Write Tip: 5 Keys To A Successful Freelance Editing/Writing Business

Well, I’ve dreamed for years of full time writing and creative work, and at least for the past two months, I’ve been living that nicely. I’m grateful for this development. I had not had full time work since May 2010, when I was laid off. I have been on unemployment and food stamps and looking for work has been my job, but instead of letting it get me down, I also spent a lot of time writing and editing and developing my network. That has finally paid off in steady work which, if it continues at the present level, should put me at $30k income by a year from now, maybe more. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m thoroughly loving it. But it’s taken a lot of effort to learn how to do this and I continue to learn more all time. I get asked for advice these days on how to build a freelance career, so here a few key tips I’ve learned which have helped me so far:

1) Diversity — You need to develop your knowledge not only of diverse software but types of writing and editing. From technical to creative, marketing to fiction, you should be familiar with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Standard/Reader and anything else you can get your hands on. The needs of the jobs vary but being diverse in not only the types of materials you can offer as well as the types of software platforms you are familiar with will really give you the most opportunities. It takes time to develop this, and, perhaps, money if you need software. Some of it can be bought used for much less price. Free classes can often be taken online. Whatever the case, you should develop skills as much as possible in as many areas as you can. And you should build portfolio samples to demonstrate them.

2) Disciplined Hard Work — There’s no way around this. If you want to make money doing this, you must treat it as a job. Set aside specific hours, keep track of them and your tasks, research proper invoicing and rates, track expenses and dedicate the necessary time to work. I have both a daily planner and large desk calendar I use as well as my computer and smart phone to track projects, deadlines, hours, etc. I also track when I bill clients, when they pay me, how much I am owed, bills, etc. I keep a large queue of projects going: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/10/28/works-in-progress-writing-editing-projects-i-am-working-on/ is my latest list. And I prioritize both based on deadlines clients ask for, when I receive them, type of work, etc. I am honest and up front with clients when time gets off schedule and I work hard to make sure they are kept abreast of all developments. In return, I am developing some steady clients who come back to me and recommend me to others.  You must discipline yourself. You can’t be fly-by-night if you want to succeed. Clients do expect fast turn around and high quality. They have a right to when they’re paying you $25-30 an hour and expecting to get good advice. And it means you have to sometimes put your personal projects aside and put the paying projects first. The only way to keep room for your personal projects, in my experience, is to be disciplined and schedule your time well.

3) Networking/Reputation — Almost every opportunity you get will be the result of referrals or tips from someone else. So building a good network and reputation is very important. Not just a reputation as a nice person either. Although my approach of treating people the way I want to be treated is definitely paying off, so is my reputation for meeting deadlines, going out of my way to help and encourage clients, going the extra mile from time-to-time when it’s called for and always doing quality work. Consistency in all of these things will be vital to your success and I highly recommend that you figure out what they mean for you and how to deliver them early on. A big part of this relates to deadlines and billing. Every client wants it yesterday. No one is patient when it comes to this stuff. But if they want quality, they have to give you the time to do it. I always estimate longer than I need so if things come up I am covered for delivering late. It’s far better to please them by turning things in early than disappoint them by being late. The same is true of billing. Estimate higher than expected. Surprising them with a smaller bill than expected makes them smile. Surprising them with a higher bill than expected never does. In fact, it can cause conflict. So don’t create potential conflict by failing to allow for delays and unexpected circumstances.

4) Multitasking — You will have to have the discipline and dedication to juggle multiple projects. There’s no way around it. And it can be hard. It’s hard to edit more than one book at a time. For me, editing a novel and a nonfiction piece can be done simultaneously. I can also edit short stories while editing a novel. Editing two novels at the same time is too hard. You get confused on story elements, voice,  pacing, etc. and it slows you down, so I have to keep that in mind when setting up my queues.  I tell the clients where they are in the queue and when they can expect me to deliver, and if that changes, I inform them why and how much extra time they should expect. I also offer discounts for larger jobs. You can’t live on one job, so you’ll need several. I spend an hour or two a day doing marketing work, an hour or two paid blogging, and at least four hours on editing, every day. My personal writing time comes beyond that. But at $25-30 an hour, again, I am averaging $125-150 a day which, 5 days a week (I actually work 7 right now) will add up to around $30-40k a year.

5) Marketing — A big part of your marketing is word of mouth. There’s no way around it. But you should also have a website with rates, client blurbs, a list of projects, a bio, and a blog containing helpful tips, talking about your process etc. Put links to this in your bios and email signatures, and spread the word when you can. Ask clients for referrals. Ask friends as well. Let people know what you’re doing. Do some free work in the beginning to prove yourself. Also sites like www.fiverr.com offer the opportunity to demonstrate what you offer at lower rates that can help you build up your client list for later.  In the beginning, you start out as an unknown, so you have to make effort to show people you’re capable. From doing websites for people to marketing materials, beta reading critiques, story critiques, and even editing, you can get people talking about and recommending your work. That brings you to the attention of people searching for someone to help them. It takes time. I did so much volunteering for three years and now it’s paying off. From www.fiverr.com 30 minute editing jobs for $5 to editing an anthology gratis to prove myself, I did what I had to, and I’m grateful it’s paid off.

I’m sure I can do more posts on this if it interests people, but that’s enough to really get you started down the right road. I hope it helps both direct and encourage you. I know it’s worked for me, and I hope it continues to. I hope it works for you, too. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: The Importance Of Business

There’s this little thing referred to in Hollywood script talk as “business.” It also gets a mention in Phil Athans’ excellent The Guide To Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy from Adams Media. “Business” in this instance is those little actions characters do underneath dialogue in scenes. You know, they’re having an argument and one washes dishes while the other shuffles paperwork on a desk, or they’re on the phone and each is doing something else while talking. What they’re doing in both examples is “business.” Using “business” in your fiction is a great technique to make your writing more vivid and realistic and reveal character at the same time, as well as move your plot forward.

For example, say you have a couple who are detectives but also date. At some point, you have them investigating a crime scene but while they’re doing it, they’re having a couple fight about some issue between them. That’s “business,” and, in this case, it moves two storylines along simultaneously if you do it right. Also, the mannerisms and actions of the characters can reveal things about them: their emotional state, their attitudes toward each other, their focus or lack there of, etc. Because “business” is something we all do in real life–sometimes hiding from it with the label multi-tasking–having characters do it adds depth to your story by bringing realistic life to scenes. So “business is a writing technique you want to learn about and practice whenever you can.

Let’s look at examples. One from a script, one from a novel.

First, because it’s popular and a lot of people have seen it, here’s a scene from the pilot of The Walking Dead TV series:

INT. A PARKED POLICE CRUISER - DAY

 

... revealing a SHOTGUN in its floor mount. CONTINUE
DRIFTING past a dangling DAY-GLO NET BAG containing a few
spare 9MM AMMO CLIPS and .357 5PEEDLOADER5 ...

 

SHANE (Offscreen)
In my experience? Never met a
woman who knew how to turn off
a light. It's genetic. They're
born thinking the switch only
goes one way -- on.

 

WE DRIFT past rubber-banded notebooks. A stapler. A dashmounted
cup of mismatched pens and pencils. All the little
telling details that show a cop car is a working office ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
It's like they're struck blind
when they leave a room. Every
woman I ever let have a key,
swear to God, I come home and
my house is lit up like a mall
at Christmas.

 

We come to a GREASY TRAY-BOX OF FRIES on the dash. We
hear rustling fast-food wrappers, slurps of soda ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
So then my job, apparently
because my chromosomes are
different, is to go through the
house and turn off every light
the chick left on.

 

A HAND reaches in, grabs fries, dips ketchup ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
This, then, is the core basis
of the male-female dynamic. The
yin and the yang.

RICK (O. S.)
That right?

 

FOLLOW THE FRIES TO: OFFICER SHANE WALSH, County Police,
in the passenger seat outside a fast-food restaurant.

 

SHANE
Yeah, baby, Reverend Shane is
a'preachin to ya now ...

 

He shoves the fries in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

 

SHANE
The same chick, mind you, will
bitch about global warming.
That goes double if you want to
drive something with a decent
V6 under the hood, in which
case you're a selfish prick
killing baby polar bears.

 

He grabs the box of fries off the dash, passes them ...
REVEAL: Rick Grimes at the wheel, looking way more spitand-
polish than in the teaser, half-heartedly picking at
his burger. Rick's a quiet, Gary Cooper-type, has long
experience when it comes to listening to Shane.

 

SHANE
So Reverend Shane quotes from
the Guy Gospel: Well, darlin',
maybe if you and every other
pair of boobs on this planet
figured out the light switch
goes the other way too, we might
not have so much global warming.

 

RICK
You say that?

 

SHANE
The polite version. still. Earns
me a look of loathing you
wouldn't believe. Out comes
this Exorcist voice, out of
nowhere: "You're just like my
goddamn father! Always yelling
about the power bill and I should
turn the goddamn lights off!"
(looks to Rick)
See, to us it's just lights. To
them it's a traumatic flashback
that dredges up all their father
issues.

RICK
What do you say to that?

 

SHANE
I know what I want to say. I
want to say: Bitch, you mean to
say you been hearing this shit
all your life and you're still
too goddamn stupid to learn how
to turn off a switch?

 

Pause. Shane looks over.

 

SHANE
I don't actually say that,
though.

 

RICK
That would be bad.

 

SHANE
I do the polite version there
too.

 

RICK
Very wise.

What can we read from this business? We have two cops eating lunch in a cop car. They seem friendly and comfortable with each other.  Neither is watching their manners in how they eat or how they talk, so we can infer that they are likely, in this case, partners, and used to sharing private details about themselves with each other, maybe even seeking advice. Also, they have to be ready at a moment’s notice to answer emergency calls so they eat on the run which means in the car and fast meals they can consume with limited time and hassle, hence the fast food. Can you see how much we’re learning about them already through this “business?”

Okay, now let’s look at how the same thing plays out in a novel. Here’s a scene from my debut novel The Worker Prince:

She stood in the shadows as he began looking them over. Two mech-bots entered through another tunnel and began working on some of the Skitters behind him. As she stepped out of the shadows into the cave, Davi looked up at her.

“Hey,” she said, with a slight wave and a smile.

“Hey,” he said, going back to examining the Skitters.

“How’d the rest of the session go?”

He shrugged. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not even eye contact. So maybe he was upset with her. “Sorry I left. I needed some air.”

“I was disappointed you didn’t stay for your turn,” Davi said as he examined another Skitter. “Seeing someone actually succeed on the simulators would have been encouraging. I sure could’ve used it.” His voice sounded tired.

“Was it really so bad?”

“You tell me. You saw how some of the students did,” Davi slid into the seat of a Skitter, fiddling with the controls.

“Some of them are a long way from being flight-worthy,” Tela said, watching the mech-bots working behind him.

“Some make me wonder if they ever will be.”

It saddened her to see him so discouraged. He had always been so positive and supportive of the students. She wanted to do something to cheer him up. She took a seat on another Skitter and turned it on, hearing the steady hum of the engine and feeling it rise up off the floor to float on the air as she adjusted the controls.

“Come with me.”

“For a joy ride?”

Tela smiled. “Sure. There’s something I want to show you.” She waved toward the Skitter he’d been examining.

He shrugged, climbing onto the Skitter. The engine hummed as it rose into the air. “Okay. Lead the way.”

In the larger picture of the narrative arc, Davi has been crushing on her and she’s blown him off, but here she’s starting to at least warm up to him as a friendly person who’s going through some difficulty because of other people he doesn’t deserve. Students have been harrassing him in class because he’s the former leader of their rival group and Davi’s just trying to teach them well and frustrated with their attitude getting in the way.   Here, Tela is concerned about Davi but there’s an awkwardness. He is hardly paying her any attention while she is completely focused and trying to engage with him. We are in her Point Of View, so snippets of her internal dialogue tell us how she’s feeling but it’s the “business” which tells us what might be going on emotionally and mentally with Davi. In the end, because he’s so focused on the Skitter’s (flying motorcycles essentially), Tela decides to shift tactics and use that to engage and takes him on a ride. But the tone of her interest and his disinterest initially says a lot about the status of their relationship. Notice, in this case, that the “business” also has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Again, multi-tasking is so common for us today, it’s a great way to add realism to a scene.

There are many ways to use the concept of “business” in writing. What are some that you can think of? How can you use this to enhance your own prose? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth…