A self-publishing imprint is simply the publisher name under which a self-publishing author publishes his or her books. The most common use of this name, and arguably most important, is when a self-publisher buys an ISBN. In the US, this is done through Bowker’s MyIdentifiers.com, or one of their authorized resellers such as CreateSpace or IngramSpark.
Note: other countries may have different rules or guidelines regarding the publisher name used to buy ISBNs, not to mention doing business using that name. I am not an attorney and you should consult one familiar with publishing law if you have questions in this regard. Start here to find out how to get ISBNs for non-US publishers.
Here are 7 FAQs about setting up and using a self-publishing imprint, including how to research a name.
1. Do I need to establish a formal company, and/or open bank accounts?
You do not need a formal entity, such as an LLC or corporation, to buy an ISBN. You also don’t have to provide any proof to Amazon that you are associated with the publisher name you enter in KDP, for example.
However, keep in mind these two points:
- If you plan to “do business as” this name (DBA), you’ll likely need to register the name. In California, we must file a fictitious name filing with the County where we are doing business, pay a fee, and advertise the name for several weeks. Only then can you use that name to do business, such as opening a bank account. Consult a local attorney if you aren’t sure how this applies to you.
- Be careful with the name you choose. Some names may already be in use, which could cause confusion in the marketplace not to mention subject you to legal action.
To this last point, your use of most if not all online stores is subject to that store’s “Terms of Service.” You know, that checkbox you need to checkoff when you sign-up, but never bother to read. 🙂 These Terms of Service will have a clause called something like Representations, Warranties and Indemnities.
Basically, you are agreeing that the content of your book, and the information you enter (like publisher name), doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights, among other representations. If they are violated, you agree to pay any losses, claims, damages, etc., …and attorney fees. Read each store’s Terms of Service for details.
2. Do I have to choose a name? Why is this important?
You do not have to invent a name. In fact, you could use your own name, an existing business name, or simply add press or publishing after an existing name. This is a personal branding decision on your part. The primary reason I advocate using a name other than your author name is for public relations reasons. There is still a stigma associated with being a self-publisher so using a name that has no relevance to your own won’t invite closer scrutiny.
Are you breaking some ethical or moral code when you choose a name for your imprint? No! Not any more than your plumber, dentist, or piano teacher does if they choose a doing business as name. Hogwash! is what attorney Helen Sedwick, author of the Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, says about self-publishers using an imprint name.
3. When in the self-publishing process do I need to choose a name?
4. Can I have more than 1 self-publishing imprint name?
There is nothing stopping you from having more than one name. The last time I checked, Penguin Random House had 250 imprint names! But we aren’t PRH and as a self-publisher I’d be careful about spreading myself too thin.
As I said in FAQ 2, it’s a personal branding decision. If your plan is to write books for preschoolers, as well as erotica, then yes, choose a second imprint name to keep those two brands separate. (Obviously you might want to do more than that!)
5. Can I change the name once I have published a book?
6. Who sees the name of my self-publishing imprint; where is it used?
This is a great question and it pays to know the answer. Here are the 5 most common places it will appear, or be used:
- ISBN record. The imprint name is required when you buy the number(s), it is not added later. Once assigned to a book, the name and associated ISBN becomes part of the industry’s book directory, Books In Print®.
- Copyright filing. The copyright office asks for the name of the publisher.
- Library of Congress filing. Self-publishers can get an LCCN, a Library of Congress Catalog Number, but you need to be a US publisher and own your ISBN. (You do not own a free CreateSpace ISBN, Amazon does, so the book is ineligible for an LCCN. See resources below.)
- Distribution account setups. If you are doing business as your imprint name, you’ll need that information to setup your accounts, which also require tax and banking information.
- Book sales page. The imprint name shows in the details section for your book’s listing. This is entered when you list your book for sale in a store.
A possible 6th use of your imprint’s name is for a website. Some authors go so far as to create a separate website in the name of the imprint. Whether this makes sense for a one-book author is up to you. I’ve writing an article on the topic of author, book, and imprint websites; it’s here on AuthorImprints.com.
Note: if you plan to use an aggregator to distribute your eBook, they will likely require an ISBN. If you use their ISBN, they will show as the publisher. See my eBook Distribution Round-up for details.
7. How do I choose a name?
I recommend you search in multiple locations to see if a name is in use.
- Amazon: Did you know the publisher name is searchable on Amazon? Type in the names you are considering, and then check the product details section to see if the publisher name matches. You may need to wade through book titles that share the name you are looking for.
- GoDaddy.com: I think a domain name is important so I check here early in the process.
- The county where you live: This is especially important if you plan to do business as this name.
- Your secretary of state: Each state has one or more databases of business names.
- Federal trademark office: You may have no plans to file for a trademark, but avoiding a trademarked name will keep you out of hot water! Check it out here.
- Google search: Everyone’s go-to choice for search. (This post about using Google search to find authors similar to us has tips about using Google search.)
- Hire an attorney: Perhaps the last resort if your budget is tight, and your tolerance for risk is high, but attorneys have expertise and access to resources us publishers don’t have.
For a more thorough explanation of how to research a name, see the article How to Research a Name for Your Self-Publishing Imprint on AuthorImprints.com.