Review: The Business of Being a Writer – Jane Friedman

I cheered when I read this! In The Business of Being a Writer, Jane Friedman provides a valuable roadmap for creative writing students and MFAs who are completing their courses and wondering what to do next.

In this substantial handbook, Friedman bridges the gap between industry, literary and tech.

She has a publishing and media industry background which gives her valuable insights into the traditional industries. She’s also a college professor, keynote speaker, author, and publisher of the influential Hot Sheet. So, she’s right up to speed with fast-moving developments in the digital publishing industry.

Multi-disciplinary view of the business of writing

Friedman provides a useful multi-disciplinary overview of options for skilled writers today. Not many writers have the skills to cover the US publishing industry, the creative writing academic path, and the newer business models of the indie author-entrepreneur, side by side.

Friedman has written the first book by a university publishing academic that covers the writing business from both a traditional industries and an independent viewpoint.

It’s great to see disruptive digital publishing acknowledged as a legitimate way for an author to earn a living. Few academic departments do this, and they’re frankly out of touch.

Although she’s writing from a US perspective, the principles are general. There’s a good splash of up-to-date tech which is especially worth reading if you’re a forward-thinking writer.

Overall, The Business of Being a Writer provides a very helpful strategic overview of the changing context writers live in today.

It should be in all university libraries where creative writing is taught.

creative writer to copywriter - 10 steps to build a business
From creative writer to copywriter – 10 steps to build a business


copywriting - 12 steps to writing a case study
Copywriting – 12 steps to writing a case study


transactional writing for online copywriters
Transactional writing for online copywriters


Practicalities of writing as a business

Creative writing courses are fantastic, but they rarely go into the nitty-gritty of what happens afterwards. How writers survive, build a career (or at least a living), sustain themselves creatively and financially. I’ve met a lot of writers who feel bereft after their MFA studies, possibly because they’ve had unrealistic expectations about the future.

This book gives a good description of today’s creative writing ecology, and where you might fit in as an aspiring professional writer. It’s aimed at writers of serious ambition, not beginners. It’s ideal for creative writing students who want to engage with the publishing industry. It also covers writing proposals, building an author platform, residencies, and developing a career. It includes advice on the different ways creative writers can make money. As well as teaching, grants and fellowships, it includes other kinds of writing, such as trade publications and journalism. It’s also bang up-to-date with online, self-publishing and digital developments.

The only downside from my viewpoint is that the UK situation is somewhat different. The scale of publishing and education is much smaller, making it harder to find a niche. Also, the book seems more suited to urban writers. Writers who aren’t in easy reach of publishers, colleges and trade magazines still find it harder to make a living. New forms of connection and networking for the digital age would be a useful addition. The copywriting section is agency-focused rather than freelance-friendly (see How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business). There’s an interesting section on ‘literary citizenship’, which was a concept new to me.

To sum up

Overall, if you prefer a romantic view of the writing life, the discussion of livelihoods and part-time work may be eye-opening! However, if you want a practical take on ways to build a living as a writer, this is for you.

See The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman.

Share with friends