"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Ultimate Guide to How Much You Should Charge for Your Writing!

One of the biggest conundrums for creative writers is how much to charge for their services.
It’s a hot topic that remains popular after many years of debate and deliberation.
In fact, to test this “hypothesis” I conducted a Google search.
The query, “how much to charge for writing services” rendered 5,990 entries in 0.47 seconds.

Reading through the plethora of information out there could take you months, maybe even years to assess and apply.
So, I’ve decided to simplify the madness for you, my lovely readers. J

For certain, there’s no disputing that this issue can make or break your writing career.
Charge too much and you’re likely to lose a few potential clients and future possibilities.
Charge too little, and you could be on a “Ramen Noodles” diet for the rest of your days.
In the “Well-fed Writer,” author Peter Bowerman tells us that in order to make more, we must value ourselves and ask for what we’re worth. That’s simple enough. Right?
Here’s the reality, folks: what you “feel” you’re worth, versus your actual “Blue Book value” may differ.
And therein lies the problem.

With this in mind, today’s post will help you to approach this matter in a more strategic and realistic manner, with greater clarity.
Be forewarned: in the spirit of “tough love,” you may not like or agree with everything you read.
But, as someone who has worn many creative hats for over a decade, which includes: serving as a columnist, a writing coach, an award-winning poet, a regional editor, a ghost writer, a self-published author, and professional blogger, let’s just say I have a lot from which to draw upon here.
I can “talk the talk” cause I’ve walked the walk. J And it is my hope that in sharing this, I will perhaps save you a little “shoe leather” in your journey.

So, if you’re on board, grab your favorite cup of brew, and a pen and paper, and let’s get down to business. I’m glad you’re here.


Writing is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of career, my friend. Though there are some general rules, guidelines and practices that if followed correctly can lead to the road to success, each path is somewhat uniquely different.
For example, the “experts” say that in order to become a prolific, published writer, you must first master the art of an effective query letter. Not so. Not really.
Can I share a little secret?
I’ve written over 700 articles, commentary pieces, poems, blog posts and features for local, regional, national and online publications, and 99% of these published pieces were placed without a query.
Queries have just never been my thing. (But more on that in a future post).

Now, getting back to the subject at hand…
If you’re puzzled about compensation, you may simply be in need of a paradigm shift.
Think of it this way.
Let’s compare a freelance career with one in the corporate arena.

Here are a few factors that dictate level of pay in “most industries".
  • The nature of the industry (profit, non-profit, technical, clerical, medical) and the related pay rate for the designated field
  • Your salary history (minimum wage level or big bucks)
  • Your “on the job” experience (novice, mid-level, or expert)
  • Your performance record (awards, employee of the month, top ranking yearly reviews)
  • Your educational level or skill set (degrees and or training as it relates to the position)
In many ways this parallels with a writing career.
In other words, I don’t care how much you may “perceive” your value to be, editors and clients will judge your “worth” based on these five factors:

1. Your writing ability/expertise
2. Your experience- (how many years you have up under your belt, the quality of your publishing credits)
3. The budget for the project- (no matter how great you are, if they have a set amount they can afford, most times it’s what they’ll pay). Particularly with magazines.
4. Your performance record- (evidenced by testimonials, blog awards, Google search results, consistency)
5. Your positioning -or how you stack up against other freelancers for the project or related niche

Given these factors, here’s how YOU can decide what you should charge for your time and talent.

For example, many experts say that you should “never write for free.” I beg to differ. If you’re just starting out and need the experience and the byline, or it’s a start up publication that you deem holds a lot of promise for the future, or a charitable cause, or it’s just a fun project that you’d like to be affiliated with, “ have a go at it!”
One time I wrote a short story (for free) for an anthology project for women of color. It was very successful. And it offered great networking opportunities. Well, to make a long story short, I kept in touch with the coordinator of the project, and a year later landed a paying gig when she needed someone to help her do press releases and promotional activities for a new title, in what turned out to be a series. You just never know where your efforts may take you. Word to the wise: set a time limit and goals as to how much you would like to make monthly, yearly, etc. and what percentage of your projects will be for free.
Are you with me here? Lawyers do “pro bono” work. Why shouldn’t writers?

Expert opinion aside, sometimes how much I charge depends upon how much I need to make for a given time period. And your asking price should too.
Here’s some friendly advice that you should heed: If yo’ electric service is due to be disconnected, and taking a low paying, temporary project will help you to meet that obligation, I would advise that you take it. Don’t stand on principle and be sitting in the dark. Hello? J
Is it a struggling, new publication? A student in college needing help with writing an essay? A fortune 500 company looking for web content? This should factor in to your equation. Remember, “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip."

Though situations may vary, most times a person who is widely published can command more than a novice. A person with certain degrees and publishing credits as an author, would have a greater likelihood of higher pay that one who doesn’t. Be realistic and objective. If you want to make more, put in the time, pay your dues, and work to hone your skills. And don't discount the importance of being strategic in your efforts. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to try to be easy to work with as well. J

Last, but not least-- you should consider how your family members will be affected by your choices, and how it translates into your quality of life and theirs.

Thoughts. Agree or disagree?
How do you determine your rates? Do tell.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


  1. Jennifer--I was impressed that you've had that kind of writing success and yet you aren't into queries.

    I don't froth at the mouth over writing a query, either.

    (Did you send me your address, so I can send the poetry book, and it's buried in my inbox?)

  2. Hey there, Sioux,

    The query thing surprises and amazes a lot of folks. LOL :-)
    Last year, I think I tried one because there was an online place that paid a nice penny "upon acceptance". It sold! But, I still wasn't "sold" on doing them a lot in the future. I hate the wait.

    As for the book? Please send it to the address under the contact tab at top-- same as below:

    P.O. BOX 436967
    CHICAGO, IL 60643-6967

  3. Standing on principle while sitting in the dark. LOVE IT. LOL And I couldn't agree with you more. If that $15 check is going to put gas in the car for your trip to the doc, go for it. You're the best, Jen. Don't let anybody tell you different. Fantastic post.

    1. Sue,

      I so adore you. Had a long day today. Your comment gave me a giggle and a "verbal hug". :-) Much thanks, dearest.

  4. Jennifer, I agree with everything you have said here. Early on, I wrote a query letter and received a nasty rejection. That was my one and only. In fifteen years I received only one reprimand...from AARP for sending an artilce without querying first. You are onto something. Great minds think alike :)

    1. Linda,

      As the kids say: "tru' dat!" Did you ever sell the piece to AARP? Just curious. Always lovely to connect with you. :-)

  5. For corporate freelance copywriting assignments, I charge per hour. However, I have been listening to people who advise to charge by the value of your services. I'm going to reach out to them to learn more.

    For magazine writing, I accept what the magazine offers. And all other assignments depend on the client's budget, expenses and interest in the project.

    1. Sounds like a plan! Thanks for sharing it, Marcie.

  6. As you stated, rates are determined by various factors. My corporate projects are priced by project. Magazine projects are determined by the publication. And other projects are determined by who the individual is, the project and the budget.

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  8. Jen:

    I agree with what you say here. As far as the "pro bono" work, you and I have discussed this before and you know I'm with you on that one. Of course writers should write for free at times for a plethora of reasons: to get your foot in the door with a publication, for the sake of securing a byline at that publication, to make a particular contact, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to everyone's writing career, as you astutely point out.

    I'd be interested in hearing more about your take on query letters. I think I read an older post of yours discussing your take on query letters, but this may have been two or three years ago so I don't recall exactly what it said. ? Not sure if memory serves me on that one. I'll search through your older blog posts now, but look forward to any future blog posts on the subject!

    Thanks for the tough love info for your readers. You know I appreciate that about you. ;-)

  9. Hi Janette,

    Thanks for connecting. I have indeed done a post on my perspective on query letters. And you will see my answer to this question (and more) in an anniversary post come June. Stay tuned for details...!

    I so appreciate the receptive spirit in which you take my advice. Your attitude will take you far...

  10. I like that - our Blue Book Value. :) For the record, queries have never been my thing either.

    I agree, there are a lot of factors to what we charge. Great guidelines, thank you, Jen!

    1. Much appreciation, Karen. Glad you found the info useful.

  11. When I read the words "tough love" I expected a 'shape up or ship out' essay. Thankfully this article is tougher on the expectations of the world than on the writer. To the writer it shows the reasoned path: do not worry about query letters (you can't begin to imagine what a huge relief that is), write pro bono if it helps your goals, and adjust your rates based on your needs and the client's ability to pay.

    Thank you for laying it out so simply and clearly.

    1. Anjali,

      Very eloquently stated and summed up. Very lovely having you here as a repeat visit. :-) Let's do this again soon, shall we? :-)

  12. Lawyers do pro bono work because they can afford it! :) This is just on my mind because I was talking with one of my client's lawyers about a past project and he was aghast at my hourly rate. My rate is pretty decent for a writer, but not compared to a lawyer's!

    That said though, something like the short story you mentioned is a different thing entirely. If it will get you in the door somewhere, or give you a credit that's important for your resume, then writing for free can be worth it. But any time I've written purely for "exposure," it's resulted in nada, so I don't do it for the corporate world anymore.

  13. Lawyers do pro bono work because they can afford it! :) This is just on my mind because I was talking with one of my client's lawyers about a past project and he was aghast at my hourly rate. My rate is pretty decent for a writer, but not compared to a lawyer's!

    That said though, something like the short story you mentioned is a different thing entirely. If it will get you in the door somewhere, or give you a credit that's important for your resume, then writing for free can be worth it. But any time I've written purely for "exposure," it's resulted in nada, so I don't do it for the corporate world anymore.

    1. Julie,

      You make some good points here. But, in all fairness, we must also look at the fact that lawyers spend a good deal of money and time on training and education to enter their field, whereas a "writer" is so broadly defined, that the field can actually have folks with very little education, experience, or "expertise" that identify themselves as writers. :-) Personally, I can honestly say that some of my "freebies" have been as beneficial as paid gigs (down the line). It all depends on one's goals. Much thanks for connecting today!