You Can Start Your Own Publishing Business

Learn how to start a publishing business from home, including do-it-yourself versus vanity, typesetting, justification, layout, copyright, printers, the economics of self-publishing,

| March/April 1976

At a time when over 30,000 new book titles appear on the market each and every year, can a one-man publishing outfit — operating from a bedroom, cellar, or garage — hope to survive let alone compete? Well, despite runaway paper costs, a tight national economy, and the recent rise in illiteracy, Stephen D. Brown says "You bet!" And he should know. Because for the last year and a half (ever since he finished college) Steve has been busily turning out books under the highly successful Little Brown House imprint. What was once a part-time hobby for Steve has now blossomed into a full-time — and lucrative — self-publishing career. Sound interesting? Then let Steve Brown tell you how to start a publishing business.  

I suppose it was just one of those happy accidents of fate: In December of 1972 — when the members of my widely scattered family came together to celebrate Christmas — the whole group embarked on a self-publishing venture entirely on the spur of the moment. At the time, none of us ever dreamed the little enterprise would still be paying handsome dividends three yuletides later!  

The family project that launched us into the publishing business was a collection of our favorite recipes we titled The Little Brown Cookbook. Looking back, it was probably all to the good that we didn't have much time to spend on the endeavor before again going our separate ways. In a matter of days my mother and sister had collected and edited the book's contents, my brother had hand-lettered each page and drawn illustrations, and I'd taken care of layout and printing arrangements.

None of us had had any experience in the booklet business — so we couldn't guess at the sales potential of our homey 48-page tract. Thus it was with a blind faith that we ordered what was, to us, a staggering press run of 2,000 copies of the book.

It wasn't enough! Bookstores and souvenir and gift shops sold out within several months. We ordered more and more books from the printer. The hard part was done — all that remained was to count our mounting profits.

This initial success made me anxious to publish another book so, as soon as I finished my college studies, I returned home in the summer to write a 40-page illustrated guidebook about the town made famous by John Brown's 1859 raid: Harpers Ferry. Two months after the first copies came off the press I was sold out. I quickly ordered 5,000 more copies, and the profits from these books — together with money still coming in for The Little Brown Cookbook — made a sizable fund for future book investments.

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