I came across an article this week that got me thinking. Is it immoral or "fake" to have your own business entity along with the books you're publishing? To be honest, I didn't even realize this was an issue. I had several thoughts, in no particular order.
First, who even notices the publisher? I've been an avid reader all of my life, and I can name only a few imprints (and I'll be honest, I'm not very loyal. Except when it comes to authors, and then I'm super-loyal). Only when I got into self-publishing did I even acknowledge that those imprints were part of larger entities. The entire system of big publishing is a bit convoluted to begin with. I double many readers can puzzle out who is who. Then again, I have the same problem at the Day Job. Too many levels of management, says I.
Let's say there are readers that do notice the publisher. Enough to be significant. The question in my mind, then, is how do these people react when looking at my books? I'd like to think it's pretty obvious. My name is Matt Hofferth; it is the name on the books. Hofferth Books, LLC is our business entity. Does anyone question that they're related, run by the same people? I don't think there's a lot of smoke and mirrors going on here.
I guess I could see how some of the self-publishers with more cryptic business names might confuse someone. Still, if a reader is very publisher-conscious, how did they find us? Our marketing arms are hardly far-reaching. Not when you compare them to, say, the Avengers. (And which studio was responsible for that movie? I loved it. Was it Universal? Disney? Who else is there?)
I would posture that such a reader might be adventurous, looking for an undiscovered gem. And if there's anything I've learned about adventuring through writing fantasy, it's always to beware of thieves on the road. That is to say, I would expect such a reader to have a skeptical eye, and it doesn't take much to see through my mirage (or lack thereof).
On the flip side of this argument, there are a whole bunch of business reasons that make sense for self-publishers to go to the trouble of forming a business entity. I'm not sure I'm aware of all them. The simplest, and biggest, is probably for tax liability. I employed a wonderful tax prep consultant this year, and she helped me find a whole bunch of business-related items that I could write off. Tax time is perhaps the only time of year when it's a good thing that you're not profitable yet.
At the end of the day, I'm worried about the reader, though. I don't want any readers of mine to feel duped or misled. I've taken care to present myself as genuinely as I possibly can. I'm not in this business to fleece people. I love stories. I want to tell and share them. I'd like to do it more than just a few hours a night. That's where readers and money come in. It's win-win for everyone as far as I can see. If it stops being that, I'd probably stop doing this. I'd still write, but I don't want to swindle anyone.
I know, I was probably way too concerned about a simple article. I guess it just kind of caught me off guard. Have a significant portion of people really been fooled by this? Or, more succinctly, been fooled and regretted it? (If they were fooled into trying a self-pub book and really enjoyed it, that's a good fooling right? Sort of like when you find $20 in your winter jacket pocket.)
So, I guess, if someone notices my publisher, and then notices that the last names match, and then thinks: "hey, this isn't a real publisher..." Well, I'm not sure what else I could have done. It's my goal that you won't be able to tell the difference. At least, once you get between the covers.