By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
When I first started my job hunt back in May 2009, I never once considered freelancing. When I think “freelancer,” I think of someone with experience who’s been in Industry X for years and years, and eventually broke off to do their own thing. Naive 22-year-olds do not freelance; we are interns and assistants and we work for scraps.
What I’m finding, however, is that due to the economy, a lot of the big publishers are outsourcing. According to Publishing Trends, freelance book publicists are getting a ton more work and their “freelance publicist contact sheet [PDF] has about 50% more entries than it did when [they] first started running it in 2004.” Fortunately for these publicists, thanks to budget cuts and layoffs, lesser-known authors have to go elsewhere for their publicity needs. And it’s my impression that this is the case for many other areas of publishing – sales, editorial and marketing (especially digital).
“Once upon a time we carried both a full-time editor and graphics specialist,” says textbook publisher Mark Long (TSTC Publishing), “but have given that up to use freelancers almost exclusively so that we can scale up or scale down production depending on our workload at any given time.”
The first experience I had with freelancing was from a website called The Snooze Blog. A former boss of mine runs the site and asked me to edit the posts before publication; I was paid per post, and it was a pretty sweet gig. My boss trusted my ideas and my writing, paid me per post (and always on time) and I worked from the comfort of my own home. Then, after my Facebook ads ran, Debbie Stier from HarperStudio contacted me about doing hyper-targeted ads, and later blog outreach, for some of the imprint’s upcoming titles.
And that’s when I really started thinking about freelancing as a full-time job. I mean, why not? More than one person was emailing me after those Facebook ads came out, saying I should consider striking out on my own. In an email from Michael Ellsberg, author of the upcoming The Power of Eye Contact (HarperCollins, April 2010), he told me:
“I make my living doing this full time in addition to writing books and after many years I’ve found that the real money in doing freelance work in the book world is finding people who have a business reason to publish a book. These people rightly see it as an investment in their business and will invest to do it right. Literary authors are a notoriously poor lot, so trying to base your living off of trying to help them is an equation for being broke yourself.”
“My first clients were former employers,” says copyeditor, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf. “Whenever contacts at those publishing houses moved on to other publishers, which happens very often in this business, I made sure to keep in contact with those people, and they took me with them, contractually speaking, to their new jobs. And they recommended my services to colleagues in other businesses. When I began freelancing, I always did everything possible–and I still do–to get my name out there and to find new clients. That’s the only way to avoid the feast-or-famine cycle that many freelancers find themselves in: by marketing your services even when you have plenty of clients. A busy freelancer is an attractive one to potential clients, because to be busy, a freelancer must be good.”
I spoke to a few other freelancers and publishers who hire freelancers, and here’s a collection of their best tips and experiences:
“Really, the work is outside of the book publishers, through agents and referrals. I am in the Midwest, although I built my career in NYC. There is no disadvantage to me whatsoever. In fact, being in the Central Time Zone and having a large private office as well as access to nature and cheaper living, including cheaper health insurance, is a huge advantage.”
– Nancy Peske, Freelance Writer and Editor
“Keep your name in front of the publisher. Don’t just send one resume and then forget it. I once hired someone because they sent in a resume and followed up regularly to find out if we had any openings. I liked her determination, and she turned out to be one of the best freelancers I’d worked with.”
– Dawn Carrington, Vintage Romance Publishing
“Initially a lot of my business came from contacts, with whom I kept in touch after leaving my job. Over time word of mouth has become a primary part of my business, but I also do a lot of marketing and have visibility in key places like mediabistro.com and e-zines for writers. I work hard to nurture my network of connections in the publishing industry and these people continue to send me work as well as introduce me to peers and coworkers who likewise hire me, and so on.”
– Ally E. Peltier, Ambitious Enterprises
“Learn sales marketing and copywriting. Why? Two reasons: 1. Just having talent is virtually worthless in the marketplace. The people who make money have talent combined with ability to market and sell their services. And if you have talent and are wondering why you’re broke, it’s because you don’t know how to market or sell yourself. 2. If you have writing skills, the highest economic value you can use those skills for is helping other people market themselves. That’s where the money is. If you know how to write copy that sells for real, there will always be demand for your services.”
– Michael Ellsberg
My advice? As a relatively new freelancer, I’ve noticed there’s a huge demand for social media skills. I highly suggest you dig in and learn as many of these skills as you can. Publishing houses are picking up on this, but many have no clue how to use it effectively. So take that knowledge of the industry and use it to your advantage!
Publishers may be laying off staff left and right, but the work is still there. Both publishers and their authors are outsourcing this work, and based on my research and the conversations I’ve had with various freelancers, it can be a pretty lucrative career move.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.