Interview: Lisa Merriam

One of the things that amazes me about the freelancers I’ve talked to is how varied their road to success has been. That goes to show you that there are lots of ways to start and keep a freelance writing career.

Lisa Merriam was a brand consultant first and then became a freelancer. She has a variety of impressive writing credentials, and I know you’ll enjoy this interview with her.


Tell us a little bit about what kind of work you did as a brand consultant, and how it helped you start your freelance business.

Writing for a living is a business. Having a strong business background has been critical in knowing how to sell my work, price deliverables, and maintain a healthy client list. One of the things I had to do as a brand consultant was create a voice for the brand I was working with. I learned how to create a personality and a differentiated tone and manner. This skill has truly helped me as a writer. Much of the writing I do in the area of business communications. I have to write from an established brand voice or create one. As a ghost writer, I must discover the voice of the author and write from that place.

You’ve been extremely busy with books and articles like your New York Times bestseller The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Leading from Behind.  Has your experience as an author changed your approach to freelancing at all? Has it opened up opportunities?

Each success builds on the next. When first starting out, I would sometimes take less pay to beef up my portfolio in a given area if that was one that was interesting to me. For instance, in New York, there is a huge market for people who understand financial services. I took on several low-pay projects so that I could shot that experience in my portfolio. My Capital Terror book came from that initial work.

Experience counts for quite a bit–I didn’t know how to price a ghost-written book, for example. I didn’t understand the publishing process either. When approached as a ghost writer now, I can provide advice about process, timing, budget, options, etc. It is a value add for my clients.

You’ve got a varied writing resume, even ghost writing and illustrating a children’s book. How do you decide on the projects you pursue?

I suppose being endlessly curious is one of the driving forces behind my business. I choose projects mostly on what is interesting to me at this point, as long as they pay. As a single mom in Manhattan, I can’t just choose on “interesting.” I sometimes take less interesting projects if the pay is right. A third consideration is the follow-on effect. Will this project lead to additional work from this client? Will it enhance my reputation? Will it add to my portfolio in a direction I want to strengthen?  As for the children’s book, I loved the story, loved the cause (it was for a non-profit), and I had not a clue how to paint a squirrel’s tail in water color. It took me 21 tries before I had one useable illustration. I’m a whiz at painting squirrels now!

LOL – Good to know! Let’s switch gears toward the subject of clients and jobs. In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?

Referrals are best. They are always the best paying projects and lead to the most satisfied clients. I also keep up a blog–I sometimes write about writing (how to write for catalogs, how to write for digital media, how to write for video) and pitch articles for publication. When I get published, I pimp the daylights out of it, asking everyone and their uncle to read the article and comment.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?

I couldn’t answer that, really.

51aGY5kKQlL._SL110_Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?

Strunk & White! 

That’s a great one. It’s high on my list, too.

Where can we find you online?

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