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Making Money in Technical Writing

Turn Your Writing Skills into $100,000 a Year

by Peter Kent

Making Money in Technical Writing cover Peter Kent says the main topic of his book is not only to "tell you how to use your technical writing skills to build a freelance career," but also to tell you "how to develop those skills in the first place." The concentration, he tells us, is how to find work.

One of the most frequently heard complaints about freelancing is the lack of job security. To Peter's mind, being an employee only offers the illusion of job security. A more important issue in the decision as to whether you should go freelance is how comfortable you feel marketing and selling yourself to potential clients. Marketing is often the one area that entrepreneurs fail at, and freelancing is no exception. If you find marketing and selling yourself disagreeable, you're not going to do as well as an independent contractor as you might.

Peter suggests you can manage turning freelancing into a permanent lifestyle with little risk of spending a lot of time at the local pawn shop if you follow his three-step process:

Step 1.

Sign on at agency which supplies technical writers.

Step 2.

With an established reputation for doing good work and a solid network of people to refer work to you, you may decide to leave the agencies and contract for work on your own. Peter notes this may take anywhere from a few months to a few years, or some technical writers may find their own comfort level in working for agencies. Moving from using agencies to contracting for work yourself gives you, in effect, a raise. Clients usually know the going rate for contract technical writers. If you contract for the work directly, you get to keep the full hourly rate without leaving any of it in the hands of agencies.

Step 3.

The next big step is to start charging for your services by the project rather than by the hour. You are then a consultant. Your income goes up because your rate of pay will depend upon what the competition charges, not the going hourly rate. The advantage here is the better and faster you work, the more money you can make.

And finally, when you reach a comfort level as a consultant, you are often in a very good position to see other opportunities, or even segue into some other career.

Many how-to books are disparagingly called "feel good" crutches by some readers. There is an element of cheerleader in Peter's approach, but along with the cheers come many specific recommendations based upon what has worked for him as well as many of his friends.

What's more, I'd say technical writers often need some cheerleading. They are sometimes paid relatively little for what they do because they themselves do not value their skills as much as they should. Actually, this is a fairly general failing of ALL writers except those who have hit it rich with the big publishers.

In the Fargo, North Dakota, area it is not uncommon for talented, experienced writers to gin out stories requiring several hours work for $25. Yes, you saw that correctly. $25. As long as there are enough writers who will work for this kind of pay, those who refuse to prostitute themselves will often find it difficult to find reasonably paying work.

My point is that some writers will work for this because they don't value what they do as much as they should, and to that extent, yes, they need a "feel good" book to encourage them to stop chasing $25 jobs. More importantly, Peter shows technical writers how they can escape that $25 dollar trap. He gives several examples of instances in which technical writers have undervalued their work and been able to use his approach to increase their hourly rate. If this is "feel good" advice, I'd say it's sorely needed.

The key to making this approach work, Peter candidly admits, is living in a metropolitan area where there is more work available than technical writers can handle. Peter notes that if you live in a relative technical writing backwater, you may indeed be doomed to paltry pay or else have to be willing to commute hefty distances. He believes, however, that the Internet is making it possible for people to do well wherever they live -- it just takes more effort.

This book contains the usual advice about what kind of space you need to work, what to look for in contracts, how to appease the IRS, etc. You will find many tables and worksheets to help you figure out what to need to make to survive as well as helpful lists of agencies to start with. There's the required chapter on finding work through the internet and a chapter on supplementing your income by writing for magazines and books.

No amount of helpful information -- and there is much here -- will overcome your mindset, and Peter doesn't gloss over that "freelancing is very different from permanent employment and requires a different temperament."

According to Peter Kent, the key to earning over $100,000 a year as a technical writer is learning the ropes, understanding the market, and being persistent. "Freelancing can change your life," or it can become "a temporary phase between permanent jobs." Only you can determine which it will be.

Whichever it is, Peter Kent gives solid, specific advice about how to manage the transition between being an employee and being a freelancer.

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