Today’s my birthday, so I want to do something a little more casual and talk about what I have found are the best and worst parts of working in my niche. If you’re new to this blog (welcome!), I ghostwrite and copy edit books (for more detail about my niche and how I chose it, you can read this post). I’ve been at it for two years now, and these are some things I think about/notice on a regular basis.
Pro: Long-Term Projects
One of the hardest things about freelancing is keeping your to-do list full every month so that you can pay your bills. If your niche is article or blog post writing, you’re having to pitch constantly just to get a handful of short-term jobs. That’s why many writers in those niches are always on the lookout for regular contributor gigs. Every freelancer is looking for long-term work, and when you’re in the book business, that’s all you deal with, really. The minimum I ever spend on book projects is two weeks, and that’s when I’m doing a proofread of a short book. My current ghostwriting gig has been giving me steady work since June 2016; the client keeps wanting to add new material, and he already has another project for me after we wrap the current one up in the next few weeks.
Con: Credibility is a Long Time Coming
This is probably the biggest con of this niche. If you’re working on shorter, faster projects, you build up your portfolio pretty quickly, and you can keep snatching better and better gigs because of it. When you’re working with books, it takes months to just get that first ghostwriting credit. The fastest I’ve ever finished a full book ghostwriting project was one month, and that was a 50-page cozy mystery ebook that the client had already thoroughly outlined. Editing jobs go a little faster, and it’s not quite as hard to build up cred. Although, getting that very first job is still slightly more difficult than say, landing a guest blog post, because your client is entrusting you with a manuscript that represents months or years of effort, passion, and sometimes tears. Ghostwriting jobs take much longer, and it’s even harder to get someone to hand you a gig that pays well when you have no past experience. Your personal writing samples will be your saving grace when you’re first breaking in, but even then, it takes a lot of time to build up enough experience to be able to raise your rates and still land jobs.
Pro: Um … You’re Reading and Writing Books for a Living!
Do I really have to say more? If you’ve decided to become a freelance writer, chances are you love doing both those things. Now you can get paid for it. Many aspiring authors don’t realize that they don’t have to be starving artists. Need money to self-publish your own novel or just to be able to eat while you’re pitching agents and publishers hoping for that big break? Help others with their books by helping their manuscript shine with a nice editing polish or helping them realize their vision and grow their career by ghostwriting that memoir or how-to book.
Con: Dealing with Low-Balling Non-Writers
This isn’t so much a problem if you’re editing. Authors understand what writing a good book entails, and they usually know the importance of having an editor. The problem is with ghostwriting. If you’re ghostwriting for a book packager or professional who knows the marketing value having a book can add to their business, getting a fair rate isn’t an issue. However, for a book packaging company or a reputable business person to hire you as a ghost, you need some experience. So how do you get it? Well, you have to roll the dice and deal with the Average Joe. The problem with this is that the average person who has never even tried to write a book has no idea of the time and effort that goes into it. They think you have some magical writer fairy dust that lets you basically poop it out along with some sparkly rainbows, no problem. They also think you just do it for fun, and that’s payment enough, basically. Uh, no. Writing books is fun, but I only write my own stuff JUST for fun. I’m writing yours to pay the bills. But the average person doesn’t know how much a ghostwriter should be paid (and neither did I, starting out), and when they see a professional rate, they suddenly don’t think they need that book written anymore. The problem is, when you’re starting with no book credits to your name, you’re going to have to compromise with someone like this. There are some great Average Joes out there who understand the value of your work, but they usually don’t have a huge budget. These are the folks you want to look for on that first gig, but you’ll have to wade through a whole lot of ads promising you huge sums AFTER the book “hits it big.” Make sure you talk to the clients first, preferably over the phone, to get a feel for their attitude toward you, the value of your work, and the project. Get somebody who cares. And though you’ll have to settle for less than stellar rates, don’t accept dirt. The best thing to do is get some small ebook jobs, like that cozy mystery one I mentioned before. For my first nonfiction gigs, I did short (10-20 pages) how-to, DIY ebooks on things like the green smoothie cleanse. Find something that isn’t going to require tons of research, something that the client has already done some work on, and something you can finish up quickly. But always strive to exceed the client’s expectations. You want good references, and it also really helps if that book gets some good reviews on Amazon. Don’t half-ass it, just find an easy fit that you can exceed at in a short amount of time. Then boost your rates right away (don’t be me), and start looking for bigger and better gigs.
Pro: Build Your Platform for Your Own Books
Pretty much every author’s dream is to have their book published by one of the Big Five. Well, in all likelihood that’s not going to happen without a platform these days. How do you build that coveted platform? Work with books! Fiction books I’ve ghostwritten have been well received by the audience members they actually reached. Thanks to freelancing, I also have two nonfiction YA history books with my name on them. I’m also building up a network of authors and fellow freelancers just by doing my job and interacting in Facebook groups related to my niche.
Con: It’s Hard to Have a Casual Conversation
“What do you do for a living?” It’s the standard casual conversation starter. Usually it entails each party stating their job, the other party asking how they like it or some other general question, and then each party talks briefly about their line of work. Not if you work in books. You say, “I write and edit books from home,” and they say something like, “My ___ is always telling me I should write a book.” Then you get to sit there and listen while they explain that they did a little writing in college, poetry mostly, of course. You get to hear little snippets of how cool their life was, too, though they always seem to gloss over the cool sounding parts and ramble about the rest. You nod and smile, but the whole time you’re thinking, “I’m just trying to watch my corgi and make sure she doesn’t go ape on a dog three times her size because he tried to steal her stick.” Or maybe that’s just me. I always try to direct these sorts of people to my website and let them know if they ever actually want to write that book, I’ll be happy to help, but nothing has ever come of it so far. I even had one douche bag laugh in my face and say, “No, I would never hire anybody. I don’t need any help.” And then he had the balls to ask me if I wanted to “take a look at some of his work.” What?! Then he shoved this little radio piece in my face (nothing special about the writing, either, let me tell you), which he was just carrying around with him at his day job in the furniture store. I was just trying to buy a couch, dude.
It’s very rare that you find somebody who says, “Oh wow, that sounds really interesting! How exactly do you get into work like that? What all do you do?” I’ve come across two (granted, I don’t get out much). Bless those people to the bottoms of their souls.
Pro: Connections with Other Authors and Interesting People
I’ve said this plenty of times on this blog, but I’ll say it again. Working on books is a laborious and intimate process, and it’s very hard not to develop a connection to your clients. I consider most of my clients friends. I’ve worked with authors, editors, other freelancers, and kind, funny, interesting people who have great stories to tell. We help each other out. We refer each other work. We review each other’s writing. We promote each other’s work. Most people in this niche community are generous, loyal, passionate people who genuinely appreciate the work you do and strive to pay it forward. When you find those people, hold onto them.
4 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Working in Books as a Freelancer”
A belated happy birthday Hannah, I hope you had a lovely day. It’s very encouraging to hear you talk about the early jobs you did. It makes me think I am hopefully on the right track. I saw an advert for a fiction writing job that made me laugh out loud the other day, it seemed that payment was mostly in the glory that would be forthcoming from writing about someone’s amazing life. Honestly, there are some real gems out there. CJ xx
Haha, yes there are. They’re everywhere, really. I’m so glad you’re laughing at them rather than applying. From everything I’ve heard about your progress, you are definitely on the right track. Is that ebook you may be doing a short DIY pamphlet-type?
It’s going to be a 10-12k word guide I think. Hopefully I’ll get some more information about it soon.
Sounds like a really good first gig. I’m sure you’ll get it.