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Making Money in Technical Writing

Making Money in Technical Writing, Peter Kent, MacMillan General Reference USA, New York, 1998, 280 p., paper, $16.95 US/$23.95 Canada, ISBN 0-02-861883-1

Most technical writers would like more money and more respect. Reading this book may help you get both. It could certainly help you to earn more and the respect will probably go along with that.

Making Money in Technical Writing is an updated edition of Peter Kent’s Technical Writer’s Freelancing Guide. According to the introduction: "The main topic of this book is how to use your technical writing skills to build a freelance career, but I will also explain how to get those skills in the first place. You will find out how much money technical writers make, what they do, and how they came to be technical writers (it’s remarkably easy for a determined newcomer to enter the profession). If you are not already a technical writer, you will learn how to become one. If you are a technical writer, you will learn how to double or triple your income."

That’s a pretty strong promise, but Kent makes it sound, if not easy, at least possible.

The first section of the book provides an overview of the technical writing profession, describes how to get started as a technical writer, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of freelancing, and shows to calculate how much you should be billing based on you existing salary.

The following sections outline Kent’s three-step process for becoming a successful freelancer.

There is much advice about working with agencies. Kent provides descriptions of the different types of agencies, tips on getting and negotiating contracts, and how to make sure that you’re getting the best rate. The final section explains how to make the jump from being a contractor to being a consultant, where you define your projects and work for top dollar. As well, there are chapters about working online and breaking into the magazine and book markets.

The book also includes appendices that provide a checklist for contractors and lists of publications, organizations, and other resources.

I found the book highly readable and interesting. It’s logically organized and covers its material quite thoroughly. Kent has strong opinions on some subjects, but he backs them up with facts and experience.

Canadian readers will find that bout one third of the book is going to be useless or irrelevant for Canadians, in particular the discussions of taxes, benefits, health and disability insurance, and employment standards. An appendix dealing with Canadian issues would have made this book more useful for those of us north of the border. I would have also like to have seen a discussion of the issues involved in working across borders; this would have been useful to both American and Canadian readers.

That aside, it’s hard to imagine a technical writer who couldn’t find something useful and worthwhile in this book. It should be especially useful o anyone who is trying to break into the field, to salaried writers considering making a move to freelancing, or to freelancers who want to improve their incomes.


Keith Soltys -- ksoltys@home.com,

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