Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Be careful naming your publishing company

Most brand name are neutral, like Ford or General Foods. Some names are chosen to enhance a product, like MasterCard or OfficeMax. Some gain status over the years, like Apple or Rolls-Royce.

Some choices are silly, puzzling or even negative.

I don't eat frogs. "Frog Delight" doesn't put me in the mood to buy bean sprouts.

Some people eat rabbit, but I don't. I also don't like blue food. "Blue Bunny" makes fine ice cream, but the brand name is unappetizing.

"Skin Apple" seems like a strange choice for a shower head.

Shakespeare's Juliet told Romeo, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." Juliet's admonition is bad for publishing.
  • Don't give your publishing company a name that stinks!
Independent authors have to make many choices. One of the most important choices -- which is often ignored -- is whether to have the name of a self-publishing company on their books, or a name that makes it seem like the book was not published by one of those companies.

Booksellers, readers and reviewers may have strong opinions about publishers. I confess that if I see that a book was published by Outskirts Press, PublishAmerica and some others I assume that the book is crap.

Some self-publishing companies allow authors to use a different brand name and logo on their books. Do it.

Fortune 500 companies often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months to develop names for household products, cars and websites. It's possible to do it in less time and at little or no cost, but be careful. Here are some tips:

(1) Pick a name that sounds substantial. If your name is Joe Smith, don't use "Joe's Book Company." "Smith Publishing" sounds a little bit better, but I recommend not using you own name in the company name. When you write a letter on your new letterhead, it's better if the name in the logo at the top is not the same as the name in the signature on the bottom. Let people at least think that there might be more than one person on your staff.

Obviously not a big company

Too small to have a name?
(2) Don't use a name that's too limiting. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.

(3) Don't pick a name that's already in use. You probably don't have to pay a lawyer to do a trademark search, but at least do a web search with several search engines, and check Writer's Market to make sure that no other publisher is already using your proposed name.

It's not a good idea to grab the name
of another company in a similar field.

(4) Don't pick a name that sounds like another publisher. Calling your new company "Random Home" or "Random Books" will invite a lawsuit from Random House. I don't know if Esquire Publications (above) has been sued by Esquire Magazine. Be cautious about using the name of another company even in an unrelated field. Although Cadillac pet food and Cadillac cars coexisted for years, the Toyota Motor Company sued the company that intended to market Toyota recording tape. You could go broke defending a lawsuit.

(5) Pick a name that works with a logo. It could be an actual photo or drawing, or just interesting typography. It's nice to have more than a name to put on your books, business cards, letterhead and website.

(6) Unless your specialty is grunge or mayhem. Try for a name that sounds pleasant. I named my company "Silver Sands Books," after a local beach.

(7) Try for a short name. It will be tough to fit "Xylophone Publications Internationale of Philadelphia" on the spine of a thin book. Also, the longer a name is, the more likely it is to be spelled wrong in emails and web searches.

(8) Register the name in the local municipal office that registers names, often the town clerk's office. You will get an “assumed name” certificate or a DBA (Doing Business As) certificate. Even if you are not incorporating as "ABC Books, Inc." you should get a legal document to prove that you have the right to use the "ABC Books" name. You'll need that paper to open a bank account in your new business name. You should also consider registering your business name and logo as a trademark with the Feds. Ask an attorney about it.

(9) Start using the name. Even if your first book is six months away, establish a website immediately to announce your planned books and talk about your company. Send out a press release to announce the new business. Order business cards. These simple and inexpensive activities will help establish "prior use" if another company later wants to grab your name. Within a few weeks of registering your name, you'll probably start to receive letters from local insurance companies and accountants and the Chamber of Commerce who pay your local government to receive lists of new businesses. Even if you have no plans to use their services, the letters addressed to your business may help to establish legitimacy later on.

(10) Get a business-like email address. "JohnSmith@ABCbooks.com" is more impressive than js38647252@aol.com.

(11) For your website and email address, avoid hyphenations and top-level domains other than "dot com." The more unusual your company name is, the more likely you are to get a dot com web address. I have SilverSandsBooks.com.  

(Cadillac photo from http://andreadisaster.com/. Thanks.)

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