June 2010 Book Club Discussion — The Well-Fed Writer

A few weeks ago you voted on our very first All Freelance Writing Virtual Book club pick-of-the-month -- Peter Bowerman's award-winning book, The Well-Fed Writer. Today we kick off that book club discussion. The comments will remain open on this post for a week, and extended for one additional week if they're still fairly active at that point.

Below are ten questions (some from me, and others submitted by Jessie Haynes - #s 6, 7, and 8) about the latest version of The Well-Fed Writer. Feel free to discuss any or all of them in the comments below the post. And don't forget to use the "subscribe to comments" feature so you don't miss out on any other comments in the discussion.

I hope you loved this book as much as I did, and found some valuable take-aways to help you improve your freelance writing business!

  1. Overall do you have a favorite piece of advice given in The Well-Fed Writer, and if so, what is it?
  2. Was there anything in the book that you disagreed strongly with?
  3. What did you think of the general style and tone of this book? Is it something you're likely to keep going back to as a reference?
  4. Peter Bowerman places a heavy emphasis on cold calling and other direct marketing efforts. What are your thoughts on this? Are you comfortable with it? Can you get comfortable with it? Would it apply as equally to other areas of freelance writing beyond commercial writing?
  5. Are you actually a commercial writer, like those the book targets? Do you want to become one? Or did you read the book to pick up more general advice you could adapt to another freelance writing area?
  6. Of the portfolio display options mentioned on page 67 of the book, which do you prefer and why?
  7. Of the types of clients discussed in chapter 5 (end users or middle men) which do you work with most often, or which do you prefer to work with? Why? And how do you personally overcome the disadvantages of each?
  8. Do you have any clients for which you are "waiting in the wings" a la page 124 and, if so, what is that situation like for you?
  9. The subtitle of The Well-Fed Writer is Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less. If you're a new freelancer, after reading the book do you think that six month goal is realistic for you? Why or why not? How will this book help you make it happen?
  10. What are your thoughts on "aggravation fees" as mentioned in the book by Devon Ellington on page 179? Do you charge them? In what kinds of circumstances?

You don't have to answer all of these questions. You can pick and choose if you prefer. Or, if you'd like to discuss something else specific from The Well-Fed Writer, please feel free to do that or pose your own questions for others to answer.

Tomorrow I'll post three book choices for the next discussion so everyone has time to get a copy and read it. Remember, next month we'll do a book on writing books, alternating each month between that and freelancing.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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16 thoughts on “June 2010 Book Club Discussion — The Well-Fed Writer”

  1. I was glad to see the cold calling strategy addressed in this book. When I first started out, I would’ve scoffed at that. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to try it out and found that it can be effective. I landed my biggest gig with one company by simply calling them out of the blue and proposing a project idea to them. It worked out good, because they had never thought to do what I had suggested.

    I know I could get comfortable doing it after doing several calls like that; I just need to fine tune my strategy a little bit. It doesn’t bother me to do it, but I can certainly see where some people might shy away from trying it.

    • I’m glad to hear you had some success with it Wendy. 🙂 I’ve never been a cold calling person, and I’ve never needed to, so I’m always surprised by how much I like a book that put such an emphasis on it. lol Then again, I am good on the phone. I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a phone call from a prospect where I didn’t land the gig. It’s a strong suit for me on the persuasion front. Calming yet authoritative tone works every time. 🙂

  2. Let me answer a few of these to help Wendy kick things off a bit:

    #5 — I am indeed a commercial writer, but I’m also a blogger, Web content writer, and Web developer for my own projects too. And I’ve found that most of what Peter covers in the book can actually be adapted well to any kind of client work as a writer, although I’ll say when I’m pitching for Web writing work (which I mostly do) I do prefer email pitching to anything else. But I rarely pitch at all these days. The vast majority of my marketing is passive in the “query-free” style I often talk about instead.

    #7 — I LOVE middlemen clients. But when I moved to a 4-day work week (actually earning more money; not less), I cut a few clients from my schedule to focus on the more lucrative work from other regulars. As it so happens I now work almost exclusively with end user clients instead (although I love them too — just a somewhat different dynamic).

    #10 — All I’ll say about aggravation fees is “Amen to that, Devon!” 🙂

  3. #3 – I did like the tone of the book. However, I’m not sure if I’ll use it as a resource in the future because…

    #5 – No, I’m not a commercial writer. I guess I was looking for more generalized knowledge when I picked up the book. My interests are mainly in magazines and online content, although I have given thought to learning about grant writing for nonprofits.

    #4 – I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of cold calling. I prefer to do my queries and interviews through email. I’ve never been the most outgoing person. 😉

    • For magazine writing, I recommend The Renegade Writer. And I just recently started reading Six-Figure Freelancing as well.

      One of my friends followed Renegade’s query style and has been published in nat’l magazines & newspapers. She attributes it to the book’s techniques. (They also have a site dedicated to the topic as well.)

  4. 4. Maybe for a commercial writer, cold calling is a good idea, but I doubt it has use outside of that. Besides the comfort issues, would you really call someone up and offer them an article or a humor piece? It feels like it would be ineffective, and there are other time-tested techniques for these fields that are worth trying first. Really, this book is only worth getting if commercial writing is your planned bag.

    • Not sure I agree with the last sentence. Most of the techniques work very well for Web content writing and professional blogging work in addition to the more traditional forms of commercial writing. Why? Because those things almost always fall under the marketing or PR departments of a business (unless that business is solely a blog). There’s blogging about company news, blogging to help a company stay engaged with readers, Web content for article marketing, Web content for newsletters… the list goes on.

      For all of those types of things, the commercial writing style push would be extremely effective (and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even use it).

      Even for humor writing it could be. It’s really not at all about the type of writing you do, but more about the type of clients you target. For example, if you pitched a general humor blog, it might not work. But it could be a great option if you pitch blogging services to nearby comedy clubs to announce and follow up on their shows.

      Just giving you another way to look at it. 😉

  5. Hello everyone!

    Thanks for weighing in and sorry I’m just now joining the chat… Though Jenn can confirm that I showed up on Monday morning around 9 and nothing was up yet… 😉 Then I got busy…

    Anyway, seems like the conversation has focused thus far on cold calling. Wendy, glad to hear you’ve had success. It definitely works. Put the Law of Averages to work, and you can’t help but get results.

    And yes, Matt, this strategy would probably be most effective with commercial writing clients, as opposed to landing gigs with magazines, etc. In that world, there’s a more accepted protocol for approaching editors, and just cold-calling probably wouldn’t be that effective…Though if you were hitting up smaller/local publications, I’m sure it’d work there.

    BUT, there wouldn’t obviously be much money in that direction. Speaking of which, Stephanie and Matt,, yes, my book is exclusively focused on commercial freelancing. I didn’t want to write a book that tried to be all things to all people (and frankly, I had precious little experience writing for magazines), while I had plenty in commercial writing, so that’s what I wrote about. There are tons of books on other kinds of freelancing…

    And speaking of focusing, it’s never a bad idea to focus on a particular niche, IF you have the experience to back it up.

    Hope to hear from more of you!


    P.S. I invite you all to check out my ezine, blog and knowledgebase – all free resources on my site, www.wellfedwriter.com.

    • lol Yes, I was the slow one. Rub it in why don’t ya? 😛

      You know… the one question I knew up front I wanted to ask was the one about cold calling. I know it’s something a lot of writers (especially the Web writers that we tend to see a lot of here) are uncomfortable with. And for some reason, that’s always the first thing I associate WFW with, fair or not. I mean, looking through it again there’s clearly much more there. And yet my mind always goes to that first. So yeah… not particularly relevant to the discussion, but just thought I’d throw that out there.

  6. I would have to agree that cold calling works in certain areas. I have only done one humorous piece and that was a speech. The client hired me based on my personality. I wouldn’t have been able to show it by sending a couple of emails. That was done face to face though, but if someone wanted to market as a speechwriter, then I would certainly suggest they try the cold calling technique.

    The gig I got from my cold calling effort was in the human service field. That was something that had to be pitched in person or over the phone and I knew they wouldn’t have thought to search the internet for someone to do that project. So, yeah, I think cold calling does have it’s place depending on who you’re marketing to.

  7. Although I work mainly in magazine writing and in editing, and would love to earn my living solely from magazines and books, I have been reading this because I think maybe I do need to expand into commercial writing for financial reasons. I think the thing that has been putting me off most (other than cold-calling) has been my lack of commercial background. Sure I’ve written a few press releases, edited an association magazine, but I still feel as if I don’t have any real commercial experience.

  8. Hi Fiona,

    When I started in this field, I had no WRITING experience period – not to mention no commercial writing experience. Yes, it takes a certain adjustment period to get used to it, but I firmly maintain that, at its essence, writing is still writing. If you have good writing skills, even if you haven’t channeled them in the CW direction up till now, that’s still half the battle.

    If you read my book and then pick up a few of the others I list in the resources appendix (including The Copywriters Handbook, by Bob Bly, which is a great primer on how to write a lot of different projects you might encounter), and start getting your arms around the whole marketing thing, you’ll be in good shape. It likely won’t happen overnight, but hang in there and follow the game plan I lay out, and you’ll get there.

    One of the biggest hurdles many writers (who haven’t done CW) have to overcome is the psychological one of thinking that marketing writing somehow involves selling one’s soul and assorted and sundry other nonsense. You’re simply helping a company put their best foot forward, NOT being asked to lie or stretch the truth or otherwise deceive the public. Simply not the case and if I was ever asked to do so (never have been), I’d walk away.

    Hope that helps a bit!


    • It does help – thanks Peter.

      One of the things I keep telling myself is that a lot of the articles I’ve written have been local travel round up pieces which, when you get down to it, have a real marketing tone to them because they are in essence selling the reader on a particular place.

  9. Good insight! That’s how you should be thinking… If you’re talking about a travel destination, you’re going to be “putting its best foot forward.” Same with a company and their products. That said, it’s a little more complicated than that, in the sense that, the most effective way to get someone’s attention isn’t to “sell” them on the company and services directly. It’s to talk about the things that mean something to the buyer (things THEY care about) and relate them back to the product or service.

    It’s the difference between talking about, say, the actual features of a smart phone vs. talking about freedom, mobility, peace of mind, fast answers – things that mean more to someone (because they’re about THEM) than bells and whistles. People care about bells and whistles, but only in terms of how they adress THEIR bigger wants/needs. Does that make sense?

    OR, the difference between talking about a travel destination and its bells and whistles – hotels, attractions, restaurants vs. the relaxed vibe, the cool breezes, things to do that’ll appeal to someone’s sense of adventure, desire for culinary treats, the B&B that lets someone slow down and get in touch with themselves or each other again, etc, etc.

    OK, enough marketing lesson for one day…;)


  10. First I want to say thanks, Jennifer, for holding this discussion. Very helpful insights from everyone who posted, especially Peter Bowerman himself!

    #4 I’m interested in breaking into commercial writing but I was unsure about how to go about doing this, and the tips given in this book are extremely helpful. The only thing that could make it easier is if he came over and made the calls himself. Putting it into practice is harder simply because of the uncomfortable nature of cold calling, but I’ve already started and had some slow responses. The rule does appear to be based on the Law of Averages, and I’m trying to diversify my marketing efforts. But I think cold calling will result in new business in the long run.

    Good points on thinking about your existing portfolio in new ways.

  11. I’m a bit behind but I wanted to be sure to finish the book before I responded. It took me a bit to get the book.

    1. I think one of the biggest pieces to come out of the book was to keep doing a little at a time and that adds up over time. 25 calls a day isn’t really that much but it sure adds up.

    2. I can’t say there was anything that I disagreed with completely but there are some pretty strong minded opinions. Or maybe I just read it that way. Everyone is entitled to that though. He doesn’t value blogging very much apparently but I love it. To each his own eh?

    3. The style and tone was good enough to keep me interested. It seemed to be in a hurry at times but I think that’s inevitable with the amount of content contained in this book. Use this for a reference? Most definitely!

    4. I think using the phone is a pretty good skill to have. It’s something I want to overcome myself some day so I enjoyed that section of the book. He takes away the overwhelming factor of it all, very cool. The direct mail thing is a good idea simply because not every one does it.

    5. I actually wanted to read it for the general advice but I have been interested in commercial writing before so maybe it’s something I’ll pursue at some point. I did get a couple ideas of types of writing I want to get into though. Case studies and possibly white papers.

    6. If we’re talking about the same section (I think I may have the newest version) I’d say the hybrid simply for the reasons Peter stated. (hopefully that’s what you were talking about lol).

    7. I don’t really have any experience myself but by guessing I’d say the EU would be ideal. Simply because it’s more direct to the source.

    8. Nothing here atm..

    9. I think it’s most definitely possible. But that also depends on your situation and how much you’re willing to push yourself. I work a full time job and take care of my family, who always come first. So I guess if I really kicked myself in the butt to get going I could manage something in that time. It’s doable for certain. This book is a pretty good guide to really push that though.

    10. I haven’t had the chance to implement something like this but it would definitely show that you mean business (no pun intended). I’d like to say that I would use something like that but I may be too laid back to worry about it that much lol. Depends on the situation I suppose.

    Overall it was a very informative and it’s going right alongside my other books such as The Copywriter’s Handbook and whatnot. I learned some new things and found some other things i want to pursue. Plus there is plenty to come back to and I may reread it with a highlighter or some sticky notes. All in all great book.

    Oh and very cool of you to show up and join the conversation Peter :).