How Long Does It Take to Become a Freelance Writer?


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If you’re thinking about starting a freelance career, especially if you want to drop a 9 to 5 job and start freelancing full-time, one of your biggest initial questions/worries is how long it’s going to take you to establish yourself. You have bills to pay, mouths to feed, all that jazz. Switching a stable job for freelancing is nerve-wracking, and you are probably telling yourself that you have to be absolutely certain you can make it and that you can start earning a full-time income faster than your savings can deplete.

Well, to create a successful freelance writing business, you need three things. The first is some actual writing talent, but if you want to write for a living, there’s a 99.9% chance you already have that. The second is drive. Simple as that. You have to want it. It’s going to take long hours at first. It’s going to take a whole bunch of effort up front to book those first clients. If this isn’t actually what you want to do more than anything else, it’s probably not going to work. The third is actionable steps to follow. That’s why you’re reading this blog and probably a few others. If you aren’t reading more, you ought to, because not all of my circumstances and experiences will match all of yours. Find others who can help you in places I can’t. Find people who’ve been doing this longer than me. I don’t know everything.

For one thing, it took me a year to start working full-time and earning what I’m worth, a four-figure monthly income at professional rates. I started off blind, just knowing that all I wanted to do was write and help others with their writing. It took me a good while to find freelancers with blogs that were actually helpful. I found two: Horkey Handbook by Gina Horkey and Writing Revolt by Jorden Roper. Jorden started making a four-figure income in four months. She had just been fired from a job she’d been ready to quit. It took Gina six months to make a four-figure income while still working full-time at another job and raising two kids. Now she makes five figures.

Now, both those awesome women had old full-time jobs that provided them with automatic niches. I didn’t have that. I started right out of college without any samples or any years in any sort of business except the restaurant industry. That set me back a bit. Self-doubt held me back, too, and I didn’t have as much of an urgent need as Jorden or Gina to force me to shake it off. Jorden had no job. She had to eat. Gina had to work harder to establish herself while still at a full-time job because her husband is a stay-at-home dad, and hers is the primary income. She had two kids, so she couldn’t just quit cold-turkey and take time to build herself up slowly. I, on the other hand, had a second income coming in through my husband, which paid our bills. I started earning a part-time income in just a month or two of deciding to become a freelancer, and that income was supplementary for us. It was our “fun money.” I didn’t feel the same push. I also had to take more time to build up a portfolio and convince people I could actually do what I was advertising.

I signed up for the freelancer site, Upwork, to get my first jobs. It worked, but little did I know I was being paid far too little for the work I was doing (I hadn’t found Gina and Jorden yet). Once I figured that out, I didn’t let go of Upwork, but I did start looking for the higher paying jobs (and by that I mean decent beginner fees, because that’s the most you can hope for there). I held on too long, though. It was the self-doubt. I didn’t know if I could make it on my own. Upwork provided me with ready and willing clients. Without it, I would have to do the hunting myself. I convinced myself I needed more stuff in my portfolio. One more job. (Click here to find out if a site like this will be beneficial to you at all and how to know when to move on.)

Then my husband’s school began to interfere with his income. He’d been doing it for a few months, but he was keeping up with his 40 hour schedule. Then school picked up and he dropped to 30 hours (an allowance his work made for him, as they were paying for the schooling). Now my earnings weren’t just the “fun money.” We wanted to buy a house and get out of our tiny apartment. We wanted to start a family. I had to get my butt in gear. I signed up for Gina’s free course: Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Biz. It’s just five short lessons delivered by email, but it was the first time I’d been able to find anything that actually told me concrete steps I needed to take to really get started. Up to that point, I’d just been grabbing at anything that came my way. Gina’s free course helped me understand the importance of a niche and got me thinking about what mine would be. It also provided me with some new ways to get samples within that chosen niche. And, it was free.

I soon found out that Gina had a paid course where she expanded on the free course in a big way. However, I didn’t know what pitching even meant. I also didn’t really believe in the “you’ve got to spend money to make money” philosophy. Well, maybe that’s not right; I believed it could work, but I feared trying it out for myself. So, I passed up the course, and I took the slow route. I improved my rates very slowly over the next 6 months or so, but I still wasn’t getting the volume of good clients that I needed. Then it was Gina, once again, who gave me the final kick in the pants with her 90-day Pitch Challenge that actually pushed me into launching PurpleInkPen and helped me make a four-figure income.

If your circumstances are more like Gina’s or Jorden’s and you need that full-time income right this second, or if you just don’t feel like putzing around like I did, I strongly suggest trying out Gina’s paid course: 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. You can choose between the Starter, Growth, or Rockstar packages. Starter is basically just the main course. Growth adds 15 cool templates and tools like client contracts and a pitch tracker. Rockstar has all that, plus one-on-one contact with Gina. She’ll review your pitch template and give you a whole month of personal coaching. She’s taking this particular course temporarily off the market on November 4th because she’s always reworking her business and adding new material. So check it out before it’s gone if you’re even remotely interested.

By the time I came around to the “spending money to make money” philosophy, I wasn’t a newbie anymore, and I didn’t really need Gina’s course. So, instead, I paid for a college course to become a certified professional book editor. If you’re just starting out, though, Gina’s course is a great investment. The woman knows her stuff. Also, the course has a 100% money-back guarantee, so you really don’t have anything to lose.

How long it takes you to establish your freelance business is entirely up to you. If you are like me and have no relevant experience (other than school) under your belt, it may take you a little longer, but I guarantee you can do it faster than I did. Many have. It seems to me that the key to moving your business along quickly is finding that thing that kicks you in the butt and gets you going. Find your drive. Maybe it’s that you can’t stand to work for that asshole who calls himself your boss for one more day. Maybe it’s that you recently got laid off and you need the money now. Maybe it’s that your job isn’t fulfilling; in fact, maybe it’s mind-numbing and you can feel it draining your soul (a certain Italian restaurant did that to me). Whatever it is, find it and use it to push yourself. You will get there at your own speed and in your own way, but if you find that drive, you’ll get there in the shortest amount of time possible for you.

Dos and Don’ts of Client Phone Calls




I hate talking on the phone to people I don’t know. Hate it. For one thing, meeting new people just makes me nervous. I can’t help it. Second, I’m not a big talker unless I know the person very well. In person or online, this doesn’t matter. Online, I can take the time to think about and write out every response just the way I want it to sound. In person, my expression and physical engagement (listening closely, keeping eye contact, etc.) let people know that I’m interested in what they have to say even if I’m not a Chatty Kathy. On the phone, any sort of pause feels like an awkward, business-crushing chasm that I’m slowly sliding into, nails digging into the earth of the precipice.

However, talking to a client on the phone is sometimes essential. It’s hard to ghostwrite someone’s book, capturing their voice and getting personal information from them, in an email. And I have only ever had one local client that I could actually talk with face-to-face. So, I’ve picked up some experience conducting client phone calls, and I do feel better about them, though I still feel slightly nauseous the first time I dial a brand new client’s number. I’ve learned a few tricks to make things less terrifying and keep me from screwing up so bad I want to go hide in a closet until my rumbling stomach inevitably drives me to once again seek the light.

Two Case Studies

Before I dish out my tips, I want to share two very different phone experiences: one that landed me a wonderful long-term client and another that still haunts me in the dead of night.

Let’s start off with the bad and just get it over with. When I was still working part time and hadn’t quite figured out what I was doing, business-wise, I answered a job board ad of a man looking for editing on his first novel. He was an older gentleman, and he wasn’t too fond of email. After sending a message saying he liked my resume and wanted to discuss things further, he requested that we chat on the phone more about the project. He said he would call me, and gave me a general time frame of “tomorrow afternoon.” Well, he called me when I was at the dog park. Luckily, my husband was there, too, so I rushed out of the fenced-in area, trusting him to be on poop watch while I answered the call. The guy hadn’t told me anything about the project in his brief email exchange, so I didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t really prepared for the conversation because, well, I was at the dog park. I tried to ask prompting questions like I’d been taught in my communications classes in college. Well, college isn’t for nothin’, because it worked. I survived that initial interaction because he did most of the talking, explaining what he was looking for. Still, I was super nervous and didn’t feel professional. We agreed he would send a sample for me to look over, edit, and send back before things went further. Well, I did the sample, but he didn’t want me to just email it back. He wanted me to call and tell him what I thought of the work and if I was interested. I called … and got voicemail. I despise voicemail, and I hadn’t expected it because he had given me a time to call him, and I was right on the nose. What followed was a stammering, stumbling, idiotic mess that I don’t want to talk about. You want the dirt, don’t you, you nosy thing? Well, I flubbed his last name right out of the gate, which resulted in the nervous giggle of a stereotypical airhead in a teen comedy that took me entirely by surprise. From there, it got so bad that I actually paused in the voicemail for a solid five seconds trying to figure out how to delete the whole damn thing. Couldn’t figure it out and had to keep on truckin’. Dear. God. When he called back, he lead with, “I … uh … got your message.” Kill me now, merciful Lord. Luckily, my sample edit was badass, super detailed, and gave him a fair amount of feedback that I don’t think he was expecting, and he actually hired me. Booyah! But that voicemail, though!

Let’s please move on. One of the first clients I landed after switching to full time and launching PurpleInkPen is still a current ghostwriting client whom I’ve mentioned here on many occasions. I answered his ad on a job board looking for someone to help him write a book for parents of drug-addicted teenagers. This phone story is short and sweet. He, like that other client, was very impressed by my resume and portfolio and wanted to chat on the phone about the project. I gave him time ranges that were best for me and told him to pick which one worked best. I called him at a prearranged time. I had a list of questions prepared. I had my brand new rates in front of me, and I was prepared to explain what that money would go toward. I explained standard book sizing, let him know I could do formatting if the need arose, and even steered him in the direction of a printing company (run by my mentor) who could help him out with self-publishing after I’d done the writing portion. Slam dunk. No cringing required.

See the Difference?

There are a number of things that differentiated that first, horrible experience from the highly successful one. There is no need for anyone to suffer the life-scarring embarrassment (just kidding … sort of) I went through. Here’s some dos and don’ts to get you through it.

Don’t: Set a vague call time like “tomorrow afternoon” or “Monday morning.”

Do: Give the client some time options, but make them choose a specific one. And you call them. By making the call yourself promptly at the arranged time, you show discipline and attention to detail.

Don’t: Pick up the phone blindly. If a client wants to discuss things over the phone, it usually means the project is large and it’s going to take some time to discuss all of the client’s needs and concerns. You want to have some idea of what the project’s about before the phone call so that you can adequately prepare.

Do: Ask some preliminary questions. If the job board post was vague, ask some questions at the end of your cover letter when you apply and ask the person to let you know the answers if they’re interested in hiring you. That way, if their responding email asks for a phone call, you have a better idea of what will be discussed. You can also just ask them to answer a few basic questions when they ask for a phone call, just make sure you let them know that you’re asking to better serve them and make the phone call the most productive it can be.

Don’t: Shoot yourself in the foot by not taking steps to prepare. You want to be able to fill in those natural, but often awkward, gaps between conversation with knowledgeable questions and information. If you don’t prepare, you’re going to scramble for something to say in those pauses, and the things that slip out of your mouth may surprise you. Sometimes in a pleasant way … but usually not.

Do: Write that shit down! Vaguely preparing what you’re going to say in your head can easily backfire. If you suffer from nerves or if a client says/asks something unexpected, chances are that your mentally prepared answers are going to fly out of your head without so much as a goodbye. If you have a typed document pulled up on your screen or a sticky note near you that lists what you need to ask and how you’re going to sell yourself/your services, you can just glance over at it. That’s all it takes for all those pretty thoughts to come pouring back into your head. I go so far as to anticipate what I need to say or ask next if a client says yes or no to a question. You don’t necessarily have to go that far, but after that nightmare experience, I no longer trust my own tongue. And that reminds me, please, for the love of all that is good in this world, write yourself down a little script of what to say if you get the client’s voicemail.

Don’t: Rattle on about yourself. Yes, you have to sell yourself. You have to prove that you have the experience, know how, and drive to complete the client’s project better than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean talking about what you did for your last client, where you went to school, and what your favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem is. Unless the client asks, that is.

Do: Engage the client. Instead of rambling on about why you’re a stellar human being, listen to the client’s needs and meet them. Ask prompting questions like “Do you have a date you absolutely need this done by?” or “Will you need me to handle the preliminary research for you, or will you supply me with the material you want to use?” or “How do you plan to publish? Have you thought about it?” This keeps the client talking so you don’t have to, while also serving the dual purpose of letting you know about the project while convincing the client that you’re a complete professional without you saying all that much. Win, win.

If you’re one of those blessedly confident and outgoing people who can easily slide into conversation with anyone, well then, I hate you (half kidding). But odds are that if you’re reading this, you’re at least a little like me when it comes to phone conversations with strangers. To all you fellow anxious souls, I promise you it really isn’t that bad so long as you don’t just call up a client with your fingers crossed. If you take the time to sit down and correctly prepare (and maybe repeat the client’s last name aloud a few times before dialing), you’ll automatically feel more confident, which is key to avoiding awkward stammering or pauses. And remember, even if you do something silly, you can let your work speak for itself and still land the gig.

Take the Fear Out of Networking



I’ve never been the type to initiate conversation. I’m glad to talk to people if they talk first, but I’ve never been the outgoing, sociable girl who can make friends with anyone and talk about anything. I like to stay home. I hate loud parties. If I ever get dragged to one, you’ll find me tucked away against a wall, wishing I was at home reading, watching a movie, or playing Monster Hunter with my husband.

Networking terrified me. In fact, as I read up on what it takes to run a freelance business, I began to wonder if I could actually do it, solely based on the fact that all my sources encouraged constant networking. When I heard “networking,” I imagined a conference room with people dressed in suits holding cocktails and “talking numbers.” I’ve been freelancing and networking for over a year now, and I’ve never had a single experience like that. Now, going to a writers’ or publishers’ conference is a great idea if you’ve got the time, money, and confidence. I’ll probably buck up and go to one myself in the future, but I want other beginners to know that that isn’t really what basic networking is about, at least not as a freelance writer.

So What Is Networking?

Networking is really just being a decent human being and putting in the effort to really connect with current and potential clients. This blog is networking. Your social media accounts are a great way to network. The beauty of being a freelancer is that most of your business is conducted online. For me, this is key to successful networking. Through online correspondence like email, social media, my website, etc., I have time to think about my responses and fully explain my thoughts, methods, and feelings to a client through the medium I work best in: writing. The reason I feel anxious in other forms of correspondence with important clients is because I worry that I won’t say enough, I’ll say too much, I’ll forget a key piece of my pitch—the list goes on. That fear makes me clam up and do exactly what I was afraid of doing. Online networking allows me to make the exact first impression that I want. After I’ve had some interaction back and forth, I feel more comfortable talking to the client on the phone or in person. Online correspondence is great for reaching and meeting clients, but in some cases the work requires that you actually talk in a faster, more intimate way. Phone calls with clients are always a little scary (I plan to write a post on how to handle them soon), but having some former online contact with the person can take away some of the fear factor.

Networking Tips

To start networking effectively, join some LinkedIn groups or other online forums where you will reach an audience of potential clients. Post questions of your own aimed at your client base. For instance, I posted a question in a forum about which form of editing self-publishing writers want most. From those answers, I found a few people who had just finished a book. I got some serious interest from one man who will be finishing up a book very soon and is considering me as the editor for it. Respond to the answers you get. Answer other people’s questions to show your knowledge on the subject. If someone shows interest in your services, follow up. Be personable. Ask them about the project. Make them feel at ease about the process.

Share relevant, intelligent, and practical articles on all your social media. A cute or funny throwaway tweet might be a great way to make followers smile and get their attention, but that can’t be all you post. You need to post real, actionable things. Ideally, things that make the client start thinking about your services. For instance, on my business Twitter, I posted an article about the close, trusting relationship between a ghostwriter and an author. Ghostwriting isn’t fully understood by most people, and the notion of trusting someone with your potentially profitable idea and material makes people nervous. I posted an article that sought to ease those fears and make readers consider hiring a ghostwriter, and since they found the link through me, they already know a ghostwriter they can hire.

Interact with posts by potential clients. Share a tweet about an author’s newly released book and congratulate them on the accomplishment. Make sure if you see a post that interests you or makes you laugh that you tell the poster so.

Provide your own useful content through a blog. Respond promptly to inquisitive emails. Ask your clients how they’re doing. Check up on past projects to see how things turned out. Let your clients know you care about their needs and their work.

This is all networking, and all you’re really doing is being a nice person. It’s not hard at all. Yes, you have to know what you’re talking about and present yourself as an expert in your field, but there are plenty of experts out there. Networking helps you stand out. It helps you put your name out into a pool of potential clients. It lets you display your professionalism and your personality. When faced with a number of professionals, clients will make the final decision of who to hire based on how they connect with and feel about the freelancer. If you display your personality and show that you are actually a human being who cares about what you do, the right client will be more likely to pick you because they will recognize that they can potentially mesh with you quite well. Your services aren’t for everyone. Networking helps you find and reel in clients who will make your job a pleasant and rewarding experience. There’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, networking has helped me boost my social confidence. So get out there and embrace it instead of letting it hold you back.

Are You Making Enough Money Freelancing?



Setting rates is one of the hardest things about starting a freelance business. When I first started out, grabbing any job I could, I just took whatever rate the client was offering if I thought I could do the job. When I launched PurpleInkPen, I was wiser about rates, but I had decided to raise mine from beginner fees to professional fees. I had my website ready except for one little thing that kept me from hitting the publish button. I knew I wanted to charge professional rates, but the pricing range is still widely varied. I didn’t want to launch the site until it would boast rates that actually gave me a nice return for my work.
The first thing I had to realize was that just because I published a rate on my site didn’t mean it was the only rate I’d ever get. The beauty of a website is that you didn’t just print out a million flyers with the rates set down in ink; through the power of the internet, you can reach tons of people through an easily editable platform. I’ve toyed slightly with my rates a few times since May; nothing drastic, but I adjusted a few prices after I began calculating my actual hourly rate.

That’s the second and even more important thing I had to learn how to do. For my editing work, I had already calculated and set hourly rates to go along with my per page rates. This method helps some people get a better deal, and I use that as a selling point (if someone’s manuscript has been edited many, many times already and is very clean, the hourly rate helps them save a little bit of money because I can breeze through the manuscript without being bogged down by tons of edits). However, for my writing work, I didn’t bother setting hourly rates because they’re just too finicky and they scare clients. But just because I don’t have an hourly rate listed, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking about my hourly rate for each job I’m doing.

For every job I do, I time myself, add up the cost of the work before I send it off to the client, and then divide to calculate the hourly rate for that project. The concept is so simple, yet I never thought about it until reading Kelly James-Enger’s Writer for Hire. Doing this one simple step can help you decide whether or not to take a job, continue working for a particular client, or boost your rates.

Let me give a real life example. I’m currently trying to determine if my newest job is worth the time I’ve been putting into it. For this job, I’m writing a history book of sorts for high schoolers on the life of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Now, I don’t get royalties on this book, but my name will be on it as the sole author, which is pretty cool. I’ve calculated how much I work on it each day on average and divided that by the payment I’m getting. It comes to an hourly rate of $17.50. Now, that’s better than the hourly rate my husband gets at his full-time job, but this project is not a full-time steady job for me. It’s also a very small rate compared to what I make for a typical ghostwriting job where I don’t get credit. The current ghostwriting job I have now calculates to an hourly rate of about $40 an hour, sometimes more. Now that rate sounds great to me, and I’m happy with it, but it’s still small compared to what other ghostwriters make. I plan to raise my rates in the future, but right now, I’m building my professional reputation as a ghostwriter who actually writes sellable books. Back to the Frank Lloyd Wright book. I’m still torn. It’s not a terrible hourly rate for regular writing. However, I’d really like to know how much this small publishing company makes off these books they commission so that I can take into account how much money I’m missing out on. Once I have that information, I will know for sure if continuing projects with this company is worth my time. For now, I’m thinking that it was well worth this first try. I will have a real published book! The boost to my professional reputation is well-worth the time and effort without the extra royalty money (at least this once). However, at this moment I’m not planning to continue work for the company (at the current rate) after I’ve done everything I’ve already agreed to. If they want me to keep working with them after I’ve completed all my current obligations, I will need to negotiate a new rate that takes into account how much they are making off me compared to how much I make for writing it, even with my name on it.

See how important that one simple calculation can be? As your own boss, you need to think about your return on investment of your time. An hourly rate that sounds good at a regular full-time job isn’t going to pay a freelancers bills (at least not by itself) because you won’t put in full-time hours. My husband works ten hours a day at his hourly rate. I work on each of my projects for one to two hours each. See why I need a higher hourly rate on individual projects to make a full-time income? If you’re ever in doubt about whether a job is actually worth your time, calculate your hourly return. If you do this for every job, you will begin to learn how long it takes you to do certain tasks and gives you a better idea of what rates you need for each project so you only pick good clients with good rates from the very start.

Rewarding Client, Freelancer Relationships



There are a lot of mixed emotions when you land your first freelancing client. I was absolutely ecstatic because I was going to get paid to help someone write a fiction book. I couldn’t believe someone was actually going to pay me money to do the thing I loved most. But there was also an overwhelming and almost crippling desire to not only succeed, but excel at the work. When I turned in the first assignment, I felt like I might puke waiting for the client to tell me what she thought; I wanted so desperately to make her happy. And making the client happy should be one of your top priorities, or else you’ll never stay in business. Your client’s are entrusting you with important work that they can’t do on their own, and you should always try your very best to deliver the best end product you possibly can.

However, when you first start out, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that your clients should make you happy too. As briefly discussed in last week’s post (What Is a Work-for-Hire Contract?), your client isn’t your employer. You’re your own employer; the client is a like a fellow business person that you are collaborating with. You must each treat the other with equal respect. Some clients don’t understand this, and they will try to make you do work that isn’t required of you. Many clients will understand and make an effort to shift their attitude if you simply explain that you are a work-for-hire business owner who must be paid for any new additions to the assignment. However, there are clients out there who don’t seem to even think of you as a human being and resort to bullying tactics. I’ve worked with only one. Clients like this will try to get more work out of you by telling you what you delivered was subpar or “unacceptable” to try and make you insecure and desperate to please them. Now, you must always take time to consider if the client is right. If you delivered crappy work, the client has a right to complain. However, there is a simple test for this. Ask the client exactly what was wrong, saying that you would like to know so that you can avoid the mistakes in the future. That client I mentioned had loved the editing sample that I did for him to get the job, but when I did the exact same thing on the real assignment, he berated me, saying that what I had delivered just “really was not good at all,” and he was shocked I’d turned it in that way. I asked what was wrong, and his explanation made it very clear that he was trying to get me to rewrite the piece (which was deplorably written, by the way. I had slaved over it just trying to make it speak real English) rather than just edit it. I didn’t do a rewrite, and I parted ways with him immediately. If your client can’t tell you what was wrong, or if their explanation shows that they just want more unpaid for from you, stick up for yourself and get out of that relationship.

You’ve become a freelance writer because you want to make a career doing what you love and only what you love: writing. Your clients should never make you cringe at the idea of writing one more word for them. Now, not every client needs to be your best buddy, but they must always treat you with the same respect and courtesy you show them. Likewise, not every writing assignment needs to make your jump for joy, but it does need to be worth your time.

I write product reviews for an online company. That job isn’t exactly thrilling, but I love it. My contact is very kind, always prompt, and works with me when I have questions. I get paid consistently, and I get paid well. That weekly payment into my checking account makes me very happy.

The best thing in the world is when you find clients you really connect with. My contact for the product reviews and I only talk business, but I have made lasting relationships with other clients. I edit author’s prized possessions: the work that sprouted straight from their own head. That’s an intimate thing, and it’s one of the most rewarding. I have formed strong bonds with a number of authors I’ve worked with. There are two authors in particular who’s work I greatly admire, and though I’ve never met them in person, I feel they are friends. Intimate friends? No. But friends. One of those clients recently emailed me, ecstatic, to tell me that the book I’d proofread for her got picked up by a publisher. The fact that she thought of me in that moment and wanted to share her celebration with me made me feel great.

Ghostwriting a book for someone is also very intensive and requires a connection between myself and the client. If we don’t click, the book isn’t going to work. I am currently writing a book for parent’s of drug-addicted children for a man who runs a rehab center and has personal addiction experience. He provides all the info and all his ideas, and I turn them all into a cohesive work. This requires phone calls. It also requires me to ask him personal questions about his own battle with addiction. As a result, I probably have a stronger relationship with him than any other client. When we call, we mostly talk business, but we also casually talk about crazy stuff that happened to us that day (his life is hectic and sometimes hilarious, let me tell you). He’s the kind of person who infects you with his consistently upbeat attitude. He talks faster than a chipmunk on coffee (Hoodwinked, anyone?), and I always hang up the phone feeling both incredibly pumped and a little like I just ran a marathon.

Freelancing is damn hard. You run everything. You have to take charge of every aspect of your business, and it can seem never-ending. It can also be downright frightening to swap a steady, secure job with benefits for a constantly fluctuating (even if just slightly) income. That uncertainty of income is always going to be there as a freelancer, though it will decrease over time. So why do it? It lets you do what you love from the comfort of your own home. That’s damn sexy. But if your clients make you miserable, it really puts a damper on the pleasure of that independence. Drop those bullying clients and start crafting rewarding with relationships with people who truly appreciate what you do for them.


What Is a Work-for-Hire Contract?



If you want to write as a freelancer for a living, you’re a “writer for hire.” Many clients will want you to sign a work-for-hire agreement/contract. In the simplest sense, this means that you are working for the client as an independent contractor and the work you are providing is the client’s after you’ve received the payment. This means the client holds all the rights to the work you provide once they’ve paid for it. You will get work-for-hire agreements for things like writing content for a business website, blog posts, articles, reviews, you name it. The point is that once you’ve been paid the client can do whatever they want with it and distribute it however they like as much as they like. Duh, you wrote it for them specifically, not for yourself. Usually if you’re working for individuals, these distinctions of being an independent contractor and rights going to the client are self-explanatory, and the client won’t ask for a formal contract. You can write one up if you want, of course (see last week’s post to help figure out when you need a contract), but it’s usually companies that want to make the formal distinction. Why? Well,  you aren’t actually a full-time employee of the company, and they want to define you as an independent contractor so they don’t have to provide you benefits or help you out with taxes .

To be considered an independent contractor, you must be engaged in a specific occupation or be the proprietor of a specific business. This just means that freelancing is your job (even if it’s a side job). You can start an official business, like I did, but you don’t necessarily have to have a business license to be an independent contractor. If you have a business license or a Federal I.D. number (this is something you get if you incorporate your business and/or want to hire employees) you have to submit that information along with the contract, but if you don’t, you just have to provide your Social Security number for the company to put on record. The second requirement is that you work entirely unsupervised. Now of course you want to communicate with the client and cater to what they want from the project, but you aren’t in the company’s office being watched over by a manager. Ultimately, it just means you’re responsible for your own work. Lastly, to be an independent contractor you have to provide your own equipment for the job. The company isn’t going to pay for a new laptop. If you need a specific program to complete a job, like InDesign to convert a print manuscript into ebook format, the company isn’t going to pay that monthly fee to Adobe. If you’re an independent contractor you cannot present yourself as an employee of that company. For instance, you can’t update your job description on LinkedIn to include that company’s name, like “Ghostwriter at ABC Media.” You aren’t a ghostwriter at ABC media, you’re a freelance writer doing some ghostwriting for the company. Your work for that company should go in your portfolio, not your job title. Likewise, your clients can’t claim to be a partner in your business or your employer.

Just because they pay you money doesn’t mean you’re their employee. You’re the boss of your own company, which is under contract to do one specific job for the client’s company and nothing else. You can’t receive benefits like health care even if the work you are doing for that client requires full-time hours, but the client can’t make you do anything outside of that contracted job for them. If you’ve worked at a 9 to 5, you know that your job description usually includes a whole bunch of things that really have nothing to do with your title. You get a bunch of busy work on top of your regular work. Not with freelancing. Don’t ever let your client push you around and add on extra stuff that wasn’t in your contract. Your client is not your boss, just as you aren’t the client’s boss. You’re two equals swapping services (money for content). Understanding that dynamic and boosting your confidence in your work enough to actually stand by it can be the difference between a satisfying job and a nightmare scenario that buries you under piles of unexpected work that you aren’t actually getting paid for. 

Now let’s talk about the second main component, which distinguishes a work-for-hire contract from other forms of freelancing contracts. All rights for the written material belong to the company as soon as you are paid for creating it. You are paid a set rate for that work, and once it’s done, you don’t get any more money. Now, what will change from contract to contract is how much credit you are getting for that work. If you are working as a “ghostwriter-for-hire,” your name will not be anywhere on that work. I write product reviews for a big online company, and my name does not appear on those reviews, and while I can provide the company’s info and details about the work I do for them on my portfolio, I can’t take credit for the specific reviews. I get paid very nicely for that work and I have plenty of other writing samples, so I have no qualms. I have another writer-for-hire contract that allows me to have my name on the work. It’s a publishing company, and I am writing a short history book on Frank Lloyd Wright’s life for teenage students. My name will be on the book cover and I can take full credit for it. I can’t, however, sell that book myself, and I don’t get royalties from the sales the company makes. I’m getting paid more than I would for, say, a guest blog post, but I’m not getting paid as high as my usual ghostwriting rate either because I’m actually getting credit. I’ve never had a contract like this before, and I’m trying to feel out if the rate is right for the amount of work and if it’s fair compared to what the client will make distributing the book to schools. I haven’t completed the project, so I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m enjoying trying it out. I really like my contact at the company and the content is more fun to write than any of my other projects.

One last tidbit about these sorts of contracts I want to share is the importance of an indemnification clause. If the contract a company sends you doesn’t have an indemnification clause, DEMAND one. This clause protects you from cuckoo-heads who like to sue left and right. It also protects you if the client somehow goofed and had you write about something they didn’t have the rights to or provided you with false information. Essentially, an indemnification clause says that once the client has approved your work, accepted it, and taken on the rights, it’s their problem. If one of the company’s whose product you reviewed didn’t like what you said about them and wanted to sue, the company who posted the review is responsible for dealing with the legal fees to fight the lawsuit, not little ole you working out of your apartment with only a few thousand dollars in assets to your name. However, it should be noted that work-for-hire contracts also contain a clause about plagiarism. An indemnification clause doesn’t protect you against legal ramifications if you provided the company with plagiarized material, and it shouldn’t. Don’t plagiarize, people! Duh. Now, that plagiarism clause ought to go both ways as well. If the company gave you plagiarized material and presented it to you as their own or added plagiarized material after your turned the content into them, that’s their problem.

If you’re a freelance writer, work-for-hire contracts are going to pop up sooner rather than later. Understand what they are, what purpose they serve, and remember that you are your own boss. Take charge, demand fair treatment, negotiate a fair agreement between your needs and the client’s, and those work-for-hire jobs can be your bread and butter … and sometimes a whole lot of fun.

*I am not a lawyer, people. The info I’ve shared here comes from my own experience and should be taken with a grain of salt.

To Contract or Not to Contract

To Contract


Running your own business is HARD. Things you never really thought of when deciding you wanted to be your own boss keep popping up like an obnoxious fifth grader grinning in serial killer fashion and shouting, “Hi! Hey! Hi! Look at me, lady, look at me!” inches from your nose so you can smell sugar-coated cavities while you feel your nerves shattering into tiny pieces. (Wow, that escalated quickly.)  One of those little buggers is contracts.

The first contract I ever signed was for the internship I got right out of college editing a fiction manuscript. I read it, signed it, no big deal. I didn’t have to write it. When I got my first paying gig, ghostwriting a fantasy fiction book, the client provided the contract. It was a rudimentary contract that should have had more stipulations on her end, but neither of us really knew how ghostwriting worked. (You can read how that turned out here.) For my most recent ghostwriting project, I’m working with a substance abuse recovery expert to write a nonfiction book for parents with children suffering from drug addiction. When I landed that deal, I had a website, an impressive portfolio, a killer pitch template that had grabbed his attention, and a hell of a lot more confidence. The client saw me as the expert, and thus he left the whole contract process to me, just requesting that I include a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA). At first I was excited that I would get to craft every detail of the contract just to my liking right off the bat. Then I went, “Oh shit, I have to write a contract!” When I first launched PurpleInkPen, I told myself I needed to get some contract templates written up … but I put it off, and it of course came back to bite me in the bum. I knew there were sites that provided legal templates, so I got to googling and found plenty. I quickly downloaded a ghostwriting contract and an NDA. Still, I scrambled all that day to balance the work I already had and go through, read the contract template I chose, customize it to my desired specs, and send it to my brand new client in a timely fashion. My brain hurt very badly at the end of the day. Don’t do that to yourself.


The sites I ended up using were for the contract and for the NDA because they were both free. SEQ Legal is actually based in the UK somewhere, and I had to go through and change a lot of spelling and change pounds into dollars, but hey, it was free. There are other more popular sites that will do most of the heavy lifting for you like Rocket Lawyer. I started using that site initially. It asks you to fill in some basic info and it implements the answers throughout the whole contract, but you have to pay before you can see the finished product. I wanted to read the whole contract before I paid, so I did the extra legwork and just got a free template. There is another site called that boasts free templates. I haven’t checked them out personally, but they are high on the Google results page.

Contracts are a scary thing if you’re not a lawyer and you don’t have the bucks to keep one on retainer. You’ll worry you’re going to accidentally screw yourself over, you’ll rip some hair out trying to wade through legal jargon, and you’ll ultimately end up asking yourself, “Do I even need this stupid thing?” Well, in my humble opinion, the answer to that question depends on the nature of the work involved.

Let me explain through what I know best. I always, always, always want a contract when I do ghostwriting work, but I haven’t had a contract involved in an editing job since that very first internship. Let’s break down why.

Why You Might Need a Contract:

The biggest reason I use a contract with ghostwriting is because the nature of the work is highly confidential. In ghostwriting, your client’s name goes on what you write for them, not your name. If a contract isn’t in place to clearly state who has rights to what, what the ghostwriter is and isn’t allowed to do with the material, etc., you can find yourself in a legal nightmare of he-said-she-said. This doesn’t just apply to writing books. I ghostwrite product reviews, too, and you bet your frilly bonnet I have a contract with that client also. Normally with ghostwriting, the client insists on a contract, but even if a client didn’t want one, I would insist on it. Now that I’m more educated on the subject, I make sure I don’t get screwed with a raw deal from a client who doesn’t take my professional needs into consideration, usually because they simply don’t know/understand my needs. For instance, I now always make sure there is a clause in the contract that states when and how I can use samples from the work for my own professional betterment. I do a lot of ghostwriting, and if I couldn’t use any samples from that work, my portfolio would be sparce. Some clients don’t care if I use their name along with the samples and post them freely on my portfolio (but nowhere else). Others want me to keep the project description discrete and make sure anyone requesting a sample from their work signs an NDA. I completely understand that, and I respect that agreement. But I make sure that agreement is stated in the contract so a client couldn’t sue me for sharing a sample later on.

If your niche deals with sensitive information and/or could get you wrapped up in legal ramifications, you NEED a contract. Suck it up and write one up.

Another reason you might get a contract involved is if you’re dealing with a large business or if you’re getting your own work published through someone else, like a magazine. A large business will probably want you to sign a W9 and a contract so they can write off your services on their taxes. They will always provide that contract, so no big deal on your end; just make sure you actually read it. If you’re submitting articles to a magazine and getting paid for it, you want a contract. The magazine will provide one, but make sure you negotiate it to get the best deal. For instance, you want to make sure that once they accept your article, they have to pay you right then. Some contracts will state that you don’t get paid until the article is actually published. Sometimes stories get pulled or postponed for months, so you want to be paid regardless of whether it actually shows up in print. You already did your part of the work, so you should be paid for it regardless.

Why You May Not Need a Contract:

I don’t bother with formal contracts when I edit manuscripts or website content because there really aren’t serious legal ramifications involved with the work (It’s undoubtedly the client’s work and always will be; I’m just polishing it). Also, the work itself is a little more casual. Being a book editor is a very special thing. You become a confidante with whom your client is sharing their paper and ink baby; sometimes, I’m the first person to ever read it. There is a mutual trust involved. Plus, I make sure I get paid in installments (an initial down payment, a payment at the halfway point, and a final payment when the work is delivered) so that if a client ever doesn’t pay up (hasn’t happened yet, thankfully), I didn’t edit a whole manuscript and end up with nothing to show for it.

Still, someday a client might refuse to make a payment. I might unknowingly work with a cuckoo bird who decides to sue me for damages because somebody pointed out a solitary comma error in her manuscript after she’d published it. That’s why I utilize informal contracts through email. After I discuss the details of the work with the client, I send an email that lays out everything: the client’s name, what I’ll be working on, what kind of edit I’m doing, the deadline, and the price. Then, I ask the client to respond letting me know that everything looks good and that they agree. They usually attach the manuscript in their response, too. I save those emails, and they serve as an agreement. If someone were to contest my work, I could whip out that agreement and show that I did everything according to what we had both agreed on. If a client didn’t pay, I would send an email threatening legal ramifications (after a few much nicer emails reminding the client that I need to be paid for my services) and let the client know that I’ve kept our emails as a written agreement that they would pay me and how much.

With editing clients, I also ask for a larger down payment than I do with ghostwriting clients. This lets me know that the client is serious about getting this done and ensures that I get paid a nice sum even if the client backs out halfway through.

Final Thoughts

I would suggest you always have some form of agreement laid down, but just feel out your clients and take your niche into consideration when deciding if you need a formal contract or not. If a contract for everything makes you feel safer, by all means, go for it. It can’t hurt. However, if contracts make your eye twitch, take a few calming breaths and decide if something a little more informal can work just as well for you.

Print-on-Demand: The Ugly



This post is the third and final installment of my series on print-on-demand publishing. So far, I’ve covered the pros and cons of POD for serious writers, but now I’m going to dive down and tickle the dirty underbelly of the beast.

Not everyone can write. There, I said it. Sure, anyone can write a cute note to their loved one in a Valentine’s card, and plenty of people can write a good English paper, but writing fiction and poetry is an art form. As with any art form, everyone can try it out, but not everyone can do it well. I like to do paint by numbers (yeah, not sure I should have admitted that on the internet), but I would never call myself a painter. I even have some natural drawing talent inherited from my father, but I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I can draw from example only, copying from a movie cover or a picture, but I can’t draw straight from my head for the life of me.

The biggest problem with POD publishing is that it provides an incredibly easy outlet for anyone to publish their first attempt. Before POD, sure, anyone could try to write a book, but that book couldn’t see the light of day unless it went through a rigorous process of submitting and editing. The writer who just wrote in the name of boredom would likely not bother to put in the effort required for submission, and even if they did, amateurish attempts were sent packing by the publishing house staff. Now a writer can get instant validation through POD, and it’s creating a dark cloud that hangs over real writers, threatening to strike them with lightening at any moment.

The Damage Caused by POD:

The stigma surrounding POD stems directly from the fact that, through it, everyone and their mother can be a published author with a real hard copy book. True, the writing community is very, very wary of POD (often to the point of unfairness), but someone who isn’t a real writer doesn’t give a crap what the writing community thinks. They just like to tell their buddies they’re a published author. Those friends look at each other and then to their friend who’s never written anything longer than a text of his own volition before now and say, “Jimmy John wrote a book? Damn, how hard can it be?” Okay, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration. For someone to actually complete a book, they probably have to have at least a little enjoyment for writing and have experimented with it before. However, I have seen some books that could very well combat that idea. There are some books out there that beg the question, “Does this ‘author’ even read?” Honestly, some of them are so bad that the person can’t possibly be a real reader. If they were, surely they would have looked at what they had written and realized it was utter crap compared to everything else they’d ever read. But Jimmy John’s friends probably aren’t big readers either, so they probably don’t read the book, or if they do, they don’t have many references to compare it to. So Jimmy John is an author. How hard can it be?

It spreads beyond Jimmy John’s friends, too. Many casual readers don’t know much, if anything, about the publishing business. To them, a hard copy book is the real deal. A book is a book, and anyone with a book is an author. So, they are mildly intrigued by the book description on Amazon and purchase Jimmy John’s book because it’s a bargain. Then they read it and after one chapter (or even one page) go, “Good grief, this garbage got published?” This reader will now be far more wary of cheap books on Amazon, and it may drive her away from a POD book by a very talented but as of yet undiscovered author.

Worse still, she may purchase a book by Fiona. Fiona is another “author” who woke up one morning, remembered that one story she wrote in grade school that everybody loved and praised her for, and said, “Hey, why haven’t I pursued writing a book yet? I’m not doing anything today.” Fiona has a smidge of natural talent, but she hasn’t done anything to hone it. That’s far more dangerous. She comes up with an idea and sets to work. Her plot is intriguing, but her characters are lifeless because she’s never written dialogue before. It’s clunky and cliched. There’s little to no character development and the narration is lackluster, but it isn’t a complete steaming pile of poo on a hot, humid day like Jimmy John’s.

Our casual reader purchases Fiona’s book, and gets all the way through it. The reader kept going because there was something there she wanted to hang onto. She wasn’t totally engaged, but she wanted to see how it ended. The plot was interesting … but it fell flat at the end. The protagonist had the potential to be endearing … but she ended up being a bit dull. The villain had the potential to be frightening and highly dangerous … but he ended up being just a nuisance who was easily defeated. The writing itself was just ordinary, like your slightly boring friend telling you about how their family barbecue went last weekend. Too much exposition and not enough depth. The exciting parts ended way too fast and there were some plot holes. Fiona only has a vague idea of what makes a story good. She likes to read at the beach, but it’s not her favorite past time. Without POD, she probably would have still written the book because she’s adventurous and likes trying new things, but she wouldn’t have ever been able to get it published, at least not the way it is when she first types THE END. Now with POD she can. Our casual reader gets through her book and goes “Meh. Not bad, but wouldn’t recommend it.”

A little while down the road, our casual reader has an odd dream that she thinks would make a good book. She wrote a few short stories as an assignment in high school or college. She could do it, right? The danger doesn’t come from this casual reader wanting to write a book. That’s great. She ought to try and see if she likes it. But because she read Fiona’s book she thinks, “How hard can it be? That book wasn’t even that good and it got published. I could write something like that.” The casual reader’s/would-be writer’s expectations of the quality standard she must reach are now lowered significantly. She doesn’t have to write like Stephen King or Dean Koontz; she just has to write as good as Fiona and she can be a real author. That’s the biggest danger of POD. Publishing your first attempt at writing is only slightly harder than publishing a Facebook post or a Tweet, once you have it written down. So, even if a writer has some potential, he or she doesn’t take the time to hone his or her craft and turn those words into art. That writer just publishes because he or she has no idea what serious publishing or serious writing entails.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to mediocre and truly awful attempts being published daily through POD programs, the idea of “How hard can this be?” sticks and spreads, and it grossly undermines the talent of real writers. POD has the potential to be a beautiful thing where artists can both share their art easily and get paid for it. However, its greatest strength is also its greatest flaw. It’s built to be easy and pain free. Great! If only truly talented writers use it. Yeah, right. This is the age of the internet. Anyone can say and do anything they want online, even publish a book.

If you’re a serious writer thinking of using POD, please, use it correctly. Think of it as traditional publishing minus the politics of submission and the drawn out printing and distributing process. That still leaves rigorous editing, implementing feedback, getting a stellar cover design, marketing the product, and actually giving it your all. Don’t let the ease of POD lure you into laziness. The real tragedy is when a talented author with the potential for greatness allows the very platform that could launch them to greatness to become a crutch that delivers a subpar product.


Print-on-Demand: The Bad



This is the second post in a series about print-on-demand publishing: namely programs like CreateSpace that allow authors to upload, format, and publish their books in both ebook format and a hard-copy version that is printed as customers purchase it. This is where we will begin to delve into the cons of this publishing style. To read the pros, click here.

This post will more specifically deal with the cons presented to talented/serious authors. Next week’s post, The Ugly, will deal with the problems that arise when someone who’s hardly even finished a school paper decides to wake up and write a book in a few weeks.

The Disadvantages of POD:

  1. The Stigma: No matter how good your material is, if you publish through a print-on-demand program, you will have to combat the stigma created by those folks I mentioned in reference to next week’s post. It’s not fair, but it’s true. But how will people know? Well, for one thing, say you publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book details will list your publisher as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Now, not everyone looks down there, but more and more people are learning to because they’ve been burned by print-on-demand books before. The price is usually another giveaway. Print-on-demand books go for less to draw in readership without the help of a major publisher pushing the book sales. Not a bad thing in itself (especially since traditionally published books’ price tags are getting ludicrous these days); just another flag to cautious readers. I guarantee you if a smart reader (I’m referencing reading affinity not IQ here) comes across a print-on-demand book with a premise that intrigues them, they are going to take a hard look at the sample before purchasing.

    Now, if that sample is well-written, thoroughly edited, and makes them want to read more, you can still make a sale. However, some people have grown wary of those samples, too, because it seems like some POD writers (typically those who charge higher prices for their books and have a plethora of reviews that are clearly paid for to cover up the atrocious, honest ones) just put a ton of effort into the beginning to make the sale and then let things slide downhill from there. Sometimes that just happens honestly, too. Many writers start out the story really strong because the passion for the story is high, but they can lose enthusiasm and focus along the way (it’s happened to me before). That’s what beta readers and editing are for, but POD lets you skip both of those.

    Of course, even if your material is able to speak for itself and earn you steady sales, you will still have to deal with the stigma within the writing community itself, which is entirely unfair. For more about my thoughts on that, read my post on Elitism in the Writing Community.

  2. Amateur Presentation: POD programs allow you to format the inside of your book and create the outer cover by yourself. Unless you have real design experience/talent though, I wouldn’t suggest it.

    Now, the inside formatting isn’t quite as important or difficult to nail as that cover, but it still counts for something. The problem with a lot of these programs is that either the ebook’s or the hard copy’s inner formatting suffers because usually only one file is created and then dumped into both mediums. In reality, you need two different file types and each one will need to be adjusted to fit properly on the page or on the screen. What often happens is that the ebook version flows nicely, but if someone orders the hard copy, the inside is all wonky: random, huge spaces between paragraphs or half of the lines are indented while the other half aren’t. Also, usually hard copies have a serif font and ebooks have a sans serif. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you open a hard copy and see a sans serif, something feels off. All of these little quirks just don’t look professional and gives a bad impression as someone thumbs through the book. If a book like that were pulled off a shelf rather than ordered online, it would be put down almost as fast as it was picked up.

    The cover of your book is what grabs your reader’s attention. There are millions of books out there, and yours has to stand out in a fraction of a second or it’s going to be overlooked. The covers you can create solely with a POD program are going to look like poop unless you’re some sort of wizard. At least purchase some good stock photos to work with. Honestly, you should hire a designer to do the cover. If you can, shell out the $100-$200 it takes for a good one. I worked with an author who hired an artist she liked, and I cannot tell you how many of her book reviews briefly mentioned how beautiful the cover was. I guarantee most of her sales were made because that cover was too gorgeous to look away from when scrolling through Amazon. After that, the content spoke for itself, and she has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

    Presentation matters, and POD in and of itself doesn’t allow you to create a professional impression. You have to go beyond the platform and hire outside help, but many times, authors are drawn in by how easy and inexpensive the whole process is and don’t take time to slow down and ask themselves if they’re doing right by their book. Which brings me to my next point.

  3. Too Easy?: The biggest problem with POD isn’t the programs or their mechanics, it’s how people use them. These programs make publishing so easy that anyone can do it with a few clicks of a mouse. You could finish the final edit of your book and have it published that same day, essentially. Publishing your work is exciting, and I fear many authors get caught up in the rush of “I can really do this all by myself!” and forget to slow down before clicking publish.

    When you’ve gone back and edited that second or third or fourth draft, that just means it’s time to hand it over to someone else, not time to publish. You’ve done what you can for the moment; now you have to see how others receive it. You have to get it vetted; ideally by beta readers and a professional editor. Now, I understand not everyone can afford to hire a professional editor, but please, people, at least take the time to contact some beta readers. Pretty much all of them do it for free or for very cheap. It’s usually a hobby they love doing (that can also give them fodder for their blogs), and it gives you outsider insight into whether your book is achieving everything you want it to achieve.If you can’t afford a real editor, for the love of God run it through a reputable spell-checking program. Your book is dead in the water if readers find too many typos in that sample. And don’t just accept every correction the program makes automatically, either. Those kinds of programs, especially ones that attempt to correct grammar, can do weird stuff to your sentences every now and then. Go through and check all the changes it made, and just know that it didn’t catch everything, I guarantee it. But hey, it’s going to be a hell of a lot cleaner.

Final Thoughts

SLOW DOWN is the main point I’m trying to get across, if you hadn’t noticed already. Take the time to evaluate your budget and see where you might be able to put in a little extra money to substitute the shortcomings of a POD program. If nothing else, take the time to allow others to vet your material and then do the necessary edits that result before even thinking about uploading it to a program. Don’t give in to the temptation of an easy fix, and allow the whole POD system to work for you, not against you. Your book deserves it.

Print-on-Demand: The Good



When I talked about Elitism in the Writing Community a few weeks ago, I mentioned print-on-demand publishing only briefly, deciding it was a large enough beast to tackle separately.

The world of print-on-demand publishing has exploded in recent years, and many writers look down on it with a wrinkled nose and a grimace … and not without justification. However, there are many layers to this publishing option, with a long string of benefits and detriments.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole operation, myself, so I thought I would do a little series of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Print-on-Demand Publishing. Today, let’s start off sunny and talk about the good.

The Biggest Benefits of POD:

  1. No Politics: Traditional publishing is dominated by the Big Five: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Now, all five of these have a bunch of imprints that specialize in different genres and whatnot, but when you think about how many people are trying to “make it” as writers and send their stuff to these giants, it is so easy for great books to fall through the cracks and get looked over. There are are nice number of smaller publishers (though the numbers are shrinking by the year), but they are usually very selective because they can only produce so many books per year. It’s hard enough for even a widely published short story author with a large platform and a good agent to get selected from among the pile of submissions, much less someone with no publishing history with a book that isn’t “mainstream.” The politics of this can be very frustrating. Just because it’s the first book you’ve submitted for publishing and you have a smaller following than someone else, your content shouldn’t get overlooked, but a lot of times it does.

    With POD, there’s no god-like authority figure to pick and choose who is worthy and who is not. You don’t have to wait for the luck of the draw for your book to be picked over another that is just as good and in the same genre.

  2. No Hoops: Getting traditionally published isn’t nearly as easy as just writing the book, editing it to perfection, and sending it off. Not by a long shot. Unless you want to end up in the dreaded slush pile that’s only ever ventured into by publishing house interns or assistant editors trying to prove their worth by nabbing a bestseller, you have to find an agent. To do so, you have to undergo a sort of application process, where you send a synopsis of the book, define who you think it’s marketed toward, prove that you have a platform and following of people who will buy your book, list books that are similar to yours that have done well, and provide the first thirty pages or so of the book, etc. You must send this out to many agents to actually land one. Agents mostly pick books subjectively with a knowledge of marketability in mind as well. They have to like the material to act as your champion, peddling your book to the Big Five.

    Once you land an agent, he or she has to go through the same process you just went through essentially, but about tenfold, sending it off to his or her connections in the industry and trying to get someone to bite.

    If you want to opt for a smaller publisher, a lot of times you don’t need an agent, but you have to do all of the legwork yourself, jumping through the many submission hoops and writing up a stellar proposal. Your proposal needs to be written just as well or better than your book itself. It’s an art, and it takes lots of practice to master.

    Many authors try traditional publishing first, but they aren’t familiar with the proposal process, they’ve had many agents all try to fundamentally change their book based on their own personal preference, or they’ve just never gotten responses either way and feel ignored. All of this is very discouraging, and eventually some folks say, “To hell with it.” In POD, there are no hoops. You just upload your very best into a program like CreateSpace, and you automatically have an ebook and a hard copy version.

  3. No Deep Pockets Required: This is what sells some authors on POD over the more traditional self-publishing option. In traditional publishing, the publishing house pays for all the expenses of producing and marketing the book. In regular self-publishing, the author carries the weight of those expenses. After you’ve paid for an eye-catching cover;  paid for a professional(s) to do a content edit, copy edit, and proofread; paid to have it formatted and printed; and paid for the marketing, your pockets will be significantly lighter. Now, I suppose you could find someone with lackluster or zero talent to do all of these things for dirt cheap, but that would be money wasted in my opinion.

    In POD, while it’s still a good idea to pay for an editor and marketing materials, the printing and formatting all happens through the free platform (they take a percentage of sales, but usually it’s no money immediately out of your pocket). I would suggest still hiring someone to design a cover, but you can do that yourself in the POD programs as well. Some also have an “auto-edit” program. This isn’t a real substitute for a professional, but if you really have no budget, it’s a handy tool to catch a lot of little stuff you might have missed. You should also always edit the hell out of the book yourself anyway. The point is that with POD all of the expenses can be taken away, and then you can pick and choose the things you want to put your budget toward.

    Ideally, you’d want to get professionals to do everything, but not everyone has that kind of money.

Final Thoughts

POD works really well as a sort of first step so long as you actually put real effort into making your story great. With a great story that’s been edited to the best it can be, the money and the politics shouldn’t have to matter. With POD, they don’t matter, and that’s the real beauty of it. It allows authors to get their work out there so they can begin to build a following that will look good to a publishing house. It allows authors with a great story but a very low budget to actually produce a book and display their talent to the world. POD isn’t going to make you filthy rich, but if your content is high quality and you work like mad person to get the word out about it, you can potentially make enough to pay to truly self-publish your next book.

In short, when used correctly, POD is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. The problem is, it’s very easy for people to use it incorrectly and stain the name of writers everywhere. But that’s a subject for a future post.