What I Learned In My Fourth Year As A Freelance Writer

Welcome to my annual review post, where I take a look back at 2017 to see how I make a living writing. Read about Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

First off — yep, I’ve been at this freelance writing thing for four full years.

(Well, four years and some change — I officially quit my desk job in April of 2012, but I waited tables for the rest of that year to make ends meet while I ramped up my writing biz.)

I think after four years, I can officially say I’m ruined for a regular office job. I just enjoy making my own fortune* too much to hitch my wagon back to somebody else’s star.

I like it all: the marketing hustle, the accounting boredom, the feast-and-famine puzzle, the wide variety of interesting clients, the ability to take off on a Thursday afternoon and go mountain biking when the weather’s nice.

At the end of every year, I take a look back on how my business year went and reflect on how I want to shift my business for the following years. I started blogging this review because when I first started out, it was hard to find concrete examples of freelancers at my level. I figured writing these posts would be a good resource for newer freelancers who wanted to learn how someone just ahead of them can make a living writing.

If that’s you, I hope you find this post helpful!

All right. Onward.

*Luck fortune, that is. Definitely not talking money fortune, don’t get any ideas.

2017: A Year of Development

For me, 2017 was a set-up year.

At the beginning of the year, I consciously decided I would reinvest my time and income into professional development — both writing craft and business. I also invested in putting some things into place that will help me reach my business goals in 2018.

What do I mean by that?

  • I took several writing courses, including a ghostwriting course with Derek Lewis and Ed Gandia, the Story Genius course with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash, and the business master class from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.
  • I launched a new website and brand for my ghostwriting and consulting business, Bassline Editorial. (Check it out!)
  • I attended the Smarter Artist Summit, 20 Books to 50K, and several local sci-fi cons, where I met amazing people and grew my network.
  • I published another Durga System novella and a short story collection.
  • I wrote a ton of things that will be published in 2018.
Bassline Editorial logo, blue and orange
My new logo for my consulting/ghostwriting business, Bassline Editorial.

In 2018, I want to continue educating myself, but my primary focus is going to shift to networking.

This will include attending conferences and conventions (including Worldcon in San Jose!), as well as being more deliberate about building online relationships through forums and groups. I’m also looking at local networking events aimed at entrepreneurs and business owners. I’m even toying with the idea of joining Toastmasters, though it sounds terrifying!

Networking will be important for my freelance business as I pivot more into ghostwriting and consulting, and for my fiction business as I plan to publish four novels next year. (More on that later.)

Achieving Balance in Business

Last year, I wrote about wanting to find more balance in my business. When I first started freelancing, I worked every evening and weekend, and was in a near-constant state of panic about deadlines and money. This year, I feel like my business has matured to the point where it doesn’t require my constant attention.

As I said to my husband just yesterday, “I don’t have to work on weekends* anymore, because I’m a pro.”

Along with no longer working weekends, I actually took a lot of time off this year, too — and still made my income goals. I even once (gasp!) set up an “out of office” message and took three days without checking my email.

It was amazing, and the world didn’t end.

Part of this has been replacing clients who had constant deadlines (like 2 posts/week) or who required 24-hour turnaround on things with bigger projects like white papers and case studies.

This lets me plan ahead more and shift my workload around if I want to take time off. It also means I can structure my days more how I like them. I can take time to exercise in the mornings, then spend a few hours writing fiction before switching gears to freelance work — without stressing that I was missing crucial emails.

The result is that I’m feeling more productive and less stressed out than I have in years.

Hell yeah.

* I often write fiction on weekends, or work on personal projects like blogging or marketing. I just don’t do client work anymore unless it’s a rush job — with a rush job price tag.)

Client Analysis: How I Make a Living Writing

It was a bit harder this year to categorize my income by project, since I have several clients for whom I do multiple things. This is a rough estimate of where my money came from this year.

  • Ebooks, white papers, and case studies: 46%
  • Ghost blogging: 23%
  • Website copy: 16%
  • Misc business copywriting/editing:  6%
  • Bylined blogging: 5%
  • Consulting on content strategy: 1%
  • Knitting pattern descriptions: 1%
  • Fiction: 0.7%

The thing I’m happiest about is that the big, meaty projects I like (ebooks, white papers, and case studies) made up the bulk of my income. I’m still doing a fair amount of blogging and website copy, but both those categories have gone down from years past.

And, as I mentioned in the section on balance, the types of clients I work for have changed, so the blogs and website content requirements aren’t as fast-paced and demanding on my availability.

That fiction number crept up from 0.5% in 2016, but it’s obviously not very impressive. As I said, 2017 was a set-up year for me — I’m hoping for much bigger things in 2018 when it comes to my fiction income.

New to the list is consulting, which is an aspect of my business I’m just dipping my toes into. My plan is to grow that number substantially in 2018.

How clients found me in 2017

Normally I title this section “how I found clients,” but the truth is that in 2017 I didn’t go hunting for a single client. This year, every new client approached me, rather than the other way around.

Clients found me through:

  • Referrals from past clients
  • LinkedIn searches
  • My profile on the Portland Copywriter Conclave
  • Meeting at a networking event
  • Reading an article with my byline

Even though I’m not particularly active there, I do keep my LinkedIn profile updated — and it’s worth it. Showing up in a LinkedIn search actually landed me four clients this year, including my biggest client!

Get More Leads book coverFocusing on inbound marketing has not only freed up the time I used to spend cold pitching companies, it’s also kept my pipeline full of some really high-quality leads.

(I actually started using Streak for Gmail to manage incoming prospect conversations, since I was losing track. It lets you sort emails into a pipeline, like Inbound Lead –> Meeting Scheduled –> Proposal Sent –> Negotiating –> Became Client or Snoozing or Dead Lead. It also lets you set reminders, so if you send a proposal to someone, you can snooze the email to pop back up in your inbox a week from today if the prospect didn’t respond.)

Bonus! If you want to learn how to build an inbound marketing funnel for your own business, I wrote a book to help other solo business owners: Get More Leads: How to Create a Constant Flow of Inbound Leads with Content Marketing.

In 2018, I’m going to double down on content marketing for my own business, especially as I pivot more toward ghostwriting and consulting on content strategy. I plan to start blogging regularly on my new freelance business site, BasslineEditorial.com, as well as focusing on guest posts.

I may even try to get on a podcast or two, if I can overcome my terror at the very idea.

My Fiction Business

NegativeReturnFinal-FJM_Kindle_1800x2700I was able to spend significantly more of my time working on fiction projects this year, partly because I’ve been able to command a higher hourly rate and take on fewer client projects. As a result, I published two books (Negative Return and the short story collection Business as Usual).

I also wrote a book on creative productivity called From Chaos to Creativity. That’s in the editing and revisions process now, and will be out in 2019 from Microcosm Press.

I’ve made headway on the next Durga System novella, as well as on a trilogy of full-length novels centered around Jaantzen and Starla. If all goes well, I’ll be releasing all four of these books in 2018.

Lastly, I wrote a handful of short stories, which are out circling the world, trying to find a home. Hopefully I’ll have some news on those soon, too.

When I compare my 2017 fiction output to other indies, it looks pretty sad — but we’re not doing comparisonitis in this post. Just typing out the above accomplishments is a good reminder that constantly plugging along leads to forward progress.

What’s Up For 2018

I had a phone call with a potential client today, who asked what it is that really gets me excited about my work.

He’s a long-time business owner who is clearly passionate and thoughtful about his own industry. I told him what excited me most is helping people like him — business owners with something powerful to say — craft and share their message.

I wasn’t just trying to land the gig, I was being completely truthful. I love working with individuals who are passionate about their businesses, helping them shape and share their stories and wisdom.

That’s the reason I started Bassline Editorial this year, to shift my business away from writing “5 Surprising Neutral Paint Colors that Will Make Your Dining Room Pop” to offering developmental editing and ghostwriting services to people and companies with something to say.

In 2018, I’ll be shedding the sort of work I don’t find interesting in order to fill my days telling my own stories, and those of my clients. It’s going to be a great year, and I’m looking forward to sharing things with you as they come up!

How was your 2017?

I’d love to hear how things are going with you — in business, life, and your creative pursuits. Leave me a comment or drop me a line!

Curious about the evolution of my freelance writing business? Read my reflections on Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash