[Zetta’s Reference Desk] – Getting Started as a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly

zetta_getting started as a freelance writerTitle: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

Author(s): Robert W. Bly

Published: 2008

Pages: 261


This week’s recommendation comes from Trisha Faye  who writes stories about people from the past. Dear Arlie contains images of vintage postcards sent between two friends from 1907-1913. Wash on Monday shares short stories about the people behind 8 different antiques. (Some factual, some fiction).

Trisha’s web site: www.trishafaye.com.

Friend Trisha on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/trisha.faye.


Getting Started as a Freelance Writer is an essential book in my writer’s library. I’ve owned this guide since 2009, and while sometimes months pass between using it, I always find something useful in its folded, dog-eared, marked up pages. My writing path has changed over the past six years, taking unexpected twists and turns. Every time I search the pages of Robert Bly’s informative book, I discover tidbits that help me at the particular place I am at that point in my career.

The book begins with the essence of writing. Do you really want to write? Then, steps to follow for getting started – what you need to know before you start: Money, Logos and letterhead, Equipment, Filing, Reference books, Setting up an office – it’s all here.

From this basic starting point, the book branches into business specifics: a freelance writer’s business plan. Treat it as a business. Set daily revenue goals. Value your time. Be more productive. Get paid more. Create multiple streams of income.

Various revenue possibilities are addressed with informative tips for each: entry level assignments, magazine articles, business writing, Internet and multimedia. One chapter addresses agents and book proposals. Another chapter looks at web sites and ezines. Different genres are discussed in length: poetry, short fiction, novels and personal essays.

The book wraps up with chapters on “Growing Your Business” and “Making Your Writing Dreams Come True.”

In one of my favorite chapters, the author states,

“In most instances, the writers who earn the most money are not necessarily the best writers; they are the best marketers.”

Bly then proceeds with an entire chapter on “Marketing and Self-Promotion for Writers.” Included in this informative chapter is: Twenty Tips for Successful Self-Promotion, Create a Bait Piece, How to Get the Most Out of a Book Signing or Event, More PR Tips for Writers, and more.

At the beginning of the book, the author shares a list of what he thinks it takes to be successful.


  1. Define what success means to you. Then pursue success as you define it – not as others do. For me, it’s doing what I want, and avoiding the things I don’t want to do. For you, it may be getting your novel published or becoming a radio talk show host.

  2. Love what you do for a living. Noel Coward said, “Work is more fun than fun.” Time never moves more slowly during the day than when you are working at a job you loathe.

  3. Find the intersection of your passions and the needs of the market. What do you like that also interest other people, and that they are willing to pay for? Therein lies your writing career.

  4. Become the best you can be at what you do. Work tirelessly to increase your skill and knowledge. It’s been said many times that there are only two ways to improve your writing: write and read. So do both. Write every day. Read all the time, and read widely. Also, take writing classes. Attend writing conventions.

  5. Master and dominate a niche of the market, rather than attempt to be a jack of all trades. Constantly add to your storehouse of knowledge and experience in the specialized fields you write about, whether it’s cats, crafts, cooking, or computers.

  6. Be the consummate craftsman. Always do your best on every job. Never give work short shrift because you agreed to short money. Once you tell the client you are taking the job, she expects and deserves nothing less than your best effort.

  7. Be the client’s ally and partner, not her adversary. The angry writer who is constantly screaming at agents and editors is a cliché. Embrace the positive attitude of prolific author Isaac Asimov, who said, “I love my publishers!”

  8. Do not undercharge. Charge what you are worth. But don’t overcharge; don’t make it difficult for clients to hire you.

  9. When in doubt, get the money up front. A retainer check for half the fee is the quickest way to separate serious clients from time-wasting prospects.

  10. Don’t waste time with things that may be pleasant or entertaining, but do not help you achieve your goals. Value your time as the precious, limited resource it is.

Wherever you are on your writing path, be it just starting, growing your business, or stretching into a new and unexpected field of writing, you will find useful advice in Getting Started as a Freelance Writer. In this book I always find nuggets of treasure within its pages.



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