A dozen years ago, I ran Epicenter Press Inc. from an office in a spare bedroom at home, and I often began my workday in a bathrobe. A few years later, I hired an assistant, and her office was the other spare bedroom. That’s when I started dressing for work, but our company’s growth added a new complication: where to put overnight guests? Epicenter moved. Today, we operate out of a storefront office in Kenmore, WA, a 15-minute walk from my home.
So I had feeling of déjà vu hearing from more than 100 of you when we asked you to share your experiences working solo. Among the questions were these:
What are the advantages of working alone?
Solo publishers and publishing professionals, most of you working in home offices, like having creative control and answering only to yourselves. “I can turn my business on a dime and head in new directions without so much as speaking a single word,” said Tom Ogg of Tom Ogg Associates in Valley Center, CA, publishers of books and Web sites focusing on cruise-ship travel. Ogg is a surfer who says he “works hard when the surf is down.”
“I love the solitude and efficiency,” said Frankie Schelly of FireSign Exclusives in Asheville, NC.
Sean O’Reilly, director of special sales for Travelers’ Tales, Inc., has telecommuted for the past decade. He lives in Virginia. Travelers Tales is based in the San Francisco area. “My morning commute,” O’Reilly said, “consists of walking upstairs with a cup of coffee–no wasted time, no frustration with traffic, and no scurrying out of the house to rush to the corporate hive. If you are a self-starter, chances are you will do well in a home-office environment. If you tend to be a team player and very people-oriented, you may be better off working in a traditional corporate environment.”
Bill Fessler of Primer Publishers in Phoenix relishes being on his own after 32 years working for the federal government. “Now, I can write a news release, an article, even a book without going through 30 layers of bureaucracy before it’s approved,” he said. “I love this. I sink and swim on my own merits. I can experiment, try innovative concepts, or gamble on a long shot.”
Those of you who responded to my survey also appreciate the lack of distractions, not having to worry about employees, being able to keep expenses down, taking advantage of tax writeoffs, and controlling your own schedules. You raved about the personal freedom. This included being able to come to work without shaving, work in the middle of the night, turn up the music, get out of the office anytime you feel like it, keep an eye on Oprah while working, go out and walk the dog, and have the flexibility to raise children while having a satisfying career, too.
What are the disadvantages of working alone, and how do you overcome them?
Most of you are satisfied with your work situations, but you described in detail the downside of working alone–lack of financial rewards, not having enough time, having too much to do, dealing alone with the pressure and stress of deadlines, feeling isolated, missing critical feedback, and lacking backup help to cover for vacations and illnesses.
“The stress of bringing a project through the publishing process makes it difficult to maintain a marketing edge with projects that are already finished,” said Paula Crain Grosinger of Crain Grosinger Publishing in Mandan, ND. “It also takes away from my ability to promote direct retail sales. I always feel I’m at a disadvantage with the distributors.”
Procrastination and complacency are hazards, too. Rik Feeney of Richardson Publishing in Naples, FL, said that “as a sole proprietor it is up to me how much money I make and whether the bills get paid. When you cannot afford to put cheese on your macaroni, it is time to get back to work.”
Yet you find ways to balance the negatives and overcome the isolation. You plan ahead, schedule work carefully, and reassess priorities constantly. You hire freelancers and consultants as needed. You network and socialize with other professionals, attend regional and national conferences, belong to an assortment of trade groups, participate in Internet forums and writers’ groups, and get involved in your own communities. Some of you take classes to further your careers, and others teach them. You find innovative ways to be more productive and creative. And–this is very important, you say–you force yourselves to step away occasionally from the heavy workload and stress.
“It’s lonely out here,” said Linda Murdock of Bellwether Books in Denver. “I try to reward myself one day a week by going to lunch with a friend or doing something fun.” Duse McLean of Thistle Press in Bellevue, WA, says when she feels the need for feedback, “I pick up the phone.”
Shel Horowitz of Hadley, MA, whose AWM Books focuses on frugal and -07ical marketing, says getting help doesn’t have to be expensive. “I outsource some tasks to a virtual assistant in another state (never met her) or an intern when I have one.” He pays the virtual assistant $10 an hour.
Are you able to support yourself with publishing?
“Are you kidding?” asked one publisher who did not want her name used.
“Yes, but I am a minimalist!” replied James Dillehay of Warm Snow Publishers in Torreon, NM.
Many of you rely on day jobs, freelance work, other business enterprises, retirement incomes, or supportive spouses who bring in steady incomes. A few of you are burned out, but many are optimistic about the future. One of these was Bill Fessler at Primer Publishers.
Fessler says he could support himself “if I lived in a refrigerator box and ate roadkill. But each year, I sell a little more, add a few more books, and receive a little more publicity. My goal is to grow, and I’m accomplishing that.”
You shared some inspirational success stories, too. Nancy Cleary supports herself and her two children by combining book publishing with graphic design services at Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in Deadwood, Oregon. The company is named after the children. “Working from home has enabled me to be available to them at all times while putting in the necessary extra hours to build ‘their’ company,” she said.
Ten years ago, Jim Horan of The One Page Business Plan Company of El Sobrante, CA, reinvented himself after losing his VP-CFO job at a Fortune 500 company that was downsizing. He combined book publishing with consulting, published a bestseller that sold 30,000 copies, and to date has sold more than $10 million in business planning products and services. Until last year, he worked alone.
“Self-publishing is a marathon,” Horan said. “The sprinters almost always burn out. People considering self-employment need to learn to pace themselves.”
My thanks to others who also shared their stories, especially Linda Carlson, Barrett Street Productions; Arline Curtiss, Oldcastle Publishing; Dennis Damp, Bookhaven Press; Barbara DesChamps, Château Publishing; Tamara Dever, TLC Graphics; Dennis Fried, Eiffel Press; Judy Geary, High Country Publishers; Gail Gilkey, Windy Hill Press; William Gordon, North Ridge Books; Joanne Hill, Moorhill Communications; Christine Holbert, Lost Horse Press; David Horowitz, Rose Alley Press; Evora Jordan, BooksByEvora.com; Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing; MaryAnn Kohl, Bright Ring Publishing; Dianea Kohl, Chelan Publishing; Alan Korwin, Bloomfield Press; Cynthia Lair, Moon Smile Press; author Ann S. Litt; Ruth Lutnick, Four Corners Publishing; Jan Louthain, Alexie Books; Nancy Poffenberger, +Fun Publishing Co.; Carin Smith, DVM, Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing; Sherry Wells, Lawells Publishing; and Dr. Stanley Wolf, Lattice Press.
As always, I welcome your comments and ideas for PMA–on this subject and any others. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What You See Through Your Windows
As I sit here finishing my column, I gaze out the office window onto a parking lot and the drab rear end of a camera store in Kenmore, WA. When the wind blows from the south, small planes from Kenmore Air pass directly overhead on their final approach to the float-plane base on nearby Lake Washington.
What about you? Just for fun, when I asked solo publishers to share their experiences, I included the question: What do you see when you look out the window?
Here are some of the answers:
Alleyways, avocado trees, backyards, bald eagles, barns, bears, bikers, birdfeeders, bluejays, boats, cats, cherry trees, chickens, children, condos, courtyards, cows, daffodils, deer, dogs, farms, fishermen, flowers, fog, forests, gardens, geese, golf courses, gophers, harbors, hawks, herons, hikers, hills, horses, houses, lakes, lawns, lizards, maple trees, mist, mountains, oceans, orange trees, palm trees, parks, pine trees, ponds, rabbits, rivers, robins, rocks, roosters, rose bushes, skyscrapers, squirrels, strawberries, sunrises, sunsets, swimming pools, turkeys, valleys, and waterfalls.
Whew. With distractions like these, how do you get anything done?
To Fill Networking Needs
Asked about the downside of working alone, many PMA members said they felt isolated and expressed regret at not being able to network with other publishers and publishing professionals.
Networking is as close as one of the 29 PMA affiliate groups in the United States and Canada, many of which have regular meetings offering how-to programs of interest to book publishers.
Full contact information for the affiliates is available at www.pma-online.org.