The saying goes, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

While some authors can support their full-time writing careers by writing books, most authors need additional income, especially at the beginning of their careers.

One way to earn money and quickly improve your skills is to work on other people’s books. Jesus once said, “Until you are faithful with that which is another man’s, who will trust you with that which is your own?”

Working in the book business as a freelancer for book people is a fabulous way to learn and earn.

Sharon Norris Elliot is an author who has learned to put her eggs in many baskets. She is a professional freelancer, an award-winning author of 12 books, an editor, a speaker, a literary agent, a licensed minister, and a consultant and coach.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How did you get started as a freelancer?

Sharon Norris Elliot: I started as a freelancer before I knew what the term meant. I went to my first Christian writers conference 30 years ago, and I didn’t know anything or anyone.

Years ago, at writers conferences, they gave attendees a thick notebook of information. In the back of that notebook was a glossary of publishing business terminology, and I had to use it because I didn’t know what people were talking about.

Just before that conference, I met a gentleman who ended up being at the conference. He had a magazine for Christian teenagers. When he found out I taught high school, he asked if I would help him with the magazine.

As a teacher, I graded papers all the time, so I figured I could read the articles and find mistakes. Thanks to the glossary, I discovered I was now a magazine editor, which was a steppingstone into teaching and speaking at writers conferences. That’s how everything got started for me.

Thomas: The term “freelance” comes from the feudal ages. If you were a vassal, such as a knight or a peasant, you owed military duty to the person higher up the hierarchy. That meant the king could demand that his lords provide him with troops, and the lords would demand that their knights provide them with some troops. Then, the knights would demand that the peasants provide them with troops.

But some people were free and could work for anyone they wanted. They were lances who were free people–freelancers. Freelancer is basically an old term for mercenary. If you needed extra troops and you called up all the people who owed you service, but you still needed a bigger army, you would hire some freelancers to fight on your behalf.

A freelancer has more freedom than an employee. An employee is very much like that vassal. They owe a certain number of hours to the boss, who gets to tell them when, where, and how to work.

If you like freedom and money, freelancing is the way to go. If you like glory, honor, and prestige, freelance work is not the way to go because you don’t get as much glory as a freelancer.

The bards don’t sing about the mercenaries in the taverns. They sing about the knights. But the mercenaries are the ones making the money.

What are some of the benefits of being a freelancer writer?

Sharon: Originally, I wanted to work for a publishing house as a writer or editor, but that was never offered to me, so I just continued to write for myself and send my articles to magazines. Then, I started helping other people do the same thing. I was learning all these things at writers conferences, and I would go home and put them into practice. It got to the point where I knew the things I’d learned over the first few years all fit together like puzzle pieces.

During that time, I was still teaching high school, and I worked full-time until the summer of 2020 when I retired. All my freelancing income was “on the side” as extra income.

Thomas: You wrote 12 books and did freelance editing on the side while you were still teaching high school, right?

Sharon: That’s right.

Thomas: Ecclesiastes 11 talks about the principle of diversification. Ecclesiastes 11:6 says, “Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if your profit will come from one activity or another, or maybe both.”

By keeping your day job, you were living out that verse. You had a low-risk, low-reward teaching job that would never make you rich, but it was a base hit every week.

Your performance wasn’t particularly tied to your compensation since your school’s best and worst teachers were paid nearly the same amount.

In writing, it’s just the opposite. The winners win big, and the losers win nothing. A number-one author may make 20 times more money than the tenth-best author, and the tenth-best author makes 100 times more money than the hundredth-best author. It’s very unevenly distributed.

If you’re trying to make all your money in that world, it’s hard, especially if you’re not the number one author. You can work your way up the ranks, but it’s still not very good, and it’s unreliable. Every time you write a book, it could be a home run, but there are no guarantees.

Combining the safe, steady income with the swing-for-the-fences income is a solid strategy.

What are some downsides of freelancing?

Sharon: You’re continually wondering whether your next book will be good. The marketing is constant, as is keeping up with my audience and meeting deadlines. If you can’t meet a deadline in this business, you’re out.

There are so many more positives than negatives. I love helping other writers. I’m so jazzed about being able to help people realize their publishing dreams and pour into them. Even if you don’t teach workshops or work as an agent, there is a lot to do on the business side as you write and publish.

What are the different kinds of freelance work?


Thomas: The most common freelance work in publishing is freelance editing. Even big publishing houses work with freelance editors. They may have a couple of in-house editors, but they try to match an editor to the project, so sometimes they need to hire a freelancer.

Sharon: I have worked with companies who have hired me to edit their contracted books. I don’t work in the company, but the company knows I can edit.

Book Developer

Sometimes, I work as a book developer. Maybe the company wants this person to write a book, but that person hasn’t written the book yet, and they need help. As a freelancer, I have a wide range of services I can offer. When I’m finished with a project, I go on about my business. Another company or individual can hire me to edit their work.

Thomas: Sometimes publishers will have a celebrity who wants to write a book but needs help. You’re writing alongside the celebrity author, and they will get the glory, so to speak.

Sharon: It’s like being the president’s speechwriter. The president sounds great, but he didn’t write that speech.

Write for Hire

What’s the difference between writing for hire and just writing a book for royalty?

Sharon: It’s a matter of whose idea it was. For example, if a publisher wants a book on how to be a freelancer, they might hire me to write that book. I get paid what they decide to pay me to write that project, and that’s it. Now, I’ve done some work for hire. My name has gone on the book as the byline, but I don’t get the royalties.

Thomas: While your name may be on the front of the book as the author, the copyright is Acme Publishing. The advantage of writing for hire is that you know exactly how much money you will get. In general, it’s much better money than you would get with a royalty or an advance. The downside is that you don’t get any residuals. There’s typically no ongoing royalty.

Now, contracts can be negotiated in many different ways. If the book ends up being a huge hit, you don’t get any of that money, but you do get the fame since your name is on the cover. But you don’t get a big royalty check every six months.

On the flip side, if the book is a flop—if they do a bad job marketing or the book has a bad cover—you get paid the same amount of money regardless, so it’s much lower risk. It’s also a much lower potential reward.

Coach or Consultant

What’s the difference between a coach, consultant, and editor?

Sharon: The editor works with the manuscript, and the coach works with the idea. A coach helps the person develop the idea, which often flows into editing the chapters as they are being written.

Thomas: Coaching can also involve career advice, but it may even start earlier when a writer needs help putting together a good book proposal. Coaching and consulting can cover many different aspects of writing. I used to do a lot of marketing consulting, which kept me very busy.

Author’s Assistant

At, we have a job board. Authors and assistants often connect through our jobs board.

virtual assistant or an author assistant can help with marketing tasks like the following:

  • Submitting your book to BookBub
  • Posting to social media
  • Reaching out to podcasts for guest interviews
  • Researching
  • Scheduling
  • Answering emails

Listen to our episode on How to Find and Work with a Virtual Assistant.

It is important to note that virtual assistants can be contractors or employees. In the feudal language, a contractor is a freelance, and the employee is the vassal.

Contractors (freelancers) and employees are legally different and taxed differently. When you work for a publisher as a freelancer, the publisher will issue you a 1099, and you have to pay your own taxes on that 1099 income. The company does not withhold taxes because you are a freelancer who has a direct relationship with the government.

If you’ve always worked as an employee and had your taxes withheld, you need to know that as a freelancer, you must set aside money to pay your quarterly taxes.

Sharon: As a freelancer, you have to stay on top of the business side. Uncle Sam wants to know how much money you’ve made, so you need to keep track of your income, book sales, and any expenses related to your business, whether that’s postage, paper, or equipment.

Thomas: You don’t have to track expenses, but if you do, you can deduct them from your taxes.

Sharon: For example, I send my Authorize Me Academy

students a beautiful certificate when they complete the course. The postage, paper, and envelopes are deductible business expenses. Make sure you track what it costs you to run your business so you can deduct those expenses at tax time.

Thomas: I recommend having a separate bank account for your business income and expenses. There are legal benefits to keeping your business account separate from your personal account, but it’s also for your sanity because it will help you keep things tidier.

Setting up a new account won’t cost you anything, but your bank may require you to maintain a minimum balance. This is a good practice because freelance income tends to be less consistent than employee income.

People new to freelancing may be tempted to spend their first big check, but that check might be two-months worth of revenue. You must be disciplined to hold on to that because you no longer have somebody else acting as a buffer like you did as an employee when you got the same money every two weeks.

Sharon: You also want to check with your state. I have a business name and an LLC, and my bank account is connected to that business. Go to your local state office and set that up.

Thomas: Check out The Author’s Guide to LLCs for more information.

Sharon: I also recommend that a professional freelancer have a PO box for all the business mail. Even for your work as an author, I recommend having a PO box. People who love you might want to write you an actual letter. You don’t want your home address front and center where people could do untoward things. Having a PO box is another good way to keep your business professional.

Thomas: The Can-Spam Act legally requires you to include your mailing address in emails to your subscribers. If you don’t have a PO box or a UPS or FedEx box, you are legally required to put your home address on there.

I’ve had a PO box for the last 15 years, and I have received some of the nicest notes from listeners. Sometimes, listeners send me their books, and it’s fun to have that way of communicating with them.

I’ve got my PO box mailing address right on my website. I don’t use my home address, so I don’t feel like I have to hide it.

Young writers tend to move around and change addresses often, but your PO box can remain the same.

What are some other tips for somebody starting their own freelance business?

Sharon: If you are a writer, you’re also going to be a speaker. You’re the expert on your nonfiction topic. If you’re writing novels, your readers want to know you.

Many authors write because they don’t have to be in front of people. They like being behind a computer. But every publisher wants people to get to know you as an author. People often tell me they hear my voice through my books. They enjoy talking to me after speaking events.

So, learning how to present yourself as a speaker is important.

  • Who are you?
  • What’s your brand?

Think about the brands of Target, Walmart, and Costco. We go to those stores because we know they have what we need. Staples used to say, “Yeah, we got that.”

Determine what you have that readers need. People buy books because of their needs. How can you communicate that you have what they need? Your brand needs to be clearly communicated.

My tagline is “Live significantly.” Everything I do and talk about revolves around how you can live more significantly. When people hire me, they’ll get encouragement or a kick in the pants to live significantly because that’s my brand. It’s who I am.

Thomas: That’s important for finding clients, too. Anybody can say, “I’m a freelancer now,” but you’re not a freelancer until someone hires you.

Knowing what kind of freelancer you are is one element of your brand. Are you an editor, a writer for hire, or a marketing assistant?

Where do you find clients?

Sharon: I find clients by speaking at writers conferences. Word-of-mouth marketing is huge. People I have worked with tell their friends about me.

I also set up my own seminars and advertise them.

I make the speaking events happen instead of waiting to be invited. For example, I’ll do a Facebook Live about the Authorize Me Academy, which has 12 master classes that take you from idea to book proposal. You’ll get all kinds of information about the industry, and we’ll work on your website and brand. In my Facebook Live, I’ll talk about what we do in the class and when they run.

To make your own speaking engagements, you can sit on panels or give interviews on podcasts. But I cannot stress enough the importance of Christian writers conferences. Thomas and I met in 2008, and we are still connected all these years later.

Thomas: If you’re in an area that doesn’t have writers conferences yet, is a good stopgap where you can find threads about craftplatform, and jobs.

How do you invoice and collect money from your clients, and how do you avoid feeling awkward about it?

Sharon: I will never understand what is so awkward about talking about being paid. Target, Walmart, and Costco don’t apologize for putting price tags on their products. Why should you?

Our work is valuable. To become a freelancer, you must first realize the value of what you offer. Do some research to determine what the market is bearing at the time, and then be realistic. If you’re just starting in the editing business, you won’t get the same money as someone with years of experience and a good reputation. You have to build your reputation, but it starts with gaining confidence.

People used to call me, and I used to give out advice. One of my friends stopped me and said, “You need to monetize all this advice you’re giving. It’s valuable!”

So, I did some research and assigned a price to my different services. I remember the first time someone asked me a question, and I answered it by saying, “Well, that’s what I do in my business, and it would cost you X dollars.” I held my breath briefly, and he said, “Ok!”

I did the work and sent him a PayPal invoice, which he paid!

Thomas: Start by charging lower prices, and as you get too busy, you raise your prices. Let the demand set the price, and never let up on the marketing. One common mistake freelancers make is that they stop speaking or doing the various lead generation tasks. When they get a big project, they stop being active on a place like and stop marketing. But you need to continuously market so that you have one job after another lined up.

When you fail to market yourself in an ongoing way, you have periods where you’re super busy followed by periods where you’re starving for work. If you don’t have another project lined up, you tend to get desperate and choose the wrong client or bid your prices too low.

Sharon: That’s true. For example, hiring me to ghostwrite costs you a lot because that takes a lot of my time. I’m an excellent ghostwriter, but I don’t want to do it very much. If you want to hire me as a ghostwriter, I have other criteria for when I ghostwrite. If my price is too high, you are free to work with someone else, and I am not mad at you. We can still be friends, and we will still be in heaven together. But I value my time and put a high price on it.

Thomas: It’s also great to have freelancers at different price points. If someone gives you a hard time about your pricing, you can gladly recommend someone new to the business who charges half your price.

You’re putting the power in their hands. If they want to work with you specifically, they’ll pay. If they can’t afford you, they’ll be thankful for the recommendation. You’re blessing people regardless.

It doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation.

Sending a legitimate invoice can also help reduce the awkwardness. Invoicing is a skill freelancers have to learn. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to pay you.

I’ve used FreshBooks for 15 years, and I like it. It generates invoices. It’ll even mail a paper invoice with the little return envelope if someone’s not paying. One of the dirty secrets of this business is that some people are quick to pay, and others are not.

Proverbs 3:27-28 talks about not waiting to pay people tomorrow when you can pay them today. I was very convicted by that verse. You should never use your employees or contractors as a source of credit.

Sharon: And be smart with editing jobs. I don’t mail back the completed editing job until the last payment is made.

Thomas: That’s a good practice. We would do the same thing with a website. We wouldn’t make the website live until the client made the final payment.

FreshBooks allows people to choose how to pay you. They can send you a check, pay by credit card, or pay by PayPal. Bigger companies sometimes have their own system they want you to use, but others can’t pay you until you give them a legitimate-looking invoice. They have to be able to show the accounting department that a real person did real work. Paper trails are really important.

Don’t create an invoice in a Word document just because it’s cheaper. That’s not how you honor your time. Many tools will generate invoices for you. Yes, they will cost you and charge you a small percentage for processing credit card payments, but you need to honor your time and realize it’s a small price to pay.

I’ve lost far more money from people not sending me checks than from paying credit card fees.

FreshBooks also lets you set up automated payment reminder emails where FreshBooks follows up with the client, and you don’t have to.

You also need to have a W-2 handy because big organizations won’t cut you a check or pay via credit card without a W-2. I keep a PDF W2 handy on my computer.

Don’t let these business details scare you off. There’s value in having the freedom of being your own employee. People talk about the value of being your own boss, but you’re also your own employee. Be a good employee to yourself.

Any final tips or encouragement?

Sharon: Do what you are good at. Don’t call yourself an editor if you haven’t worked on your editing skills. I didn’t start calling myself a consultant or a coach until I had some years behind me and something to say. Don’t call yourself something that you really are not. I guess that’s the easiest way to say it.

Thomas: You can start off as an assistant and get paid without knowing anything. You just have to do the work. But if you’re going to call yourself an editor or consultant, you must have the skills.

Be honest about what you can and can’t help with. It will help you know what jobs to accept and which to decline.

If you don’t know the marketing side, make a referral. If you’re desperate for work, you may be tempted to take the job and learn the marketing as you go. But that will set you up for a lot of stress and unhappiness.

Connect with Sharon at or learn more about her Authorize Me Academy.


The Tax and Business Guide for Authors

In this course, you will learn 

  • 19 tax deductions authors can claim
  • How to qualify for tax deductions for your writing-related expenses (not all writers qualify)
  • How to create a business plan
  • How to make a living as an author
  • How to be a business in the eyes of the IRS 
  • How, when, and why to form an LLC 
  • How to reduce the likelihood of being audited by the IRS

You can become a patron at for as little as $4.00 per month and receive this course with access to our Q&A session for free. Patrons get exclusive discounts on courses and a special bonus episode every month.