Mind My Own Business
September 13, 2011 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Looking for good books about the business of freelance writing.

I've been growing words down on the content farm for over a year now. It pays pretty well actually, because I can crank 'em out, but my brain is turning to mush.
Therefore, I'm taking the leap to get more serious about being a real freelance writer, i.e. finding my own work, getting published on actual paper, etc.
I've built up a huge mental block against the business side of this gig, and I need a good book to guide me through it. Something that covers record keeping, finances, billing clients, and dealing with taxes.
Something that focuses on Canada would be ideal.
Websites would be useful too if you know of a good one, but I'm really looking for a good, comprehensive book, written by someone who knows what they're talking about. Not one of those "U Ken Be a Riter!!" books.
posted by crazylegs to Work & Money (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Record keeping, finances, billing clients, and dealing with taxes are issues faced by any small business. You don't need a book targeted at freelance writers for any of that.
posted by jon1270 at 6:31 AM on September 13, 2011

I wish there were such a thing. Almost any such book would be a scam to get people to pony up $10 or $15 in the hopes of help, almost none of which is specifically helpful. (Perhaps others have found one?)

Part of the reason there isn't such a thing is that practices vary so much by type of publication. Every publication I deal with has extremely different invoicing and pay systems.

That being said, the tax situation is fairly simple, at least for the U.S. You're the sole proprietor of a business, just like any other purveyor of services. (Your Canadian mileage will differ, in terms of how Canada treats expenses, home offices and the like.) Even when I have a robust freelance career and sometimes dozens of 1099s at the end of the year, annual taxes are still easily done with Turbotax. (In the US, freelancers are pretty-much required to pay taxes each quarter throughout the year.)

The best counsel I can give you is regarding personal and work organization, not so much finance: finding a system of work organization that suits you. The way it works for me best is: I have a big wall, and one side is labeled TO DO and the other is labeled DONE. (Sometimes I have a wall labeled IDEAS too, for things I want to do but don't have time to do now.) On the "TO DO" side, index cards are pushpinned with assignments, their tasks and their due dates. (Also thinks like "PITCH X TO Y.") When the assignment is completed, it gets moved to DONE, and a new "TO DO" card is made with invoicing procedure. (I also keep folders on my computer desktop, called "INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS" and "INVOICES" and "UNFINISHED PIECES," and then I file Word documents by publication after completion.) Being able to find everything is real helpful.

This is a system that might horrify some people!

One thing you could do financially to prepare for tax time is to get a separate debit card that you use for all expenses related to the business, so that at tax time, you just need to go through your bank account, not find a pile of expense receipts.

Invoicing at publications isn't really a big deal. I would not worry too much about it? Each publication will give you instructions about how THEY want it done, and none of it is a big deal. The one thing you'll really want to have, in my experience, is a transparent gif of your signature. If I couldn't digitally affix my signature to PDFs of contracts and mail them back, I'd spend half my week going to a store to use their fax machine. Which, God, it's not 1995!

Again, your mileage will vary; there are a million different ways of doing this.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:32 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I stumbled across the following somewhere, and it has been on my bookshelf ever since:

Lucy V. Parker, How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business; Fourth Edition. 2004.

The link to the Amazon page for an updated edition is here.

My recollection is that it covers the bases of starting a small business adequately, and addresses issues relevant to someone looking to write for money.
posted by cool breeze at 1:50 PM on September 13, 2011

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