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Independent Publisher

Independent publishing requires a love for books. You also need to realize that it isn't a get-rich-quick scheme.

"Independent publisher" is a broad term. It includes any publishing companies that are not publicly traded. These can range from one-person operations to relatively large companies.

Running your own publishing company requires a love of books and a great deal of business savvy. Independent publishers rely on their knowledge of computer programs, editing, marketing, sales, accounting, graphic design, production and language.

An independent publishing company can be one person working from his or her home, publishing one to three books each year. Or it can be a company with a large number of paid staff.

The only equipment you need to get started is a computer with desktop publishing software.

If you're able to work on your own and focus on the task at hand, a career in independent publishing may be right for you. The market for books is very wide-ranging, so independent publishers must select a narrow focus.

It's also a good idea to have several years of experience in the publishing industry first. That will help you develop a network of contacts and learn how the business works. Related jobs, such as working at a bookstore or at book fairs, are often a great step into the publishing industry.

The costs of starting up an independent publishing company depend on the size of the operation. Helen Cherullo works for a medium-sized publishing company. "It depends on how ambitious the proposition is," she says.

"Costs associated with acquiring authors, taking photos, or [creating cover art] are always there. If you hire people to do these, it is a fairly expensive thing."

Diana Gault is co-owner of a small publishing company. "To be a credible publishing house, and to belong to the associations, you need to plan on publishing [at least] three books per year," she says.

"This would take two people full time, plus a distributor. Costs would average out to be around $10,000 for 3,000 to 4,000 copies of each title published."

Kathleen Tudor owns a small company that publishes fiction and poetry. She learned the publishing business the hard way. She didn't even know what an invoice was when she started her company, and has since hired a professional bookkeeper for eight hours a week.

Tudor doesn't pay herself, but holds equity in her company instead. She runs her business out of her home, so her overhead costs are very small.

Tudor started her business in 1989, a year before she retired from being a university English professor. Her teaching experience laid the groundwork for her career in publishing. "It was certainly my [ties] with creative writing that gave me the connections in the community that made publishing realistic," she says.

Gault and her partner, John, are the former owners of a community newspaper. So they had experience working to deadline and running a business. Their company publishes non-fiction, and they specialize in West Coast history books and child survival manuals.

"Do your homework first," says Gault. "Don't go into [independent publishing] cold."

She says that the only reason she and John were able to learn the business was that they had been self-employed most of their lives. She further advises people to take publishing courses.

The Publishing Institute at the University of Denver offers a four-week graduate-level course about all aspects of book publishing.

The department of English at Pace University in New York City has a combined bachelor's or master's of English and publishing. These programs are for students with an interest in the English language who intend to pursue a career in publishing.

Cherullo is not self-employed, but her company is an example of larger independent publishing firms. It was started by a group of volunteers in 1964 in response to the Mountaineer's Club's need for a book on mountain-climbing techniques.

In 1980, the club hired a professional staff to run the nonprofit publishing operation. The business plan grew over time in response to the membership's growing needs.

Cherullo has advice for young publishers. "You need to have a love and appreciation for books. You have to be very optimistic, flexible and in tune with whatever [is] your core market."

She also says that you need a good understanding of all of the aspects of publishing -- even if you can afford to hire a staff to do some of this work.

"You need to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. You have to be honest with yourself, as you're only as strong as your weakest link. If you don't have a finance background, you need to hire someone to help you. You need to carefully examine what you can bring to the process and capitalize on that," she says.

For Cherullo, the benefits of book publishing are many. "You are basically doing something that has a significant contribution to the world of literature. For example, whenever you read an obituary of a person -- even if it's just a two-sentence description -- if they have written a book, it is usually mentioned. That's because writing a book is such an important contribution."


A Unique New Voice for Writers
An article from

Association of American Publishers
Lots of statistical information is available here

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