The Business Side of Writing

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Every time someone asks me what I did with a client’s file or how to find the invoices in my records, I want to scream at them, “I’m a writer! Not a business executive!”

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But the fact is that writers must be business savvy as well because writing is a business. Unless you’re the beneficiary of an enormous trust fund, you probably write to make a profit, and whether you are a ghostwriter, a copywriter, a novelist or a freelancer, you have to keep things straight if you want to make a living writing for other people.

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::Computer Files

For most writers, their computer is the altar at which they worship, and if you’ve ever had a computer crash, then you know our pain. If you are unable to effectively manage your computer files, you will lose work and invoke the anger of clients or editors.

My computer files are organized by the names of my clients. Each client has their own individual folder into which I put all documents pertaining to their work. Within those files are subfolders such as Drafts, Invoices, Correspondence, and the like so that I can easily find things when I need them.

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I also have a folder on my computer for documents pertaining to my business at large. The templates for my invoices, contracts and receipts are there, as well as copies of my newsletters, articles and e-books. For the first few years that I worked as a ghostwriter, I simply saved random documents to my hard drive, not bothering to organize.

Take it from me, a seasoned veteran: if you aren’t organized, you will fail.

::Hard Copy Files

No matter how much you love your computer, you should always keep hard copies of every document that crosses your desk. Even items that I receive as hard copies and later scan into my computer folders get filed away in my filing cabinet for future reference.
But it’s the technology age, you argue emphatically.

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You won’t feel that way when a virus takes over your hard drive and you lose all of the information that you worked so hard to create. Or, even worse, you lose a signed contract that could cost you thousands of dollars.

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I recommend setting up a reliable filing system in your office, with extra file folders for future use. Label each folder clearly and place them all in alphabetical order, and make sure to file documents every day so you don’t lose track.

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I have two filing cabinets: one is for my personal use (taxes, receipts, insurance information, etc.) while the other is used exclusively for my work. Each of my clients gets a file folder here, as well, and I have extra folders for copies of documents as well as bank information and cancelled checks.

I am the queen of allowing paperwork to build up on my desk trays, leaning to one side and crinkled on the edges, so I won’t preach to you here. However, I will say that it is much better to spend time every day or every couple of days on your filing than to wait until a month’s worth of paperwork is awaiting your attention.

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::Collecting Money

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do, there may come a time when you have trouble collecting money you are owed. This is perhaps the worst part of the business side of writing, especially if you have trouble asking for money.

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Make sure that you have a clause in your contract that penalizes clients for non-payment. It is important to give your clients some leeway – if they are a few weeks behind on several thousand dollars, you’ll retain their business if you give them an opportunity to pay. However, if several months have passed on a $200.00 bill, it is time to take action.

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Use litigation as a last resort for collection of money owed to you. First, make sure that you have contacted your client and requested payment both on the phone and in writing. If that doesn’t work, hire an attorney or a collection agency to send a letter or to phone them requesting payment. Your final step should be small claims or civil court.

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To avoid this scenario in the first place, I recommend charging an up-front fee for your services. Unless you are writing “on spec” for a magazine or newspaper, you shouldn’t have any problem charging a 10-30% fee up front, and charging the rest at regular intervals until the project is finished.

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::Taxes

One of the most difficult aspects of the business side of writing is taxes, which you will have to handle yourself. A freelance or self-employed writer doesn’t have taxes taken out of paychecks, but as to pay taxes quarterly or at the end of every year.

My advice is to set up a savings account into which 20% of all your earnings is placed every month. That way, when tax time rolls around, you’ll have all of the money you need to pay back the government.

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Further, save your receipts. Dinners with clients, rent payments (for your office only), Internet access, office supplies, automobile payments and more can be deducted from your final taxes owed. Just make sure that you save all receipts.

::Professionalism

All writers who make a living through the pen (or the computer keyboard, as the case may be) must always project an air of professionalism. This means having a businesslike message on your voice mail or answering machine; business cards to hand out to people you meet; business letterhead for professional correspondence; and the punctual return of messages left from clients.

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All of these things make up the business side of writing, but please remember that you will learn as you go along. Much of writing is about trial and error, and if you make a mistake, you’ll have learned for the future. Don’t fret if you think you’ve handled a situation badly, or if you worry that you haven’t met all of your obligations. It will come to you as you go, and you just have to have faith that it will all work out.

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Laura J. College is a professional ghostwriter with more than ten years’ experience writing fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. Her work can be found all over the Internet, and she is currently accepting ghostwriting clients. Check out her website at http://www.laurajcollege.com.

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