A Hard Way, But the Best Way: James Reasoner on Freelancing
Texas-novelist James Reasoner has published more than 250 books under at least three dozen different names. Why lead with the numbers? Because this is an interview about freelance writing and when you add the quantity with the unimpeachable quality of the books, it goes a long way toward conveying how hard Reasoner works. And he works hard not just because it’s a living, but because he loves writing books.
It’s a good time to be a James Reasoner fan. He’s regularly contributing new novels to established series (such as Longarm as by Tabor Evans), writing Westerns under his own name, and reprinting his backlist in e-book formats. This month saw the release of Redemption Kansas, a novel with all the edge, all the switchback plotting, tight prose, and vivid characters of a Reasoner classic.
Below, Reasoner talks about the pros and cons of being a full-time freelance writer.
How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?
James Reasoner: I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 1987. Before that I had periods when I was writing full-time but then would have to find a job when the work dried up for a while. I also owned a couple of used bookstores during the mid-Eighties but closed them both when the writing began to support us. Since ’87 I’ve been writing novels and short stories.
What is a typical day like for you? How is it different than a traditional “day job”?
James Reasoner: I’m at the computer producing new pages about eight hours a day, usually four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon. Research, editing, plotting, all those things are worked in whenever I can, around the pages. I never really had a traditional day job, since I usually worked in bookstores and video stores.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?
James Reasoner: I had already been writing part-time with some success before I became a full-time freelancer, so I knew most of the pitfalls already. I’m not sure I completely realized how inconsistent the income would be, though.
What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?
James Reasoner: As alluded to above, waiting to be paid is probably the most frustrating thing for me about freelancing. On several occasions, books I’ve written have been published and on the stands before I ever received any money for them. From talking to other writers, I know they’ve experienced this, too. Luckily, it’s rare. Most of the time the publishers do a pretty good job of getting the money out.
What’s the best part?
James Reasoner: The freedom. I work really hard, probably harder than I would at anything else, but I do it on my own schedule. That allowed me to be a big part of my children’s lives when they were growing up, and it still allows me to help out with the rest of my family when I need to.
Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?
James Reasoner: Not a specific project, but I’ve written more than a million words of fiction each of the past six years and there’s no way I could have done that if I’d been working a full-time job.
A salary… is it friend or foe?
James Reasoner: Every writer is going to have to decide that. There have been plenty of times I’ve wished that I had some money coming in on a regular basis . . . but in the end I’d prefer to freelance and keep that freedom.
Any parting words? Words of encouragement or caution?
James Reasoner: Know what you’re getting into. It’s a hard way to make a living. But for me it’s the best way. It might be for you, too.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.