Journalism is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. The Internet and the recession have dealt it a double whammy and many people are being laid off so freelancers face a lot of competition. The media jobs pages of the Guardian, where everyone looks for journalism jobs, are desperately thin. Therefore when I picked up Antonia Chitty’s “Commercial writing” book I thought it was not perhaps coming out at the best of times. However, having read it, I think it is very opportune. It offers a huge range of avenues that writers can exploit, including areas such as copyright and the Internet.
It explores everything you need to know about writing for money, whether in advertising, ghostwriting, blogging or journalism, although some areas are obviously more lucrative than others.
It starts with the basics of getting into writing for those who are in other professions or just starting out and covers the skills you need and where to get them. From there it discusses the practicalities, for instance, of freelancing from home, setting up a home business, which office equipment to choose and so forth. Chitty herself has lots of experience, both as a journalist, but also in using the web, freelancing and working in different office environments so she knows all the potential problems and pitfalls. Added to this there are lots of case studies from other journalists. There are chapters on all the different types of commercial writing, all set out in the same format, giving advice on how to get into it, how to freelance, what rates to ask and how to market yourself.
Tips include areas such as personal indemnity insurance, book-keeping, networking and marking, including online marketing, and there is an end section on grammar and useful contacts. Even for those who have been in journalism for many years there are helpful pointers on things like how to promote your blog.
The case studies are a bonus since the best advice is always from those who have been there and done it. One of the most valuable pieces of advice comes from Linda Jones, director of Passionate Media, which she started after realising that she was not going to be able to combine a normal reporting job with having children. She says: “My biggest lesson is ‘don’t compete on price’, as you end up with clients who are looking for the cheapest rates. Compete on the calibre of what you offer, and back it up with testimonials and examples.” In a world where journalism seems to be dropping through the floor and competition has never been more fierce, this book reminds you that there are many different avenues a good writer can explore and that, as in any business, it’s all about researching the possibilities and being prepared to explore different avenues.
Commercial writing: how to earn a living as a business writer, by Antonia Chitty, is published by Hale Books, price £12.99.