Should Self-Publishers Use an Imprint Name? 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.”)


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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44 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. 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?

    • 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,

  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.

  8. Dominique says:

    Hi Helen,

    Love your work. I have a question.

    I’ve been doing a lot of research around EIN’s for DBA’s for some weeks now. The common problem that I seem to be facing is that the information given is coming from as if the person has never been in business before or is already doing business as a sole proprietorship and should file a DBA or move on to creating an actual entity.

    In my particular case, I don’t see it as helpful because I already have an entity/company and have filed a DBA for the imprint OF my company. The purpose of my imprint is to publish my non fiction books and e-books as well as any print material (workbooks, manuals for trainings, etc) to support my content and clients as well. So it will be generating its own income as I progress in the self publishing journey, but the purpose of the printed work flows back to its original entity, instead of a separate endeavor.

    So my question then becomes, do I need to apply for another EIN for my imprint (DBA)? Or should I just use the EIN that I already use for my company and just have a separate checking account created for its expenses?

    I am also inquiring of my accountant, just in case I am misjudging my question, based on industry. But in case I’m not, I wanted to inquire based on your background dealing with self published entrepreneurs as well.

    Thank you so much for your help in advance and I hope all is well with you!

    Take care!

  9. I setup an LLC in the state where I am based with the name of my imprint. I’m also registered with the Division of Corporations to collect sales tax. I have registered a DBA as the name would be exactly the name of my LLC. Do I need to do that?

    • No. If you are using the the same name as the LLC entity, then then neither you as an individual nor the LLC needs to file a DBA. If the LLC were doing business under a different name, then the LLC would file the DBA.

  10. jessica Dahl says:

    Hi! I have an LLC and was going to use the same name for my imprint. The only question I have is my LLC does not include the words “books”, “publishing” or anything like that. Is it best to have that in the name or am I ok if it is just the name of the LLC without those words? Thanks!

    • You don’t need to use the name books or publishing. In most states, the only time you need to use a description of the business is when its a medical provider, law firm, bank or licensed profession.

  11. SHANNON CORTEZ says:

    I have an LLC in my state of Texas and have 2 DBAs filed under the LLC for separate businesses. I set up the LLC as an investing firm. I would like to file a pen name under another DBA (FBN) but use my LLC as the publishing company. Could that be done? Any suggestions to the contrary?

    • It may be done, although the IRS may frown if you try to deduct any losses from your publishing business from other business income unless your publishing venture truly is a business, in their view. If you work with an accountant, ask him or her for advice for your particular circumstance.

  12. Shina says:

    Hi Helen!
    I recently set up an LLC/EIN for my publishing company (first to publish my own YA fantasy novel–with plans to publish more of mine, and others in the future). I often see many publishing companies with imprints for the different genres beneath them. And I’ve wondered: do they start separate LLCs for those imprints and just say they’re imprints of the main company, or do they set up DBA’s under their main company for each new imprint? I am wondering, since I set up this main LLC, if I end up also wanting to publish non-fiction (for example), if I should start an entirely new LLC. that will be separate–or if I could use my current publishing company as the MAIN one and then start a DBA for the others underneath it?

  13. Eileen says:

    I am self-publishing under a pen name. My question is, in setting up a DBA in the pen name–because you have to register your real info with the county in the DBA filing process–is that personal data searchable online? I am striving to remain identity-free to protect the individuals in the memoir (all names, locations, physical descriptions have been changed). I know that copyright info (personal data when registering) is searchable online. What about DBA? Thanks!

  14. Paul says:

    I am writing a book that explains Biblical symbolism and imagery. Some of the imagery could be considered offensive to large groups of people and a particular religion. To lessen the risk of lawsuits, is there any kind of disclaimer I can put in my book for this purpose?

  15. Montrez says:


    I love your book!

    I will be going sole proprietorship until I start generating a nice side of income, but I don’t know which to choose. I know you recommend fictitious name but I was wondering what the difference was between trade name and fictitious name?

    Thank you

    • There is a lot of overlap between a trade name and a fictitious name. A trade name is usually the name used in branding; it’s what you want people to recognize. A fictitious name doesn’t have to be used as a brand name, although it certainly can. Most likely your imprint name will be both a fictitious name and a trade name.

  16. Hello
    I am an American writer living in France. I am self-publishing my first novel with KDP hopefully under an imprint name I give to the book because I agree that a good name that is not your own makes the book look more professional. Since I am a resident of France and not of the States, there’s no question of registering DBA in a county or State. In addition, I do not plan to run a business with a separate account for the book. Payment will be made directly to me in my personal name. So can I skip the DBA registration altogether? I presume no one will come after me for NOT doing it since I will be conducting no business with it. It’s simply a name. But should the name I choose be registered somewhere though for IP purposes? Thanks so much for your help. Harriet

  17. Sandra says:

    Hello —

    Not sure if I’m understanding correctly. If I have an LLC and want to use a DBA as the publishing company, do I need to still file legal paperwork establishing the DBA if all payments will be going to the LLC? Also, I would use the DBA as the imprint for Bowker? Thank you!

    • If you are using the name of the LLC as your business name, then you don’t need to do a separate DBA filing. If your LLC has one name, and the LLC is doing business under a different name, then the LLC should file a DBA. Make sense?

  18. Andra says:

    I am new to self-publishing and unfortunately did not find your wonderful article until after applying for my copyright and Library of Congress number. On both applications I wrote my name as the publisher. Ugh! I wish I had not! Is it possible to Apply for a DBA and then change the name of the publisher on copyright record for my book without delaying the publication by 2 or 3 months? Also, we are planning to move this fall…if one city is printed in the book as the location of publication, but the DBA name is moved to a different city/state, is that a problem?

    Thanks so much for your help.

    • You can amend you copyright registration to change the owner of the copyright to your publishing company. I am not sure about the LOC number, but I would not bother. Few people will see how you registered it. You should register your DBA in the location of your business. Many states register DBAs by county, in which case you would register for a new DBA only if you switched counties. Others do it by state. So you should redo your DBA filing if you move to a new jurisdiction (county or state, depending on where you are).

  19. Caryn says:

    I am still a little confused. If you self publish and want to use a different name for the publishing company do you really have to become a business ie. get registered as a sole proprietor or LLC or can you just file a DBA?

  20. Trish says:

    I am a little confused. I currently working on self publishing a book and was wondering how to go about my imprint name. I am Canadian and have obtained my ISBN number from the ” Libraries and Archive Canada” site. When filling out my imprint/publishers name am I suppose to use the place I obtained my ISBN number (which in this case is Libraries and Archive Canada) or am I suppose to develop my own brand/publishers name?

  21. Edgar says:

    I hate that I feel dumb that I’ve read all the comments and can’t tell if someone has same circumstance as me. If I have a LLC that sells art, coffee, merch, home goods for example First Quarter Group LLC, and now decide to make my own journals and self publish. Is making a DBA First Quarter Publishing possible given that First Quarter Group LLC does all these other things? Do i need a new EIN for the DBA? Or is it liek making a DBA to be able to put on the journal but when i get paid, say paypal or shopify i useFirst Quarter Group LLC. Hope this makes sense and thank you for your time.

    • Edgar, Your question is confusing. If you are asking whether you may operate your self-publishing business under your existing LLC and EIN, the answer most likely is yes. And if you are using Publishing instead of Group you would not need a separate DBA filing unless you wanted to open up separate bank accounts. If you work with a CPA, check with him or her as well.

  22. A says:


    I just published three children’s book. I read your book and by mistake in the imprint name when uploading the books into Amazon (even when I bought the ISBN numbers from Bowker) I wrote Bowker in the imprint instead of my LLC company. I reached out to Amazon and they said I can’t change it. What would you recommend I should do? My books have five stars reviews.

    • A, It’s not a big deal. Whatever benefit you get from using your imprint name is small compared to keeping your five star reviews. So I wouldn’t change anything.

  23. Erica A says:

    Hi Helen,

    This article is really helpful for me. Will it look odd that I am the only author on my imprint website? I do not have any plans at this time to publish other authors’ books, but I do plan to promote similar books, train others on how to successfully self-publish, host speaking engagements related to the topics in my books, and partner with non-profits in developing countries to increase access to diverse books. Based on this information, do I need to establish an imprint website and a separate author website or can everything just exist on the imprint company website? I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Erica, You could roll everything into one website for now. Eventually, when you have a broader business, you may want to set up separate websites. But for now, keep it simple.

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