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August 17, 2015

This week, BookLife’s panel of indie experts field self-publishing questions submitted by authors and readers via email and Twitter, and deliver answers on the ins and outs of creating an imprint and getting a book deal with a traditional publishing house.

Naming Your Imprint

Amelia Parks, aka @amelia__parks, asks via Twitter: In the US, can I just pick an imprint name & use it, or do I have to go through rigmarole of registering a business? #indieexperts

Bestselling author Hugh Howey: You can pick an imprint name and stamp it on your books and publish under the name, but it won’t provide you with any tax benefits or liability protection. For that, you should start an LLC. These are inexpensive to set up, and it’s wise to do so if you plan on tackling writing as a career. You’ll need to make sure the name isn’t in use and register it in the state you live in or plan to base your business in. I highly recommend doing this early on. I registered my LLC when I wrote my first novel.

Smashwords founder Mark Coker: You can pick any publisher or imprint name you want as long as it’s unique and doesn’t copy or trade off of the name of another publisher. For example, “Amelia Parks Press” would be a defensible name, but “Harlequeen” (a blatant variation of Harlequin) would not be okay. In terms of whether you should run your business as a sole proprietorship or as a corporation, this would be a good question for your tax accountant to discuss the pros and cons of each approach. You might also want to check with your hometown’s chamber of commerce. They often have “startup kits” to help you get your business organized. I know for my prior business, which was a sole proprietorship (a technology PR agency), I was required to register a Fictitious Business Name. Your local jurisdiction might have different rules.

Book designer, author, and blogger Joel Friedlander: This depends on whether you plan to accept payments in the imprint’s name, which may be inevitable if your publishing activities spread to a variety of resellers, distributors, or other firms with whom you establish a business-to-business relationship. In that case you’ll need to file a Fictitious Business Name statement, or whatever mechanism is used in your local jurisdiction. On the other hand, if you plan to keep your publishing more of a hobby and sell through only one source, you can probably avoid this step.

"Nothing gets a publisher’s attention more than strong sales of your indie title."
Publishing veteran and blogger Jane Friedman: Strictly speaking, no, you do not have to register your imprint name as a business. However, I recommend doing a bit of research to see if your imprint name is already taken or registered as a trademark to avoid serious headaches later. If it’s not being used by someone else, in most states it’s a very simple process to register your publishing business or imprint as an LLC. If you’re serious about your self-publishing endeavors, and intend to derive meaningful income from it, this is a very wise business step.

Lulu VP of marketing Dan Dillon: There’s no requirement for you to register the name of your imprint as a business in order to publish, but here’s what we recommend: Ensure the name is not already in use. Do a web search and see what comes up. Is Lulu Press already taken? (It is.) Choose another name. If your desired name appears to be available based on search results, head over to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System and run a search there as well. This will tell you if your imprint name is trademarked by another entity, even if there’s not a working website behind the name. If nothing comes up, you’re probably in the clear.

Bestselling author and blogger Joanna Penn: You don't need a business to self-publish, you just have to declare your income on your tax return. You also don't need an imprint name, just like you don't need your own ISBNs -- it's a matter of choice. However, if you are planning on writing as a career, it will be worth talking to the financial professional about your situation to see what structure might suit you.

Kobo director of self-publishing and author relations Mark Lefebvre: You can pick a name and use it but check to make sure that you’re not infringing an existing imprint. For example, if you use “Random House” as an imprint, you’re likely to run into issues.

Getting a Traditional Book Deal

Tanay asks via email: After you have shed blood, sweat and tears writing your first novel and have put it on printed-paper, how do you get recognized by publishing companies? And what is it that the publisher will be expecting from me? An eloquently spoken short synopsis? Twenty percent financial backing? I just would like to be prepared for my next step!

Smashwords Founder Mark Coker: If you’ve already self-published and your goal is to find a traditional publisher, nothing gets a publisher’s attention more than strong sales of your indie title. Agents and publishers often use retailer bestseller lists to identify indie authors with proven commercial potential.

You mentioned paper. If you haven’t published your title yet as an e-book, you’re missing out on readers. Most bestselling indie authors I know sell over hundreds of e-books for every print book they sell. The reason is that e-books are popular (especially for genre fiction), more affordable, and get global distribution at major e-book stores because every e-book store wants to carry every indie e-book. This is not the case for print. Indie print authors have a tough time getting print distribution in physical stores.

Award-winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft: I published my first book back in 1997, after I had given up on ever being published by a traditional house. Since then, I’ve either published or illustrated and helped to publish almost two dozen picture books and middle grade books. Then in August of 2013, I got an email from Scholastic asking me if I wanted to illustrate The Zero Degree Zombie Zone. I put aside my two decades of hurt feelings and accepted the job. Apparently my name and reputation had come up in several conversations that led to them offering me the job. That, in turn, got me access to people and conventions that I could never have gotten on my own. Which has laid the foundation for future books.

I’ve also found that personal introductions have been a lot more successful for me than “cold calls.” Anytime someone says, “Would you like me to introduce you to my friend ______ who works at ________?” my answer is yes.

Publishing veteran and blogger Jane Friedman: You have to carefully research the market for your novel, then prepare a query you send to agents or publishers. Sometimes they do want a synopsis. I describe this process more fully here.

A traditional publisher doesn’t ask you to making a financial investment; they pay you.

Lulu VP of marketing Dan Dillon: The first part of the answer is to sell more books. A traditional publisher is looking for a sure bet -- or a strong bet, at least. The more books you’ve sold, the more likely you’ll get a traditional publisher to sit up and pay attention. The second part of the answer is a question: Why go traditional? Your earnings potential is much greater with self-publishing. Have a look at the Value of a Book Infographic that shows you how much money you can make if you publish on your own vs. going the traditional route.

Have a Question for Our Indie Experts?

To ask us a question, simply find BookLife on Twitter or Facebook, let us know what you need to know, and tag your question #indieexperts. Every week, our editors will select the best questions and our panelists' answers will be posted on BookLife. And, if social media isn't your thing, feel free to email questions to

Some questions and answers have been edited or condensed.