Profile Series: Paul Lima

As part of Five Rivers’ Profile series, we’re pleased to feature our first author interview, with the first author we signed, Paul Lima.

Q: You’ve been writing and teaching about writing professionally now for over 25 years. My understanding is you started out as a copywriter for an electronics company? How does a writer make the leap from a steady, if boring, pay cheque to an independent and successful freelancer?

Paul: A writer makes the leap from a steady, if boring, pay cheque to an independent and successful freelancer with a great deal of trepidation. I had been working full-time for 15 years before making the leap and the first two years were financially tough, even though I was having fun and really felt energized.

In part, I’ve written my books on freelance writing to help new freelancers avoid the mistakes I made, such as lack of focus and inconsistent marketing.

Two years into my freelance writing career I was offered, and accepted, a full-time job as a magazine editor. It was the best thing I did because I lasted three months before I quit. I discovered that I really wanted to be a freelancer and devoted the next year to learning how to do it right by taking courses, reading, and learning how to use my time productively.

Q: Was there ever a ‘gulp’ moment, a moment in those early days you asked yourself if you’d lost your mind?

Paul: I had several gulp moments, such as the first time I was assigned a 2,500-word feature. I had been writing for a number of years but I am not a trained journalist and had never written an article longer than about 900 words. I didn’t know how darned difficult it could be to structure a feature article.

Then there was the first year I did my business taxes. Seeing how little I earned that first year caused me to go ‘gulp.’ I had set no revenue goals and was not tracking my income or expenses. I’ve discovered that understanding the business side of freelancing is almost as important as the writing. In short, I’ve had far fewer gulps since I’ve figured out that I am actually running a small business.

Q: Making the decision to freelance must have required a great deal of preliminary research and planning. Tell us about that process and how that process has evolved over the years.

Paul: Making the decision to freelance should have involved preliminary research and planning. I was winging it for the first two years. But I decided that I really wanted to make a go of it and I took some evening courses, bought some books, joined the Professional Writers Association of Canada… and here I am now writing books on freelance writing and conducting freelance writing seminars.

I believe in continuous learning and networking, so I attend seminars, follow other freelance writers on Twitter, befriended many freelance writers on Facebook and organize a monthly lunch for freelance writers in my neighbourhood.

Q: In those early days you were mostly freelancing for print, as I recall, concentrating on communications technologies, and then the sky fell on that industry. You, in what appears to have become classic Lima fashion, reinvented yourself fairly quickly, survived and made buckets of lemonade out of those lemons. Would you say you have an inherent ability to gauge the health of an industry and make relevant adjustments in your business plan, and if so, is this is a skill you learned, or is it something that just comes naturally?

Paul: I wouldn’t say I have an inherent ability to gauge the health of an industry. My slogan was, “Paul Lima, the dot-com writer” even as the dot-com boom was going bust.

I had stock in Nortel and figured the bust was temporary. Also, the first time I reviewed a Blackberry I wrote this classic line, “It will never catch on.” So I am not prescient. However, I am able to make relevant adjustments in my business plan if things go awry. Having a business vision, business and marketing plans and revenue goals, comparing fiscal reality against projections, and making adjustments as required are things I’ve learned to do.

Talk to any successful business person and they will tell you planning, projecting, and adjusting as may be required are an important part of what they do. Freelancers who understand they are in business, selling a service, can do well.

Q: You’ve pretty much eschewed convention in your career, sitting on panels politely offering a seemingly radical approach to the usual communications and procedural channels of publishing, making statements about hiring editors rather than editors hiring you, turning down a publishing contract with a well-known, established publisher to wade into the perilous waters of self-publishing when you refused to buy into a recognized publishing business plan. There are some who would say such actions are career suicide. But you seem to be alive and prospering. Why has this lack of convention worked for you?

Paul: Now that you put it that way, maybe I am crazy! My business has evolved over the years, all based on my evolving business vision, so it all makes sense to me.

For instance, when I discovered I could earn as much selling 200 copies of my first book, The Six-Figure Freelancer, if I self-published, as I could earn if a publisher sold 2,000 copies, I went the self-publishing route and set a goal of selling 500 books – a goal that I’ve exceeded.

So it made business sense to me to go the self-publishing, or print on demand route. As for hiring editors, sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes. In other words, I did not hire an editor before publishing the first edition, or ‘typo edition,’ as I call it. You live, you learn. Call that my motto. That takes the ability to check your ego at the door and make adjustments while marching forward.

Q: You must lead a life of fairly strict discipline and routine. Would you say that’s the case, or do you simply fly where you will on any given day?

Paul: I am guided by my business vision and business and marketing plans, as well as my revenue targets, which I break down into targets for various categories, such as periodical writing, corporate writing and editing, business writing training, selling my books, and so on. There are days I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants, but if you look back at how I spend my time over a week, month and year, you will see it is almost all focused on making my business vision real.

Q: What would you say are the essential criteria for a writer to succeed as a freelancer?

Paul: Five criteria are essential to the success of freelancers: the ability to write, the ability to focus on the kind of writing you can do and on who you will do it for, the ability to be flexible, the ability to say ‘no’ when it makes sense to do so, and the ability to profitably price your services.

Q: Your career has made another metamorphosis in that you’re now not only offering corporate communication training, but teaching at the University of Toronto, and I believe another course at an accredited college or university. How did that come about?

Paul: I like change and challenges so, over time, my business vision has evolved. I know so many freelancers who are buffeted by the winds of change, often ending up doing work they don’t like. If I wanted to do work that I’d rather not do, I get a full-time job! In other words, I am driving my business. Writing still accounts for over 50% of my business, and sales of my books account for a growing percentage of my writing income, all according to my plan. I enjoy the change of pace that training gives me.

Q: Do you see all these different faces of your career as conflicting or do they all borrow one from the other?

Paul: Since they are all based on my business vision, they all make sense to me. If you look at the trajectory, I am now teaching people how to do the things I’ve done, while still doing them. So the writing and training are all connected.

Q: You’ve had considerable success self-publishing your work, although I understand books is an adjunct to the main thrust of your career focus. Why decide to jump ship and sign a seven book deal with Five Rivers?

Paul: When I discovered that I could earn as much selling 200 copies of my first book if I self-published, as I could if a publisher sold 2,000 copies, as I said I went the print on demand route.

Now that I have 10 books on business writing and the business of freelance writing in circulation, it makes sense for me to earn less per book while finding a publisher who can put most of my books into much wider circulation. In other words, now that I have a critical mass of books available, it makes distribution and financial sense to have a publisher pick up the titles so we can sell more books that I could on my own. I like the print on demand publishing model that Five Rivers uses. It reflects my philosophy of earning revenue one book at a time instead of filling basements full of books you hope will eventually sell. I consider Five Rivers more a business partner than publisher, even though the company is my publisher.

Q: When not leaping tall buildings as a writer and instructor, what fills Paul Lima’s time? What does Paul Lima do to decompress

Paul: Many freelance writers will tell you they have something called “work/life integration.” We love what we do so much that it almost doesn’t feel like work. Having said that, I walk my dog once a day for an hour or two — every day, rain, sleet, hail, snow or glorious sunshine. It’s a great mental break.

I also enjoy good movies and dining out now and then. I make sure I take time off in summer, often going someplace where there are few distractions so I can just sit. And I shut down for the last half of December, making that family time and me time.

Q: And the future? Where do you plan on going from here?

Paul: Ah, actors and directors hate it when they launch a movie and a reporter says, “Nice flick. So what’s next?” For me, it’s going to do more of the same: writing and training. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, if I won a lottery I’d most likely spend my time writing and training. Okay, I’d take longer vacations too, but writing and training is what I do, it’s what I’ve chosen to do.

I don’t have any more books in me–10 is enough–but with the seven-book deal with Five Rivers, I look forward to seeing my books in wider circulation and I look forward to helping in the promotion of the books.
Paul Lima can be found at

Of Paul’s books Five Rivers presently has available How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days. The remainder of his books are presently undergoing revision and will be released throughout 2010 and 2011. Current copies of Paul’s books can be found through major online retailers globally in both print and eBook, select Indigo/Chapters stores, the Espresso Channel, Five Rivers and directly through the author.

How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days
ISBN 9780973927849

(re)Discover the Joy of Creative Writing
ISBN 978098563003
Release date: May 1, 2010
(replaces first edition, ISBN 9780980986914)

Harness the Business Writing Process
ISBN 9780986563010
Release date: June 1, 2010-03-10
(replaces first edition, ISBN 9780980986921)

Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing
Release date: December 1, 2010-03-10
(replaces first edition)

Copywriting that Works
Release date: March 1, 2011
(replaces first edition)

How to Write Media Releases to Promote Your Business, Organization or Event
Release date: July 1, 2011
(replaces first edition)

Do You Know Where Your Website Ranks?
Release date: October 1, 2011
(replaces first edition)

Build a Better Business Foundation
Release date: January 1, 2012
(replaces first edition)