Practical business strategies for freelance writers

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Photo courtesy of Louis J. Hall

If you want to make a living as a freelance writer, then you’ll need a realistic perspective of the writing endeavors that pay best in relation to the amounts of time they require. Having recently faced financial reality when filing your income tax return, you ought to know exactly how much money it takes to support your household for 365 days.

I’m in the midst of reading Chris Higgins’ $2.99 ebook, The Blogger Abides: A Practical Guide to Writing Well & Not Starving, but it’s not too soon to recommend it as a primer for anyone who wants to make a profession of freelance writing. Based on the author’s experience as a paid blogger, the book is filled with succinct advice that’s logical and easy to understand.

The markets for different types of writing will fluctuate, but the laws of supply and demand remain predictable. Lower barriers to entry (digital publishing and online distribution) enable and increase suppliers (writers). If the demand (from readers) for the product (written work) remains steady (it has!) and does not increase along with the supply, then prices for the product (written work) will decrease. Whimpering and wallowing in self-pity will not change this.

In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky makes the point, “If everyone can do something, it is no longer rare enough to pay for, even if it is vital.”

Advances in free or inexpensive web editing, blogging, or content management software have all but removed the technological barriers that existed when the Web was new. Now that virtually everyone can publish their written work, publishing per se gradually is shifting from a professional to an amateur endeavor. Some say the transformation already has occurred.

Web-based content is distributed globally and is more easily retrievable than printed materials, which means the best and the most widely discussed writing on the Web can be reproduced and shared with few obstacles. If “published” no longer distinguishes the professional from the amateur writer, then perhaps “widely read” and “paid” have become the new criteria. How to find readers and get paid are the problems a freelance writer needs to solve now. It should be some consolation that being a good writer matters as much as it ever did.

Additional resources on this topic

Taxes and the business of a writing career

It’s early in the year, but the financial squeeze exerted by holiday gift buying and spring travel planning is enough to make anybody cry. February is when I start to avoid finalizing the previous year’s cash flow statement, because it might be a confidence killer. The numbers tended to look better when I was a freelance writer and editor, but I get more joy out of my job as an agent. It’s a reasonable trade-off. Representing writers is work I feel I can master. My author clients have much more complex challenges.


I’m always looking for reliable sources of career advice to share with my clients. Late last year, I noticed the new blog of Gary A. Hensley, whose expert advice on accounting practices, auditing, and income taxation is tailored for freelance writers. Taxsolutionsforwriters—the name of Hensley’s blog says it all. I’m glad that I’ll be able to link to his posts to help answer some of my clients’ basic questions about U.S. income taxes.

But… let me say that there’s nothing comparable to the ecstasy of sorting out international tax treaties.

Years ago, I hired my accountant to prepare my income tax returns. Eliminating those excruciating annual headaches was one of the smartest business decisions I ever made. However, I still need to know precisely which forms and data to give my accountant. I’m still insanely disciplined about maintaining records and receipts. A freelance writer needs the same self-discipline when it comes to the business of a successful writing career. It’s a mark of professionalism.

On a tangent

Wikipedia cites several ways in which businesses can beef up their cash flow. Among them: “Wait for the product to be proven by a start-up lab; then buy the lab.” Sounds like established trade book publishers waiting for self-published titles to start selling exceptionally well before acquiring the rights in them.

Point me to Tycoonsolutionsforagents when you find it, OK?