Tod Davies, the publisher at Exterminating Angel Press, has been kind enough to answer all my questions about the nitty gritty of the publishing business. These questions cover the basic elements and helped my find out what it was that I needed to research and become familiar with if I wanted to be a publisher. Unfortunately, some of the best advice she gave me was off the official interview, so I guess I get to keep that wisdom to myself for now.
What business licensing is needed for owning and operating a small press? Is it just the tax registration certificate that is needed or are there specific licenses for printers and publishers?
You don’t need any specific license to be a publisher. But it is a good idea to set up a small biz company as an LLC. Not too expensive to do in Oregon; you can do it yourself, but probably the best thing to do is find a lawyer who’ll do it for you. I can recommend a couple, but you can also just ask around and get quotes. Just tell them specifically what you want (to set up an LLC which will act as a publisher), and ask how much they would charge. They’re used to answering questions like that.
What insurance is necessary for a business?
If it’s just you, no particular insurance. After all, you’re not going to sue yourself!
Specifically, I’m curious about commercial property insurance to protect warehoused books, shipped books, and books in production. Does the distributor offer temporary insurance when warehousing (similar to how you can buy shipping insurance)?
Yes, it is usually part of the contract with the distributor to insure the books from damage or loss when they are warehoused.
Where do you register a business name and request business licenses?
See above answer. You can also google the state of Oregon, and get walked through all this on its website about setting up an LLC.
What is the minimum number of staff you have needed to be successful? What positions did these staff hold?
You might want to do it the way I did…start by doing everything you can by yourself, and bit by bit understand what you want/need to outsource and how much you’re willing to pay for it. You will definitely need an accountant you have a good relationship with and can talk to. You want to stay away from having payroll. It’s not necessary, and you want to be able to expand and contract based on what your sales are. they’ll go up and down.
Do you recommend a specific bank for business accounts?
People’s Bank in Ashland is absolutely the best. Ask for Shannon and tell her I sent you in. Again, what you want are personal relationships with people who actually know you and have some understanding of what you’re doing. Shannon recognizes my voice on the phone; I can do business with her and People’s from anywhere.
How is accounting handled? What do the accountant’s responsibilities include?
Have a chat with an accountant about this. And the responsibilities are whatever you assign them. Some people do their own bookkeeping and have the accountant do the royalty payments. Some people have the accountant do everything. Some people themselves do everything (something I do not recommend; it’s a specialist job and you need your time for something else). My own accountant does all my bookkeeping–I collect my receipts, bills, and bank statements in an envelope; when it’s full enough I hand it over and she records all the info. She does all my royalty statements, which I could never do on my own–too time consuming, And she and another accountant do my taxes. I recommend you talk to her after tax season is over and she has some time; so far as I know she’s the only accountant in Ashland who has learned to make a specialty of small publisher accounts.
How do you pay your staff and service workers? (My business experience hasn’t involved hiring and paying individuals.)
What you want to do is hire everyone as independent contractors on an at need basis. This means no salaries, no payroll. They invoice you and you pay the invoice. The only person I have on retainer is a publicist, but she bills me each month as an independent contractor, ten hours per month. This means the employees are responsible for their own taxes and benefits. This is really the only way for you to operate without being swamped by financial/bookkeeping responsibilities which are going to be beyond your capacity to deal with.
I have a basic idea of who is included in the management team; would this be an accurate list of people the publisher works with and holds at an “at need basis”? Publisher (you), laywer, accountant, distributor, publicist, freelance editors and proofreaders, webdesigners, writers, designers, and illustrators.
And typesetter, which is the person who does all the InDesign work and works with the designer to make the cover.
How do you manage author royalties? What does a typical publication agreement for books include? (If possible, I would appreciate seeing an agreement as an example).
I’ll attach a copy of one of our contracts. Also a couple of the contracts that I used in making this one, so you can see what others do, too. But I recommend a good accountant as one of your big expenses to deal with the royalties. You can do it yourself, but I personally would rather hit myself over the head over and over with a hammer.
How do you work with a printing company? How should a new company proceed with making copies (i.e. it is better to do print on demand or print a set amount?)?
This is something we need to talk about in more depth. it depends on what your needs are, what your print runs are going to be, what your goals are for a book can’t be answered simply.
What printing company would you recommend and why?
I work now with a company called Malloy in Wisconsin. I’ve only done one job with them–I was with RRDonnelley before–but they exceeded expectation on that one job, and I’m going to stick with them. They have excellent communication skills, and sales reps who deal very effectively with any questions a small publisher might have.
But you also, given what you want to do, might want to look into printing costs in China. For color/picture books I’ve heard it’s much cheaper. However, you have to figure in very long shipping times, since the books come over in ships.
What responsibilities does a distributor have? Where does a person locate a distributor?
When you have a business plan, I’ll introduce you to my distributor. Consortium Books — go have a look at their website at www.cbsd.com. What is excellent about Consortium is that their hearts are all with the small publisher who has a passion for a particular kind of book and knows who they are. They have a sales force that actually physically visits the bookstores and sells the books to them. They give you advice about how to proceed; they’re a mine of info. I’ll explain more about them as we go along.
Does your publicist do all of the marketing? And do you develop your own marketing plans for each book?
The publicist does whatever you want. For me, the publicist makes my marketing plan and I do all the marketing. But we decide together what kind of marketing is best for each book.
Do you warehouse book copies? Where do you warehouse? How long were you in business before you needed to warehouse?
Consortium warehouses my books, and deals with all the issues involved. For the first two years as a new publisher, this service is free; once you get on your feet they start charging.
Should I wait until I have a complete business plan before taking any steps towards start up?
BONUS QUESTIONS Are there any other areas of initiating a small press that I might be unaware of? About a million and a half, but if you just take them one by one you’ll be fine. Do you recommend any books on publishing, entrepreneurship, or small business that helped you begin your business? The best two were Thomas Woll, Publishing for Profit, and Dan Poynter, Self-Publishing Manual. Also very helpful were two collections of interviews with Pacific North West small publishers. I’m happy to loan those to you if you’d like. Let me know and I’ll bring them along when we meet. I do need them back, though. What are your personal favorite books of all time? Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. Isak Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and about a hundred more, no time to mention! Tod Davies
Exterminating Angel Press
“Creative Solutions for Practical Idealists”
Are there any other areas of initiating a small press that I might be unaware of?
About a million and a half, but if you just take them one by one you’ll be fine.
Do you recommend any books on publishing, entrepreneurship, or small business that helped you begin your business?
The best two were Thomas Woll, Publishing for Profit, and Dan Poynter, Self-Publishing Manual. Also very helpful were two collections of interviews with Pacific North West small publishers. I’m happy to loan those to you if you’d like. Let me know and I’ll bring them along when we meet. I do need them back, though.
What are your personal favorite books of all time?
Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. Isak Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and about a hundred more, no time to mention!