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Most authors start off self-publishing as a purely creative endeavor, with little expectation around writing more books or earning a great deal. But if you get the bug of writing, you may find yourself with a lot of intellectual property assets that earn you a decent income every month. At that point, you might well be running your own author business!
In today's show, Helen Sedwick talks about how to turn your writing hobby into a business.
In the intro, I mention some of my highlights from London Book Fair (more on that later this week on the blog), which coincided with the launch of the new Amazon Kindle Oasis at the premium end of the ebook device market. Remember also to check out the sessions from the Indie Author Fringe, which presented a 24 hour online summit that you can still access on the Self Publishing Advice site. It includes the recording of the session on Sell more books in more formats in more countries with me, Mark Dawson, Orna Ross and Toby Mundy.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Helen Sedwick is a California attorney with 30 years' experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction, and is well known in the indie author world for The Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook and has also recently co-written How Authors Sell Publishing Rights with Orna Ross (which we recently discussed on the podcast here).
Her latest product is Publishing Business in a Box, which we're talking about today.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- The maturation of the indie author community.
- What an ‘author business' means, and the point at which authors should start thinking about their writing as a business.
- The challenges of the indie author business.
- The two types of record-keeping that author entrepreneurs need to be conscious of, and the software available to support an author business.
- Pen names, publisher names and imprint names, and what name your books should be copyrighted under.
- The ways that an author business can evolve legally and with accounts etc.
- On financing a new author business, including when crowdfunding works.
- The number one problem Helen sees with self-published books.
- Contracts with editors and other freelancers, what authors should look out for, and how to stay out of trouble with contracts.
- Things to watch out for if an author is writing non-fiction about other people.
You can find Helen at www.HelenSedwick.com and also check out her Publishing Business in a Box.
Transcript of Interview with Helen Sedwick
Joanna Penn: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm back with Helen Sedwick. Hi, Helen. How are you?
Helen Sedwick: I'm great, Joanna. How are you?
Joanna Penn: I'm good. Just a little introduction if people don't know Helen. Helen is a California attorney with 30 years' experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction, and is well known in the indie author world for “The Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook”, which I seriously recommend several times a week. She has also recently co-written “How Authors Sell Publishing Rights” with Orna Ross, who was on the podcast a while back.
Now, Helen has released a new course, “Publishing Business in a Box”, which we're going to talk about today. Wow. Helen, you've been seriously busy.
Helen Sedwick: I must watch the “Yes” word. People say, “Do you want to work on something together?” and I go, “Yes.” But I'm very proud of both projects; the one with Orna Ross, which will help authors think beyond the book and think beyond their own boundaries and languages, something you're very pro, and encourage writers to think that now that you've got this book, what more can you do with it? Orna's work, and that project with her, really focuses on all those other opportunities.
And then with Joel Friedlander, I did “Publishing Business in a Box”, which really helps people with the nitty-gritty of setting up your writing and self-publishing, and freelancing as a business with screenshots and forms, and to just make it as less intimidating as possible.
Joanna Penn: Great. We'll get into the details in a minute, but I did want to ask you, because you actually came on the podcast two years ago.
When you put out “The Legal Handbook”, have you seen a kind of maturation in the indie space that has led you into these more detailed courses and books?
Helen Sedwick: Yes, I have. I would say there's still a pipeline, and so there are people still coming into the pipeline at the beginning who are making the same mistakes that we all made a few years ago. There's still a lot to do for you and I, and other people who are out there advising people to help them avoid some of these mistakes, especially the expensive ones.
But there are more and more people who are further down in the pipeline. They are on their third, fourth, fifth book. They've learned some things, they've had some successes. They're starting to think long-term planning, so there are much more sophisticated questions. That's where the book with Orna Ross really comes in. It's, “Okay, I've written my books. I've learned the basics of how to get them into the market. Now, how do I sell more books? What are the legal issues going into different countries and setting up a business?” So, yes, I'm getting a wider range of questions.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. Now, we're going to get into the details around the business side.
Do you need to give any kind of legal disclaimer?
Helen Sedwick: Oh, yes. I am an attorney licensed in California only, so what I'm giving today is general legal information, not advice. It should be a stepping stone for people to help identify when they actually need to get an attorney or an accountant, or some other adviser who will look at their specific situation. All I'm talking about today is very general information, but should be still very helpful to get people started.
Joanna Penn: Oh, absolutely. Okay, so let's get into details.
Most authors just write books and they think about just writing it, but when does that actually transition into a business, and what does “a business” even mean?
Helen Sedwick: Some people come to self-publishing already with a business mindset. They see that this is an opportunity. They already have some entrepreneurial experience, and they approach it, but I'd say most writers end up starting to think about writing and self-publishing as a business after they've lost some money. The successful writers who are successful right off the bat are usually so busy that they're the last people to get around to setting up their business correctly. But somebody who has kind of said, “Well, I let my expenses get way ahead of my income. I came into this with the wrong caution or the wrong analytical point of view. I want to do a better job next time, or I want to pick up the pieces and put them in a better order.”
What people find is why should they set up a business, or why should they think of it as a business? Well, first of all, it doesn't have to be intimidating. A business doesn't have to be a corporation. We have a limited liability company here, and different countries have different names. You don't have to set it up as an entity.
What it is, is more that you have to think of this as being a separate revenue-generating and revenue-taking enterprise that's separate from your personal life. And so it's separate records, separate bank accounts, preferably; just that you treat it separately. Once you have this information set up separately, it's much easier to understand and analyze that information. That's what being a business is. It's really segregating this information so that you can learn from it and grow it.
Joanna Penn: You've obviously talked about expenses there. I mean I don't think I know any author who made money straightaway in the indie world, because, of course, you generally have to pay out first for editors, and cover designs and things. But is the business mindset actually about something where you consider you will make a profit at some point? For example, my dad self-publishing one book, he's not necessarily going to even think of that as more than a hobby.
Do you have to be considering that you will at some point make a profit in order to keep track of all the losses as well?
Helen Sedwick: You are going to be in a business whether or not you hope to make a profit because if you are going to be making a product — and a book is a product — and you're going to be selling it on your website or at readings, or maybe only through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you are in business. The nice thing is that our tax codes encourage people to start businesses, but you have to think of it as a business. If you set up and operate as a business, which I give some more details in “Publishing Business in a Box”, it will be much easier for you to convince your tax authorities that you are a business. The benefit there is if you have losses that are greater than your income from your business, then you can take those losses and deduct them from your other income.
Most writers have another source of income. We have day jobs. I do. And since I run my self-publishing as a business, the first few years of my self-publishing, I definitely had losses, and I was able to take those losses and deduct them from my day job income. But you can really only do that if you are operating as a business. Part of that is that you have some realistic expectation of making a profit.
If you're going into this and you're not expecting to make a profit, then you won't be able to take advantage of those tax breaks, but that's fine. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. I think it's still writing. It has a lot of value. But you're still going to need to learn some business basics because you are selling something, and you are going to have to collect sales tax, and you may have to deal with VAT if you're quite successful in Europe. There are still some business basics even if you never hope to make a profit.
Joanna Penn: Then again, just really back at the beginning; the people who are listening who are still just writing their first book, like they haven't even published a book yet. From my personal experience, I would say to not go into this until you are at the point of publishing at least because the actual writing of a first book can often take a long time, or some people never finish that book.
Are we really talking about people who are publishing or have more than one book?
Helen Sedwick: Yes, if you're still in the writing phase, and maybe you're sending short stories out to anthologies and getting $50 or free copies, you're not really in business yet as far as the taxing authorities are concerned. I would still keep track of those expenses separately. They might be useful as a deduction depending on your situation, but you're not really in business until you are launching your self-publishing process. It could be you've hired editors, designers. You've crossed that line that you're now going to be creating a product that you're going to sell. It's a mind-set because it's your baby when you're writing the book, and now you're going to try to launch it into the world. That's the moment of change.
Joanna Penn: So you mentioned that deductions are one of the benefits, I guess, of taking your writing seriously as a business. You briefly touched on mindset, but I think mindset is a big deal.
What are the kind of mindset benefits of treating it like a business?
Helen Sedwick: I think that the writers who treat it as a business are better able to push through the discouraging parts of the process. I think if you see this as not about you as much, as personal — you see it as a business and this is something you're going to try to sell — and you think, “How can I sell it? How could I sell it better?” it can be quite discouraging, but I think if you separate yourself personally from it to make a business, you're going to be better off. If you're treating it as a business, you're going to have a better feel for what expenses were worth incurring and what were not. And if you're keeping track of your sales and your expenses, you're going to see what marketing worked and what didn't.
And I think, also, it becomes quite satisfying as a whole new challenge, separate from writing. I see the business part as a continually learning process, just like writing is. Again, I think it helps with the perseverance that sometimes we all need as writers, or as any small business person.
Joanna Penn: Okay.
What are some of the difficulties of doing this as a business, or some of the things you have to do if you treat it that way?
Helen Sedwick: None of us like to do things like tax forms. The drawback is it does take some time. If you're somewhat disciplined about it, you can compress that time quite a bit. Actually, what people can use is the business part as great procrastination from writing, because it feels more concrete. The drawback is that it does complicate your life a little bit.
What I try to do in “Publishing Business in a Box” is give people the tools to make this as easy as possible; not to make it so that you get to tax time and you've got this box full of chaos that you're dreading to sort through. That's really unpleasant. I've been there. I've done that. So the problem is if you're running a business and you're not keeping track of things, you're going to have that box of mess, and that's the real drawback.
Joanna Penn: We're talking there about a box of receipts.
What are the record keeping things that people have to do with business?
Helen Sedwick: There are two basic categories of record keeping. One is contracts. If you hire a designer, if you buy images online, you want to keep those contracts for as long as your book is available for sale. People think three years. No. Anything like there's a contract or a license, you want to keep forever because you don't want your book to suddenly become quite popular, and five years from now someone'll say, “Oh. You can't use that cover I designed for you anymore.” So you want to keep those records.
The other records are financial records, and we keep those primarily for tax reasons. I'm convinced that more people get in trouble with tax authorities because they lose receipts than they're trying to cook the books. I don't know whether you use the expression “cook the books” in Britain. You should keep your financial records at least three years. I usually say at least five. Put them in a box. Put them somewhere. Don't go do what I did, which I put them in my garage and the mice got to them. Don't do that. Now, I have everything in plastic boxes. And just keep them. Put them aside so you don't have to look at them, and then every once in a while just send them off to the shredder.
Joanna Penn: I just have one folder per month, like plastic folder. I have one plastic folder per month, and I put all the paper in there. And then actually, nowadays, I'm not even printing my Amazon receipts or my PayPal stuff because that all comes by email. Now, it's much easier to search your email than it is to search a whole load of paper. I know some people use Evernote.
What do you think about that kind of digital record keeping where you can find things by search?
Helen Sedwick: I think it's wonderful. I actually believe in doing both. If you're now in business, you should have a backup. And it could be your email box that's out in the cloud. It could be Dropbox or some other, Evernote, some program that keeps a record of your transactions for all kinds of reasons. It is much faster to find everything.
I'm also an old-school person. I like to see things in print. For me, at tax time, it's easier for me to take a stack of receipts that are printed and add them up as opposed to searching through my email, and then having to print them out. Part of being in business is keeping these records, but I think, personally, both printed and online.
Joanna Penn: I think there's some Millennials listening who are like, “What? Printing thing?”
Helen Sedwick: I know it's probably not ecologically sound, but I'm not a Millennial. My children are. The other thing is for bookkeeping, there are many online programs. You can put a program on your computer like QuickBooks. There are also many online programs. They are often reviewed regularly.
Most programs will have much more capacity than you need. You're not doing payroll and things like that, but it's pretty easy and almost kind of fun to use these online programs to keep track of your income and expenses. And they do all these little graphs and pie charts for you. You can do a simple handwritten technique or you can use an online program, which automatically does a lot of computations for you.
Joanna Penn: I'm glad you mentioned fun there because I actually really enjoy doing my QuickBooks. And there is a QuickBooks online, which is a software-as-a-service, and it integrates with your bank account. And what's actually interesting is I'm far more aware of my financial status than I am of my book sales status.
The tax authorities and the records that you need for your financial accounts, you don't actually need book sales numbers, do you? Those are not numbers that people want. They actually want physical money as opposed to sales volume and such.
Helen Sedwick: They only care about dollars and cents, yes, or pounds and cents. They don't care about your book rankings. You're a cash basis tax payer; what cash came in and what cash came out.
Joanna Penn: It's funny because I've been thinking about this. Dean Wesley Smith talks about this, who's a great indie. We should be more aware of our financial status than the facts.
If you've “sold” a million books for free — sold in inverted commas — or you've sold them at a 30%, 35% royalty, the money is actually more important than the number of books sold. Do you think authors sometimes have this the wrong way around?
Helen Sedwick: Well, it's part of the business transition. I think there's always a lag. There's lag between when your book sells and when you get the cash into your checking account. So looking at book sales is a more immediately satisfying experience, but I can tell you getting cash into your account is also a satisfying experience.
Yes, I think when you make the transition to thinking of it as a business and you have multiple sources of income — something you've talked about quite a bit — then that's the quickest way. Looking at your bank accounts is the quickest way to see how all those multiple sources are actually paying off to the bottom line. If you look at Audible, and you look at Amazon, and you look at IngramSpark, and you look at Babelcube, you're getting tiny pieces. And that, I think, would drive you a little bit crazy if you were trying to keep on a spreadsheet all of that information. Some people will do that, but if you want the fast bottom line, you look at your bank accounts.
Joanna Penn: Exactly. Okay, so one of the biggest questions I get is around names.
What are the differences between the real name, the pen name, the publisher name, the imprint, and the company name? Can you go through what these different names are or can be?
Helen Sedwick: There are two big categories. One is who is the author — that name — and who is the publisher? As an author, you could write under your own name or a variety of your own name — your initials, your middle name. That would be the author name. You can also, as an author, write under a pen name. That's completely legal. It's best to choose a pen name nobody else is using. Just because marketing-wise is going to be terribly confusing, and there are probably other legal hazards as well. And a pen name, you could even be quite secretive as to what your real identity is. I've written some about that. It's quite a chore to try to keep your true identity secret. Many writers don't bother. They treat their pen name like a trade name. These are JK Rowling's books. In your books, you have different names. You use different varieties of your names.
Now, your imprint or company name is what we call in the US a DBA, a Doing-Business-As name. Most of our companies are not in this country. Millions of them are not corporations. They're just an individual, or a group of individuals, who decide to operate under a business name — your florist, your grocery, everything. There's a process in the UK to adopt a name, and in the United States to adopt a name, and it merely becomes the name of your publisher, the company that takes your book from manuscript to a printed book and then distributes it. I recommend that people have a business name. This is the business that publishes their books and markets their books. It helps people think of the business as something separate from themselves.
Joanna Penn: And then the name of, say, the bank account on the account is — if they are operating as a DBA — it might be their own personal name?
Helen Sedwick: Usually, it's your personal name, DBA, your business name. For my books, I use Ten Gallon Press. My bank account and my credit cards for my business say “Helen Sedwick, Ten Gallon Press” or “DBA, Ten Gallon Press.” At least in the US — I don't know how it is in the UK — if you are operating as a sole proprietorship, in the UK it's called a “sole trader”, you are the bank account holder, but they do put your business name on the account so that if you get checks made out to your business name, you can deposit it into those accounts.
Joanna Penn: And then I'm a limited company. I have a limited company, The Creative Penn, Limited. So that is a step up. That's like a corporation, an LLC in the US.
There are different levels of what people might want to do, but basically, what you're saying is when they're starting out, it can be quite simple.
Helen Sedwick: I recommend people keep it simple. You can't form a corporation or a limited company or a limited liability company, but when you are starting out, it's an unnecessary expense and complication. It costs at least several hundred dollars a year to keep an entity alive.
It does make sense when you're making tens of thousands of dollars of income a year. When you get to that point, it's time to sit down with an accountant and set things up, but at the beginning, writers do not need to do it. If you go to a cocktail party and someone says, “Oh, you must set up a corporation,” they don't know what they're talking about. It's cocktail party talk.
Joanna Penn: Exactly. That's a very good point.
The other question I get is what name should copyright be under?
Helen Sedwick: It may be under your author name or your pen name, or both in the US.
A lot of people in Europe, people outside the US, still register their copyright with the US Copyright Office, because it creates a record of what they owned when. It's a nice thing to have. It's an online form to register with the US Copyright Office and they have a line that says “Author Name”. Then they have a line that says “Pen Name”. Then you can choose whether to list the copyright under both or just one of those.
Joanna Penn: Okay, cool. I think some people do get very confused about that. If people get things, in inverted commas, “wrong”, or they change things over time.
Say they wrote an original book and didn't have a company or maybe they're three books in and they've just done everything under their own name, and now they want to do a DBA, do they go back and change the other three or do they just kind of change things going forward?
Helen Sedwick: If you're talking about the copyright registration, I don't see…
Joanna Penn: Oh, no, everything.
Helen Sedwick: Most people, I think, get started and they finally get down to the bank and set up their accounts a year later because they're thinking of it as, “Oh, this is my book. I'm going to get it out.” And they're not yet thinking of it as a business until probably the first time they do their taxes. And then they realize there has got to be a better way.
So I think you just start fresh. So I'm not quite sure. There's nothing actually wrong with doing it in your own name. You're just going to be transitioning your accounts. You're going to set up new PayPal accounts. You're going to set up new bank accounts, and then you're going to contact CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and you're going to give them now your publisher name and your new bank…you're going to direct payments to your new bank accounts. You just basically spend an afternoon moving everything over. I wouldn't call it a mistake. It's just your business is evolving.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and we're all evolving, that's for sure. So another question I get — it's really interesting — especially from people who are just writing their first book is, “How do I finance my business?” which I always find really odd, because I had a day job, and I just paid for it out of my earnings and my savings and all that. But you have some other options in the book.
What are your thoughts on financing for this new business?
Helen Sedwick: Well, first of all, beg/borrow as much as you can. You're going to be wanting to hire services. And I think first you have to set priority on what you can afford. I always recommend the first thing that authors spend money on is good editorial help. The number one problem I see in self-published books is that they're published too soon. They should have gone through another round or two of developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, all of the above. And this book that has great potential would have just achieved more of that potential.
First, set priority on what your expenses are. And then simple things like when it's birthday or holiday, say, “I don't need another scarf. What I need is a contribution to my publishing fund,” and people will actually be very excited to help you that way.
On a more structured basis, there are grants. There are many places that give grants or scholarships to writers. You can look into those. There are lists. Poets & Writers Magazine has a list of places where you can apply for grants, and then there's crowd funding.
There are a number of sites where authors can put their work up and try to pitch it and sell it, and get contributions to the costs of production. Crowd funding is a big project. The most successful crowd funders already have a platform, already have a following, have a great story to tell, and they're out there doing it. Simply posting something up on crowd funding sites probably is not going to get you more than asking your friends and relatives directly to do it, and you end up paying the site a small percentage for them acting as the conduit. So those are really my suggestions.
And then in terms of a day job income — going back to the business concept and the tax concept — if you have a separate account, take the money from your personal account, invest it into your business account, and run all your expenses out of that business account right from the start. Many people don't do this, but if you do it, life will be much simpler. Put all that into a separate account so that you keep the income and expenses separate from the beginning. Many people hearing this will say, “Oops, I didn't do it. All right, start tomorrow.”
Joanna Penn: Yes, so that's cool. Just that you mentioned obviously, editors, which I agree with the editor especially for fiction, I think, is so important for learning how to write.
What are some of the things people might need to look out for in a contract, whether it's an editor, cover designer, or publishing platform? I mean you go into a lot of detail on this, but what are some of the big, red flags that you might point out?
Helen Sedwick: Well, people should understand that a contract is really a roadmap. And so you want to look at it as a roadmap, and see whether it takes you from where you are to where you want to go. Particularly, I'm going to talk about freelance contracts. There, if you really are working with one individual, there's a lot of value in talking through the contract with that individual. A designer or an editor probably is going to send you their form of contract, or it's going to be on their website. Walk through it and talk about it because if you do a good job talking about a contract before you sign it, then chances are you'll never have to look at it again.
Where people get in trouble is where they don't look at the contract and everyone comes in with a different set of assumptions. And then, surprise, surprise, there's a disagreement later on because everyone was thinking something different. So the process of talking about a contract is the most valuable part of a contract. If you're not working one-on-one with a freelancer and you're going with a big company, I get very nervous about that. Some of these big companies have terrible contracts.
If you're a writer, you need to spend a little bit of time understanding about licenses and the grants of licenses. On my website, and some blog posts I've written, in “Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook”, I actually take contracts. In the back of the book, I have a short contract phrase, and then I have an explanation as to what it means. Writers are in the word business. They need to understand these words because they've worked so hard on their creation, they don't want to give them away.
Joanna Penn: “The Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook”, and there are some other ones, some other books about intellectual property and copyright and things…it's expensive to hire an attorney, right? And most writers are not going to do that unless they really have to. I would advise people as well, just spend a little bit of money on these books and a bit of time just coming to grips with the major stuff. And then you hire an attorney if it's some big deal, right?
For example, if I was offered a film contract, I would definitely want to take that through an IP attorney, an intellectual property lawyer. I just wouldn't even want to take a risk on that. But clearly, KDP's terms and conditions, we can't do anything about that.
Helen Sedwick: We can't. In terms of doing a rights grab, CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and KDP contracts are not bad. They are completely appropriate. You are giving them a license, which is permission, merely to take your book and sell it through their channel. And you can terminate it at any time. It's what's called non-exclusive, so you don't have to use them exclusively, unless you're in KDP Select, which is, again, the writer's choice.
There are some other companies. Some of them call themselves small publishers, although the author has to pay to get their book put together. They have contracts where they take exclusive rights to your work for the life of the contract in all languages, in all formats, and that's outrageous. That's outrageous.
I've written about this where I give examples because it's hard to talk about this conceptually. You really have to see, “These are good words. These are bad words.” I've written quite a bit of samples, and I have some on my website. In fact, I'll probably — thinking about this — do another handout that people can download to just give them examples of the hot words to look for. And then if you see them, chances are if there are very author-unfavorable provisions in that part of the contract, then the rest of the contract is terrible as well. You don't need to read it. And I say to people, “Don't start at the beginning of the contract. Just look at the license-granting clause because if that's fair, then you can look at the rest of the contract. If that's unfair, toss it out. Don't go any further.”
Joanna Penn: Fascinating. Okay, last question.
I get a lot of emails from authors writing memoirs or non-fiction, sometimes even fiction, who worry about getting sued if they're writing things that might offend someone. What's your advice around that?
Helen Sedwick: Well, I usually encourage people to write the book, and then think about it. There's the writing of the book and then the publishing of the book. The problem comes in the publishing, but for many writers, the process of writing the book is very valuable. And they often find truths or understandings that actually make things less offensive in the long run because even the person who is the target, as we'll say, may say, “Well, I don't like it, but it's fair,” or, “That's her point of view.”
What people should realize if you're merely mentioning someone's name, that's not a problem. Saying something nice or neutral about a person, that's not a problem. What's a problem is if you say something that could be very damaging to that person's professional or personal reputation, or horribly embarrassing or quite damaging to their ability to get a job. Then you need to be much more thoughtful as to what the legal implications are because you can get in trouble if the information is false about an identifiable person — means identifiable to third parties, not the person themselves — or if the information is very private about an identifiable person and damaging.
If it's that kind of information, then consider how important is it to your story. It may be central to your story, so you have to do it. It could be that maybe you just want to take a dig at this person who made your life difficult at some point, and it's not that important to your story. And maybe you could tone it down or make the person less identifiable. And if it really is a problem, then consult with an attorney. It's very rare that fiction authors are sued because in fiction you have a lot more liberty to hide who this person really is.
In memoir and non-fiction, there you just have to be sensitive to these issues and know when you need to ask for help. And when we were talking earlier, there are many organizations of attorneys for the arts where you can often get free or very low cost help. It's better if you take it as far as you can yourself, so that by the time you get to an attorney, you can be the most efficient that you can, and you'll actually be better able to understand the advice. But you don't have to go it alone. There are a lot of attorneys who are willing to give artists free consultations, maybe half an hour or 45 minutes, because they just want to not spend too much time on something. But there's no reason for an author to think that they're on their own. And if an author's really writing a high-risk book, there are also some insurance options. At that point, it's time to get a little more sophisticated in terms of the help that you're going to get.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. Okay, so you've given us loads of information, but there's so much more in your “Publishing Business in a Box”. So just give some more details about what that includes.
Helen Sedwick: Great. I walk people through the process of setting up their business, whether it's an incorporation or not, how to choose a name, how to figure out whether the business name has been taken, and how to do searches. Even if you're a very small business, certain governmental levels do want to know you're in business, so there are a few licenses you need to get, so I give examples.
And then I give sample forms for hiring an editor, releases — if you're writing someone's story, you want a release — some tax guidelines, sales tax. It is focused on US, because I am a US attorney and that's what I do. And I give lots of screenshots. I give sample forms.
A lot of people are very intimidated by the process. My goal really was to give as many forms and as many nitty-gritty examples as possible, so that people could do this on their own, and take the mystery and intimidation out of it. So I think it's about 15 forms because I've had requests to add additional forms to the package. For instance, people who have self-published wanted to start helping other people self-publish, so I've created a form contract for people to work through for that circumstance. And there's a webinar on Joel Friedlander's book template site, which I'm sure you'll talk about, which will also just give some really nitty-gritty information.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. So here can people find “The Publishing Business in a Box” and your website, and all you do online?
Helen Sedwick: My website is helensedwick.com, S-E-D-W-I-C-K. Many people want to say Helen Sedgwick. That's not me. There's actually a Scottish writer, Helen Sedgwick. I've gotten her emails. I'm sure she has gotten mine. And then Joel Friedlander has a site called Book Templates, and I think he has a new name which I'm blanking on here. But also, on my website under Resources, there's a direct link to where you can find “Publishing Business in a Box”. On my Resources page, I also have two other downloads that can help people. One thing we didn't talk about is people want to use lyrics, or they want to use images, and they want to know how do they do that. I have some downloads that just give people, again, real how-to information about those two tasks.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. As ever, you're so helpful. Thank you so much for your time, Helen. That was great.
Helen Sedwick: Thank you. I'm glad to help.
Joanna Penn: Okay.
Tolulope Popoola says
Thank you Joanna and Helen. This was very important and useful information.
Ethan Jones says
Listen to this today during my commute and walk during my lunch break. Enjoyed it very much. Some great advice about the importance of legal knowledge. And I hope you get a movie contract soon 🙂
Thanks and have a blessed week,
JJ Toner says
Hi. Another great article. Thanks, Joanna and Helen. I see a mention of copyrighting our books. I thought this was unnecessary. I read somewhere that writing the book and publishing it provides all the copyright protection we ever need. Is this not correct anymore? Also, does having a self-publishing business make it easier to hand the enterprise over to a legacy manager when the author passes? JJ
Joanna Penn says
Hi JJ, Helen is an attorney 🙂 so she will always advise the most cautious approach. However, as per this interview with Orna Ross, http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/07/05/a-guide-to-rights-orna-ross/ Copyright is yours on the creation of a new work, regardless of whether you pay the copyright agencies.
Helen Sedwick says
JJ, You are correct. You own the copyright in your work as soon as you put it into tangible form, such as a piece of paper or a computer hard drive, even a Smartphone memory chip. You may register the copyright as well, but that is optional. Registering the copyright does create a record of your work and entitle you to some added legal punch in the event your work is infringed.
And yes again, running your self-publishing enterprise as a business involves getting your records and finances better organized, and that would make managing your literary assets much easier on your heirs.
David Michael Williams says
Very sage advice!
To play devil’s advocate for a moment, though, I want to point out that there is a compelling reason for writers to form an official business even if they only have a single book out or aren’t even sure whether they intend to nurture their writing as a revenue stream.
While an author is always potentially liable for his/her writing, forming a business creates a “corporate veil” that can help protect his/her personal assets.
I speak from experience (https://david-michael-williams.com/2014/02/12/a-sad-ending-to-our-self-publishing-tale/), and I want to help others. Few things are as heartbreaking as seeing a passion project get shot down because you don’t know whether someone is going to go after your house, vehicles, etc.
When it came time to publish again, I formed an LLC and never looked back.
Helen Sedwick says
Whether to structure the business as a corporation or LLC is an important question. If a writer is releasing a “high risk” book that is likely to trigger a lawsuit, then operating as an entity may make sense, if handled correctly. But even then, the money may be better spent on buying media perils insurance. Part of the publishing process for a high risk book should include consulting with an attorney on ways to reduce risk.
For most writers, forming and maintaining an entity is an unnecessary expense and complication. I talk about it more here – http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/should-writers-incorporate/
Icy Sedgwick says
I’ll be honest, I felt more like a ‘proper’ writer when I registered as self-employed with HMRC (using my pen name as a business name) than I did when I started selling books! Taxes will do that to you 😉
I’m totally printing out the show notes though to work through since my filing system is…well it makes sense to me but probably not to anyone else! I’ll spend some time getting it in order 🙂
Cynthia Varady says
Loading up the thumb drive with past casts for a long drive tomorrow. I’m really excited to geek out!
Joanna Penn says
Glad you’re enjoying the show!
Hi Joanna and Helen, great show! As someone looking to start self-publishing I definitely learned a lot from it.
I just have one question regarding who to put the copyright under – I am planning to register a business name for my self-publishing business and I was planning to put the copyright under the name of my business (a sole proprietorship).
Would that be better than putting the copyright under my pen name (I’m not comfortable using my real name because I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to be ‘behind the scenes’ rather than up on the front lines).
Thanks for all the great information you two have shared!
Helen Sedwick says
Chris, Sorry for the long delay. I was cleaning up my website links and just noticed your question.
If you are registering your copyright in the U.S., you have a choice. You may registering it under your real name, your pen name, or both. Registering it under your pen name alone give you the most privacy protection, but be sure someone knows the copyright belongs to you in case you get hit by the proverbial bus.