Starting A Home Publishing Business

A friend of mine has written about the difference between the traditional "build a business and sell it" entrepreneur and what he calls a "life style" entrepreneur. If you’re thinking about starting a home publishing business, you probably fall into the second camp, with me. My goal was never to build my publishing business up so I could sell it, although a recent bout of estate planning brought home the fact that I have created an asset. My goal was to free myself from the frustrations of being a trade author, because even when it pays well, it’s too much like having a regular job. On the other hand, my business background doesn’t leave me too much room for sentimentality about business. Either you’re making enough money to live on, or you’re in your first year and on your way to making enough money to live on, or you’re not really in business. If your goal is simply to fill up some spare time and not spend too much of your spouse’s money doing it, you’re talking about a home hobby, not a home business.

Running any business out of the home really puts your discipline to the test, especially in the starting phases of a publishing business, where there’s a limited amount of mechanical work to fill your days. I’m using mechanical work here in the sense of daily tasks that account for some amount of your time and lend structure to your day. You can’t count on shipping and handling or customer service to fill any part of your day before you’ve had any sales, and more creative work is simply hard to sustain in a meaningful way for more than a couple hours a day. The most important activities you can engage in early on are market research and marketing. Internet book marketing with a website has a long lead-time, anywhere from three months to a year to start having a positive effect. As soon as your market research tells you which direction you’re going, get a skeleton site up and running with whatever you’ve learned in your research, and start filling in the details later as you write or acquire books to publish.

Starting a home publishing business doesn’t require much of a capital investment; $250 for a block of ten ISBN numbers is about it, assuming you already own a computer. Anybody who wastes their savings on business cards and company stationery at this stage is at risk for playing at business rather than working at it. You need market research, one or more titles that fill a niche your research has identified, and a way to market to that niche once those titles are turned into books. Don’t leave the marketing for last on the assumption that it’s something you can buy once you’re ready to sell, it just doesn’t work that way for most publishers. The rule of thumb I apply is, if I can’t get a hundred unique visitors a day to a site closely related to the content of a book I plan on publishing, I won’t publish it. The hundred a day doesn’t guarantee you anything more than a chance, some titles need ten times as much traffic to generate meaningful sales, but it’s a lot more than most small publishers start with. I broke my rule once and it cost me over $10,000, though I’m glad I published the particular book anyway.

Self publishing is a great way to economize on start-up costs, and not just because you won’t be paying out an advance to authors. Dealing with authors is expensive. You’ll need legal advice for contracts, a more robust accounting system than you can get by with for just yourself, and a business structure or insurance that limits your liability. You’ll probably find that trying to please authors leads to extra expenses as well. Most trade publishers include a clause in their publishing contracts stating that changes to a final proof initiated by the author above a fairly low thresh hold will be charged to the author. Part of the job of being a publisher is deciding what "fit for publication” means, and you can have your time-table and your profit margin held hostage by an indecisive author who can’t sign off on a work.

Amusingly enough, one of the things you don’t need when starting a home publishing business is a home. I’ve run my business off a cheap laptop for the last four years and I’ve only had dial-up access for most of that time. While the companies you deal with will require a home address, all financial transactions these days can be done electronically, both payments for book and services, and accounts receivable. I’m in the habit of traveling to Jerusalem for three months every winter, and my publishing business runs exactly as it would if I were home in the U.S.!

1 comment:

Ron said...

That's good advice about getting 100 views a day about the subject.