It’s hard to think of a better home based business than publishing. Whether you are publishing paper books, magazines and newsletters, or have made the transition to electronic publishing, there’s practically no difference in the office setup. You’ll need a computer (I use a laptop) and a printer, though you can do without a printer for long stretches of time. Then you’ll need an Internet connection and, and, that’s it. You don’t even need a phone if you don’t like talking to people, e-mail is much more efficient. If you publish paper books and you print offset rather than on-demand, you’ll need storage space, but that’s low cost warehouse space, not a prime office address.
So why would anybody with a successful home publishing business rent office space? There’s really no reason at all, which is why I’m embarrassed to admit that I did rent some shared office space this past summer just to see if it would make me more productive. I carefully selected an office with air conditioning (which I don’t have at home) that was a half hour walk from the house so I wouldn’t be tempted to run back and forth for no reason. I actually did make it to the office twice before giving notice, both times to talk about Internet publishing with my erstwhile office mates. And that was all the use I got out of my three month rental.
I recently spent some time crunching sole proprietor tax statistics to see what failing small business have in common. The results aren’t specific to the publishing business, but they agree 100% with my experience. The main reason home businesses fail is because they don’t sell enough. In the case of new self publishers, many never sell anything. They just get a bunch of books printed and stare at them in hopes that they will sell themselves. Not surprisingly, the failing businesses hold twice as much inventory as the successes. But the most glaring difference between businesses that make it and businesses that lose money is the amount of debt they carry. All of the self publishers I know who are making a good living from books launched their businesses on a shoe string, working out of the home.
The advantages of a home business are manifold, starting with no commute and no overhead expenses. The money you invest in your business will really be invested in growing the business, not in having a place to go every day to drink too much coffee. The IRS rules for business use of your home allow you to dedicate part of your home to your business, and then deduct the expenses for that part of your home (which you're paying for anyway) from your business income. It is one of the few areas in the tax code where renters usually make out better than home owners, since the renters get to deduct a percentage of their rent while the owners can only deduct mortgage interest and utilities, plus depreciate the land the house stands on.
But the real advantage of keeping your publishing business at home is it will keep you from thinking you’re some big shot and spending all the business income playing at business. I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy telling people who are calling from corporate offices that I work at home. I don’t answer the phone “Foner Books” or “Morris Rosenthal”- I answer the phone “Hello?” I’m not trying to kid anybody and you shouldn’t either.
You never want to lose sight of the fact the business is about selling your books, eBooks, etc. It’s not about trying to convince people that you are a legitimate publisher by looking and sounding the part. I know plenty of people who wear expensive suits and have self published books, but none of them sell enough books to call it a legitimate business. So stay at home, work naked if you want to, and don’t spend money trying to keep up with the NY trades. They all face publishing extinction anyway.