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What Is a Publisher? And Why You Might Not Count as One

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As we move into fall and
interact with many different marketing and awards programs on behalf of our
publisher members, we keep running into something exceedingly frustrating. I
know I have already written about what a publisher really is, but I think we
need to discuss this one more time.


Throughout the year, people become
PMA members under their own names or their companies’ names. Most indicate that
they are the publishers of a book in print or of a book that will soon come
out. We begin by sending new members all sorts of information about publishing
and about us. Sometimes months go by before a self-publishing startup enters a
title in a PMA program, and that’s when we find out that the author is not in
fact the book’s publisher, even though, in many instances, the book bears the
name of the author’s publishing company.


Instead, the book’s official
publisher is a print-on-demand company the author used, because the ISBN
(International Standard Book Number) on the book belongs to the POD firm. Since
the book trade places orders in terms of ISBNs—and not in terms of titles
or authors’ names—an author who does not own a book’s ISBN will never see
orders for that book coming from the trade. So it becomes our job to call and
explain that PMA programs must generally be open only to publishers, and that
the member does not qualify.


Needless to say, there’s
confusion, anger, and disbelief on the part of self-publishing authors when
this happens. Often, they have been told that they are the publishers of their
books. In many cases, they assumed that they were because they paid to have
their books edited, designed, and printed.


If the problem arose only once in
a while, it wouldn’t be so difficult to handle. But it’s coming up more and
more frequently as more and more authors choose to publish through POD
companies without fully understanding the consequences (see “Pseudo
Self-Publishing: The Unvarnished Truth about POD Companies” in this issue to
learn more).


How to Tell Whether You’re
Really a Publisher


The other day one angry author
said that she couldn’t find any description of what constitutes a publisher.
Well, we provided one in this publication; it’s permanently available on our
Web site; and I’m summarizing it again here, since it is a very important brief


The most basic requirement for
becoming a publisher is purchasing a series of ISBNs from the R.R. Bowker
Company and making sure that your company is the publisher of record for them.
These numbers must be purchased in blocks of 10 or more, and each version of
your title must have a separate ISBN identifying it as the hardcover, trade
paper, or other edition of this book. If you do not own a book’s ISBN, you are
not the publisher of that book.


In late 2003, the PMA board of
directors came up with a 10-step checklist to help our members understand the
responsibilities of a publisher. A publisher must either take all 10 steps
summarized below or cause these actions to happen. If you are not involved in
all 10 steps, you may not be the publisher of your title.


Acquisition. A publisher acquires property either through purchase
of manuscripts or personal development of a manuscript or manuscripts.
Depending on the size of the company, the publisher pays authors advances
against future royalties as designated by contract, or makes specified payments
in a designated period after production.


Financial. A publisher or the publisher’s publishing company is
financially responsible for the production and promotion of books under the
company imprint. A publisher provides or arranges funding for the company’s
publishing program; develops a budget for each book acquired, looking carefully
at the costs of production and the costs of promotion and publicity; makes
longer-range plans for keeping the book on the active list; and allots funds
for those tasks.


Planning. A publisher develops a business plan, including a
budget and a timeline for each publication, from acquisition through
production. A publisher also develops and implements a sales, marketing, and
production plan for each book.


A publishing company
works with its authors to develop a manuscript so that it will be in optimum
condition for production and publication. In self-publishing, the author and
publisher are synonymous. A publisher oversees, or has someone within the
company oversee, the editing of each manuscript prior to publication, as well
as all the exterior and interior design elements, to produce an attractive and
marketable product.


to authors.
A publisher issues an
author contract that recognizes the author’s contribution to the enterprise and
outlines the responsibilities of both the author and the publisher. Terms and
expectations for royalties and other payments should be clearly stated.


Production. A publisher stays up to date on the newest printing
and production technologies to ensure that a finished book will be competitive in
the current marketplace. A publisher fulfills all technical elements (ISBN,
cataloging, advance book announcements, and so on) in a timely fashion.


Standards. A publisher stays abreast of industry standards and
adheres to them. Today, a publisher understands how and when to use the new
ISBN-13 standard as well as how to deal with standards such as LCC numbers
issued by the Library of Congress.


A publisher deals
fairly with vendors, and aims to establish long-term, rewarding relationships
within an industry. A publisher states clearly what is expected of a vendor and
enters into contractual agreements with stated goals and objectives that will
be adhered to by both parties.


A publisher produces
a well-edited, well-designed product that can compete with similar products,
and develops a marketing and promotion plan for distribution to both trade and
consumer markets through wholesalers, distributors, and/or the Internet.


Administration. A publisher bears total responsibility for everything
from the selection and acquisition of books to be published under the house
imprint through their production, promotion, and marketing.


And, getting back to the basics
for startup publishers, please remember to find out who will own your book’s
ISBN before you make a deal for production. This is the real first step in
distinguishing publishers—including self-publishers—from authors.



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