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How to Start a Publishing Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Publishing Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$4,150 - $18,300

Revenue potential

$60,000 - $600,000 p.a.

Time to build

3-6 months

Profit potential

$9,000 - $90,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Stable

Commitment

Full-time

Whether you’re a writer or just an avid reader, publishing could offer you an opportunity to share writers’ inspiring creations with passionate readers. What could be more rewarding? Though tastes may have shifted away from physical books toward audio and ebooks, demand for good writing remains high and publishing is doing well.

Challenges exist, however, in starting a publishing business, as with any business. The key to success is to gain an understanding of the steps involved, the challenges you may face, and the potential rewards, as detailed in this step-by-step guide.

Let’s begin your entrepreneurial journey!

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a publishing business has pros and cons that you should consider carefully before determining if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Rewarding – Boost writers and provide great books to readers
  • Creative Control – You choose which writers and works to publish
  • Profit Opportunity – Industry has sizable margins

Cons

  • Competition – Publishing is highly competitive, hard to stand out
  • Finding New Voices – Many author submissions to go through to find a gem

Publishing industry trends

Print publishing has declined somewhat in recent years, but the educational and scholarly segment of the market is growing. 

Industry size and growth

publishing industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends in the publishing industry include:

  • Faster internet speed and improved accessibility are driving demand for ebooks and audiobooks
  • Children’s books are the most popular genre in publishing as a whole

Challenges in the publishing industry include:

  • Online piracy is denting sales as ebooks are illegally shared
  • High level of competition
publishing industry Trends and Challenges

What kind of people work in publishing?

publishing industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a publishing business?

Startup costs for a publishing company range from $4,000 to $20,000 or more. The high-end range includes the first printing run of your first book. By focusing on digital publishing you can keep costs toward the lower end of the range.

Startup CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$200 - $300$250
Insurance $100 - $500$300
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup $1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Initial marketing budget$1,000 - $5,000$3,000
Edit and design of first book$1,500 - $3,000$2,250
Print of first book$0 - $6,000$3,000
Total$4,150 - $18,300$11,225

How much can you earn from a publishing business?

The average profit margin in publishing is about 15% which reflects a mix of print and digital publishing.

As a solopreneur, you could work from home and sell 5,000 $12 books in a year, bringing in $60,000 in revenue and $9,000 in profit, assuming that 15% margin. As your brand gains recognition, sales might climb to 50,000 books a year, giving you an annual revenue of $600,000 and a tidy profit of about $90,000.

publishing business earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a publishing company. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Finding authors – Agents can help, but this requires a lot of reading
  • Marketing – Building a brand means spending on marketing

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a publishing business, it’s a good idea to hone your idea in preparation to enter a competitive market.

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Look at what types of books are trending with readers by reviewing the bestseller lists. Are thrillers hot? Or maybe it’s romances and memoirs. Your challenge will then be to find strong submissions from authors in trending genres. As a new publisher, you’ll be looking for new authors who are just getting started.

What? Determine your products or services

You’ll have to determine two things: how to best help your authors and what books to offer customers. For authors, you may want to focus on editing, design, and marketing to stand out over another publisher.

Next, consider whether you’ll offer print books or digital, or a mix of both.

How much should you charge for books?

The average cost of a printed book is $14 to $18, while ebooks generally run $3 to $10. Generally, prices depend on the popularity of the author, so your new author’s books will probably be on the lower end of the range. 

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Determine your most likely audience. If you’re publishing in the young adult market with books that target young women, for example, you can probably find them on social media sites like Instagram and TikTok.

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you may want to operate your business from home to keep expenses low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
publishing business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Publishing Company Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
  • The name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “publishing” or “books”, boosts SEO
  • Choose a name that allows for expansion: “Infinite Ink Publishing Group” over “Business Brilliance Publishing Group” or “Travel Tales Publishers”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Publishing Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Provide an overview of your publishing business, highlighting its purpose, target market, and how it will stand out in the publishing industry.
  • Business Overview: Explain the focus of your publishing company, including genres or types of content you plan to publish.
  • Product and Services: Specify the range of publishing services offered, such as editing, design, distribution, and marketing for authors’ works.
  • Market Analysis: Evaluate the demand for publishing services and identify your primary customer segments, such as authors, educational institutions, or businesses.
  • Competitive Analysis: Analyze other publishers in your niche and define your competitive advantages, like unique distribution channels or specialized services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Describe your strategy to attract authors and sell books, whether through online platforms, book fairs, or direct marketing.
  • Management Team: Present the qualifications and backgrounds of the management team that will drive the company’s success.
  • Operations Plan: Outline the processes from manuscript acquisition to book production and distribution.
  • Financial Plan: Summarize the financial aspects, including the budget, pricing model, and revenue projections.
  • Appendix: Include additional documentation like detailed market studies, author agreements, or sample marketing materials that support your business plan.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to publishing. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your publishing business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

Form Your LLC

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method, but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Venture capital: Offer potential investors an ownership stake in exchange for funds, keeping in mind that you would be sacrificing some control over your business.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best options, other than friends and family, for funding a publishing business. 

types of business funding

Step 8: Apply for Publishing Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a publishing business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your publishing business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.

You can use industry-specific software for publishers like Xpublisher or Quark to help you automate your design and publishing processes.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

Marketing

Starting a publishing business is an exciting venture, and effective marketing is crucial for success. Beyond the basics of creating a website and networking, here are concise and practical strategies to boost your publishing business.

  1. Leverage Social Media Platforms: Engage with your audience on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook by sharing visually appealing content, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and interactive posts that spark discussions around literature.
  2. Collaborate with Influencers: Partner with book influencers and bloggers to review and promote your publications, tapping into their established audiences to increase visibility and credibility.
  3. Host Virtual Book Launches: Organize online events to launch new books, inviting authors, readers, and industry influencers to participate, creating buzz and fostering a sense of community around your brand.
  4. Utilize Email Marketing: Build and nurture a mailing list by offering exclusive content, discounts, and sneak peeks to subscribers, maintaining a direct line of communication with your audience.
  5. Explore Podcast Sponsorships: Identify popular literary podcasts and explore sponsorship opportunities, reaching a targeted audience of book enthusiasts who are likely to be interested in your publications.
  6. Participate in Book Fairs and Festivals: Attend and showcase your books at local and international book fairs, connecting directly with readers and establishing a physical presence in the literary community.
  7. Run Targeted Online Advertising Campaigns: Utilize platforms like Google Ads and social media advertising to target specific demographics interested in your book genres, maximizing your reach and return on investment.
  8. Implement Referral Programs: Encourage your existing readers to refer friends by offering incentives such as discounts or exclusive content, turning satisfied customers into advocates for your brand.
  9. Create Engaging Book Trailers: Produce visually compelling and shareable book trailers to captivate potential readers on platforms like YouTube and social media, providing a dynamic preview of your publications.
  10. Establish Book Clubs: Foster book club partnerships or create your own, providing a platform for readers to discuss and promote your books while building a dedicated community around your brand.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the unique characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they’re able to quickly grasp how your publishing business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your publishing business could be:

  • The premier publisher for new authors
  • The best romances, thrillers, and mystery novels
  • Top non-fiction publisher
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a publishing company, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in publishing for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in publishing. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a publishing business would include:

  • Copy Editor – Proofreading, fact-checking, polishing manuscripts
  • Designer – Cover and illustration design
  • Editor – Review and shape manuscripts for publication
  • Production Manager – Oversees book production process
  • Marketing Lead – SEO optimization, social media strategy

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook. You can also use free classified sites like Jobs and AngelList. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.

Step 13: Run a Publishing Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Giving new authors real opportunity and seeing their work embraced by the reading public can be intensely rewarding. Yet publishing can also be a very profitable line of work. 

If you find just a few authors who become very successful, the sky is the limit. You could also create a long-term affiliate relationship with the world’s leading bookseller — just check out the Amazon Associates program. It’s easy and free.

You’re now ready to start publishing and making good money from good writing. You can start small and grow your company into something huge – maybe the next Simon & Schuster!

Publishing Business FAQs

Is a publishing business profitable?

Yes, you can make a healthy profit from a publishing business if you’re successful. It will take some time and the right authors to get to a good profit level, but it’s an almost $110 billion industry globally so if you can capture even a small part of that, you’ll do just fine.

Are any special licenses needed for a publishing business?

There are no special licenses required for a publishing company on a federal level. You may need business licenses or permits through your state or local governments, so check with those offices for requirements.

How long does it take to start a publishing business?

It will take some time to find authors and get your first books to market. If you market yourself well, you could get started in three to six months.

If I start a publishing business, how do I find good authors?

You can market your new company with your website and through social media. There are thousands of aspiring authors out there who would be thrilled to find a new publisher interested in their work. You could also partner with a literary agency. They get thousands of book submissions and could send some your way.

How do publishing companies make money?

Publishing companies generate revenue through book sales, rights licensing, subsidiary rights, distribution services, and ancillary products. They earn money by selling books in various formats and languages, as well as licensing rights for adaptations, translations, and merchandising. 

Is publishing a hard career?

Whether publishing is a hard career depends on individual factors, but it can be competitive and demanding. It requires strong communication, organizational skills, and the ability to adapt to industry changes. Challenges include finding new authors, meeting deadlines, and navigating market trends.

Which book genre sells the most?

Popular genres include mystery/thriller, romance, science fiction/fantasy, young adult, and non-fiction. However, book sales can be influenced by factors such as popular authors, adaptations, marketing efforts, and cultural trends.

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How to Start a Publishing Business