since you’re always doing research, what about your trip to Venice? Deductible. Business use of your car? Deductible. Your home office and computer and camera and DSL and phone bill and business-related books and software? Deductible. You probably think that you need to make a profit in 3 of 5 years, otherwise the IRS will classify your business as a hobby and decline your deductions. Pardon my language, but that’s bullshit. The 3 of 5 years is a guideline, not a rule. You can lose money every year for the rest of your life, it’s still a business. There are requirements. You have to operate in a business-like manner with the intent to turn a profit. In other words, you should have business cards. You should do marketing. You should claim some revenue. You should be prepared to make your case to an auditor with a clear conscience. You should think about and understand the difference between tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (which is illegal).

12. For tax matters, I highly recommend a book called Tax and Financial Guide for Engineers and Architect from Academic Information Service, Inc. http://www.taxguide-engineersandarchitects.com This book has examples and talks about tax court cases which clearly define what you can and can’t get away with (did I say that out loud?). Yes, this book highly recommended.

13. I didn’t think of everything. There might be better (or cheaper) ways to do things. Let’s hear about it.

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Making the Most of MySpace

Many writers hate marketing, but Jordan Dane, the bestselling and award-winning author of the No One books (No One Heard Her Scream, No One Left to Tell, and No One Lives Forever) finds it almost as much fun as writing. Here she explains how to get the most from MySpace:

I must admit, I was skeptical about blogging in general. It seemed like the most successful people blogged with such regularity and innovation that I only saw it as a potential time drain without any impact on sales. Then, I found the MySpace version of blogging and began to tinker. Here’s what I discovered:

MySpace is FREE and can be used as a business tool for authors. The site claims 170+ million registered users. And most of these users list their book preferences with great enthusiasm. The MySpace community is an electronically linked group of customer leads. It’s not just for twenty-somethings trying to hook up or Dateline’s mechanism to identify future pedophile guests. And did I mention MySpace was FREE?

My brilliant webdesigner created my blog on MySpace for a minimal fee. Building a brand, I believed it was important to carry over a consistent design. I also linked my website to my blog to run contests easily, show excerpts, and allow my blog buddies to navigate between my blog and website with ease. Once I had a MySpace blog, I began to explore.

How does MySpace work? MySpace was initially created for the music community, to expose a young audience to new bands/musicians, but authors can benefit in the same way. Most MySpacers are well-read and clearly state their reading preferences on their interesting blogs. Anyone who reads books in the genre you write can be considered a solid customer lead.

With a simple MySpace search, you can hunt for anyone who appreciates similar authors to your work, comparable genre, or other criteria to establish common ground with your potential readership (ie special interests like Boston Terriers, cities, hobbies, states, colleges, etc). Pull from a vast list of potential ‘friends’. If someone looks like buddy material, REQUEST your new pal and wait for a response.

To set yourself apart from others, post courteous comments on their blog once they add you. Or post a bulletin alerting your friends of a new blog article. (To learn how to code in MySpace, try the template found at www.bulletintalk.com. I use this site to format my broadcast bulletins.) Interesting blog articles keep them coming back. You can generate buzz on your work and develop a devoted group of potential readers because these new friends are genuinely fun to associate with. I’ve found subtlety works best. No hard sell necessary.

With self-control and good judgement, you periodically post a bulletin to your new friends, but these blanket notices get swallowed up in the sheer volume of posts that can be generated in a day. A better way to cultivate the friends you’ve got on MySpace is to give them a reason to sign up on your website mailing list. For example, run a fun contest to steer them there and make it worth their time. Build your reader list using the contacts you make on MySpace. And with steady communication on MySpace and your website newsletters, you’ll develop an online interactive community plus develop an interesting new group of friends. Playing a proactive role in the development of your readership is key. Yes, it takes time, but you may find it’s worth the effort. If you genuinely enjoy people, you will find MySpace addictive and fun. Be disciplined with the time you spend online and you may find a real gem for marketing your work and making new friends.

© Jordan Dane, 2007