Friday, May 3, 2013

How to Start an Author/Publisher Business in San Diego

It's official: I'm self-publishing. The Vesuvius Isotope will be published by my brand new sole proprietorship, Murder Lab Press, and the publishers who have shown interest in the manuscript have been notified. Since I have just gone through the trials of tribulations of starting this business, I want to share the ins and outs with my readers who might be considering a similar endeavor. This post is specific to San Diego, because that's where I live, but many of the steps I list here apply universally.

Step 1: Develop a Business Plan

This step is huge, and I expect to cover it in a different post or, more likely, multiple posts. So here, I will just say: it's in your interest not to go off half-cocked. Do your research and know your market. Then decide how best to utilize it. If you ever apply for a business loan, you will need to have a written plan.

Step 2: Choose Your Business Structure

A business exists as one of several entities. It can be a corporation, a limited liability company (LLC,) a limited partnership (LP,) a general partnership (GP,) a limited liability partnership (LLP,) or a sole proprietorship. Almost all author or self-publisher businesses will start as a sole proprietorship. This means that the business is owned and operated by a single individual who is fully responsible for all business transactions, taxes, and liabilities, and who is the sole recipient of business profits. If you start a business as a sole proprietorship and decide later to hire help, you can roll your existing business into a larger structure. For more information, click here.

Step 3: Establish Your Business Address(es)

First, you need a mailing address. I suggest setting this up before anything else, because the FBN and Seller's Permit (below) require this information. Many people just use their home addresses, even adding a suite number to make it look more official. Others are concerned about creepy stalkers and/or identity theft, and prefer to open a post office box. I opened a P.O. box with the U.S. postal service. The branch location I am using also allows me to use their physical address as part of their service. This is important, because many, many businesses and services do not accept P.O. boxes (FBN and Seller's Permit included.)

Step 4: Claim Your Name

If you are doing business as yourself, using your legal name, then you can skip some steps here. But you still might want to Google yourself and see if there is a good niche on the web for your name to represent YOU and not someone else with your name.

For example, I found several other people also named Kristen Elise. There is a model, a jewelry designer, and ... another author. To separate myself from these others, I kept the Ph.D. attached to my name on my official website: Evidently, I'm the only Kristen Elise with a Ph.D. If you Google, "Kristen Elise", you get a ton of people. But if you Google, "Kristen Elise Ph.D.," you get only me for several pages. So there's my niche.

If your name is John Smith, I imagine you'll have more trouble with this. And this is where DBA comes in handy. DBA, or "doing business as", is what they call it when you create a business named anything other than your own legal name.

If your business will be DBA, you need to file a Fictitious Business Name (FBN). "John Smith's Pizza" and "Jane Doe's Windshield Repair" do not require a FBN, because the legal last name of the sole owner is in the name of the business. "Murder Lab Press" and "John Smith and Sons" do require a FBN because in one case, the owner's name is omitted, and in the other, there are additional people listed in the name as part of the business. For more information on FBN filing, click here. You can also search the site at the link provided to see if your chosen business name is available.

Once you have selected a Fictitious Business Name, you need to register it. This can be done in person at any of San Diego's office locations, or by mail. This costs $42 in San Diego. As soon as you file the FBN, it must be published. The county has very specific requirements for this and will give you a list of approved newspapers it can be published in. It is critical that you publish it immediately, because it must be published once every week for four weeks and all four publications must be completed within 30 days of filing the FBN. So don't wait. The newspaper you choose will publish all four weeks, and then they will send a notice of the publication back to the county office.

Step 5: Get A Business Tax Certificate (License)

This can be done online through the City Treasurer. It costs $35 per year in San Diego and can be done here. Certain unincorporated areas of San Diego County are exempt. Future posts in this series will detail tax laws for authors, but to get your business initiated, getting a business tax certificate is sufficient.

Step 6: Get a Seller's Permit

Assuming you actually intend to sell some books, you need to obtain a seller's permit. This can also be done online, here. It's pretty straightforward, but should be a last step after everything above is completed.

So now that your business is set up, you're ready to sell your books. Stay tuned for a post detailing how to sell your books in person, online, and through your own website. 


  1. For a sole proprietorship business, is it required to have a tax license? Great post, thanks for the details on this.

  2. No, you just have to pay the $35 online to get a business tax certificate and then pay your income taxes at tax time. You can use your own social security number for your tax ID number.

  3. With this post, I can now start my dream to build a publisher business. I hope a lot of people can read your post especially for those who want to have their own publishing business. Thank you for sharing!

    Progressive Business Publications

    1. Thank you Wesley, I'm glad you got something out of it.