If you’re serious about a successful freelance writing career, you need to offer your clients a variety of services — even if you are a niche writer. When I entered the freelance writing business as a copywriter, for instance, I quickly learned that clients expected across-the-board expertise in Kickstarter copy, sales copy and About pages of me. I’ve seen professional speechwriters with primary expertise at writing speeches and wedding toasts accepting training in the art of effective Facebook and Twitter posting,and writing dating profiles.
When you deal in multiple areas of writing skill, though, it can be difficult to keep up with what the going rates are.
The first rule of the writing game: context changes everything
One of the first rules of the freelance writing game that new writers need to absorb is this: the rates to charge bear little relation to the actual effort that you put in. Wedding toasts, for instance, tend to be short; nevertheless, it is customary to charge hundreds.
Routine work such as website copy tends to cost far less. Nevertheless, you do need to know how you’re supposed to arrive at a quote — do you charge by the word, for instance, or is it okay to charge by the hour or by the project? Who determines what charges are reasonable?
It’s important to keep yourself updated
A number of competing philosophies exist on how best to set your own freelance writing rates; different types of writing gig simply work on different conventions. It makes a lot of sense to read up about the conventions followed, and to make sure that you know how these change over time. You don’t want to shortchange yourself or price yourself out of reach. If you’re new to the business, you should do what I did — you should consult industry resources.
The chart on EFA
The Editorial Freelancers Association is a nonprofit that offers online education for writers, a jobs board, and an email information letter. A well-respected list of rates for different kinds of writing jobs makes it easy to determine how much to charge, whether you need to work as a translator or as a PR writer. You do need to be a member in order to see the list.
Consult Writers’ Market by Writer’s Digest
Writers’ Market is an important online resource for freelance writers. Subscription costs $40 a year; there’s one part that’s accessible for free, though — the chapter on typical freelance writing rates. It features a list with close to 200 typical freelance writing rates for different kinds of gigs. Writer’s Digest obtains its information from Writers Guild of America and American Independent Writers, among other writing organizations around the country.
If you plan to apply to magazines and newspapers
Scratch magazine at manjulamartin.com publishes a comprehensive list of typical rates currently charged by freelance writers. Since they have writers contributing information on their experiences each day, their list is usually up-to-date. It’s important to note, though, that you will often find conflicting information from different writers. It is simply collated information that you need to interpret yourself.
It’s important to not quote a an hourly rate
Charging clients an hourly rate may seem like a good idea at first — you get paid for your time; you get paid more if your project takes longer than planned. It doesn’t tend to work out very well in practice, though.
In my case, I often found that being paid by the hour acted as a disincentive when I wanted to work efficiently; it messed with my motivation, and made me work slowly. It and turned out to be a disincentive.
Hourly rates don’t work out well for the client, either. When the client learns about how many hours he’s paying for, he’s likely to worry if it doesn’t seem long enough; it isn’t uncommon for clients to worry that not enough effort has gone into their project.
It’s important for you to have a minimum hourly rate in mind, though
It isn’t hard to arrive at a minimum hourly rate (or a minimum acceptable rate in the industry parlance). You need to calculate what kind of income level you need to bring in to maintain your standard of living (say, $40,000 a year), and work backwards from there.
Whatever rate you arrive at isn’t what you should charge; it should merely be your back-of-the-envelope figure when you quote prices or negotiate. You should never find yourself slipping below the level that you’ve arrived at. It’s simply a number that you keep you safe.
It’s a good idea to consult various forums
While sites that list typical rates are informative and form a useful baseline to keep in mind, it’s important to understand that they don’t always keep up with changes in the industry. If a listed price for a job seems a little off, it’s a good idea to simply go on a couple of your favorite writers’ forums to ask. They tend to be full of questions about what the going rates are for one or another specific kind of writing gig. You can always get accurate information this way.
It isn’t always about the price quoted
A number of factors become relevant when you are trying to make up your mind about whether to accept a given price. Some authoritative publications tend to pay less than the going rate. You could lower your price, though, because appearing on a well-respected publication would further your career. It also makes sense to lower your price for work that you can rely on, or for work with clients who aren’t fussy.
Determining the price of your product can be a complex matter. Often, you can charge a lot simply because your style of humor is in demand. It takes knowledge of your specific situation to come upon the best possible price level to go with. The experiences of others, though, can be a useful guide.