Distance Education Course -Start a Publishing Business

Want to Start Your own Publishing Business?

Want to Advance the Career You Have Already Started in Publishing?

  • Plan and manage a publishing business.
  • Start a new publishing business or self publish a book, web site, or something else

Whilst it can be taken alone, this course is ideally studied as a follow on from Publishing I and II.

Distance Learning Course -How to be a Publisher

  • Understand business requirements and practices in the publishing industry.
  • Plan the production of a new publication
  • Start a business, or seek employment in the publishing industry


There are seven lessons in this module/course as follows:

  1. What to publish in commercial non-fiction
    • The difference between non-fiction and commercial non-fiction
    • Using strong voice and narrative
    • Types of non-fiction
    • Non-fiction genres
    • Using reader interest and expectations to help decide what to publish
    • Identifying a perceived need
    • Using cost and profit-making potential to make decisions

  2. Planning a New Publication : Developing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal
    • Why self-publishers need a book proposal
    • Considering the publisher/business perspective
    • What the author wants vs. what the reader wants
    • Questions to ask and answer in the book proposal

  3. Starting the publication process
    • Editing and proofreading
    • Typesetting
    • Standard book sizes

  4. Financial Management and Costing a Publication
    • Overview of potential outside services required for self-publishing
    • Print vs eBook
    • Market analysis for publishing in print
    • Competitor analysis
    • Estimating initial print run
    • Creation costs
    • Production costs
    • Marketing costs
    • Distribution costs
    • How royalties work

  5. Managing Resources and Expectations
    • Comparing resources for print vs ebooks
    • Print on demand
    • Just-in-time printing
    • Overview of print expenses
    • Resources required for ebook publishing
    • Analysing the market
    • Developing a business plan
    • Business plan framework

  6. Risk Management
    • Financial Risks
    • Scalability and Risk Management
    • Production
    • Copyright
    • Legal risks
    • Protecting intellectual property, including DRM and IRM

  7. Managing Writers and Illustrators in the Freelance Market
    • Types of freelancers and their services
    • Working with publishers, writers, and illustrators
    • Why authors choose to write
    • Specialist professionals and consultants

  8. Managing Production, Distribution, and Author Promotion
    • Sales agencies, PR, and conferences
    • Establishing an author platform
    • Networking
    • Social media
    • Media releases
    • Timing of production and distribution
    • Quality control
    • Marketing approaches, including total market approach, market segmentation, and developing the marketing mix


DURATION 100 hours (study at your own pace, on average taking 4-6 months part time)


  • Discuss the important considerations that affect the decision of what to publish.
  • Describe the process of planning the publication of a non-fiction book.
  • Discuss the financial requirements to produce a new publication.
  • Develop procedures for managing staff, freelancers and other resources in a self-publishing business.
  • Demonstrate insight into the different types of potential risks in a publishing business, including legal and financial risks.
  • Develop an improved capacity to work effectively with colleagues in the publishing industry.
  • Develop procedures for the management of production, and distribution of a publication.

Examples of Work in this Course:

Some of the activities that may be required in this course are:

  • Research the kinds and styles of works produced by three different book publishers;
  • List market research strategies that a publisher might use to decide which proposal to develop;
  • Research the percentage of publication given to advertising and graphics in three e-zines or books;
  • List the information that a publisher might want to research before either (i) commissioning a new children's book (choose the topic), or (ii) starting up a new magazine aimed at 8-12 year old children
  • Investigate the costs involved in cash and/or in resources in producing a particular publication
  • Write up a budget for the publishing of one issue of a local newsletter in two colours
  • Identify factors that contribute the very different retail prices of books and magazines
  • Prepare a draft business plan for a publishing business of your choice.
  • Investigate insurance policies that would be relevant to the publishing industry
  • Define publishers' responsibility in regards to copyright
  • Explain how a publisher would find a freelance writer and the process for contracting them
  • Briefly explain the importance of a photo library.
  • Track the process of a best seller and collect information on the marketing/advertising/selling process
  • Write different procedures which would be relevant to management of the production and distribution of a new e-zine, new magazine or new industry newsletter.



Things can go wrong in any type of business, and a publishing business is no exception. However, the nature of risks in publishing are a little different to risks that typically occur in other businesses. Publishers are especially vulnerable to legal and financial risks.

Legal risks

Publishers face many of the same legal risks faced by any business, but there are others which are specifically more of a problem in publishing than elsewhere:

  • Copyright infringement. Never underestimate the seriousness of breaching copyright. Every publisher should have a very good understanding of copyright laws, and seek legal advice before problems occur, not after they arise.
  • Libel/defamation. Specific laws restrict what can be published and certain things may not be legally published; for example, information pertaining to war, government secrets, and legal cases that have not been closed). Statements that display racial, religious, or other certain prejudice may also be illegal in some jurisdictions.
  •  Errors in accuracy of content. These may also pose legal risks for a writer or publisher. Even if something is true, a reporter may be sued if a published statement caused problems for someone, and the writer is unable to provide irrefutable proof of the truth.

It is the publisher's responsibility to ensure his or her writers, illustrators, photographers, editors and other staff are aware of the relevant laws and their respective responsibilities. Special attention should be paid to mentioning this both in staff contracts and staff training sessions. Any relevant procedures or quality manuals should also give due consideration to legal issues.

Financial risks

With the exception of vanity publishing, where the writer funds the publication, publishers take a financial risk every time they publish a book or magazine. Generally, publishers have sufficient knowledge of the market to make that risk worthwhile. In most cases they recoup their outlay and sometimes they make a healthy profit. However, sometimes they don't - the publication fails to meet expected sales targets, for any of a number of reasons. Experienced publishers are able to overcome minor setbacks but continued poor returns will soon lead to financial problems.

Some factors that lead to financial problems are beyond the publisher's control; for example, a downturn in financial markets or changes in government policies that adversely affect marketing and sales. In other cases, financial problems are caused by poor business management. Factors that contribute to financial problems include the following:

  • Poor cash flow. Generally publishers need to produce the publication before they get the return. Publishers either need to have ample financial resources or a line of credit (eg. bank loans or backers) to support them until the end of each project.
  • Unrealistic income targets. Sales, advertising or sponsorship targets not being achieved will lead to ruin. Such targets need to be realistic from the outset. New publishers frequently over-estimate revenue expected from advertising. Advertising income from publishing is notoriously competitive and difficult to attain. Often it requires a very aggressive and bordering on unethical approach to achieve the best results, and for some publishers, this is simply not the style they wish to pursue.
  • Not meeting a deadline. Some publications (eg. magazines and newspapers) are time sensitive for both advertising and editorial. Delays in publishing can damage a reputation with both readership and advertisers.
  • Unbalanced relationship between activities. If everything is spent on production, nothing is left for distribution or marketing.