Thursday, January 03, 2008

Book Review: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, Robert Bly

This book seems to cover absolutely all the ins and outs of succeeding as a freelance writer. (I have one reservation, which I'll discuss later.) Bly is a very successful freelance writer, sometimes earning as much as $600,000 per year and apparently routinely earning at least $100,000 per year, so he is an author who knows what he's talking about. He includes chapters on everything from the freelancer's administrative logistics, how to get leads and market yourself, and a signifcant number of resources to help the novice writer. If you follow his advice with diligence, and put in the necessary time, there is probably a high likelihood that you will make a good and possibly a very good living as a freelance writer.

Here is my concern: In the introduction Bly says, "Even a writer with average abilities and modest ambitions can get published and make $800 to $1,000 a week or more as a freelance writer." But on page 11 he says "Writing, on the other hand, is a field in which the average practitioner does not make much money (of course, there are many exceptions) And so money is not the primary motivator to go into writing; you should become a writer because you love to write." Yet, the rest of the book is about how you can earn a great deal by becoming a freelance writer, although more specifically he means commercial freelancing - writing copy for businesses large or small. So which is it? Will the average writer "not make much money" or will he "make $800 to $1,000 a week"?

Here is another inconsistency: on page 60, where he is describing how you can't make the big bucks by writing for magazines, he says "you can make $36,000 to $48,000 a year, provided you are paid $1 a word - a rate most markets no longer come close to." Hey wait a minute, you buttered us up in the intro that us average joe writers could make $800 to $1,000 a week (or $41,600 to $52,000 a year). Where did all that bounty go?

There are other inconsistencies about how much you have to earn per hour and how many hours a week you have to put in to reach Bly-like levels of earnings. For example, page 61: "If you want to make $100,000 a year and work 50 weeks a year, you must gross $2,000 a week from your writing. If you work 5 days a week, you must earn $400 a day." On page 158 he says, "If you follow the advice in this book you will soon be earning $50 to $100 an hour" but previously, on page 156 he revealed to us that 7 hours a day (9 to 5) "won't cut it" if you want to earn more than $100,000 a year; in fact, his suggested number of starting weekly hours is 45, but it could be 50, 55 or even more.

So stay with me here: $400 a day/7 hour day equals $57 per hour to earn $100,000 a year, but Mr. Bly just told us that we probably need to work at least 45 hours a week, so we are now down to $44 an hour and if we go to say 55 hours a week, our hourly earnings drop to $36 an hour. The problem here is that $50 per hour seems to be Bly's threshold for living the good writer's life, and is the benchmark he refers to when suggesting outsourcing your time for tasks that cost less an hour than you earn.

Now, having said all that, the message reminds me somewhat of the get rich via real estate/day trading sales pitches. In other words, Bly should have included the disclaimer "results may vary" because I believe that any one individual could apply Bly's lessons and actually reach the level of income he says you can. So these criticisms are not a wholesale refutation of his claims but more of a wish that more clarity and consistency were present. That's why I still give Bly four stars.

Now, if want the other end of the spectrum, see Real Success Without a Real Job: There Is No Life Like It!, where Ernie Zelinsky tells us how to make a comfortable living by writing for four hours a day, with comfortable redefined as a level of income chosen by you which provides you with the things you need, plus a little more.