Treat textbook authoring like a business: Create a home office just for authoring

work from homeTreating your authoring like a business means creating a home office just for authoring, said Robert Christopherson, author of the best-selling U.S. and Canadian geography textbook, Geosystems.

“Prepare your home office and writing studio as if it were a formal business,” he said.

Christopherson had a cabinet maker build a full desk, elevated bookcases, and lateral filing cabinets for storing his preparation files, into his home office. The desk takes up three walls, and in the corner — so no space is lost — there’s a 36-inch lazy susan for storing supplies. The bookcases are elevated to allow room for a 14-foot long cork board for tagging items on. “Around the computer, the cabinet maker built a large theater-organ like console so that the computer screen is surrounded by a workspace where things can be posted and set,” he said. “I work on big broadsheets a lot of the time and I can put those broadsheets around the screen and keyboard.”

He suggests purchasing the following additional items to make your home office more business-like:

  • A copy machine. While he currently does a lot of electronic transmission of PDF files, Christopherson still finds having a full-service copy machine valuable for working with images and faxing. “For years we would buy second hand or reinvigorated copy machines at a discount, and either put them on our tax depreciation schedule or write all the cost off in one year,” he said. “Having a copy machine in my office has saved many miles and much time and effort.”
  • A telephone headset. To have your hands free is critical for those long teleconferences and calls to your editors, he said.
  • A large computer monitor. “I recommend the 30-inch Apple Cinema monitor (works on PCs as well) because when writing, there are at least six documents I can think of that should be open simultaneously, like the glossary, your new features, marketing talking points, table of contents outline of H1, H2, H3 heads, the text document itself, and your Internet browser,” he said. “Doing that on a 14- or 17-inch screen is just too small.”

Since Christopherson’s textbooks are physical geography, Earth system science, almost every time he and his wife Bobbé, who takes all the photos for his books, step out of the house, they’re doing business. “We keep a detailed travelogue of stop-and-start mileage and a description of what we did,” he said. “We also keep detailed records of equipment and office supply purchases. I’ve had a home office since 1981 and all is well.”

In keeping with treating your authoring like a business, said Christopherson, you need a specific business card and letterhead saying that you are an author. He has found that creating text-specific business cards and letterhead, and a PO Box, phone number and email address, to be critical to communicating with adopters and students, and for use at academic conventions.

“At national sales meetings [which Christopherson regularly attends, volunteering to man the sales booth alongside the publisher’s sales reps], you can display the business cards in the booth so that when people are coming by, there’s the author’s business card,” he said. “When somebody talks to you in the booth or you’re walking down the hall and someone stops you, you can hand them a card, asking for feedback.”

About Kim Pawlak

Kim Pawlak is Director of Publishing & Operations for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). She has been writing about the textbook and academic authoring and publishing industry for 20 years.