Seven Steps To Your Own Self-Publishing Imprint

What do Broad Reach Publishing and Waterhouse Press have in common? Both are self-publishing imprints owned by authors Hugh Howey and Meredith Wild respectively. While these authors could have used their names as publishers of their books, they decided instead to use imprints.

Like Hugh Howey and Meredith Wild, any author on the road to self-publication will have to decide whether to self-publish under their name, a service like CreateSpace, or an author’s own self-publishing imprint. What then is a self-publishing imprint and why is it important to consider creating one?

A publishing imprint is the trade name by which a publishing company releases its books. Some self-published authors use their name as the publisher to underscore their indie author status. Others prefer to use an imprint owned and created by them to add credibility and weight in the marketplace. While either route is a viable road to publication, publishing under your own imprint can make good business sense.


Because a publishing imprint helps to create a public record separate from the author. Some might suggest such a separation is deceitful. But like any small business, an imprint is about creating a distinction between you the author and you the business when it comes to both the public and the IRS. An imprint adds an extra layer of professionalism and suggests the author sees their writing as a business, not a hobby, especially in a marketplace with a continued bias (although not as prevalent as a decade ago) against self-published books. An imprint makes tax accounting much easier by separating income and expenses attributed to your business from your personal tax return. And who knows, maybe you will expand that imprint to help others self-publish their books via your publishing company.

If at some point you decide to publish traditionally, you can still retain your imprint for other projects, or use the imprint solely for certain distribution channels. For example, an author could publish their e-books through their own imprint, and distribute the print editions with a traditional publisher (like Hugh Howey did with Simon & Schuster for his post-apocalyptic thriller Wool).

If creating a self-publishing imprint is the direction you want to take, here are seven steps for creating your own imprint.

1. Choose an imprint name

Selecting the imprint name for your publishing endeavors is the fun part. Start by reviewing imprint names in the publishing field to jump-start your process. Be creative. Be unique. Think of names that are meaningful to you. Avoid names that are close to or sound like existing imprints, because you might find yourself the defendant in a trademark infringement suit. Remember, your imprint represents your business and you as an author.

2. Research your imprint name

Once you have a few options for imprint names, research each to determine if the name is being used by another publishing-related business, or a business in your state, county, or city. Start with an Internet search and then get more specific, such as:

• Search internet domain databases to determine if the URL for your imprint name has been taken;

• Search your county and state databases, as well as neighboring counties too, for registered Fictitious Business Names (FBN, or DBAs, “doing business as” depending on your state) to determine if the imprint name is already registered;

• Search corporate and LLC registries with your Secretary of State for your imprint name;

• Search the Federal Trademark databases which can be done for free (or if you want a more extensive search of all the state trademark databases, hire a trademark attorney but be aware that such searches may be expensive, $500 or more); and

• Search distributors like Amazon to see if the imprint name is in use (publisher/imprint names are listed on distributors’ search engines).

3. Register the imprint name

Once you have settled on the imprint name, the next step is registration. To do this, file a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) or Doing Business As (DBA) certificate in your county. There is a fee to register, but most fees are relatively low. And the online process is easy and painless.

Check the state and county websites to find where to record your FBN or DBA. Usually, this is through the Secretary of State or some other similar state agency. If you do not have the time or energy to file yourself, you can hire a lawyer or your accountant to coordinate this process. Most states require you to provide public notice of your FBN by publishing it in a local newspaper for a specified period of time. Make sure you find out when your FBN must be renewed.

4. Federal employee identification number (EIN)

You obtain an EIN for your imprint from the IRS (gotta love all these acronyms). Check the IRS website for the forms. There is no filing fee (shocking, I know).

An EIN’s purpose is privacy, security, and tax reporting. Basically, this is a Social Security Number assigned to your business and functions as your tax ID number in all business transactions — like with Amazon. Using the EIN prevents you from having to use your social security number.

5. Obtain a business license

Most cities or counties require businesses to obtain a business license and pay taxes. Check your local government websites for those requirements and forms.

6. Set up bank accounts and credit card transactions

Banks require that your imprint name on your bank account be registered with your state and have an EIN. Thankfully, if you are following this list in order, you have both ready to go. Having a bank account in the imprint name helps you keep track of your self-publishing business expenses and income, and separates those from your personal tax return.

If you intend to sell books yourself from your website or elsewhere, you will need to accommodate credit card transactions. If you are processing sales through services like PayPal, you can link your imprint bank account to your PayPal account to make reporting easier.

7. Sales tax permit

If you sell your books yourself, you are required in almost every state to collect a sales tax (unless the state does not charge sales tax on the sale of goods). This tax is added to the sale of the book and can be paid by you or collected from the buyer.  Eventually, the tax is delivered to the tax authorities of that state (some states require payments quarterly, others annually). In order to collect a sales tax, you must have a sales tax permit. Depending on the state, it can be called a sales permit, sales tax ID, or sales tax permit. Don’t confuse that with reseller’s certificate, reseller’s license, or resale license. This type of license allows you to purchase items in bulk from suppliers and not have to pay sales taxes on your purchase

Check online for the state government forms. In California, you would file with the State Board of Equalization. Use your imprint name and your EIN when filling out the forms. This will make accounting much easier for tax purposes.

Once you finish the steps above, you are ready to roll as an imprint. Congratulations!  Here are three additional things you might want to consider.

1. Create a design logo

This is not a requirement for your own imprint, but it is one more step toward looking like a professional publisher. When you are competing with a slew of other books in your genre, the more professional, the better. You can pay a graphic artist or use graphic software like Canva , free, or EDIT. Like with the imprint name, give the logo some thought. Do you want a clean style, something basic, or something representative of your genre?  Branding is important, so do not take your logo lightly.

2. Create a website

Another branding point, but not a requirement for setting up an imprint, is a website. An online presence looks professional. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even a website with a generic landing page can help in the “looking professional” department.

If you decide not to set up an imprint website, still purchase your imprint domain name. You may not need it now, but you will eventually for marketing reasons, like connecting on social media and emailing through your business name. It also will prevent poachers from buying the domain and then charging you huge fees to buy it once you decide you want it. Check out this article for more info on why you might want to buy your domain.

3. Trademark protection

While obtaining a trademark for your imprint name (and logo if you have it) is also not a requirement for forming an imprint, you might want to consider it. Your imprint name identifies your book in commerce as being sold by the imprint. While you still have the advantage of common-law trademarks as soon as you offer your book for sale under the imprint name, federal trademarks have other advantages.  A trademark gives your imprint the exclusive rights in the US to use your imprint mark to sell your books. This means you can stop infringers from using your imprint name and logo, and the ability to collect better damages.

Two items of caution:  obtaining a trademark is not cheap (over $1000 easily, not including renewal fees) and litigation can be expensive (especially when a cease-and-desist letter does not do the trick).  So ask yourself if the financial expense is worth the gain.  Most authors do not trademark their imprints for just these reasons.

What is your decision — create a self-publishing imprint or use your name as the publisher of your book?

Photo Credit: Carol Vanhook | VisualHunt

Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.  You can read our full legal disclaimer here.

7 thoughts on “Seven Steps To Your Own Self-Publishing Imprint”

  1. Ok, so, what are some printing and distribution options beyond the obvious route of createspace, lulu, and bookbaby, etc? I know Lightning Source has no love for indie publishers and Ingram has a division which is essentially an elaborate and costly createspace. What sort of printing and distribution options are available that allow for eliminating these giant corporate entities?

    1. Richard — If you’re opposed to using POD services like CreateSpace and Ingram, you might investigate companies like Virtual Bookworm, Matador, Thomson-Shore, Hillcrest, Wingspan, and Booklocker. I would spend time validating the services these companies offer and determine which one best meets your needs. So do a comparison based on things like price/book, royalties, discounts, returns, set up fees, yearly fees, distribution options, hardcover, paperback, manuscript screening, other publishing services etc. It’s a lot of work but at least this way you can figure out if the services and packages being sold are actually a good deal and good fit for you and your goals. I’d also look for any hidden agendas, i.e. trying to up-sell you other services with the print service. I’d be inclined to use a POD combo: Ingram (for all markets except Amazon distribution) and CreateSpace (for Amazon only distribution which is probably where the majority of the sales occur for most indie authors). A combo allows you to take advantage of the strengths of these companies, and avoid the weaknesses if you were to just use one solely for all your POD needs. Plus I think you’ll find these two cheaper in the long run and plugged into the larger distribution channels where authors will sell books but again, evaluate and decide what’s best for you.

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