There are a number of pitfalls first time publishers can fall into. The purpose of this is to outline a few of those, and to provide a few hints in how to avoid them. If you're doing your first book, good luck. You'll need it, but you should do it anyway. And maybe this can help.
Simple publishing hints
Give yourself plenty of time. Plan what you do.
Get it right! Independent proofreading, always send galleys to authors, doublecheck details, don't make assumptions. Small press publishing is like writing, it comes from the heart, and you are too close to the subject to see mistakes.
Don't use A5 if you want bookshop distribution as a fiction title. You are immediately advertising yourself as a non-professional small press. Use one of the standard book sizes which retailers are familiar with.
If you aren't used to dealing with artists, consider buying existing artwork rather than commissioning pieces.
For the cover, consider using a separate designer to the artist. The artist has a conflict of interest, selling the artwork, not the book.
Always send pdfs to the printers, not native files.
Make sure you use a barcode on the back cover -- this can be provided by both the printer and Thorpe Bowker. The new thirteen digit ISBN will be identical to the numbers printed under the barcode.
Make sure your book is in all the books-in-print databases. These are used by library suppliers, libraries and retailers. Especially used by the large online retailers. A punter goes into a bookshop and asks for your book, they won't find you if you aren't on these databases. Your sale stops right there.
Make absolutely certain people can find you without going to too much trouble. (Because they won't!)
Be aware of genre conventions with cover art. Your 'middleman' customers are distributors and bookshop buyers. They expect certain styles.
Most aspects of your business communications and systems as a publisher are determined by the needs of the industry. Pay attention. This isn't about your ego, this is about communicating.
Always respond quickly and professionally to business requests, especially orders. Don't have 'boxes of books in the garage syndrome'.
Layout Hints for Fiction
For fiction, use the same leading between paragraphs as between lines.
Turn off hyphenation. Do it manually, if needed.
If you decrease the size of the font, increase the leading between lines.
For readability, the best length for a line is about 60 to 66 characters --including spaces. If you go over this, then turn up the leading.
On A5 and digest size pages, consider two columns. You actually fit more text.
Take headers and page numbers, etc, off your prelim matter pages. Take headers off title and chapter heading pages, and shift page numbers to the bottom of these pages, if you use them at all.
Use a clean, neat, readable font. Serif for text, sans serif for titles. Fancy fonts take the reader's attention away from the message.
Worry about orphans, worry less about widows.
Keep number of lines of text on facing pages consistent.
Don't use MS Word or Publisher as a layout tool. (Though they are getting better.) InDesign and Quark are the industry standards. Framemaker is excellent when you have a lot of graphics to place, but the paragraph designer isn't so hot unless you do ragged right. (Like these paragraphs.)
Always bleed cover artwork by at least 2 mm, preferably 5 mm.
Don't set a text header immediately above body text. On turning a page, the reader's eye goes to the header, instead of continuing automatically into the next line of text. Solution: set the header in a different font, italic, underlined, centred on the page, etc.
Cover titles need to be big enough to be read as thumbnails on a webpage.
Chose a distributor who already has a line of books in the style of the book you're marketing.
Chose a distributor who will cover bad debts, and who will insure against fire and theft, etc, in the warehouse.
Chose a distributor who is not so small that shops never reorder. Ie, a distributor for whom bookshops can easily reach minimum order requirements.