Alongside my day job working in a University, I am also a freelance writer. I guess that makes me a semi-professional writer, and one who would quite like to eventually lose the “semi”. Becoming a freelancer in my spare time is one thing; making the leap into fully professional writer is something else entirely, though. Having already started down this particular road, I was sceptical that Rachael Oku’s debut book Become a Freelance Writer would be of much use – after all, I have effectively already become one. Having just finished reading it, I have to say that the problem here is that the book has been rather misleadingly titled. It is not about becoming a freelance writer. It is about the business side of writing once you already are a freelance writer, which is another matter entirely.
For anyone who dreams of becoming a writer, the business side of things usually sounds a bit dull and something of a necessary evil. Writing is about creativity, about expressing yourself and about making an impact on your reader’s life; we don’t want to think so much about the pedestrian side of things such as setting hourly rates, marketing our work or preparing invoices. You can see this line of thought clearly in most of the books and articles that I have come across about freelance writing, which I guess is why they aren’t covered in this book: they don’t need to be. Oku is not going to tell you how to write well, where to seek inspiration, how to avoid grammatical pitfalls or the best way to develop effective editing skills: there are plenty of books on the market that do this already. What she is going to do is tackle the business skills that so many writers do not have.
The book is short (47 pages), snappy and to the point. It provides tips and source material that will guide you around the key points of building an online presence (blogs, tweets, websites, etc.), creating a brand, writing pitches for work and managing the financial side of your writing business. It is not a detailed “how to” but does give you what you need to start in an area you are unfamiliar with and learn more. I could really have used this book when I first tried to build a professional website – while I got something reasonable looking up and running, it generated spam rather than work, so I took it down again in exasperation. A book like this would give me the confidence to do it again and do it properly this time.
If there are any criticisms to be aimed at it (other than the title), I think it would be that it concentrates too much on the minutiae of social media at the expense of financial guidance, which is surely the core of any business. In particular, I was surprised that it mentioned nothing about completing a tax return, one of the key things you will need to know about when setting up as a freelancer (whether full time or alongside a salaried job). A short section stating how to become registered in the system, how to keep records for it and when returns have to be filed would give the book a greater sense of completeness I feel.
I would recommended this book to both new and more experienced freelance writers (it is a great reference guide for just a fiver), although those new to the field would be advised to read it alongside other publications (such as Catherine Quinn’s How to Pitch & Sell a Freelance Feature which guides you through pitching for work and Writers’ Forum magazine which has regular articles on improving your writing).
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