An editor or client will likely ask for your fee someday. It’s a heady moment, but keep your wits about you. You don’t want to mess this up, especially if the project will take awhile, or represents a stepping stone to more work.
If your rate’s too low, you will likely get the green light; however, you may not make enough money. If you aim too high, you may lose this opportunity or the client may not be willing to work with you again. He may swallow hard and pay the fee this time with the thought that you’re ‘too rich for my blood.’
Prevent these scenarios by naming a fair price.
Determine what you need per hour. If making $55 or $75 per hour based on a 40-hour work week is what you need to make a living and run your business, then ask for it. I don’t advise quoting clients an hourly rate because they’ll have no idea how long it will take you to write it. This is just one step in the process of developing a per-project rate.
Some new writers are amazed that $55 or $75 an hour is a reasonable fee. Unscrupulous editors compare freelance writing with being a secretary or some other type of employment; however, this is inaccurate. The secretary’s company pays for her desk, hardware, software, supplies, utilities, and benefits. That’s in addition to the secretary’s hourly wage. You’re a sole proprietor, not an employee. Your hourly rate should be similar to that of a service-based company.
The secretary’s hourly wage would not adequately cover administrative time where you’re doing writing-related tasks, but not actually writing (such as filing, searching for more work, and organizing your desk). You’ll also need more to pay for the cost of business-related services (Internet connection, phone, anti-virus subscription and other software) supplies (paper, envelopes, ink) and wear and tear on equipment you’ll have to eventually replace.
I find that this kind of administrative overhead uses about one-third of my income, but I run a pretty tight operation. Don’t forget Uncle Sam will take another one-third or so.
You need to receive money above that: profit. Yes, profit! This is a business, remember? You need to build into your fee about 20 percent profit to set aside in an emergency fund. You might need it to keep your business going for awhile. Save up six months’ income, ideally.
Pay yourself a salary for your personal expenses and health care premiums (some insurers allow you to pay premiums pre-tax through the business as a sole proprietor; others don’t).
Of course, your salary should reflect your experience and education. If you’re still building a portfolio, you cannot command the same salary as someone who has been writing for several years and has bylines in national publications or who has interviewed well-known experts or who has completed projects for prestigious clients. Like any other industry, there is a certain amount of paying your dues and working your way up. It’s a rare writer who can write exceptionally well from the start.
A small factor is your location. Generally, freelancers in a big city can charge more than in the boonies, but as business has become globalized with the click of a mouse, location influences the fee less. For the sake of local clients, research what other freelancers in your area charge. Don’t grossly undersell them or you will look like an amateur.
Since I’m not counting weekends, eight holidays, 10 vacation days, and five sick days, and there are 204 workdays a year. If you divide your desired annual salary by 204, that gives you an idea of what you should charge per workday. Divide that by eight (if you write eight-hour days) and that’s how much you need to make per hour for your salary. Add to that another two-thirds plus another five percent for profit, and you’ll have a pretty reasonable hourly rate.
Estimate how long it will take you to write it. This is the tricky part. It is very important to know the scope, length and slant of the project. Light proof reading can take very little time compared with a piece full of errors. A magazine article that requires multiple sources, a couple sidebars and your own photos will take much longer than a one-source Q&A piece. Writing a brochure based upon materials and testimonials the company provides will take much less time than if you must do all the research and interviews. Discuss the project with the client so you can both be clear on what’s included and expected and you can avoid time-sapping rewrites.
Periodical editors usually expect revisions as part of the process and don’t pay extra; however, for business-to-business projects such as brochures, specify how many revisions you’re willing to do before you will charge an additional fee.
Your own background experience with the subject matter and the type of writing the project requires will make a difference in how quickly you can turn it around.
I have about 900 consumer health article bylines and feel pretty comfortable writing these kinds of pieces. But writing on nuclear fission for the scientific community would present a huge learning curve to me. I wouldn’t object to attempting such a piece if I had good contacts and background information, but the price had better be right.
Allow a little extra wiggle room. Some people hiring writers assume this transaction is like buying a used car, where dickering is part of striking a deal. So once you multiply your hourly rate by how long you believe it will take you to write the piece, add to that amount about five to 10 percent more to in case he wants to talk you down. A little padding will also ensure a profit margin in case your time estimate is wrong.
Charge extra for tight deadlines. It’s only fair to charge 15 to 20 percent more for epic efforts to turn a project around with little warning. Just negotiate an extra fee in advance.
Consider giving volume discounts. For some very large projects, charging the hourly rate would make the overall cost so high that it will be hard to win the work. For example, charge your regular rate for the first 10 pages of web copy and offer a discount of 10 percent for each subsequent page. Your client may feel more inclined to have you write more pages for this project if it will cost him less.
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant has written for WritersWeekly before. She regularly writes for several regional and national publications; creates web copy and PR materials directly for companies and as a subcontractor for marketing firms; pens occasional works of fiction; and edits articles, screenplays and resumes. She has been writing fulltime since 2000. Visit her online at http://www.skilledquill.net or join her as a Cheap Chow Hound at for original recipes and tips for saving money on food.