Building A Publishing Services Business

Editor’s Note: Our next story comes from a frustrated writer who discovered the grass was greener on the other side of the desk – and started her own freelance publishing services practice…

Self-publishing my books became the only option that worked for me after meeting with a literary agent and publisher that wanted to change key elements of the manuscript I presented. Their ideas didn’t fall in line with what I had in mind as the author.

I took the plunge 6 years ago to start a publishing company and retain creative control. The business model has shifted to offer publishing services a la carte turning into a high paying part-time gig.

How I Got Started

After publishing three books, I’ve learned an assortment of marketable skills over 18 months of writing, editing, designing, publishing, and marketing these manuscripts. Deciding to shift my focus to simply selling the skills at a higher rate than I was selling the actual books seemed like a much better way to use my time. Having the books in my hand served as the foundation of my portfolio to show potential clients the kind of work I was capable of. If you’ve never published, think about what you’re good at and create small samples to showcase your talents.

Where To Get Clients

After a lot of time and research figuring out who my customers were, I discovered where to find them. Here are my Best Ways To Land Clients with their pros and cons from my experiences:


UpWork has gone through a lot of changes since I’ve signed up years ago. It’s gone from a free-for-all to making freelancers pay to submit proposals to gigs. However, if you’re willing to pay for the bevy of clients at your fingertips, it’s not a bad place to learn the ropes of what to ask for and look for in clients.


  • There’s an abundance of clients looking for freelancers of all kinds to help achieve their goals.
  • The rating system allows you to see how clients communicate with previous freelancers what they need for the job and their expectations. If they don’t have any ratings it’s a bit harder to judge, but you can always gauge their communication skills before you accept any contract.
  • As long as you accept the contract with the client and turn the work in, you get paid even if the client stops communicating with you.


  • Due to the over-saturation of freelancers, a lot of clients want to pay pennies on the dollar for work that can take you days or weeks to complete.
  • One bad experience can tank your rating as a freelancer and limit the higher-paying clients from wanting to take a chance on you.
  • UpWork’s cut of 20% of mediocre paying gigs can be discouraging.

Overall, keep a strong rating along with a healthy and constantly updated portfolio of samples to show clients why you command a higher rate than the average freelancer on the site.


Similar to the Wild West, this site doesn’t have much in regulations and presents some red flags to doing business, but the potential is there. Landing a high-paying client here gave me the confidence to analyze the actual costs of doing business and charge clients realistic fees for my time, talent, and production speed.

The best part about this site is you can charge whatever you want for the services you offer and you have the opportunity to do business locally meeting your clients face to face. Make sure to create an engaging post with pictures to draw clients in and be prepared to send them samples of your previous work to show why you’re charging the higher rate for the work you want to do for them currently.

The bad part comes in dealing with strangers who are unpredictable, weeding out the scammers, and having contracts in place to ensure you get paid.

Social Media

In a world where everything costs something, social media gives you a never-ending platform of free marketing. Posting regularly to keep followers engaged will have them ready to buy whatever you’re selling. This presents the same challenges as Craigslist but you have a much larger audience to search for clients.

Targeting specific groups, especially those catering to authors who need publishing services and advice, on sites like Facebook and Goodreads can give you access to people who all become potential clients. You don’t want to start every conversation or post with a sales pitch. Interacting regularly lets other users build their confidence and trust in you so when you pitch a freelance publishing solution to something they mentioned it doesn’t come off pushy.

Working Around the City

This may not work if you’re not in a highly-populated city. However, working on different items like editing a manuscript or working on a mock-up of a book cover in a place where people can pass by and see you what you’re working on draws the attention to you. You don’t have to pitch anything, just have a friendly smile and welcoming demeanor that says you’re open for conversation.

For this kind of client search, it’s best to have a blog or website with your portfolio of work samples and a business card that directs those interested to that site. Exchanging contact information is a good start, but make sure you follow up with anyone you speak with. Mention something detailed about your interaction and turn that into a proposal for your services.

Here Are My Takeaways

Trying to determine my rate was hard in the beginning because I didn’t have any experience as a freelancer. After starting my own publishing company and putting out three books, I learned how long it would take to complete every task needed to bring a book from a plot idea to something a customer can read and hold in their hand. The better and faster I got with my turnaround time, the more clients came back to me. I was able to leverage those relationships as references for new clients. I also used their projects to give me ideas for new portfolio samples.

Charging a premium rate for publishing services is a win-win for me and my client as they don’t want to put in the same hours of research, and trial and error, it took me to learn whatever they’re asking me to do. One horrible experience taught me to ask for a deposit for my services upfront, and never deliver the final and finished product until the final payment has been received.

The takeaway from all of this is:

  • Structure contracts in staggered milestones so that you can get paid for work done along the way and make sure to take a deposit of at least 20% at the beginning of the job.
  • Use your previous clients to curate samples for your portfolio and ask if they can be used as a reference.
  • Use social media and other resources around you to look for opportunities to pitch your services. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay for security and peace of mind of guaranteed payment on sites specially designed for freelancers to find work.

Last, but never least, your hourly rate is as high as your experience plus portfolio samples plus time to complete the job. Don’t forget to add in additional costs to cover third-party expenses into your fees. For example, fees to get ISBN numbers or copyrights cost money to pay the agencies and companies that issue them. If you can add references, that can add a few extra dollars to your rate too.