How to become a Freelance Writer
Inspirational independent writer and editor Valerie Coffey (USA) (aided by Stu Noss giving the UK perspective) explains how to become a freelance writer, working for yourself and managing your own destiny.
In part 1 of her ‘How to..’ series, Val explains the nuts and bolts of starting your own business:
Part 1: Starting a business of your own
Writing today is a business, pure and simple. You may have grand visions of writing that best-selling debut novel or regularly contributing to the big selling Daily’s and that’s great. Ambition is important and if you work hard enough you can get where you want to go. But writing as a job is essentially running your own small business. You have to deal with finances, budget, pay tax, market and develop yourself as a brand.
That’s just the start.
It can seem pretty daunting when you first start out but don’t worry. My step-by-step guide is an aid to help you get going and think through the key elements of being a freelance writer and running the small business that is you.
Pick a name & Register it
The first step is to simply to pick a name for your as-yet non-existent business.
It’s an exciting process. What will you call yourself? What will the world know you as? You’ve got to think long and hard about this and get it right. This is going to be your official business identity.
When I was laid off from Sky & Telescope magazine in Dec. 2006, I had just obtained a custom “personalized” or “vanity” license plate that said, “STELLR” to celebrate my personal interest and profession in astronomy. My chances of finding another full-time job in astronomy editing were (still are) bleak, so I was kind of stuck with this plate on my car that sort of matched my personal identity but sadly, wouldn’t likely match my next job identity. But I really like the plate, so when I picked a business name for myself, I chose “Stellar Editorial Services.” Now my plate makes sense when people match it to my company name.
Be aware as well. Your business name and your writing own name do not have to match. But if they are different then your writing name may not be protected by the company and it’s rights. You may want to check out registering your writing name as a trademark in your own country if your business name has no obvious link to it. Here’s the link for Intellectual Property (I.P.) registering in the UK and here is the US Patent and Trademarks Office site
Either way you do have to register your company name formally.
In the U.S. the process can be more varied. For example it is legal to label yourself as ‘doing business as‘. Thus you could be ‘Jane Does, doing business as Write Writing Services’ for example. Or you can form a full company.
Either way this site will help you understand what’s needed: Five steps to registering your business
About.com also has a fantastic section explaining the US process.
In the U.K. you register your company formally through Companies House.
You will probably want help from an accountant if you have never done this before. But beware; many will seek to charge hundreds upon hundreds of pounds to set up a company for you when in fact it costs less than one hundred. These are the people we’ve always used in the UK. Give them an email if you need help.
Does Tax have to be Taxing?
For the vast majority of writers this is a pretty simple question. If you write and earn income then that income is liable for tax. No matter where you live you will have to do a tax return to declare your writing income and pay any tax due.
And of course, tax is taxing and complex.
Taxation for writers is more so. Even if you are employed in a day job and writing on the side, your income from writing is taxable. But there is a positive. Because many things can be off-set as expenses against your tax.
So for example software you buy for your computer, the computer itself, that membership you took out to an official writing organisation, the pens you brought, the books you paid for are all potentially tax-deductible items for the writer.
This section from Writers.com has a really useful tax advice section covering most of the globe.
It differs of course between the USA and the UK.
In the USA people are more used to doing their tax returns yearly. But if you need some help here are some great sites:
The Writing Nut talks about Income tax for Writers
Riley Associates have some great downloadable Expenses and Income Sheets as well as clear explanations on Writers Expenses
Cyn Mason explains which rules apply to writers and what forms to use
In the UK you have to submit a tax return, even if you are employed as PAYE in a day job, if you earn income from writing. For most people it is easiest to pay a one-off fee to an accountant to do that for you. We use Budget Bookeeping in the UK for this because they are reliable, honest and reasonably priced.
The tax rules that apply for writers are certainly complex.
As this HMRC Advice sheet explains, you can average your earnings so that good and bad income years get averaged out, rather than pay a huge tax bill if you have a bumper year and go into the 40% tax bracket.
This site by The Gentleman Ranters outlines exactly how tax works for writers in the UK.
And you can find a fair few top tips about tax from this Freelancing site
By the way. If you wondered why so many writers live in Ireland, then here’s why. They have special tax laws for writers and so its more tax efficient to live there.
Remember – it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, your local tax office won’t accept the explanation that you didn’t know or didn’t realize about tax. So find out about it!
Being a Business
Some writers decide it’s better to become a business. It is not a bad idea, especially if writing is your main form of income. It’s certainly more tax efficient once you become more successful (I know of a writer who suddenly struck gold with one of their novels, earned a six figure sum within a year and then found a huge tax bill owing as all that money was deemed personal income and they were into 50% tax!)
Setting a business up isn’t difficult.
You have a range of options:
In the USA you could become a Corporation, an LLC or a Sole Proprietor. Here is an explanation of what each means.
In the UK you could set up as a Limited Company, a Partnership or as a Sole Trader. Here are the different types explained.
For most writers being a form of Sole Trader is the way forward. It means you and your writing are the business, you can be more tax efficient through the business. Be be careful, it could mean you have greater liability risks.
Of course you will need to become a business if you ever employ anybody to work for you.
It’s up to you to choose what works best for your vision and type of work.
In Part 2 of ‘How to be a Freelance Writer’, Valerie Coffey looks at ‘How to Build an Image and Promote your work’.
Click here to go to Part 2
Valerie Coffey is a freelance writer and editor who runs the highly successful specialist ‘Stellar Editorial’.
You can find out more about Stellar Editorial and the services they provide at Stellar Edit
Check out Valeries’ writing blog here to find out more about her amazingly inspirational life story and work.
Stu Noss is based in the UK and works in the Education Sector.
He also writes part time and runs the specialist publishing company ‘Solqu Creative’.
You can check out his personal blog at the ‘Jardin Soli’