How to Succeed as a Freelancer in Publishing: The complete guide

by Emma Murray and Charlie Wilson (How To Books, 2010): 222pp, £12.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 84528 423 7.

Reviewed by Katherine Thomasett

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I jumped at the chance to review this book as I was just coming to the end of my first year working as a freelance copy-editor and felt as if I could still do with a helping hand.

Freedom and variety

The authors have experience in a number of areas in the publishing industry, having, between them, worked as editors, writers, ghostwriters, and in critiquing books. Each gives the background to how they started their freelance businesses (one came from an in-house publishing position, the other from a career in banking), and the various pitfalls they encountered along the way. But what certainly comes across in the book is how much they enjoy the freedom and variety of their chosen career paths.

The book has chapters covering business structure, tax, legal issues, financial management, and marketing, among other topics. Some of these areas, such as setting up your business and filing tax returns, were issues I had already got to grips with, or that had been covered on the SfEP's excellent 'Going freelance and staying there' course.

Others covered quite a bit of new ground for me, particularly the two chapters devoted to marketing your business and making the most of digital marketing opportunities. In these, the authors advise on how to build an effective website and use search engine optimisation to get the best ranking (that is, to get your website on the first page of a Google search). They also explain how they use blogging and social networking to enhance their businesses and reach a wider audience.

Training and qualifications condensed

A couple of things surprised me about the book. First, the authors don't see much value in training – in fact, training and qualifications are condensed into two short paragraphs, one of which reads (p. 5): 'Many people who contact us for advice on freelancing ask what qualifications they need. The honest answer? Probably none at all.' They go on to say that no client has ever asked them about their degree subjects and editorial training.

I have to disagree with this from my own experience. I don't think I'd be getting any regular medical editing work if I didn't have a degree in biochemistry and a number of PTC and SfEP courses under my belt. Clients may not ask me about these, but that's because they can be seen on my SfEP directory entry and CV.

Top tips and alarm bells

The other point that surprised me was that the SfEP was not mentioned (although the contact details are given at the end of the book). While the authors may not be SfEP members themselves, it would have been helpful to readers if they had given details of the benefits of membership or included a SfEP member in their case studies chapter. I have found the SfEP invaluable when it comes to marketing and networking opportunities, and while I do plan to set up a website at some point and will certainly refer to this book when I do so, I've had a regular stream of work coming in since putting my details on the SfEP directory a year ago – I really haven't needed to do much active marketing.

The book is peppered with pull quotes labelled as 'Top tips' and 'Alarm bells'. Judging from recent discussions on SfEPLine, some of you may like these and some will hate them! But certainly the book is well worth reading for anybody new to freelance publishing.

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