How to Start a Small Press Publishing Company

Updated February 21, 2017

If you have a passion for books, you might consider starting a small press publishing company. Starting a small press publishing company requires hard work, an eye for marketable manuscripts, as well as editing and revision skills. As a small publisher, you will want to focus on a niche within the publishing company. Base your decision for the niche on your interest and expertise, as well as careful research of the market on the niche's viability.

Research carefully your chosen niche market within the small press publishing industry. Determine how you will be able to compete in this market. Consider what types of manuscripts you will look for and refine your selection criteria. Research design companies, print-on-demand companies, and distribution companies to determine how you will proceed with the design, printing, and distribution of the books you will publish.

Write a detailed business plan based on your research. The time frame for the business plan should be one year. After a year, you will want to revise your business plan to reflect your current situation. Write a statement of purpose for your company. This should define your goals for the company. Maybe you want to provide opportunities for talented young writers or provide books to fill an under-served niche in the industry. Write a description of your business. This should clearly explain how the business will operate in every aspect that you can envision. Include an analysis of the market and competition, a marketing strategy, and financial projections. Attach at the end of the business plan any legal documents necessary to form your business.

Fill out and file the necessary business and tax forms to establish yourself as a legal entity at the local, state, and federal levels. Register as a limited liability company or corporation by filing a business registration form. Fill out and file a tax registration form. A small press publishing company is really no different from any other business in terms of taxes and business requirements. If you need specialised assistance in the process of filing forms, consult a lawyer or an accountant.

Work with lawyer to develop a detailed authors' contract. Rights, editing, and other issues will need to be detailed in the agreement to avoid issues once the process begins. Enter into an agreement with the authors before starting work on manuscripts.

Solicit manuscripts from writers through online classifieds, writers' organisations, and other trade networks. Review manuscripts on the basis of the criteria you established in your research and planning phase. Select 10 manuscripts, after careful review, to begin the publishing process.

Purchase a block of 10 ISBN or International Standard Book Numbers. It is best to start off with the smallest block of numbers available. As your company grows, you can expand the number of titles you offer. The ISBN number allows the book to be identified and sold internationally and catalogued in libraries.

Edit and proofread the manuscripts several times. Enlist the assistance of skilled editors and proofreaders to aid you in the process. You may choose to hire freelance editors/proofreaders to ensure that nothing has been missed. The quality of the manuscript will reflect your level of professionalism as a small press publishing company.

Work with a design company to lay out the manuscript in book form. Although you will be using the company's expertise in design and layout, work closely with the designer to ensure that your vision for the book is maintained.

Work with a print-on-demand company to print your books. Print-on-demand companies provide an ideal arrangement for small press publishers because they allow the book to be printed only when ordered by the customer. This keeps publishing costs down when compared to traditional printing methods. Base your decision to work with a company on your initial research. There are many print-on-demand companies in the marketplace; some are reputable and some are not.

Set up an interactive e-commerce website with help from a web designer. Include an online storefront with all your book titles. Integrate social networking links for each title so that users can share the books with people in their social networks. Build an interactive forum. Encourage participation in the forum to create a community. Respond actively to feedback to grow your company. Regularly post blogs and articles about upcoming projects, insights into authors and ways to get published.

Locate a distribution company for your book titles. Although you will sell your book titles online, you will still want to get them into bookstores. A distributor is a good option because it has the established connections that you will need for multiple stores.


Post guest blog articles by your authors to increase interest in their titles.


Enter into a legally binding agreement with authors before starting any project.

Things You'll Need

  • Business plan
  • Legal/tax documents
  • Manuscripts
  • ISBN numbers, block of 10
  • Design company
  • Print-on-demand company
  • Interactive e-commerce website
  • Distributor
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About the Author

Jonah Morrissey has been writing for print and online publications since 2000. He began his career as a staff reporter/photographer for a weekly newspaper in upstate New York. Morrissey specializes in topics related to home-and-garden projects, green living and small business. He graduated from Saint Michael's College, earning a B.A. in political science with a minor in journalism and mass communications.