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Freelance Success Story
Profile of a Published Author and Freelance Writer
by Michael A. Banks

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I am a full-time freelance writer who works from home.  I have published over three dozen books and perhaps 2,000 magazine articles and short stories--most of this since I left my last job in March, 1983.  Much of my work involves the history of technology, biography, how-to (writing and computing), or making technical topics understandable to the lay person.  Over the years Iíve also written science fiction (three novels and 20 short stories published), books on hobbies, catalog and brochure copy, book cover copy, and print advertising.

            I wrote on the side for 11 years before going full-time.  (I was 21 when I began writing with intent to be published.)  At first I had no particular area of expertise.  I wrote science fiction short stories and articles about people and places I found interesting -- basic human-interest material.  I had no goal in mind other than to make some extra money and enjoy the ego-boost of getting published.

            The two areas of expertise that made it possible for me to write for a living are research and (appropriately) writing.  I developed my abilities in these areas by researching and writing for 11 years.  The jobs I held during this period were technical posts, and did not contribute to the development of my research or writing skills.

            I did not start thinking about going out on my own until two things happened.  First, my writing was bringing in more than half as much as my job income, in less than half the time.  Naturally, I began to wonder what kind of money I could make if I more than doubled the time spent writing.

Second, stress from job at which Iíd worked for eight years put me in the hospital.  It was as if I was presented with a problem (end the stress) and the solution (writing for a living) at the same time.  It helped, so to speak, that the job was pretty much a dead-end, with no chance of advancement.

             I waited 18 months before making the transition to writing fulltime.  In that time I lined up two new book contracts and cultivated several magazines as regular markets.  I also lined up a magazine column.  This proved to be valuable not only financially, but also psychologically.  When things were slow, I still had the validation of regular publication.

As a sort of hedge against dry spells, I made cold calls (by phone and in person) on local businesses, offering my services as a writer for advertising, brochures, and whatever else they might need.  This later led to some lucrative technical writing assignments.

            Six weeks before I gave notice to my employer, I began querying some better-paying magazines for which Iíd not written, and snagged a couple of nice assignments with short deadlines.  The idea was to start off running.

It was a bit more than  I should have undertaken but, as I soon learned, not everything pans out.  One of the assignments was cancelled, which left me with plenty of time to finish the other and get more assignments.

The way things go in this business, if Iíd only gotten one of those two assignments, that would have been the one cancelled.  The moral of the story: donít count on anything until you have the check.

            The only thing I should have done but was unable to do before leaving my job was save a lot of money.  In fact, I had less than $1,000 when I made the break.  Thus, I had to start producing from the very beginning.  I donít recommend this if you are easily discouraged or donít like suspense, but it may have been an added inducement to keep me working on a regular schedule.  I had a family, a mortgage, health insurance to buy, a car loan, and so forth, so I knew I had to earn a certain amount every month.  So I was sustaining myself from the very beginning.

            Now, over 22 years later, I still work like IĎm just starting out.  I cultivate long-term working relationships, look for a variety of work, and I donít count on anything.

About the Author: Michael A. Banks is the author of "How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer" (The Writer Books, 2003), "The eBay Survival Manual" (No Starch Press, 2005), and an upcoming biography of industrialist and radio pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr.

©2005 Ė Michael A. Banks. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

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