Freelancer’s Survival Guide: The Great Experiment

Freelancer's Survival Guide On Writing


Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.

The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: The Great Experiment

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“This post marks the beginning of an experiment.”

That’s how I started the Freelancer’s Survival Guide, back in April of 2009.  The experiment was mine; I had no idea how well writing a book chapter by chapter on my website would work—or if it would work at all.

As I mentioned a few times, my friend Michael J. Totten has made a good living from his blog.  But Michael travels to the Middle East and reports from there, doing the kind of journalism most media outlets can’t afford to do any longer.  His readers appreciate what he’s doing and fund his travels, so that they can get the news they crave from a part of the world still undercovered in the United States.

When I spoke to Michael about writing my Guide, I knew I wouldn’t attract the readership he has;  I wasn’t providing the timely and necessary service that he is.  He convinced me to add the donate button.  I thought it wouldn’t be used.  I was wrong.

I was wrong about many things.  I figured the blog itself and the weekly deadline would keep me honest.  I would finally finish the book that I had planned to write for years. Then I would market it, and some publisher would buy it, put it in the stores at a relatively small level, and that would be that.

What a difference fifteen months makes.

Here’s what I was right about:

I finished the book I had planned to write for years.  The deadline did keep me honest, although at times it felt like a high-wire act performed in public without a net.

That’s it.  I was right about nothing else.

I haven’t yet crunched all the numbers.  In addition to finishing the Freelancer’s Guide just last week, I am finishing a major novel.  I have a revision due on another novel.  I also had to write an essay that required a great deal of research for a textbook, and finish my bimonthly column.  Not to mention a bunch of work I must do for the publisher who is putting my entire backlist online.  And I almost forgot the three e-mail interviews (time-consuming), and some research for the novel after the two I’m finishing.

Which is all a long way of saying that I had no time for number crunching of the serious variety.  I’m organizing the Guide—I got one section in order in the middle of the weekend.  Two other sections are online now, so you can order them separately if you have need of those topics (see below).  I’m still on track to get the Guide out to everyone who donated before I leave for Germany in the middle of September.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, I should barely make that self-imposed deadline.

When I do that, I will have finished the number-crunching, so that I know who donated more than once, and via different e-mail accounts, and so on.

Right now, my numbers are a bit vague.

Here’s what I do know:  People from more than 25 countries read the Guide every week.  Most of the readers came from the United States, followed by Canada and England.  Quite a few came from France and Japan, with Australia coming in sixth.  After that, it depended on the month as to which countries brought me the most readers.

The Guide was, by far, the most read item on my website.  People didn’t stop at one post, either. They caught up on past posts.  (Guess I’d better update the last of the table of contents.)  Once they discovered the Guide, many people began at the beginning and read post after post.

I got a tremendous number of private letters, more than I can count, commenting on everything from personal responses to my posts to locating a few mathematical errors (thanks!).  I learned that posts about money made everyone shut up except me.  (I love to talk money.)  I learned that posts about emotions inspired the most personal letters, often recounting personal stories which I, in turn, found inspiring.

My big fear as I started up the blog was opening it to comments.  I’ve written columns electronically for more than a decade now, and my experience with comments has—up until the Guide—been primarily negative.  Several people on the net seemed out to prove just how stupid I was or how I couldn’t know what I was talking about.  Even more attacked me personally.

I didn’t want that to happen on my blog.  I asked several people how they managed comments on their blogs.  Most people had never had the problems I had with negative comments on their own blogs.  A few writers had, and they suggested that I moderate the comments, simply preventing the negative comments from getting through.

I sighed and agreed, not wanting to admit that I wasn’t worried about other people reading hateful things about me.  I didn’t want to go to my internet computer every morning and get told what a horrible person I was.  In short, I was more worried about my reaction to the negative post than I was about other peoples’ reactions.  But I manned up, and took the risk.

And never once got a nasty comment.  Not one.  No hate mail, none of those vile comments I had gotten as recently as two years ago on my columns for online publications.  Thank you for that.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the civility that you’ve all shown on my site.

The discussions were lively as well, livelier than I expected, although they never reached the depth and breadth of comment that my husband, Dean Wesley Smith, gets on his Killing The Sacred Cows of Publishing blog.  I think that has more to do with content than anything. Dean is destroying myths.  I’ve been providing information.  Information is a lot less controversial than using facts to skewer assumptions.

Finally, the donate button.  I had hoped that I would get a few hundred dollars so that I didn’t feel like I was wasting valuable  writing time, time that I would have normally been paid for.  If I had gotten no donations, I figured I could use the first three chapters of the Guide, add a proposal and attempt to sell the thing to New York, getting money nine months in or so.

Well, a couple things thwarted that plan. First, I write out of order. Aways have, always will.  I would have had to wait until six or eight weeks in before I had the right kind of material to show to a publisher. By that point, I had enough donations to pay a small advance.

Most advances from modern publishing come this way: half on signing of the contract and half on acceptance.  The small advance you folks paid me came in long before I would have gotten any money from New York.  The money trickled in during the entire time I wrote the Guide instead of in lump sums, which was nice as well.  By the time I finished, I had a full advance for a non-bestselling nonfiction book.  That’s about six months earlier than I would have received any money had a major publisher purchased the book four months into my writing process.

No major publisher has purchased the book because I haven’t mailed it to any of them.  Midway through writing, I realized the book would be larger than most publishers could comfortably handle.  I also decided that I would rather publish it myself, not just in e-book format, but in a print edition as well.

I wanted all of the information in the book, not just the topics some publisher felt should be in there.  The topics would be chosen by them, not because the others were unimportant, but because we would have to cut something to bring down the cost of production.

I also wanted the freedom to update the volume whenever I felt like it.  Working electronically and via a print-on-demand service, I could update the book each week if I wanted to.  That flexibility is important, because there are big changes coming, not just in publishing, but in many areas.  Already the piece I wrote on insurance is somewhat out of date.  That bit will change annually until 2014, when (theoretically), all of the provisions of the new U.S. health care law will kick in.

Then there’s the fact that I’m constantly learning.  I’ll probably be dissatisfied with the advice I gave in some section as I learn more about the topic or the information I have gets updated.  I wanted the flexibility to alter that as well.

Finally, I realized during one of my posts marked “Part five” that some of the sections were long enough to be minibooks on a particular topic.  I could try to convince some publisher to do the minibook or I could do it myself.  I’ve already started that process, with the two below.

The minibooks are for people like me, people who don’t want 140,000 words of some how-to book when they only really need 30,000 words on one of the topics covered in the table of contents.  The longer book will have every topic; the shorter ones will only have the topics that lend themselves to more than one post.

What has changed the most since April of 2009, however, is me.  I am much more comfortable working online.  I’m happy with doing my own electronic editions.  I’m exciting about bringing back my rusty publishing skills to get the book out in print editions.  I’ve also embraced my inner nonfiction writer.  I didn’t quite abandon her when I gave up my nonfiction career to focus on fiction.  I continued to dabble.  But I missed the opportunity to stretch my nonfiction wings more than I wanted to admit.

I declare the experiment officially over. Not only that, I declare it a success.  Although, to me, success seems like an awfully small word for the changes doing the Freelancer’s Guide has brought to me.

It’s developed a community.  It’s put me in touch with old friends and helped me make some new ones.  It forced me to formalize my own thoughts and opinions about various topics.  It showed me the freedom of online publishing.  It also brought in readers who would never have come to my site otherwise, people who don’t read fiction, people outside my insular genre fiction universe.

Thank you all for participating.  It’s meant a lot to me.

As I came to the end of the weekly portion of the Guide, I had mixed feelings.  I wanted to be done, like I always do on any book that I write.  I wanted to have my Wednesdays back.  I disliked the deadline, but I loved it as well.  The Guide made me more productive.  I found that on the days when my health problems make it hard for me to write fiction, I could generally work on the Guide.  I hadn’t missed my deadline, so if I was going to be out of town or teaching, I figured out a way to rearrange my schedule so that I could get the Guide done.  (I even got up four hours early one morning to finish, which is more serious than you realize, considering how allergic I am to mornings.)

The closer I got to finishing the Guide, the more I realized I didn’t want to give up my weekly nonfiction work.  I like the interaction.  I like exercising different writing muscles.  I even like the deadline, although I complain about it.

A number of you wondered what you would read on Thursdays now that the Guide is done.  I had been wondering that for a while. And in that jigsaw puzzle way my brain works, it doled out the answer when it was good and ready—last Thursday, after I had put up the last Guide column.

Starting next week, I’m going to write a weekly business blog.  It won’t be as focused as the Guide, although there might be a stretch of weeks on the same topic.  The reason I decided on business is this: it allows me to talk about a variety of things, from the latest publishing news to importance of this week’s manufacturing numbers, things that don’t fall into a narrow topic defined by a book.

Part of the blog will be an interactive feature called Ask the Freelancer.  If you have a question about freelancing, ask me, give me permission to use your letter, and I’ll respond on the site.  If you don’t want your name added, use a signoff like you might find in an advice column: Wondering in Wichita or something like that.  I’ll make sure to use it.

The Ask The Freelancer part will occur as often as I have letters.  If I don’t, I won’t use that feature.

I’ll also use the business blog to post the updated Freelancer’s Guide articles, the ones that have changed since the original post.

I have a variety of other ideas as well, but those are the ones I can put into words right now.  The one thing I don’t have is a good name for the blog.  I’d like it to be plain like “The Business Blog” but I’m certain—without even doing a Google search—that there are hundreds of those.  So if you have any ideas, feel free to send them along.

Installment one of the Unnamed Business Blog is next Thursday.  We’ll continue with our discussions.

Again, thanks for the help with my great experiment.  I know a number of you have said that the Freelancer’s Guide made a difference in your lives.  It certainly has made a difference in mine—and it couldn’t have happened without y’all.

As promised, here are the two sections of the Guide already in ebook format.  I’ll let you know each time we publish more sections of the Guide. The books will be available in all e-formats, however it takes a while to get to some of the sites.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for on your favorite site, go to Smashwords and download there.

Kindle, Scribd, Smashwords

Kindle, Scribd, Smashwords

29 thoughts on “Freelancer’s Survival Guide: The Great Experiment

  1. As usual, I arrive late for the party. Just found the link to your great site in the Grantville Gazette. Wow!

    I’m going to recommend your site and e-book it to my critique group. As an ‘aspiring’ author, this is another of those things I’ve been looking for. I think you have a good read on the way the publishing market is going.

    Two months ago Randy Ingermanson’s ‘Advanced Fiction Writing’ blog had Randy’s oracular predictions of what writing would look like in five years or so. According to his vision e-publishing will become the testing ground for us wannabe authors and should become the place of making a living for mid-level authors in the years to come. It appears that you are on the cusp of the wave.


    dave (aka Newburydave on Baen’s bar)

    1. The opportunity is there as long as I have the donate button up on the Guide posts. Dunno how long that will be, but that’s a long way of saying, yes, the opportunity still exists. 🙂 Thanks.

  2. Kris,

    I am so glad you’re going to keep doing business posts. Very, very few professional fiction writers spend much time at all on their web site(s) talking about business: the good, the bad, the ugly. Part of what made the Guide such a weekly habit for me was the fact that it was rooted in pragmatic, non-artsy business talk. Ergo, it was “nutritious” whereas so much writer-blogging these days is “empty calorie” opinion poofery or thinly-veiled, high-fructose, “Look at me!” self-aggrandizement.

    Thanks to you and Dean, I’ve been able to conceptualize what I believe is a solid 5-year plan for myself. I’ve also come to view almost all aspects of my financial life — home finance & multi-career finance — through a business-colored lens. It’s helped my wife and I do some things and make some changes that are already proving hugely beneficial.

  3. Wow, Marina. awesome title! I was just going to tell Kris how much I like the Unnamed Business Blog (mainly because I could just call it the Unnamed and it would sound spooky. “What are you reading?” “The Unnamed.” “What is that like the companion volume to the Necronomicon?”) but ” Business Rusch” is even cooler.


  4. While your Guide hasn’t been as controversial as the Myth Buster next door, it’s been just as valuable. Thanks for taking the time to write it and teaching us publishing newbies the ropes. 🙂

    1. The Myth Buster next door. LOL! Actually the Myth Buster down the hall…. Thanks, Thomas.

      By the way, everyone, we should have the print edition out in late October. Plenty of time for holiday giving. 🙂

    1. Checked with Dean, Marina. He loved it. Couldn’t see any downside. If you haven’t gotten a private e-mail from me by the time you see this, then e-mail me through the site. I’d like to send a book as thanks.

  5. Congratulations on finishing the guide. I’ve loved reading it. Looking forward to your new endeavor.

    1. Thanks, Linda and Ryan. Glad the guide is working for everyone! Now the next stage begins….

      Oh, Marina. Wow. Great idea. I’ll check it with Dean and see if he can come up with a downside (all that legal training makes him good at that), and if he can’t, that might be the title. Niiiiiice. Thanks.

  6. Your guide has been so helpful and affirming. It’s given me confidence in the way I look at my potential freelancing business. And I’m so glad there will be more to come. Let’s see, names names names– perhaps “The Business Rusch”? As in, “the business _rush_”?

  7. Kris, following reading your final comments on your experiences during this vital experiment, I felt that I really lost out on being a part of this. Health, family, death, etc. kept me away from extra-curricular reading. Forgive me for not keeping up with the work of someone I consider a wonderful friend.

    With all of that said, I am looking forward to your next series on business. As a person who has a small, very small business (of sorts), attending to the ideas that you so smartly provide is, well, a smart thing for me to do. I want to write but a massive barrier stands between my desire and doing it. It encompasses health, fatigue of enormous proportions, but what is perhaps the real villain in my lack of taking chances is fear of failure. Yes, I’ve written some op-ed pieces but I’ve realized that I want to turn to short stories and poetry, both leading up to gaining the courage to write a book. Ideas swim through my brain during the day when my brain goes on break, or when I’m in bed feeling like sh_ _.

    So, perhaps I should say, “Hi, I’m Steve Braunginn and I’m a writer lacking courage.”

    For one of your friends, I really appreciate the hard work you’re doing. I will, belatedly, acquire your e-writings and read them with eyes wide open.

    Hey, you go, my lady! Say hey to Dean. Miss you guys.

  8. Sweet, I’m glad you are going to keep doing business posts. It’s nice to have the information somewhere I can easily find it. I’m looking forward to the print edition too. I can think of plenty of friends who could use this and I’m not above giving a guide like this as a nudge nudge christmas present 😉

    1. Thanks, Izanobu. Nudge duly noted. 🙂 Thanks.

      Steve! Great to see you. You’ll get there. Combine photos into it all, and you’re quite the package deal. Plus there are a few things to discuss with you off-line. Later, in a month or so, when I know what I’m doing exactly. If you want to catch up on this blog, click the “Freelancer’s Survival Guide” tag at the top of the website. It’ll take you to the table of contents, which should help you (and everyone else) find your way around the old posts. Miss you too, my friend.

  9. Kris, very glad you’re doing a print ed. I’m willing to pay to have a hard copy I can hold in my hand and highlight in yellow. I think Dean’s right–The Unnamed Business Blog is a terrific name. I’ll be sure to come back and read it–whatever the name. You and he have put up some incredible information in the last year plus. Thank you so much!

  10. I’m so glad it was a success! This was one of the few blogs I’ve kept up with since discovering it, just because the information was so valuable. Keep up the good work!

    And, on a squishy personal note, I can’t express how how much The Freelancer’s Guide, and more recently, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing (is it ok to mention Dean’s blog, too?), have encouraged me to not give up on writing. Much of what I had read (and learned in *ahem* college creative writing courses) in years past dealt with wishy-washy information with little practical use–we spent way too much time talking about muses and tortured genius (making the whole writing process seem rather mystical), as if that was going to get or keep any of us in business. Still not sure what I paid for with that class…
    I love learning from the experiences of others–much more valuable that some of the tripe I spent waaay too much money learning in college. I’m grateful that you shared so much from your own successes and failures, and that you are frank about the nature of self-employment. Thank you!

    1. Wow! All these comments before I even get to my caffeine. Thanks, y’all. I’m glad you like the idea of the business blog. Dean said I already named it with “The Unnamed Business Blog.” Maybe so, but I’m willing to entertain other ideas. “Open For Business” is good, but not quite me. Dunno if I’m open about everything. 🙂 But that might work too, so thanks for the suggestion, Steve.

      Thanks for recommending the Guide, Shawn. I do want people to think things through, because early on, I didn’t and made a lot of weird mistakes because of it.

      D., don’t lament your college class despite the cost. I always considered my college writing classes practice and an excuse to write fiction while in college. I also met Kevin J. Anderson in my class, and while the teacher wasn’t great, Kev has been extremely important in my life. So you just never know what your classmates will do either. 🙂 (And it’s okay to mention Dean’s blog. I read it too. The only difference between you guys & me is I get to read it first. )

      And thanks, all of you, for the encouragement. What a journey this is. Thanks for coming along.

  11. I’ve recommended the Freelancer’s Guide to a number of my friends … some of them aspiring writers, and at least two who are seriously considering quitting their day jobs and going into business for themselves. While the information you provide, based on your own history and observations, is incredibly informative, one of the best things you do in the Guide is make people THINK THINGS THROUGH. Whether they agree with your opinions and experiences or not, the Guide gives people a framework for seriously evaluating their current situation, what they want to achieve, and how to get there.

    And I am STOKED that you are going to institute a business blog. I’m one of the many who was mourning the hole in my Thursday blog reading now that the Guide is finished. Can’t wait to dig in to all of your upcoming content.

  12. Thanks Kris! The Freelancer’s Guide has been a big help as I focus more on the business end of writing. The new business blog sounds very useful, looking forward to it.

  13. Wow, Kris, this is awesome. So glad that we’ll all still be able to interact. I learned a lot because of the Guide. Not just because of the posts themeselves but also because of the commentst that everyone made. There was more than one time that someone asked a question that hadn’t even occured to me that made me keep coming back to see what your answer would be.

    So even though the Guide is over, it’ll be very cool to see how this whole new thing shapes up. Onward and upward. As for the blog name, how about “Open for Business.” Not sure how much I like it but the idea popped in my head while I was signing off. Just a thought, I’m sure there’ll be dozens, if not more.

    Once again, thanks.

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