Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Setting Your Rates

When I first started freelance writing as an undergrad, I couldn’t believe how much I could make for an article. I was fortunate to have the chance to write for a large national consumer pub, and even though I was probably making the least of all of the magazine’s freelancers, it was good pay by my standards. I figured I could only go up from there.

But then I realized that the rates a writer is paid vary considerably from publication to publication—particularly as you move from consumer pubs to custom, regional, local, or business magazines. It gets even trickier when you throw online writing and other forms of writing work into the mix.

There isn’t one set rate I get for my writing and there never will be.

So when I determine what’s reasonable pay, I take a number of things into account.

A while ago, I figured out what my ideal hourly rate would be—how much I need to get paid in order to make enough to pay my bills. It involved taking account of all of my business expenses, my personal expenses, how many hours I can actually bill (remember, you probably aren’t going to be billing a full 40 hours of work each week), and how much I hope to save after paying my expenses.

Handy sites online, such as the rate calculator at Freelance Switch, can help you figure all of this out in no time.

So then, each time a possible writing or editing project comes up, I keep my hourly rate in mind. I estimate how long I think each step in the process is going to take—background research, interviewing, writing, proofreading, communication with the editor, revisions if necessary—and divide the rate the editor has offered (if it’s a flat project fee) by the number of hours I estimate I’ll spend on it. If it’s close to or even more than my ideal hourly rate, I take on the project.

If that proposed fee is quite a bit lower than my hourly rate, I don’t shoot back a “no thanks” right away. As you know, times are tough, and rates for writing and editing work are getting lower and lower. So before I ditch the assignment, I consider whether there are places where I can trim back my time estimate. Can I keep the amount of time I spend researching or interviewing in check and still produce a quality article?

Other considerations come into play too. When the opportunity comes up to write for a publication I’ve been wanting to work with for years, odds are I’ll take on the gig even if it pays a bit less than my ideal (as long as the rate isn't ridiculously low). The same holds true if it’s an assignment for a topic I’m particularly passionate about.

Or, in the case of a writing gig that promises to offer consistent opportunities, I might sacrifice a bit on that ideal rate because getting regular work is worth it. (I write for almost every issue of one publication I started working for a couple of years ago, so the fact that I get such steady work makes up for the slightly lower rates.)

Besides, if the choice is between writing for a bit less pay than usual or having no writing work at all, I’m going to take on the job.

(One caveat about this: I will not go considerably lower than my ideal hourly rate, to the point where I am almost giving my work away for free, except for those instances where I volunteer my writing services to help out with a cause or publication I believe in, or when it helps build my writing business, as with my blogging. Writing mills and the ridiculously low rates they pay are a whole other topic I could spend many posts on, and perhaps I will someday. Suffice to say for now that I will not spend hours working on a project that brings in only a couple of dollars. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about why I don’t support writing mills, my writer-friend Kristine Meldrum Denholm has been posting on the topic recently and makes some great points.)

Then there are those times when a writing assignment comes with special stipulations—perhaps it's a rush job or it requires extra work that my usual writing assignments don't. In that case, I often will increase how much I am willing to take from the usual hourly rate, particularly if it means I'll be getting less sleep or won't have time to devote to other projects.

In other words, coming up with the ideal rate is an inexact science. But at least having that hourly number in mind ensures that I’m not taking on a project that isn’t worth my time.

How do you figure your hourly rate? How low are you willing to go? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Learn More:
How Much Should I Charge (njcreatives)
How to Set Salary Goals (everyjoe.com)

Photo by Benediktv via Flickr

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention, Julie! The industry does seem to be paying less and less, as you mentioned, doesn't it? Depressing. All we can do is keep trying to go up the chain. Good thing we love to write. All my best to you...keep up the good work!!!!