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.
WHAT I’VE DISCOVERED AND YOU WILL TOO….
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 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.
CONSIDER YOUR GOALS.
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?
CONSIDER YOUR PERSONAL FINANCES.
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
CONSIDER THE CLIENT’S ABILITY TO PAY.
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."
CONSIDER YOUR EXPERIENCE AND SKILL SET.
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.