When most people think about the publishing industry, they think of NYC skyscrapers and newsreel footage of giant offset presses spitting out sheets faster than the eye can follow. What isn't immediately obvious in that picture is the outsourcing that goes on behind the scenes. While this blog is usually focused on self-publishing, today I want to talk about home based business opportunities in publishing for non-authors, or authors who are still struggling to make ends meet.
Before you start fishing for freelance or contract publishing work on the Internet, you better get your tools and skills up to speed. I'm going to run through some of the publishing job functions you can perform out of your home, all with the obvious caveat that you have to be a fair hand at the work and you have to be able to market yourself. If your idea of starting a home based business is taking out an advertisement somewhere and waiting for the phone to ring, good luck.
There are several types of editing in the publishing business, all of which can be performed as easily by a home based editor as by a salaried editor in an office. I've worked as both a technical editor and as a regular, or content editor. Anybody who has read a couple of my posts knows I wouldn't stand a chance as a copy editor, somebody who applies Chicago Manual of Style rules and enforces corporate codes. Some of these jobs pay by the book (I recall $2,000 for a technical editing job), some pay by the page (a couple dollars a page is a good start) and some pay by the hour. How you get paid is often in your control as a business, but if you don't give good value, you're unlikely to get follow up opportunities. I always hire a freelance editor for my own self published titles.
I know there are some freakish people out there who can do a pretty good job proofreading their own prose, but I'm not one of them (as this blog proves), and you probably aren't either. Professional proofreaders can charge as much as copy editors, often they are the same people, but there's also a demand for "another pair of eyes" proofreaders, especially from small publishers. I always hire a home based proofreader, and I've even hired a few dormitory based proofreaders as extra insurance. I think it's actually easier to earn money as a home based editor than as a proofreader, because there's just too much amateur competition for the latter.
I wouldn't dream of trying to do illustration as a professional, but I have a sister and a niece who do just that. There are all sorts of levels and niches in the illustration business, from children's books to technical illustrations. I'm including photography and image enhancement work as illustration work for brevity; most illustrators wouldn't. You can charge per illustration, per job, or per hour, and if you include book design in your services, your average ticket may be in the $5,000 range or higher. Whatever your computer of choice, it's important that you be well versed in the leading Adobe software packages which are the default standards for most of the publishing industry. You should also own a decent flatbed scanner, not a $30 cheapy.
Book design is a bit of a black art in the sense that you can do a great job and still have the client hate it due to personal aesthetic preferences. A couple of the trade books I authored were completely designed by freelancers. One was great and another was a disaster. If you're going to run a design business out of your home, make sure that either your clients provide you with an example of the exact look they want to imitate (flattery, etc.) or that you maintain excellent communications and get approval at each stage before you invest significant time actually pouring the book into the design. Cover design is usually a specialty business or a sideline for illustrators, but plenty of books designers and layout artists offer cover design as well for one-stop shopping.
I get a lot of offers to work as a publicist or a marketing consultant, but I don't accept them because I earn a good living self publishing and don't want the aggravation. If you're a successful self publisher who's simply written-out and wants to try a different business, publicity may be a good bet since you have the track record. I often see ex-trade publicists running a freelance business out of the home after getting downsized or leaving to raise a family. For me, the key to the publicity and marketing is matching the promotion to the author's abilities and credentials. If you treat everybody like a bestselling guru with TV potential, you're robbing them. Fees are usually charged by the hour or for a fixed package of promotional activities of questionable value. For heaven's sake, don't get the authors' hopes up by charging them for bookmarks and flyers and calling it publicity.
Research is often overlooked as a home based business opportunity, but it's great work if you can get it. Just keep in mind that if you're any good at market research and fact finding, you should probably be writing your own books and self publishing. Market research is a funny business because it's usually based on easily obtained data, like Amazon rankings, bookstore shelf stocking and libraries. But, most authors and publishers really don't do a good job, preferring to follow their guts until they're forced to spill them on the floor :-)