Reading The Well Fed Writer, you can’t help but feel excited and positive about the possibility of making a good living as a Freelance Commercial Writer (FLCW in Bowermanspeak). Bowerman’s many years of experience in sales and marketing, and obvious capability in writing eye catching copy, comes through in the snappy, easy to read writing style and the overwhelming enthusiasm which Bowerman has for this topic.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Well Fed Writer
by Peter Bowerman
Published 30 Sept, 2000
RRP $19.95 (usd), 304pp.
You can’t miss it. If you subscribe to any writer’s newsletters or visit any writer oriented website you’ll have seen the snappy and eye catching ads. It is the number one bestselling book on the Internet. Peter Bowerman’s The Well Fed Writer is visible, and its excellent sales are keeping Bowerman well fed. So what is the secret of its success? Does the copy justify the hype?
In a word, yes. Reading The Well Fed Writer, you can’t help but feel excited and positive about the possibility of making a good living as a Freelance Commercial Writer (FLCW in Bowermanspeak). Bowerman’s many years of experience in sales and marketing, and obvious capability in writing eye catching copy, comes through in the snappy, easy to read writing style and the overwhelming enthusiasm which Bowerman has for this topic. The book is both entertaining and informative, leaving the reader ready to either start a new career in this high demand area of writing which is far more consistently profitable than fiction writing, or writing for magazines, and far more flexible and satisfying than the standard 9-5 corporate commute. The book is divided into 15 chapters, covering such topics as the benefits and lifestyle of a working as a FLCW, the requirements for being successful in this field, where the specific work lies, how to begin the process, specific tools required (very few), setting up systems, how to work out charge rates, invoicing, typical work load and client type, critical pieces of advice, and specific lists of the kind of things which the average FLCW will be writing. In addition, there are a range of Bowerman’s own sample pieces, sales letters, contracts, brochures, direct mail pieces, and writing samples in the appendices, as well as two lengthy interviews with Work at Home Mum writers.
While the entire book is good reading, and well worth the cost of its purchase, even if you are already working in this field, or don’t have plans to, there are two chapters which stand out for the quality of the information they provide. Chapter 8, The System is the Solution, is an excellent guide to setting up systems for regular self-marketing (eg mail and phone campaigns, letters and resumes), and for managing existing clients. The concept is not particularly original – after all, systematising is the basis for most time management programs, but Bowerman’s specific suggestions for setting up sample information packages, creating inexpensive marketing postcards, creating project folders, leave-behinds, and organising your life in such a way that marketing is easy enough to do regularly, are very clear, easy to follow, and yet still innovative and practical for all writers to follow, regardless of their field. The other chapter which aspiring, and existing FLCW’s will turn to repeatedly is Chapter 14, What Will You Be Writing, which goes through a range of the different types of work which businesses require, and provides samples of how to write these things. At the end of this chapter, a reader will have a very good handle on what kind of work a FLCW does, and how good they will be at doing it – in other words, which areas of the market should they target. This chapter also makes it much easier for a novice, especially one who has either written commercially before, or worked in a corporate setting, from secretaries to marketing officers, to pitch their skills, since they will have a reasonable understanding of what work they will be asked to do, and what each type of work entails.
One of the few criticisms I can level at this book is that Bowerman makes it all seem so easy with his overtly positive stance, and while he doesn’t gloss over the number of rejections, or potential lack of response beginning FLCWs will have when doing cold callings or mailings, his infectious enthusiasm may make a junior think that they too will be eating well, in just a few months, something which may not happen if a person isn’t quite as good a self-promoter as Bowerman. There is also the critical “book”, or portfolio, which Bowerman does discuss, but only for a few pages. Since this is really the heart of a FLCW’s trade – the thing they are selling, it could have used a little more detail. There are some good ideas though for putting a portfolio together, including thinking more broadly about the existing work which a person has, for example, published clips on the Internet, which could be prettied up – printed out nicely and shown to advantage, or any existing business letters, press releases, ads, etc. If you have nothing at all, there are ideas for doing some work Pro Bono to gain experience, or even teaming up with another starting out graphic designer and making up a portfolio from scratch.
Despite the very minor criticisms, and they really are minor, since Bowerman’s positive stance is part of what makes the book so successful, and the samples Bowerman provides in the appendices could also be used as ideas for a portfolio, this is a superb book, which will fire up the most negative, reluctant writers into thinking of their work in more commercial terms. For those who are keen to write that novel, or continue to work in the less commercial areas of writing like poetry or other experimental forms, Bowerman suggests that working as a FLCW is more flexible, and can provide more spare time, and a lot more cash, than say, waiting tables, working in a dept store, or even working in a corporate setting (eg the day job). For those who are already working as a FLCW, Bowerman’s book can provide ideas for increasing profits, improving marketing efforts, and organising work. However, it is those writers who really want to make a career of FLCW from scratch who will profit the most from this book, which is full of information, samples, and guidelines taken from Bowerman’s personal experience to help any writer break into this lucrative, and satisfying area of working. Beware. Even if you are the artsy type (like me), who is hoping to write something both experimental, non-commercial, and life changing, you may be tempted to throw that quill away and get to work on a press release or marketing brochure, if only for the physical satisfaction of getting paid $70-80 per hour for your efforts (and finishing the job relatively quickly), which might mean that gorgeous novel never gets written. Never mind. At least you will be full.
For more information on The Well Fed Writer, visit http://www.wellfedwriter.com.