Should Self-Publishers Use an Imprint Name?

April 4, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21958706Some bloggers are up-in-arms about self-publishing writers using imprint names. They claim an imprint name misleads readers into assuming the book has been vetted by the traditional publishing process. (An imprint is a trade name you create for your self-publishing business and is listed online and at the front of your book as the “publisher.”)

Hogwash!

Think of all the small businesses you know: the local flower shop, the wedding photographer, the physical therapist, the fruit seller at the farmers’ market. How many of them use a trade name even if they are a mom-and-pop, or just a mom, or just a pop, company? Why not you? Your self-publishing venture is no less legitimate a business.

I recommend you adopt an imprint name, even if your self-publishing business is a sole proprietorship. An imprint name is commonly known as a DBA, short for “doing business as.” Publishing under an imprint name makes it less obvious that your book is self-published. (Many bookstores, reviewers, bloggers, contests, and readers refuse to consider self-published work.) Using an DBA also encourages you and others to see the venture as a business, a real benefit at tax time.

Choosing an imprint name is a creative process. You could use your personal name, such as “Helen Sedwick Publications,” which doesn’t say much. Your imprint name should imply some promise about your books, such as romance (Passion Press), adventure (Kick-Ass Books), travel (Rickshaw Riders), or life-changing insights (Next Chapter Publications).

My novel, Coyote Winds, is set in the American West, so I chose Ten Gallon Press as the name of my imprint. I tried dozens of other names, such as Prairie Winds Press and Coyote Publications, but they were already in use.

Your imprint name may include the word “company,” but should not include corp., corporation, or inc., unless you have set up your business as a corporation.

How to Determine if a Name is Available

Start with a internet search of possible names using Google, Bling, and other search engines. As you settle in on a name, be sure to check several search engines since one may show results that the others missed.

Check the Fictitious Business Name (FBN) filings of your local county. Many, if not most, counties have on-line databases. I’ll explain the purpose of an FBN filing in my next post. Here is the link for searching in San Francisco.

Search domain names. There are many sites where you can search and purchase domain names. I use GoDaddy, but there are many others. Try various spellings and misspellings. See where people will land if they type your domain wrong.

Search the U.S. Trademark Office database. Federal trademark law is tricky. If you see a registered trademark which is the same or similar to your dream name, don’t despair. Generally, you may use the same or a similar name as long as you do not “create a likelihood of confusion in the mind of the consumer as to the source of the product.”  What does that mean? Here’s an example.

I searched the trademark “Goody Two Shoes.”  The database lists one “live” registration by MaxWax Inc. for a “hair removal service using wax or sugar that removes hair from women or men up to two inches inside the bikini line with the bikini line defined as the break between the top of the leg and the beginning of the bikini area.”  If you were to adopt the imprint name “Goody Two Shoes,” you are highly unlikely to be infringing on the MaxWax’s trademark.

However, don’t try to use a well-known or strong trademark such as Exxon or Apple.  Owners of strong marks have the right to claim that permitting others to use their trademarks “dilutes” the value of the mark. Avoid this fight. Those companies have lawyers who will make your life miserable. You are better off using your time and energy for writing your next book.

Once you decide on a name, buy the domain name ASAP.  Considering buying .com, .net, .info, and other tags. They are a small and worthwhile investment.

What are your thoughts about imprint names? Has this issue been overblown?

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12 responses to “Should Self-Publishers Use an Imprint Name?”

  1. Leonard Rattini, CCP says:

    I bought your book, but that doesn’t make me a legal expert. It tells me to take notice. I’m currently working on a manuscript that hopefully will become a book someday. It’s about many computer applications’ designs, which I intend to expose their incompetence, that causes user frustration time to understand, and money wasted. I’ll be pointing fingers at the likes of Amazon, PayPal, Microsoft, etc. to explain how they deceive us users by their incompetence that comes with a price. To know what that CCP title after my name means, Google search (instead of google …, see I learned something from you)ICCP.

  2. Highly informative and good links! I really appreciate reading the information you wrote re: imprints. I, too, agree with your assessment that by somehow creating your own imprint that a self-publisher is trying to be sneaky or disingenuous.

    The fear I have is choosing the right one without infringing on someone else’s prior claim.

    Thank you for this article. I appreciate it. Peace! DDM

  3. Linton Hall says:

    Nothing wrong with using an imprint name no matter who you are. This is no different than for grocery items. Are Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Betty Crocker real people? Do they blend and package cake mix in a little kitchen in a 3-room farmhouse? Of course not. Do entertainers and writers use pen names? All the time. Do book covers have photos and artword instead of just the title in black letters on white paper? Of course.
    So… using an imprint name is simply putting your best food forward and giving a positive image.

  4. Can I create an imprint name without having to file for a DBA?
    Thanks.

    • By law, if you are going to be operating a business in other than your own name, you are supposed to record and publish a Fictitious Business Name Statement in the county where the business will be located. I don’t believe anyone actually enforces these laws, but if you get any payments made out to your DBA, you might not be able to cash or deposit it unless you have a FBNS to show to the bank.

  5. Thank you.
    I once ran a freelance business under a DBA in NYC and got hit for a hefty unincorporated business tax. I’m reluctant to go that route again. But it seems from what you say that the problem should never come up if I don’t get payments made out to the name I use for my “publisher” imprint.
    All the best,
    Morty

  6. I’ve been reading your book and it’s fantastic. I was going to put my pen name filed as a DBA, but should I do that in addition to filing a DBA for my imprint name? Basically, should I get a fictitious business name statement for both my pen name AND imprint name?

  7. David says:

    Hi Helen,
    Is it possible to use an imprint if you haven’t set up a company first?I’m trying to buy ISBNs and the company is asking for my “publishing name”. They said this can either be my name or a publishing house name. They seem to think I don’t need a real company behind it but I’m not so sure.

    • David, My apologies for taking so long to respond. For some reason, my website stopped giving me notifications when I received comments. If you have decided on an imprint name and have done your research to make sure no other publisher is using it, then you may register your ISBNs in your imprint name even though you haven’t yet gone completed a DBA filing (or formed an entity if that’s your preference). But you should finish up with setting up your company fairly soon afterwards.

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