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Running a publishing business

As well as covering all the usual tax, financial and employee matters there are particular industry elements of selecting content, scheduling, editing, design, production, marketing, sales, and distribution.

There’s a good description/definition of traditional publishing on the Scholarly Kitchen website: see How Traditional Publishing Works by Joseph Esposito 17 September 2018.

Business structure

If you are setting up as a publisher, you will need to consider what would be the right legal structure for your business eg: sole trader, partnership, limited liability partnership or limited liability company. A good source of information about business structures and setting up a business generally, is the Business Gateway website aimed at new and growing businesses in Scotland.

Contracts: author and services

It is always advisable to issue a contract to your author and anyone who provides services such as a freelance designer. Clark’s Publishing Agreements: A Book of Precedents (Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd, 10th edition) is an essential book which gives model contracts to follow. Note that the 11th edition is due in 2022.

If necessary get specialist advice – eg from a lawyer or other publishing contract specialist – before signing.

Be aware of the kinds of rights and permissions that are granted to you under the terms of the contract and ensure that you get all that you need eg

  • an author’s contract does not automatically include all rights such as audio book rights
  • commissioning an illustration for a book cover does not automatically give you permission to use it for other goods such as a mug or book bag.

Publishing Scotland member publishers sign up to a Code of Practice in their dealings with authors. There is also an Author and Publisher Voluntary Code which is the result of a collaboration between the Society of Authors in Scotland and Publishing Scotland.

Copyright is a complex and changing area of the law and, clearly, it is impossible to cover all aspects of permission here. The UK Intellectual Property Office website is a good source of general information about copyright.

PLSclear is an online service that allows you to search, identify, request permission and have it sent on to the publisher. It is operated by the Publishers Licensing Society. It is free to use for occasional users.

The BBC has information on copyright on the Copyright Aware section of its website.

The Publishers Association Copyright Infringement Portal (CIP) began its life in 2009 and over the last 5 years CIP users have served over 2.8 million cease & desist notices to infringing websites. In 2015 CIP was relaunched after being upgraded. For more information, see the CIP sitePublishing Scotland members can get a discounted subscription. For information, email the PA.

For researchers, policy-makers and those seeking a deeper understanding of copyright, the University of Glasgow’s Copyright Evidence Portal is a centralised resource cataloguing the state of knowledge and evidence on copyright’s effects on society.

Royalties and fees

These can vary depending on the format of the work, the nature of the involvement in it, and the type of publishing (eg from around 10% in trade paperbacks to 50% for ebooks). Ask around. In some areas of publishing it is more common to pay a fixed fee.

Producing the Book

New technology is clearing away old methods of book production and there are many ways of getting your titles produced. You may consider using freelancers to help with editing, proofreading, picture research, design, marketing, and other aspects. Those printers, typesetters and freelancers who are Network Members of Publishing Scotland are listed on the Network Members pages. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) website also lists editorial freelancers. 

Marketing Your Title

Bibliographic data

It is vital that you compile bibliographic information on your titles so that they can be accessed, viewed and ordered widely, particularly online. Upload your information to Nielsen Title Editor. The bibliographic essentials, recommended by BIC (The Book Industry Communication) are to be found on their website (guidelines for ebooks recently added) – start with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) obtainable from the UK ISBN Agency. If you list your titles with Nielsen, they will automatically be listed on Amazon UK.

Thema is a relatively new global subject classification system for books, which has already gathered wide international participation. It is intended for use by all parts of the book trade, aims to be globally applicable, and is tailored for commercial use within the trade. For more details, see the EDItEUR website.

Most titles benefit from having an Advance Information sheet. This will contain the bibliographic data as well as the cover rough, if available, and the blurb. This sheet should be sent to bookshops, as well as Nielsen, at least 16 weeks ahead of publication.


Because of the limited space for reviews in the traditional print media, it can be difficult to attract the attention of reviewers. Newspapers, magazines etc will have reviewers details online and you can contact them direct. Social media is vitally important from book blogs to podcasts to Tik Tok, depending on the book and its potential readership.


Depending on what you can afford, using a dedicated book distribution company can help facilitate the selling of your titles. The company is unlikely to take on a single title however and it may be worth waiting till you have built up a certain mass of titles before approaching distributors. Expect to pay between 9% and 16% of turnover on distribution costs if using a third-party company.

Publishing Scotland set up BookSource, a distribution company based outside Glasgow, in 1996. They currently handle distribution for over 50 publishers. Other distributors include: TBS The Book Service and Grantham (part of Penguin Random House Distribution); Hachette UK Distribution (including Littlehampton Book Services and Bookpoint); MarstonTurnaround; and HarperCollins. Retailers also source books from wholesaler Gardners. Our members list which distributor or distributors they use on their listing pages.

Selling to bookshops, supermarkets, libraries etc

Discounts will vary depending on the nature of the outlet and the size and scope of your company, as well as the type of book. It is your responsibility to negotiate with sales channels.

Waterstones has useful information on its website for independent publishers wishing to submit books.


If you have a title that has international potential, you may consider trying to sell rights to publishers in other countries. However, this is a far from easy task and requires patient research into suitable companies and then sometimes protracted negotiations. Most publishers will try to attend at least one book fair to ascertain likely international partners. The major book fairs take place every year in London, the USA, Frankfurt and Bologna (for children’s books).

Alternatively, some publishers use agents or scouts to represent them and carry their titles to book fairs. It is not an easy thing to find out who these agents or scouts are so ask around.

Don’t forget that you are legally required to send your books for legal deposit. The National Library of Scotland is one of the libraries of deposit. This means it is entitled in terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 to request a copy of all printed items published in the United Kingdom, and in the Republic of Ireland by reciprocal legislation. From 6 April 2013, the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print) Regulations 2013 extended this to include the right to request or harvest UK electronic publications. These regulations do not change the arrangements for depositing printed publications. Publishers should continue to send these publications to the National Library of Scotland or to the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries (Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries, 21 Marnin Way, Edinburgh EH12 9GD). See the NLS website for details.


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