Your Guide to Freelance Success

Posted on March 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

Emma Murray and Charlie Wilson are the authors of How to Succeed as a Freelancer in Publishing (working title), published by How To Books, available for purchase October 2010.


Have you ever come across a book about freelancing written by freelancers for freelancers, specifically relating to succeeding in the publishing industry? Neither have we, so we decided to write one.


Our idea for the book was born of many years of trial and error. When we first started our lives as freelancers, we hadn’t a clue about running a successful business. Thankfully, we do now, so we decided to put our heads and pens together and share our experiences and provide tips to all the budding freelancers out there. Our main message is that it is possible to set up a successful business, have a dream job, and make money! In short, we firmly believe that when it comes to freelancing, there need be no such thing as a starving artist.


We met through the SYP, and soon discovered common ground in our skills and ambitions. Our experiences of freelancing have been different; Charlie comes from a publishing background and has also worked for a PR agency and a charity, while Emma is an ex-investment banker with no in-house publishing experience. Although our paths to freelancing have been quite unconventional (and perhaps less traditional than you may expect), we have both managed to set up and run a successful freelance business in the publishing sector, which proves that anybody with a flair for the English language and a passion for business has the ability to succeed.


When we first started out as aspiring freelancers, we had a lot of questions. Research proved that there was nothing on the market out there about freelancing in publishing. Of course, there were books on freelancing in general, but none of them were specific enough to be of much use. So, we started an information-gathering process, attending SYP events, book fairs, and other publishing seminars, trying to get the inside scoop on an industry that we knew very little about from a freelancing perspective. We made new contacts, learned how they worked, and picked up tips here, there, and everywhere. Eventually, we had enough information to apply to our own businesses and work really started to take off.


But it has been a rocky road. During times of frustration, we would call each other up and wail about the freelance life: the uncertainty of it all, not knowing where the next pay cheque is coming from, unreliable clients (in one case, taking a client to court for lack of payment!), being poorly paid by publishers (yes, this does happen!), and those terrible summer months where the whole business seems to have shut down, or ‘the freelance famine’, as we like to call it. What helped us make it through these tough times was having each other as support; we’d have a vent and a moan and then would talk about how we could get ourselves out of the sticky patch and get our businesses moving again.


These chats would always end on the same note: ‘It would have been so much easier to deal with these issues if there was some sort of guide out there to show us what to do!’ Eventually, we stopped bemoaning the fact that there wasn’t a book out there to help us, and decided to take matters into our own hands. We already knew there was a market for a book about freelancing in publishing because of the number of queries we would get through our websites from other aspiring freelancers who were similarly frustrated by the lack of knowledge out there and were desperate for advice. Some of these freelancers were university graduates stepping into their first career; others were from different working backgrounds and fancied a career change; and at the opposite end of the scale were those who’d just retired and were looking for work they could do at their own pace from home. Conversations with publishing societies and training centres also proved there was a market for our book.


So, we decided to put together a proposal and send it off to a few publishers. Following an ambush on How To Books at the London Book Fair last year, our book was finally commissioned. Having spent some time delighting in our success, we realised that in order to see the book on the shelves, we would have to write it first, so we got down to business. It has been challenging to fit the writing process around other work commitments, but when it’s something you are passionate about, you find yourself looking forward to it. We have almost completed the first draft, and we have plenty of time to refine it before the September 2010 publishing date.


The most common questions aspiring freelancers have asked us over the years relate to how they go about setting up the business in the first place, how they market themselves as freelancers, what to charge, how to sort out finances, how to create a website and advertise their services on a budget, and different ways to attract new business. So, we have addressed all these topics and more in the book. We have also included some tips and quotes from other freelance experts in the industry, specialising in areas such as marketing/PR, researching, typesetting, translating, graphic design and so on.


The beauty of the freelance world is that it is entirely fluid; depending on your skillset, it is possible to take on different freelance roles and explore new avenues. Emma started off her freelance life as an editor and proofreader, before moving into full-time writing and ghostwriting. Charlie, meanwhile, seems to be adding a new service to her website daily. There is no such thing as being ‘stuck’ in a specific role; it is entirely up to you to decide what you want to do and how you want to do it.


Our book deals with the good times and the bad; the highs and the lows of working as a freelancer within the publishing world. Let’s face it, it’s not the easiest career choice to make, but with a little guidance and a lot of hard slog you can open a door to freedom, challenges and, most importantly, success – however you define that.


Emma Murray and Charlie Wilson are full-time freelancers. Emma is a ghostwriter and author of the business book The Unauthorized Guide to Doing Business the Alan Sugar Way: 10 Secrets of the World’s Toughest Negotiator, published by Wiley-Capstone. Charlie’s business, Perfectly Write, offers writing, editing and proofreading services, among others. Both Emma and Charlie are members of the SYP and have been Freelance Glance columnists for InPrint magazine.