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Fractured Atlas Book Club: The Freelancer's Survival Guide

This is my eighth monthly book club blog post and I can finally report that, after frequently soliciting reader suggestions, I am able to feature a title that one of our members endorsed and recommends to their friends. I've actually put off reviewing this book on our blog because, when my copy of The Freelancer's Survival Guide first arrived at our office, I was a little daunted by the 612 page size.  The selections that I typically write about have all been 300 pages or less, and I knew that it would take some time to make it all the way through this title.

At long last, almost two months later, I've read this heavy tome cover to cover to let you know that it is more than worth the effort. Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a prolific bestselling writer of both fiction and nonfiction, the-freelancers-survival-guideso you're in good hands as she covers a broad range of topics, from writing a business plan to money management to dealing with failure and beyond. The 612 pages are necessary because she delves deep into the full breadth of subject matter that entrepreneurs need to familiarize themselves with if they are to stand a chance when they strike out on their own. Considering the fact that a lot of these topics are normally dry for the average artist to review (budgets, insurance, etc.), this book is eminently readable due to Rusch's conversational writing style. Most of the chapters started as blog posts on her website and so they are bite-sized - I could usually make it through at least one chapter on a twenty minute subway ride. You also don't need to read the book all the way through (although it's certainly rewarding to do so). Each individual chapter, while building on the content that comes before it, works as a stand-alone lesson so you can bounce around the book as your interests or needs require.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch may be a freelance writer, but this book is for freelancers of all stripes and disciplines. So if you're trying to make it as a photographer or starting your own film production company, you'll find plenty of nuggets of insight in the pages of this book. While I can't hope to address all of the topics that she covers in one blog post, I did want to quickly call out a few of the great takeaways that I gleaned.

Rusch teaches a Master Class with her husband Dean Wesley Smith for mid-career writers who are looking to move to the next level. At the beginning of the class, they have participants complete a financial quiz. She writes:

The classes, composed of already-established professionals, have an average age of 40. The quiz has ten questions - basic questions such as "define net worth" and "explain cash flow."

Most of the students fail. They get one or two questions right, and that's it.

. . .

These are fully functional adults, many with day jobs ... Most have lived away from their parents and have managed their own finances since they were eighteen years old.

While I am reluctant to call myself "fully functional," I'm a little embarrassed to say that even though I've heard the phrases "net worth" and "cash flow" used in a sentence, if someone asked me to define them I certainly could not. (Our Controller will probably kill me for saying this - sorry, Jillian - so maybe next month I should feature a book on accounting or money management for artists!) But I suspect that many, but by no means all, artists that we work with would be in the same boat. If I were to start my own arts business, I know now that I have some pretty basic financial knowledge that I need to master before I can move forward.

I found it fascinating how many pages this book devotes to time management - this topic gets almost as many chapters as money management! When you are your own boss, it's often surprisingly tricky to strike the right balance between your work-life and your home-life, especially when you're working from home. Rusch dedicates a lot of time to asking you to think through some of the big things that you probably wouldn't otherwise carefully consider at the outset: scheduling your own time, being disciplined, and dealing with burnout. In one chapter, she points out that when you are someone else's employee you don't have to create your own job description - which in it's own way is freedom from a special kind of burden in that someone else defines the parameters for your day-to-day activities. As a freelancer, you wear many hats, so many that the word "many" doesn't even begin to describe it. Juggling the competing demands of finances, negotiating contracts, complying with all relevant local/state/federal laws for your business, and THEN actually sitting down and working on your art is a lot to ask for of any human being.

As a Fractured Atlas staffer who has worked in our Insurance program, I read with interest the sections of this book devoted to managing risk and minimizing your own liability. Rusch makes the bold claim that the number one reason that most freelancers' businesses fail is a lack of insurance. "How does a lack of insurance tank a freelancer's business?" she asks. "Easy. All it takes is one catastrophe. Just one. And most people don't make it through life without at least one catastrophe." To a large extent, artists are competent at their craft and our Insurance program has demonstrated time and again to carriers that artists are relatively low-risk businesses to insure. And preparing yourself for a disaster, worst-case-scenario situation doesn't sound fun - in fact it makes me anxious to think about - but it is a necessary step that could make the difference between your freelance business weathering a storm or going belly up when you become a victim of Murphy's Law.

Again, there are so many gems of wisdom in this book that it's impossible for me to convey the full array of topics covered. Many new freelancers often feel overwhelmed as it dawns on them how much they need to know in order to be successful. Well, here's a book that covers almost anything and everything and deserves a space on your bookshelf as an invaluable resource that you will refer to in many different situations.

If you've got a suggestion for a book that has provided you invaluable help in your arts business, don't keep it a secret! We'd love to hear from you with your recommendations. Tweet us, Facebook us, or email your favorite arts-business book title to