What is a Minimum Viable Publisher?

FDI Publishing was founded by Tara Kelly — that’s me. I’d like to tell you a little about it.

Tara Kelly
3 min readMar 10, 2023

One Person, Many Roles

For over a decade, I worked as a designer in the startup world. I’ve founded two companies, sold one, been the first hire at multiple startups, and worked in large multinational companies. I’ve made a career of being the first designer hired, then building up a team from scratch.

In 2021 I bade farewell to tech and started a new venture: publishing. I began as a self-published author, producing First Designer In, a non-fiction UX design survival guide. The name FDI Publishing is an abbreviation of this first title. I soon expanded into children’s books as well.

Everyone holds a multitude of roles and skills within themselves.

One person, many personas.

For me, I’m a designer, entrepreneur and mentor by profession, while at home I’m a parent, loyal friend, and storyteller. It feels natural to write books that fit the various facets of my life. Alas, “the algorithm” favors uniformity. A single author with titles in vastly different genres accomplishes little more than a confusing selection of books served up in Amazon’s Also Bought section. For this reason, I released my children’s books under a pen name, Kelly Tills, and separated them into an appropriate imprint, Good With Crayons.

What can I say, I like things to be tidy.

A Startup Approach to Publishing

There’s a stigma in the publishing industry around self-published authors co-opting the terms small press or independent publisher when in fact they are just, well, self-published. I get it. There’s a similar stigma in the tech industry around small businesses co-opting the term startup.

Startups may look like small businesses at the onset, but they differ in their intent to grow. Likewise, I view myself as a startup publishing company because of my intent to grow beyond my self-publishing roots. This very early stage of a tech company is called the minimum viable product (MVP). How could I not play on words and dub myself a minimum viable publisher?

An MVP is meant to answer the question, “How can I prove out this concept with the minimum expense and effort possible?”

Here are the questions I aim to answer:

  1. Can I create quality books? Will people like them?
  2. What’s my niche? Where’s the right balance between a market big enough to sustain a business, and small enough to maintain an authentic relationship with readers?
  3. Do I even like publishing?

The Verdict on the MVP

Item one — I’ve got my answer. Readers and reviewers like the books. Parents are happy, kids are giggling, and UX designers are illuminated. And that’s a good thing, because I very much do like writing.

Item two — The niche for the UX design books is pretty nailed down, while for the kids’ books… not so much. I’m still homing in on just the right balance, with several topics that excite me around neurodiverse, genderless stories, and positive values. But also silliness. Always silliness. There’s nothing worse than a preachy kids’ book.

Item three —The jury is still out. I really enjoyed launching and promoting the books, but I struggle deeply with distribution and the absurdly slim margins of Print-on-Demand (POD). To make publishing work, I’d have to do a much larger investment per book, which means publishing less and less often. That sort of makes me sad-faced.

Overall, I’m feeling confident about continuing with the experiment.

Next Steps

Notice there’s nothing in above about scaling to multiple authors. That’s by design; it’s an eventual next step.

In the meantime I’ll be working on improving margins (good-bye POD printing), ironing out the logistical hilarity that’ll surely follow, and figuring out how to scale sales and marketing. I couldn’t bring on new authors in good conscience until I’ve nailed that.

But… I’ve also found many significant cracks in the current way of doing things in the publishing industry, and I’m itching to smash it to pieces and reassemble something better. I’ve got some ideas, but that is for a future post.

If you’re curious about FDI, come say hello: tara@fdi.pub