Bowerman clearly loves what he does for a living, and not just because it keeps him well-fed. These days all writers need to be cognisant of audience, and willing to sell their talents in one way or another. Although Bowerman clearly identifies the benefits both in pay rates and lifestyle of becoming a freelance commercial writing (if you aren’t already a freelance commercial writer and you read this book, you will be extremely tempted, trust me), but much of what this book is about will be applicable very broadly, whether it involves cold calling bookshops about that new novel, or simply writing in a way which will appeal to the greatest audience possible.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Well-Fed Writer Back for Seconds
by Peter Bowerman
Trade Paperback, ISBN 09670598-5-2, November 2004, 284 pages, RRP $19.95
The Well-Fed Writer is a seminal book that has changed the way in which commerical writing is viewed by writers. It’s impact has been so powerful, that even the most erudite writer (for example, professional poets or academic historians) will find themselves considering the viability of commercial work after reading it. It helps that Bowerman’s prose is smooth as silk, extraordinarily positive and empowering, and as relaxed as a party conversation. The Well-Fed Writer has now been on the market for four years, and I’m sure that the number of starving writers has decreased dramatically. While Back for Seconds is probably not going to drive the kind of mass ephiphany of The Well-Fed Writer, Bowerman has done an excellent job of building on his first book to produce one which both complements, and extends the impact. As Bowerman says, this is a completely new book. For those who haven’t read The Well Fed Writer, Appendix A provides a very brief Cliff Notes style encapsulation which outlines such things as why you might want to pursue commercial writing (hint, the pay rates tend to exceed $80 an hour, the hours are flexible, and the work is varied enough to keep it interesting), how to put together a portfolio, who might hire you, and how to get started. While Appendix A isn’t a replacement for the full Well Fed Writer book, it does provide a good sense of the background to Back for Seconds.
Back for Seconds may still convince writers that commercial writing is something that they can, and perhaps should, do. But it doesn’t cover the same ground as The Well-Fed Writer. Back for Seconds isn’t a how-to get set up book, which is exactly what The Well-Fed Writer was. Instead, it takes the key main concepts further by interviewing a very wide range of experts: some who’ve been doing commercial writing for years, and some who’ve only just taken it up, sharing techniques which work and which don’t work, stories, anecdotes, ideas, and suggestions. There is also extensive advice on how to obtain customer through sales and marketing, something which writers tend to be uncomfortable with. Bowerman draws on his own extensive experience to show readers exactly how to make cold calls, and why it is important to distinguish yourself from the type of obnoxious telemarketers which have given the whole notion of cold calling a bad name. In one of the most critical chapters of the book, Bowerman also talks about how to sell yourself by focusing on the audience and showing them benefits rather than features. The examples, questions, and suggestions in this chapter are ones which will prove useful throughout any writer’s career whether writing for a large corporation or setting up your own website. The eleven “Discovery Questions” are ones which could provide the basis for almost any kind of advertisement, newsletter, or even a simple marketing campaign. As with all of the book, Bowerman’s own advice is followed up by some reasonably detailed advice from experienced commercial writers who talk about what sales mean to them, along with their best advice. Some of the tips are quite ingenious, such as gently working a client up the “yes” ladder.
This book also takes an in-depth look at using the Internet, basic requirements for becoming a freelance commercial writer, specific instructions on how to do cold calling, and other forms of marketing, how to extend your market with Not-For-Profits (you still profit), parts of companies not usually targeted, schools, and smaller markets. Other chapters address how to set up a part-time business (which is very appropriate for those not willing to give up that day job, or who want to do other forms of writing), why the economy isn’t an issue for freelance commercial writers, and in another chapter which is, alone, worth the cost of the book, Bowerman provides some simple, but very effective ways of making your writing better and how to write specifically for the web. While there are very many books which do this kind of thing in much greater detail than Back for Seconds, what makes this chapter so valuable is the succinctness of Bowerman’s suggestions and and the way in which his years as a commercial writer have honed his focus towards the customer/audience. The principles apply in any kind of writing, and are surprisingly easy to follow (you don’t need an MFA!). There are plenty of sidebars, point by plans, website links, little articles, and humorous but related interludes such as a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to self-publish his memoirs, and a little song about the fear of sales sung to the tune of Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Bowerman clearly loves what he does for a living, and not just because it keeps him well-fed. These days all writers need to be cognisant of audience, and willing to sell their talents in one way or another. Although Bowerman clearly identifies the benefits both in pay rates and lifestyle of becoming a freelance commercial writing (if you aren’t already a freelance commercial writer and you read this book, you will be extremely tempted, trust me), but much of what this book is about will be applicable very broadly, whether it involves cold calling bookshops about that new novel, or simply writing in a way which will appeal to the greatest audience possible. The combination of humour, and a significant amount of varied information makes this a pleasurable book to read, an easy book to reference, and one which most certainly has the power to change your life.