Self-help books are undeniably popular. A certain kind of person likes the reinforcement, no matter how obvious or vague those lessons may be. If you’re that kind of person, great, but if you’re going to read self-help books you might as well read some good ones. On the other hand, if you think all self-help books are corny and overrated, that’s understandable, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. The point being, there are some self-help books that actually do the job. If your job is freelancing, you might not think that a self-help book, even a good one, applies to you. They all pertain only to full-time employees. Well there are books for you too, and the books that pertain to a more traditional career can still be pretty darn useful. If you’re committed to freelancing, then you’re committed to learning no matter the source.


Classics are classics for a reason, and honestly, there hasn’t been all that much innovation in this particular book genre. Reading some of these sacred tomes you’ll notice a lot of the same advice you would see in more current titles. Take solace in this fact. Some career tactics are tried, true, and will probably work forever.


Dr. Stephen R. Covey was a world-renowned authority on leadership and family relations. He was an in-demand speaker, teacher, and organizational consultant in his day. The epitome of his efforts to improve people’s working lives was his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You’ve most likely heard of this book. It was an instant best-seller and is read by everyone from store clerks to presidents.

Covey defines effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results. He promotes what he labels "the character ethic" which is to align one's values with so-called universal and timeless principles. He sees principles as external natural laws, while values remain internal and subjective. One’s goal should be to align these two things, and if they aren’t aligned, Covey states that there will be real-life consequences. Covey presents his teachings in a series of habits, manifesting as a progression from dependence through independence on to interdependence.


This was one of the first big-hit self-help books in history. Written by Dale Carnegie, a self-made entrepreneur and one of the first modern motivational speakers, How To Make Friends and Influence People was published in 1936 and is one of the best-selling books of all time. Carnegie was one of the first to tap into the fact that the average person wanted to be more confident. He wrote this book with that in mind, as well as to educate people on how to use their confidence and what can be achieved with it. The book is broken down into many lists and sections like “bring attention to people’s mistakes indirectly” and “smile.” This makes the book a breeze to get through and easy to remember. Don’t you want to make friends and influence people?


A more modern classic written by Tim Ferriss, one of the preeminent self-help gurus today, The 4-Hour Work Week was kind of a revolution when it came out in 2007. It was very much a reflection of the tumultuous economy of the time. People in mass started to think “why am I in this rat race? The stuff it promised me isn’t even true.” Tim Ferriss made the dream of working outside the lines and still being a success seem possible. The 4-Hour Workweek is still a go-to for freelancers today. The book doesn’t speak to freelancers directly, but does speak to many of the essentials of a freelance life. Ferriss was also one of the first to popularize the idea of mini-retirements spread throughout one's career, rather than one long one at the end.


These books are based on the idea that you are both your greatest asset and your greatest obstacle, a pretty classic notion. While these books may not tread totally new waters, they are backed by real science and psychology which many self-help books cannot claim.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us contradicts the common belief that we are driven, or should be driven by money, security, and other material gain. Referencing a variety of studies done by MIT, best-selling author and longtime marketing and sales expert Daniel Pink, asserts that the old model of motivation only worked for simpler tasks. As our jobs evolved and entailed more creativity, decision making, and logic, Pink determined that the old motivators weren’t’ as effective. In their place, Pink introduces the three elements of new motivation: Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. All of these are things that can be applied to not just work, but all aspects of life. Pink breaks down different techniques one can use to find these elements within yourself and apply them to everyday life.


Despite this book’s corny mid-90’s title, Choose Yourself by successful investor and entrepreneur James Altucher is a surprisingly helpful read. The book sets itself in a chaotic and changing world. Everything we aspired to for “security,” everything we thought was “safe,” no longer is: College. Employment. Retirement. Government. It’s all crumbling.  However true his perception is, it helped him see his own responsibilities. Whenever everything is crashing down around you, you can’t rely on other things or people, so you pick yourself up and dust yourself off because no one else will. Altucher’s new found self-reliance coincided with an economy that featured new tools and forces that have made it possible for individuals to create their own careers, make millions, and change the world without much help. This book will teach you to do just that. With dozens of case studies, interviews, and examples Choose Yourself will help you generate real inward success (personal happiness and health) and outward success (fulfilling work and wealth).


Most of best-selling author Ryan Holiday’s self-books focus on philosophy, psychology and mental health. In his book, Ego Is the Enemy, he uses examples throughout history, from Jackie Robinson to Eleanor Roosevelt to Katherine Graham, to illustrate why Ego is one of our greatest afflictions and how their success is a result of conquering ego. Holiday discusses the human campaign to overcome ego and techniques to complete that goal in our modern era, a period in history that is profoundly focused on our egos.

In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts, says Holiday. In order to accomplish life-changing work, you have to overcome the myriad distractions present in today’s world that try to drown you in a ravine of your own ego.


Freelancing is still a young movement, and thus there aren’t many books or guides on the right and wrong ways to go about it. These are some of the few quality books that can give specific practical advice to young freelancers.


Written by Diane Mulcahy in 2015, The Gig Economy splits itself into three sections: Finding work, managing time and lifestyle, and financial planning. Each section corresponds to a different stage of life (beginning, middle, later). This book is especially suited for people in the middle of their careers thinking about making a switch to freelancing. The advice offered in The Gig Economy focuses less on your work itself, but on your life around work and how you should manage that life differently than you would if you were an employee. Chapters include saving for retirement, maximizing vacation time, and finding insurance plans, and are peppered with stories from real freelancers Diane interviewed. Despite being dense in content, the book is a pretty quick read.


My Creative Side Business is 226 pages long and revolves around 14 interviews with a variety of freelancers in different industries from web design, to photography, to online teaching, to independent hospitality. Written by journalist and marketing professional Monika Kanokova, the book talks about lots of freelancer struggles but focuses primarily on people who have successfully and continually freelanced. The stories told are pretty soup to nuts and start with the freelancer's origins, the roadblocks they’ve faced, and how they’ve arrived at the stable successful career they have.  Each interview is followed by chapters consisting of advice extrapolated and expanded on from that interview.


New Rules of Work was written by Kathryn Minshew and Alexandra Cavoulacos, the founders of, which is a job board/company database/career coaching site/advise blog. The book is very much a reflection of their site and includes, not just specific work advice, but personal exercises one can do to discover their passion. This book is particularly suited for the person recently out of school and trying to find their way. It’s a good book to read if thinking about freelancing.

The book is broken down into three pretty straightforward parts. Part one, “What Do I Actually Want?”, takes you through the process of figuring out your own passions and what field or career might be best for you. Part two, “Making Your Move,” takes you step by step through the best process for finding the best jobs. Part three, “Charting Your Course Through The Modern Workplace,” is all about how to succeed once you’ve landed that dream job. Sections two and three are geared more toward employees, but they're still absolutely useful for freelancers. In fact, section three gives you a pretty good idea of what a full-time workplace is like without having to see it for yourself.

Fortunately, many of these books are quick and easy reads and available in multiple formats.