Small Business Home Office interview for the Huntsville Times:
Interview with Linda Terry Hickam, Author's Assistant to Homer Hickam on the "business" of writing.
Q: Based on your e-mail describing the work you do supporting Homer, the business of writing seems to be just that - a small business. Do you think it's important for today's writers to understand what it takes to run a business, if they're going to succeed as a writer? Why or why not?
A: Actually, I did visit our local small business bureau here when Homer retired from NASA and became a full time writer. They were very helpful, had lots of free literature and were intrigued with the nature of my husband's business! A writer is considered self-employed by the government and things are pretty simple in the beginning, but eventually he has to have all the same discipline and professionalism as in any other successful small business. Your product is an article or book which is purchased, but one must be a businessman as well as a good writer to get to that point and to continue to have people want more of your products.
Once you have written things you wish to have published, then you must be as relentless a businessman as the rest of the writers out there are. As hard as it is to get a book published, that is only the beginning for an author. There are over 900 hardcover books published a week, 50,000 a year, and for your book to be successful involves a lot of effort after publication. As in any business, there must be a marketing plan and support for the product after it is sold. Your publishing house and agent do some of it, but ultimately it is the author being sold to the public as well as the book, so he is required to do national book tours, and all types of media for weeks after a book is published. There is no pay for this and it is a hard hard time, but necessary for your career as a writer and for a book to have any chance to be successful. Or just have Oprah pick it!
Q: If you were not there to run the Homer Hickam business (so to speak), how do you think that would impact the author's ability to produce new material?
A: The business of being of a successful author lands mostly on the writer. There are many things an assistant can do to allow the writer to actually write though. For Homer, I do his editing, research, answer the extensive fan mail, run his website, phone calls, do the bookkeeping, taxes, and procure office supplies. There is also planning and scheduling for lectures, interviews, and signings, and the flights booked for them - just whatever is needed to enable him to be free to write. A good assistant is vital to take these business details off a serious writer.
Q: As the assistant to best selling author, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
A: We are both lucky enough to love what we do and with a home office, the challenge is to NOT work. I try to not turn the computer on at least one day a week, but usually don't succeed as things stay busy, especially now with his new book Sky of Stone out. Homer doesn't even pretend to try - he loves to write too much!
Q: Why did you decide to operate this business from your home? And what have been the pros and cons for continuing to operate from home, even as Homer's popularity and 'business' has grown?
A:We have no big head about all this and that Homer has been as successful as he has with his five books is a wonderful adventure. We love working at home. The house is small, and office space is inadequate for the amount of filing and storage we have (we are NOT a paperless office here!) but the pros far outweigh the cons... no commute, no office rent, no dress code, flexible hours and a cat to help at every computer!
Con is cat fur in every computer!