There is an endless amount of debate over what should be the going rate for writers in this business. There is a parallel debate over what actually constitutes a writer, another one over global price structures and still another one over the different styles of writers and how they fit into the grand scheme of business models.
For the sake of argument, let’s ignore the range of writers and assume that everyone here is working at a professional level. So you’re a professional writer (another point of debate – what’s a professional writer?) and you’re making a living using your words, your skills and your expertise with language. Now that we have that out of the way, what do you actually get paid for all of that awesomeness?
It’s not a big secret that my rates start around $0.10 per word. That’s on the lower end of many other writers who frequent and write on this blog. My rates are advertised on my website, and they are rates I’m comfortable with. I've tried different rate structures, but I find that my current range suits me pretty well. Why? Because it maintains an hourly rate close to $100 most of the time for the style of materials I create.
Generally, that’s the guideline that we offer on this blog and in other places – calculate your hourly rate first. Then, work backwards to develop your per word or per project rate. So, for example, if you’re looking to make at least $40,000 working full-time, you’ll need to first understand that full-time in freelance means writing about 50 – 60 percent of your actual day. The rest is administrative.
So you work about 4 hours per day, let’s say. You’d also like to have some time off at Christmas or whenever, so cut your year down to 50 weeks. 50 weeks by 5 days by 4 hours per day means you’re writing 1000 hours per year. To make $40,000 in livable income, you’ll actually need to make $47,000 per year. The government has to have its share, after all. Confused by how much you’ll pay in taxes? Consult Latoya’s excellent post on the topic from earlier this week.
Okay, so the final steps are simple: $47,000 divided by 1000 hours means you need to make $47 per hour. If it takes you about an hour to create a great blog post or article, you should be charging a per-word or project rate equivalent to $47.
I’d hazard a guess that there are a great many writers hoping to go full-time, but who don’t actually charge clients anywhere near enough to generate a full-time income.
In fact, despite my comfort level, there is at least one source that says I’m not charging enough either. While I have my own reasons for charging what I do, the Editorial Freelance Association actually feels I should be charging quite a bit more. Indeed, the lowest rate on the chart of rates for editing, writing and proofreading is $0.20 per word.
The hourly rate for that per-word rate is $40 - $100 per hour though, so it looks as though our original calculation is in line with that at least. The chart is an excellent place for gathering information and benchmarking, but I’d offer up this pearl of experience - set your rates according to three things:
- What do you actually want to make per hour? (Use the calculations above.)
- Is that rate realistic for your writing and marketing abilities? (If not, you can improve your abilities or make a new plan.)
- Does your rate match your career goals and time?
#3 isn't something you see mentioned often, but it bears mentioning since so many writers aren't interested in building a full-time career. Individuals working part-time in this business like moms with young children, college students or other hobby writers may not be interested in starting completely over with a new marketing plan and client base to bring their career up to the next level.
I’d love to make $100,000 per year. But I’m not writing full-time, nor do I intend to increase my hours or scrape all of my existing clients for new ones. If I pulled my calculations up for that I’d need to be making $200 per hour, every hour. I do have profitable hours that go upwards of $200, but that’s not consistent. I have others that average more like $50 per hour.
So I have a problem with #3 and probably #2 as well. The truth of the matter is, I don’t like the styles of copywriting that generate rates of $200 per hour consistently, so I don’t have developed expertise in those areas. Why torture myself starting over in something I don’t actually like to make a particular dollar amount?
The bottom line is this: Your rates are totally personal. While the Editorial Freelancer’s Association has excellent things to say, and I’d never dispute what should be considered a professional rate, I would argue that everyone fits in a particular, published mold. We don’t need a universal rate. We don’t all need to charge what a list of rates claims we should.
You should simply charge what makes sense for your career. Too high and you’re going to be struggling to find clients consistently, even with excellent marketing. Too low and you’re going to burn out trying to write so much in a set amount of time. (For the record, there are plenty of clients willing to pay professional rates for talent, but not many willing to pay $250 per hour for anything but highly specific styles of writing – it’s a much smaller market.)
Don’t be afraid to move your rates around according to what works for you, and don’t be shy about high rates. Just show clients the EFA’s chart of rates and explain that $0.15 per word is a relative bargain!