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5 top tips for surviving as a freelance author

This is a guest post from Cath Senker, who has 25 years’ experience in publishing and has written more than 130 books for children of all ages. She specialises in history, global and social issues, world religions, human geography and environmental topics. Cath also undertakes all kinds of editorial work for publishers and academic institutions and teaches writing skills and English.

Quick quiz

Are you a freelance writer? How much did you make from your writing last year?
A Under £11,000
B About £11,000
C Over £11,000

If you answered A or B, you’re one of the majority of authors! Professional writers in the UK typically earn just £11,000 a year (ALCS, 2015). So how can you survive as a freelance author nowadays?

1. It’s good to develop an area of expertise, but you can maximise your chances of getting commissioned by being prepared to broaden your niche as the market changes. I used to specialise in history, global issues such as migration and refugees, and world religions. Over the past few years, history has held up but I’ve had few commissions for books on the other topics so I have expanded my niche to include social and environmental issues.

2. I find it’s best not to be too ambitious and take on a topic that’s way outside your area of expertise – unless the fee you’re offered allows ample time for research. But you may be able to branch out into a new area quite easily if no specialist background knowledge is required and reputable research materials are readily available.

3. If you do find yourself writing on a topic outside your comfort zone, it’s sometimes possible to find an expert in the field who will read through your text in exchange for an acknowledgement and a copy of the book – or it might be worthwhile paying them a fee.

4. Read the contract carefully – even if it’s from a publisher you’ve worked for before. Things change, and surprises can creep in. I’ve had contracts where the final stage of the fee isn’t paid until the book is published, which can be a whole year after you’ve drafted the text. If you spot problematic clauses before you sign, you may be able to negotiate an amendment.

5. Diversify. Unless you’re one of the lucky top 5% of authors who make a good living from their writing, it’s essential to create other sources of income. I’m not in that top bracket but I survive as a freelance author by also teaching writing skills and undertaking editorial project management, copy-editing and proofreading.

Find out more about Cath’s work on her Website: http://www.cathsenker.co.uk/

author, Cath Senker, freelance, writing

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