5 Books Every Freelance Writer Should Read.

You are going to be surprised by this list. If you want to build a successful writing career in 2015, all of these books could be a huge asset for you. I’ve built my writing career based on the ideas in these boks. They’re not your typical books about writing.

These books are all about getting results. In general, these books are not about improving your writing.

Success as a freelance writer largely depends on your ability to market yourself and your writing. If you want a stable writing career and good clients, your success will largely be determined by your ability to find clients. That takes marketing and strategy.  There’s no other way to do it, unless you’re incredibly lucky. And even if you are incredibly lucky, you’ll be even more lucky with the right knowledge applied at the right time.

1. Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples was first published in 1964. I credit this book to much of my success with internet marketing and writing for the internet.

Most people think I’m crazy. How could a book from 1964 be so helpful? The answer is simple: Old school direct mail advertising is nearly identical to internet advertising in several important ways. Direct mail advertising is all about getting the reader to take action. The same is true with internet marketing. And it’s absolutely true with most good writing. If your writing moves people to act, you know you’ve done a good job. This book will show you how to do that.

2. The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss was definitely published in the age of the internet. When I first read it, I had already built myself a business that let me work just 4 hours a week. I spent a lot of time writing poetry. I also spent a fair amount of time working. I falsely believed that I had to at least try to work 8 hours a day, like everybody else.

The book gave me the confidence to know that I don’t have to work hard in order to succeed. I stopped stressing about whether I should work eight hours a day.

This book helped me realize how important it is to work smart. If you work smart, you don’t have to work hard. You get to make choices. I currently work a lot more than four hours a week, but I work on my own terms. And that gives me a lot of joy.

3. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. This is one of my all time favorite books. It’s a memoir by a former chess champion who decided to become a martial arts champion. He succeeded. It’s both a great read and full of valuable ideas.

One idea has stuck with me for a long time. It’s called “smaller circles.” The idea is simple. Martial artists often have what seems to be a “magical” ability to make their opponents fly. With just a small movement, a skilled martial artist can push someone, and make them fly ten feet away.

How is this possible? By slowly honing a very specific skill, until they are so good at it that it seems impossible. I’ve built much of my career by getting very good as certain specific types of writing. For example, I’m very good at writing text for email sign up pages. I’ve written such pages that get 85% of visitors to sign up. This used to seem impossible to me. But, because I’ve continually worked on improving this aspect of my writing, I now achieve such results regularly.

4. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. This book gives you 2 questions that you’ll need to answer before you find success as a freelance writer. The first questions is this: “Where do I want to play?” If you want to play basketball, you need to play on a basketball court. Better yet, you want to play on home court. The same is true of freelance writing. You want to carefully choose your market. What kind of writing career do you want? Who are your competitors?

This leads to the second question: “How will I win?” By focusing on a winning strategy, you’ll know you have a path to success. Spend time answering these questions. Think about how they interact with each other. Define winning. Define the game you want to play. And give yourself a strategy that will let you win.

For freelance writers, these are especially important questions. Think about it this way: There are countless people who want to make a living as a poet. But, the odds of this are rather low. There are very few jobs for poets. But, there are jobs. For example, most successful poets make their living as professors.

It is extremely rare to make a living selling your poetry; it is rare, but less rare, to make your living as a professor, while still being a poet. When you’re trying to achieve your dreams, go for the path of least resistance. Don’t water down your dreams, but don’t fight battles that aren’t necessary.

Another way to think about this: You’re unique. You’re different than me, and different than everybody else. That means that what works for me won’t work for you. I’ve managed to combine my skill as a computer programmer with my skill as a writer.

This combination has allowed me to build my business. It might not be the right combination for you. What skills do you have, or want to develop, that can give you a unique advantage? When planning your strategy, plan to “play a game” that works for you, based on your unique strengths.

5. The Davinci Code by Dan Brown. This is a thoroughly mediocre book.  But it is magical. I read it in one sitting. My wife read it in one sitting. Many of my friends read it in one sitting. Any piece of writing that can hold so many people’s attention, for so long, should be thoroughly studied. It may be a mediocre book, but it has power. If you can understand and harness that power with your writing, you will be able to accomplish a great deal. This is true even if you are writing non-fiction articles. Many writers have built their careers by learning how to create engaging articles. Read this book. Study how Dan Brown did it. And harness that power in your own writing.

Have you read any of these books? What books would you recommend to your fellow writers? Share in the comments below.


Jacob Jans
Freedom With Writing

Your Comments:

  1. Nicky says:

    I highly recommend:

    On Writing by Stephen King
    Elements of Style by Strunk and White
    The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
    The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
    Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer
    Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Bob Bly

    • Jacob says:

      Great list! I just ordered a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the book.

    • Chris says:

      Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read about writing. If I feel like I’m flagging I read some of the book and then I’m up and off again.

  2. Norfleet Griffin says:

    May I ask you why you believe that The DaVinci Code is mediocre? I found it to be well researched, intricately plotted, and devilishly clever. I am not, by any means, disparaging your opinion, I am just curious as to why this novel constitutes mediocre status in your summation? Thank you for the “5 Books” insight.

    • Jacob says:

      Good question! While the book was incredibly engaging, research, plotted, and even clever, I found it ultimately rather shallow. It was a great read, but it didn’t stick with me. Good books are both engaging and deeply meaningful. I just didn’t connect with the ideas behind the book — even though I was thoroughly engaged while reading the book.

  3. Bill A says:

    The Davinci Code by Dan Brown, is a remarkable book.I am dyslexic and found this book one of those I could not put down.
    I have always marveled at those who could get lost in a book.I grew up around readers.Struggles with being still,keeping mind still and then remembering what I read.This book was like a bag of fresh pop corn,I could not stop until it ended.

  4. Mike Fahrlander says:

    Bird By Bird – Anne Lamott

    • Lura says:

      Yes! Bird by Bird is my favorite writing book. I’ve read all of it twice, and bits and pieces several more times.

  5. Rand B. Lee says:

    The best book on writing I know is “If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland. Written in the Thirties, it is still in print and available on Amazon. Ueland’s premise, born of experience teaching night classes on writing to working class people, is that everyone has something important to say, and that everyone can write well if they find their true voice. Very inspiring.

  6. Karen says:

    Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)
    Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones (both by Natalie Goldberg)

  7. Connie McKinney says:

    Another classic writing book is “On Writing Well” by William Zissner.

  8. Sally says:

    Good list except for The Davinci Code. I got halfway through it, called a well-respected writer friend and asked, “…do I have to finish this book?” “NO” she said. I found it weak, poorly written, boring and a waste of time.

    • debvanzelfden says:

      It’s a classic case of story over structure. It’s a good story but a poorly structured novel. Best writing book out there is Stephen Kings “On Writing Well.”

  9. Sally says:

    I disliked The Four Hour Work Week. It did nothing for me in terms of writing. Yeah, OK, of course we want to “work smart” but this book seems more appropriate for the Suits. To me, the book has no soul. I’m glad to have donated it to the local public library.

    • Helen says:

      I completely agree with you Sally. The essence of the book is ‘find some things to flog online, then pay some people in India or the Philippines a pittance to do all the work while you cream off the profits.’

  10. Rebecca says:

    Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block

  11. Mary says:

    Though a very old book,I still recommend A WRITER’S TIME. Still represents the bones of discipline and sstructure.

  12. Kari says:

    Thank you for these recommendations….I’m excited to try them. I’m with a majority of the commentors – Stephen King’s On Writing is great. Also, The Art of War by Steven Pressfield is one of the best I’ve ever read.

    • Sue Wilhite says:

      Ah, finally! Thank you for mentioning Steven Pressfield – I try to put his book in people’s hands several times a month. I also recommend The Well-Fed Writer by Bowerman. Whereas Pressfield gets into the heart of writing, Bowerman gives you the practical nuts and bolts of creating a business with writing.

    • Kari says:

      That should have been . . . The War of Art…sorry!

    • Todd E. Van Dell says:

      I had to chip in on this. I just recently finished reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art myself.

      Wonderful little book, very easy to read, and a lot of truly great, valuable advice in it. I thought the ideas were all perfectly sound.

      As I got to the end of it, as much as I loved the way the title so cleverly plays on The Art of War by Sun Tzu, I felt that an even better title for the book could have been the War of Life.

      Because, for me at least, even though it’s directed to artistic types of all stripes (not just writers), a significant amount of the advice could easily be appropriate applied to anyone. I felt like any life would be greatly improved reading it.

      (It almost seems a shame that its audience could wind up limited just to artistic types. I felt like it really transcends that somewhat narrow restriction.)

      I also loved On Writing by Stephen King. I had two copies of it (until I lost all my books in a storage unit auction in October).

      One copy for what was supposed to be my permanent reading library, and a paperback version to mark up with notes in the margins and favorite passages highlighted throughout.

      Sadly, I also lost a literally brand new edition of Danse Macabre, one of Stephen King’s earlier books on writing. I hadn’t finished reading it before the storage unit went on the auction block (unpaid rent).

      There was something of a companion book to On Writing, I think titled Secret Windows, that contained several short articles by Stephen on the various things that have happened to him over his years as a writer.

      Like, the sometimes strange questions he gets at public appearances and so forth.

      Secret Windows had a wonderful, rather extended chapter plucked from Danse Macabre, which I enjoyed reading so much it made me want to locate the whole book and get my own copy.

      Of course, Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a long-time favorite.

      I found the book The Right to Write by Julia Cameron extremely intriguing, too.

  13. Kathleen Poole says:

    I’ve been thinking that studying Diana Gaboldon’s Outlander books would be a good idea. Everything is a scene. Dan Brown is the master of cliff hangers. Studying his book is a great idea.

  14. anitha says:

    Nice list. Could you pls recommend books on grammar? Books that teach how to avoid awkward phrasing and similar errors?

  15. Sally Ferguson says:

    For the Write Reason ~ Marybeth Whalen
    The Art of War for Writers ~ James Scott Bell
    WriterSpeaker.com ~ Carmen Leal
    Writers on Writing ~ James N. Watkins

  16. Linda says:

    On Writing by Stephen King
    Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

    • Debi says:

      Writing Down the Bones is the best…I take it with me on writing adventures now and then and refer back to it repeatedly!

  17. LisaNYC says:

    Great list. Thank you. One of the greatest books on writing is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.” Check it out, you’ll love it.

  18. Kerry says:

    It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. by June Casagrande.

  19. Helen says:

    Forget about the 4 hour work week. The essence of the book is ‘find some things to flog online, then pay some people in India or the Philippines a pittance to do all the work while you cream off the profits.’
    I would recommend ‘Creative Recovery’ by Eric Maisel and Susan Raeburn. It’s not just for addicts, it gives practical exercises for setting up good habits.

  20. Duncan says:

    Wow!…Great combination there, I thank you for that.For me have read Davince Code and it was captivating to the end.As an upcoming writer, I stand at crossroads trying to figure out what niche suits me…What can one do if you are torn in between different categories and not sure what to pick?
    Thank you

  21. Dian Griffin Jackson says:

    On Writing by Stephen King
    Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
    The best way to become a great writer is to write.

  22. Erin says:

    I have to agree that the Davinci Code is a mediocre book that contained several writing flaws that would have precluded its publication if the overall story wasn’t so well crafted.

    As for helpful books, I also like the Steven King novel but as a resource, I would recommend the Flip Dictionary which is a combination of dictionary, thesaurus, and resource list. For example, if you are writing about mountain climbing you can look up mountain climbing and find a complete list of tools used when mountain climbing. I use it for both freelance and fiction writing.

  23. Altam Enoch Dwachem says:

    This is a place to be.It’s educating!

  24. Karen Crider says:

    I appreciate your input. I have been writing since a child and get very excited when words come together and play nice. I am a children’s writer and poet. I also do short stories and memoirs, poetry and have my first novel done. It is called The Birds Have Nests, and is not out yet. Thanks. karen

  25. Tywana Royal says:

    I read Davinci Code by Dan Brown and it was awesome.

  26. April says:

    Simplest yet deepest read , The Alchemist

  27. Cynthia says:

    You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford

Leave a Reply

Add your insights, criticisms, thoughts, opinions, or responses to the article.


We send you writing jobs.

Sign up and we'll send you 3 companies hiring writers now. Plus, we'll send more companies as we find and review them. All in our free email magazine.

We're the magazine for freelance writers.

We send you companies hiring writers.

Subscribe and we'll send you 3 companies hiring right now.

We'll also send you a guide that gets you started.

We're completely free.

Subscribe now. (It's free.)


About Us

We're dedicated to helping freelance writers succeed. We send you reviews of freelance writing companies, assignments, and articles to help build your writing career. You can view our privacy policy here, and our disclaimer. To get started, simply enter your email address in the form on this page.