Category Archives: Legal Issues

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Starting Your Own Publishing Company

One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is that you don’t have to publish under a vanity press name or any other publishing service name. You can publish under your own company’s name. For some indie writers it’s not that big a deal and that’s okay. However, for people like me who have been entrenched in the sales side of the industry (almost two decades for me) it’s a sign of professionalism. The second booksellers see a vanity press or publishing service name we automatically regard the book as amateurish. (A small press that we’ve never heard of will always be in higher esteem than a vanity press.) Having your own house name is one of those little details that can make stores take you more seriously.

I usually don’t include disclaimer in my posts but in this particular instance I feel it’s necessary because I am not a lawyer or a business consultant. Besides, this isn’t a how to start your own company post. There are great posts from independent business organizations that explain it better than I can. I’m just sharing my own experience from starting my own publishing company. There are a lot of things that took me by surprise that I wish I’d been better prepared for.

Here’s a list of things that I learned along the way that might help ease the way for you:

  1. Take the time to check local and national databases of registered business names. There’s nothing more embarrassing then picking a name that’s already taken. Yes, it’s extremely tedious and the print on the website is tiny. You still need to do it. Once you’re sure your name is unique register it in your state right away to stake your claim. Registering it nationally is a good idea too. Yes, there’s a registration fee (one for state and another for national) so be prepared for that.
  2. When deciding whether to register your company as a DBA (doing business as)/ sole proprietorship or to go ahead and file as a LLC don’t think you’re selling yourself short by wanting to do the former. If you feel a DBA is right for your business at this point in time, that’s fine. If circumstances change later and you need the extra legal protection a LLC provides you can upgrade your business.
  3. Decide now if you want to take on authors other than yourself (along with the expense and bookkeeping that goes with it). It doesn’t matter if you have a website or not. The second an aspiring author, or the mother of an aspiring author, finds out you’re a publisher you will get asked that question. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be asked, it really is a matter of when. Knowing the answer ahead of time will help you maintain a certain level of professionalism.
  4. Know how copyright works as well as how and when to file for it. You’re the publisher so there won’t be anyone to do it for you. It’s a good idea for authors to know how that works regardless but it’s doubly important when you have your own publishing company.
  5. Speaking of you having to do everything, you’re also financing everything so it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out a budget or even write a full financial plan for your start up — not just for the company but for the first title you’ll publish too. How much will it cost to: register your business, get a website, buy ISBNs and barcodes, get cover art, hire an editor to go over the manuscript, purchase publishing software, etc. If you need a few more months to save up day job income to buy ISBN numbers then maybe you should push out that publication date to give you the time you need. It’s also a good idea to figure in a buffer for unexpected last minute expenses.
  6. Terms of service and other user agreements are the bane of modern existence. That being said you really do need to read every item and subheading so you understand what the sites you’re selling your book(s) on expect of you. If they say that they’ll close your account and take down your titles if you break the agreement, they mean it. With that in mind I recommend giving yourself twice as much time to read them then you think you’ll need because trust me, you’re going to want to take a break on some of them. I also recommend that you don’t do more than one a day. They kinda blend together if you try to do all of them in quick succession.
  7. Keep receipts for everything! All of the expenses for the start up as well as the publishing costs are tax deductible.
  8. Don’t forget that you’re still a writer. The business side can easily take over your life. Make sure you’re still spending time writing the next release. With that in mind, my last bit of advice is…
  9. Be realistic. Don’t be afraid to farm out some less desirable tasks to someone else. I’m not saying that you have to take on an employee but you can take advantage of certain services that online retailers provide. I don’t have the storage space let alone the time and energy to fulfill book orders or process returns myself. But for a small percentage of the profits one of retailers I sell through will do that for me. I also have an accountant to handle my taxes. Being free of the headache and hassle so I have more time to write makes it a worthwhile expense.

Brick Cave Media, the Challenge and Fun of a Small Press

A guest post by Robert Nelson

Brick Cave Media is a small publisher based in Mesa, AZ. One does not normally think of Mesa Arizona being hub for small publishing, but Brick Cave Media traces it’s roots back 23 years to the arrival of founder Bob Nelson and the start of a literary magazine called Anthology.

Today, Brick Cave Media represents 9 different authors across 2 states, with over 50 titles in publication.

While we function mostly as a publisher in the traditional sense, we benefit from having a small, agile team that can change direction quickly as needed. We have a passionate staff of 4 that wears all the hats of a full business, and a halo of editors, artists and others that support the Press’ efforts.

As a small press, our authors interact with each other, which we encourage, because we want them to be a source of encouragement and to share the opportunities that an indie author may not have alone. As a Press, we work to offer opportunities of scale, representation at events that indies may find daunting or financially challenging on their own and access to distribution opportunities that we can focus on while the author can continue to focus on writing.

A small press, the RIGHT small Press, can be a great vehicle for an author. We at Brick Cave tell every prospective author that there is nothing we do that you cannot do yourself, if you choose in invest the time and resources. That is not playing down us or any other small press, that’s an acknowledgement of the realities of what the last 25 years have done for the industry. Choose a small press based on what you want them to do for you, not for what you think you cannot do.

Brick Cave became a publisher through an interesting story. The business itself was founded in 2006 as a spoken word audio label, producing spoken word albums, and taking advantage of the MP3 revolution that occurred at the turn of the century. In 2008, the business added film company to it’s roster, as the company produced the feature film Sacrifice (available on Amazon).

In 2009, Author J.A. Giunta approached Brick Cave CEO Bob Nelson about publishing his fantasy novels. The two had worked together previously on Anthology literary magazine in 1994-1996. Because the Amazon Kindle platform had just debuted and there was a curiosity about how they could leverage the platform, Nelson agreed to publish Giunta and a deal was struck. In 2010, the Press added Sharon Skinner, and in 2011, started printing paperback editions of their books. In 2010, Brick Cave started making public appearances at local conventions (originally to promote Sacrifice, but eventually the books took over) and from there the business grew. In 2016, book sales accounted for 85% of Brick Cave’s annual revenue, and Brick Cave makes 12-15 appearances each year promoting new titles.

Originally, Brick Cave, because of it’s connections to the poetry non profit Anthology, was heavily poetry focused. To this day, Brick Cave maintains a strong roster of poets and release 1-2 titles a year. With the addition of J.A. Giunta and later Sharon Skinner and others, the Press expanded to include traditional fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

The future is bright for us. We have worked hard to, in a sense, grow up a little as a business, and put ourselves in a position to handle more books, and more authors. We are looking for smart, determined and creative authors that want to be a part of a larger story. We are working to build brand, so we are recognized well beyond our traditional borders. We are looking to get our titles in more places, our authors in more signings, and increase our profile.

As an author, if you are looking to use a small press, start with and examination of yourself, and make an honest list of the things you would like to keep control of and the things you would be willing to let someone else handle for you. Then profile the small presses that match you and your writing style, talk to strength in areas you want them to handle, and look like they would meet your expectations. Buy a book from them and read it. Reach out to them and ask for submission advice. Follow their guidelines. Be the model submitter that they can point out to others.

Also, understand that the majority of small presses are generally overworked, organizationally stressed, and financially limited. Keep your expectations in line with reality. If you start the relationship right, by researching and finding the best match for your style and your work, a small press can be a very powerful partner in a writer’s career.

Learn more about Brick Cave at https://brickcavemedia.com

A Small Press With Big Accomplishments

When I prepared to submit my debut novel Sleeper Protocol for publication, I decided that I would look into small presses as well as larger more traditional ones. As I prepared my list of potential “candidates” a good friend and co-author of mine mentioned a publisher I’d never heard of before: Red Adept Publishing. I added them to the list of potential publishers that I would research. As soon as I looked closer, I realized that Red Adept would move to the top of the list.

At that time, in 2014, I discovered that Red Adept Publishing had already published a New York Times Bestselling novel. That was a huge plus for them on my scoresheet. I also discovered they were located in North Carolina and being from Tennessee, this was another plus. Not too shabby. When I checked the normal sources (Preditors and Editors, Author Beware), I found nothing negative to speak of and so when the time came, I sent them Sleeper Protocol and kept my fingers crossed.

One October afternoon, I had some scheduled writing time before I was to pick up our youngest child from daycare. I walked out of Starbucks, got into the car, and my phone rang with a North Carolina area code. I picked it up and so began my first conversation with Red Adept Publishing. Lynn McNamee and her amazing team go much farther above and beyond than most small presses I know. Not only was I told that Sleeper Protocol would get a copy edit and a line edit, a spectacular cover, and marketing assistance, I found myself folded into a group of authors across many genres (fantasy, romance, thriller, paranormal, science fiction) who support each other and really are one big, happy family. I could not have been happier to have signed a contract with them.

It’s fair to say now, though, that Red Adept was not the first small press I submitted to, nor was my contract on Sleeper Protocol the first small press contract I received. The first publisher has since gone out of business and their contract, which they touted as “negotiable,” was a learning experience in and of itself. When I look back and compare that publisher and Red Adept Publishing? Yeah, there’s no comparison at all. Why? Red Adept’s contract is very friendly to authors and the quality of work they’ve produced over the last several years stands for itself.

Since I signed with Red Adept, the publisher has seen another author hit the New York Times list and two authors hit the USA Today Bestsellers List. Those are tremendous accomplishments for any press, not just a small press. What sets them apart is very simple: they are the most professional, enthusiastic, and supportive team of authors and editors that I know and I’m thrilled to be a part of them going forward.

Just the other day, I received an email from my line editor that it was time for Vendetta Protocol to start its final march to publication. We already have an amazing cover and I was fortunate enough to have the same editing team from Sleeper Protocol sign on for the sequel. I’m looking forward to publishing more with Red Adept Publishing in the future. They certainly have changed my life. I’m very glad that I decided to go with a small publisher, but it matters most that I went with one of the right ones. They’re out there.