Three (Surprisingly Simple) Steps to Registering a Writing Business

Write story. Distribute e-book. Earn royalties. Boom! You’re a professional writer…right?

If you’ve got only one or two books in mind, this is a fine approach. Starting and managing a writing business probably isn’t worth the hassle for a single memoir or how-to manual. But for independent authors planning numerous titles, a formal business has two key advantages:

  • Brand. In the critical sphere of marketing, a unifying imprint can help identify your author platform. This includes registering ISBNs in the name of your business, rather than the distributor’s (IngramSpark, KDP, whoever). Brand-building was the major reason I resolved to start my own publishing imprint this year.
  • Taxes. As I’m discovering as I prepare my previous titles for print, self-publishing can cost a fair bit of money. Between proofreaders, cover design, ISBNs, and setup fees, the price tag of launching a book is easily $500. Businesses can write off some of it this as operational expenses, a benefit the IRS does not extend to hobbyists. (To learn more about the distinction from a tax perspective, I recommend this blog post about the IRS guidelines for professional vs. hobby writers.)

If you’re ready to go pro with your own publishing imprint, here are the three (surprisingly simple) steps to register a writing business.

1. Choose a type of business entity.

Businesses, like quarks, come in several flavors:

Sole Proprietorship

A legally distinct version of you for business purposes. You register a business name— your real name, a pen name, or other identifier—under which to operate. This structure provides no protection if you get sued over contracts, copyright, or anything else. However, its simplicity  offers many advantages to the fledgling indie author. Sole proprietorships don’t entail a lot of corporate paperwork, and you report earnings on your personal income tax, with net income after expenses subject to the self-employment tax (15.3% as of 2018).

Partnership

Includes two owners in either a general partnership, where both parties share equal responsibility; or limited partnership, where one person controls the business and the other is a contributor. Depending on the business structure, a partnership can function as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Exactly what it sounds like: an entity that provides the owner partial liability protection, separating business and personal assets so the latter are preserved in the event of a lawsuit. Owners are not liable for business debts unless it can be proven that they acted in an illegal or irresponsible way.

Corporation

A legal entity in its own right, independent from the owners. Corporations can sell or own property, be sued, or sell stocks. There are different types of corporations, but I won’t discuss them here since the complexities of this entity are well beyond most indie authors’ needs. You can read more about them here.

2. Choose a business name.

Creating a business allows you to conduct your writing endeavors under a trade name. For sole proprietorships, this is often denoted by “doing business as”, or DBA. It might be your pen name (for example, “Harry Potter DBA H.J. Potter”) or an imprint name (“Harry Potter DBA Lighting Bolt Press”). If you choose an imprint name, research it to make sure it’s not already in use.

Once you’re satisfied of a name’s uniqueness, you’ll need to check your regional business registry database for possible conflicts. Some states allow businesses with different purposes to use the same name (e.g., “Red Pen Publishing” and “Red Pen Tax Services” would both be permissible) but consider how that might impact your distinctiveness.

3. Register your business.

Got a name? Great. Now get your wallet and prepare to file your business forms. If you’ve chosen one of the simpler structures, the registration process is quite straightforward. My state offers an online business portal for citizens to manage their business records electronically. The site posted clear instructions on the business registration process. Rules will differ between states (or other municipalities, for my friends outside the U.S.), so study the requirements for whatever region you’ll be filing in. All of them will likely request:

  • Your name and residential address
  • Business name and address, if different (some authors prefer a separate PO Box in their business name; if that’s you, make sure to do it before beginning your registration)
  • A brief description of your business’ activity

I completed a basic online form and submitted it in a few clicks. Aside from about $75 in fees, the process was astonishingly painless. And quick: a few days later, I had the letter of acceptance for my new business entity, and the filing will be valid for the next five years. That’s all there is to a business registration!

So much for the easy part. Now I can proceed with other elements of the author business process, such as:

  • Opening a separate bank account for business finances
  • Creating new email and web domains for my business
  • Designing a business logo
  • Registering ISBNs

And of course, writing more books to expand my product line and grow my new business!

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