In January 2017, I launched Curl Up Press – a publishing imprint under my company, The Creative Penn Limited. In this article, I'll explain why I moved to a small press model, what the implications are for my books and products as well as fun stuff like ISBNs.
What is Curl Up Press? How does it fit within my business and brands?
Curl Up Press is an independent small press currently focused on thrillers and dark fantasy fiction, self-help and writing related non-fiction. These books are currently just written by J.F.Penn and Joanna Penn.
We also have a small-town sweet romance series coming in Autumn 2017. This will be a new author brand, which I'm co-creating with another author.
Books are published in English worldwide, in ebook, print and audiobook formats. Curl Up Press is not open to submission right now and we have no plans for it to be, so please don't submit your manuscripts – but never say never!
My husband and business partner, Jonathan Bleier, is currently studying for an LLM in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Edinburgh. He will be moving into rights licensing for Curl Up Press properties and we welcome inquiries around rights licensing, particularly for translation/foreign rights, film, TV, gaming and other media.
What's the difference between a small press/imprint and an indie author publishing under their own name?
You definitely don't need to start a small press or a company/LLC to make six figures as an indie author. Many authors are quite happy publishing under their own names, as I have done since 2008. After all, readers generally don't care who published the book and are not searching by publisher when they go to search for a book.
Ask any reader who their favorite author is and they will rattle off a few names. Then ask them who published those books and it's likely that they won't know.
So why the change for my business?
- I'm now working with other authors and paying royalties to other people. This includes my Dad, Arthur J. Penn for the English Country Garden Fine Art Adult Coloring Book, my co-author for Risen Gods, J.Thorn and soon, my co-writer for the sweet romance series. As soon as you have to start tracking royalties and paying others, you're actually acting more like an established publisher and you need better systems in place.
- I want to expand my print distribution. By using an imprint name instead of my own name, bookstores and libraries won't question how the book is published. By using Ingram Spark, I can reach a large physical distribution network that expands what I have now through Createspace. More on this below.
- I want to license more of my intellectual property rights and it's easier to do that from a ‘company imprint' and a separate brand, instead of each of the author names that we'll end up with.
Many indie authors use a small press name already and just to be clear, this doesn't have to be a legal entity or registered company. You should definitely check whether the name is used already and get the URL. There is now a .press suffix, so I have www.curluppress.com and also www.curlup.press, which is directed back to the main site.
Curl Up Press is an imprint set up under The Creative Penn Limited. It's like a division of the company. As a comparison, Penguin Random House has 250+ imprints under their company structure.
Getting serious about print. Why use Ingram Spark as well as Createspace?
Publishing industry veteran, Mike Shatzkin, wrote in Dec 2016 on his blog:
“Publishers can literally reach most of the customers in the world through two intermediaries, Amazon and Ingram … a publisher with no more organization than relationships with Amazon, Ingram, and a talented digital marketing team can publish successfully in today’s world”
If you use both Amazon and Ingram Spark – which indies can – and if you are on the forefront of digital marketing – which many indies are – then you can publish successfully.
I have happily used Createspace only for my print books for years now. Print sales have been about 5% of my income but I haven't really focused on it. I've used print as comparison pricing to make my ebooks a better deal, for marketing purposes and for mainly for non-fiction sales.
Now I'm moving to use both services together.
The reasons to use Ingram alongside Createspace are:
- Your book will be available to 39,000 retailers, libraries, schools and universities—online and in stores around the world. These are outlets that are unlikely to order from Amazon directly
- You can apply discounting which is critical for booksellers to order your books as they need a margin to make some money on the transaction
- You can order your own books by the box or more and ship to customers in bulk – and make money on the transaction instead of just breaking even. I've found this useful in the last month as I'm speaking in New Zealand and Australia, so have bulk-ordered books for those events. Plus, I've had requests for bulk purchases from other companies and previously have had to turn down those orders.
- You can print hardbacks, which are not (yet) available on Createspace. You also have a larger number of options for printing dimensions
- Coming in 2017, Aerio will enable you to sell print books directly from your own website like any other bookseller. You can sell other books in your genre alongside your own if you choose, essentially setting up your own bookstore.
So basically, you set up your print book on Ingram with your ISBN (as below) and then set up the book on Createspace, but don't select extended distribution. Here's an article from ALLi's Self-Publishing Advice blog on using Createspace and Ingram Spark together.
I'm choosing to only use the print only option at Ingram Spark, although you can use them for ebook distribution as well, which might be a good option for those authors who live in countries that aren't served so well by the Amazon self-publishing eco-system. We actually visited the Ingram factory in Milton Keynes in England a few weeks ago and it was pretty cool to see all the books rolling off the presses. The long tail of publishing in action!
ISBNs and print-on-demand setup
You don't need your own ISBNs to be a successful indie author.
In fact, Data Guy reported at Digital Book World 2017 that on Amazon.com, 43% of all ebook purchases are for books with no ISBNs.
However, if you want to get your PRINT book in front of bookstores, libraries and other bastions of the traditional book industry, then you do need your own set of ISBNs.
Once you have decided on your press name, go to the online store that deals with ISBNs in your country. For example, I use Nielsen in the UK. Buy whatever you need and then keep a spreadsheet with how you're assigning those books over time. If you're in Canada, it's free 🙂
In terms of setting things up, you'll need the following:
- An address and phone number for the press which you need when purchasing ISBNs. You can often use your accountant's address if they offer that service, but we ended up setting up a PO Box and also a new telephone number, as the intention is to grow that side of the business.
- Logo – you can commission a logo from one of the many online design sites e.g. 99Designs or Upwork or from a graphic designer you have worked with before. Many book cover designers also do other design work. We are cat lovers so we specifically wanted a cat logo. Also, Curl Up Press evokes the image of curling up with a good book, which suits the self-help-happy-smiley side of me, served by the non-fiction and sweet romance. But it also brings to mind ‘curl up and die,' which brings the darker side of J.F.Penn into the mix 🙂 Thanks to JD Smith Design who did the awesome logo. A tip on intellectual property rights for logos and covers – make sure the designer signs the copyright over to you as you never know where this might end up in the future.
- Small press website – if you want to make it separate to your author site. Here's my tutorial on how to set up a website in under 30 minutes. The Curl Up Press site uses Studiopress Parallax Pro theme.
- Email address – I use GSuite (Google for Work) for all my business email now. I previously used my web hosting service for email, but it's better practice to separate the two as if you have website problems, you'll still get email. I learned that the hard way!
- Reformat your print files for Ingram Spark. There are some differences between the file requirements for Ingram and for Createspace. I just paid a formatter to do it for myself, but there are other DIY formatting options. Here are some more tips on using Ingram Spark and Createspace together, including trim sizes, color saturation, spine width, ordering physical proofs, price changes, and more.
What about copyright? Who does it belong to?
This is not legal advice and I am not a lawyer/attorney. This is just my opinion!
I've been advised by a number of experienced people on this and I'll be discussing it with attorney Kathryn Goldman on the podcast very soon. But for now:
- Copyright remains in the author name – so my books' copyright is in Joanna Penn and J.F.Penn. This gives longer protection than in a company e.g. 50-70 years after the death of the author, depending on jurisdiction. Copyright held within a company name has a shorter protection period.
- I have registered the copyright for my books with the UK copyright service – and you can do this differently by country. This is not strictly necessary as copyright is applied as soon as the work is created, but provides a form of proof if asked e.g. by Amazon, which is happening more often with boxsets etc. It can also give more protection if things do get serious at some point.
- As the author, I license Curl Up Press, an imprint of The Creative Penn Limited, to publish my books and that is a rolling annual license that I can revoke at any time. By doing this, I protect myself in case anything happens to the company and I want my rights back. You should have this kind of ‘out clause' with any publisher you sign a contract with. Think of it as a marriage. Everyone wants it to go well until things don't go so well and I say that as a happily married woman … on her second marriage 🙂
Numbers for the first month
I now have numbers for January 2017, the first month using Createspace and Ingram Spark together. Print has never been a big channel for me, so these are tiny numbers and I have done nothing to drive traffic to Ingram other than just having the books available. It's basically a new income channel and will enable me to do more with print in 2017, so I'll have better numbers at the end of the year. But for now, just for interest:
- Ingram Spark: 142 units. US$362.47, £12.08, AU$12.93
- Createspace: 289 units. US$300.70, £137.17, EUR47.62
I won't compare it to December as that's an anomaly spike month. But comparing to previous months on Createspace alone:
- Nov 2016: 393 units. US$628.19, £100.04, EUR145.24
- Oct 2016: 279 units. US$440.25, £136.37, EUR89.03
- Sept 2016: 268 units. US$471.80, £127.32, EUR46.04
It looks like the sales on Ingram are so far cannibalising the sales from Createspace, which would make sense because I'm not doing anything different to market them. I am considering a number of ways that I could reach out to libraries, so I'll review this again in May when I do my tax year roundup.
The outsider becomes the mainstream
When the indie author movement started back in 2009, covers were basic, editing was pretty much non-existent and the 99c Kindle millionaires emerged.
Then the competition grew and things changed …
Now, indie authors who are serious about their art – and their business – invest in professional editing and cover design, they build an email list, and they continue to work on their craft. They learn marketing and they invest in growing their readership.
Some mega indies moved into the hybrid model, doing deals with traditional publishing for various rights e.g. retaining ebook rights while licensing print. Hugh Howey still fits the original indie model as he self-publishes from his boat as he sails around the world, but he also works with traditional publishing for some projects.
Other indie authors have started small presses or larger companies and stepped up production by working with other authors.
- Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright went from 3 guys self-publishing in disparate genres to now running Sterling and Stone, a company with several different imprints, a load of employees and plans for a story studio to rival Pixar.
- Marie Force has 30+ bestselling romance novels and an 8-figure business as an indie. She started Jack's House Publishing to publish other authors in romance
- New York Times & USA Today bestselling indie author Liliana Hart started SilverHart Publishing, also for romance novels
These stories remind me of how Penguin publishing started out in 1935 as 3 brothers who decided to “create cheap, well-designed quality books for the mass market.” (Sound like ebooks, anyone!)
82 years later, Penguin Random House is one of the biggest publishing companies in the world, with 10,000+ employees, 250 imprints, publishing 15,000 books per year.
Right now, Curl Up Press is just starting out … but who's to say where it will be by 2099 🙂
This is just the start of another step in my adventures in publishing. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below.
Have you started a small press and what are your tips and lessons learned? Do you have any questions if this is a step you're considering? Please do leave a comment below.