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Writers, How Are Your Rates Looking?

Read Time: 4 min

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:

  1. What do you actually want to make per hour? (Use the calculations above.)
  2. Is that rate realistic for your writing and marketing abilities? (If not, you can improve your abilities or make a new plan.)
  3. 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Writers, How Are Your Rates Looking?”

  1. You mentioned three things that should be factored in when fixing rates (I think there’s a very important one omitted)…

    “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?”

    Here’s one I think many writers don’t pay attention to (to their peril)…

    The do NOT factor in their pre-eminence or the perception people hold of them within the industry. Bamidele (of YoungPrepro.com) earns up to $800 per article. John Morrow says he earns as much as $5k for an article. That can’t be just because his writing skills and marketing ability make him worth that. I believe it has more to do with the perception potential clients have of him than anything else. How much do you think that Brian Clark (Of Copyblogger.com) would command if he chooses to write for people?

    Take away point: I believe anyone who intends to earn top dollars in this profession has to devote time to building an online presence that increases the perception potential clients have of him or her.

    Reply
  2. Great post about an age old question for freelancers. My partner and I specialize in health care and financial services content (writing, marketing, brand alignment, SoMe). Because of this our rates, per hour, are higher than those of most generalists I know.

    Further, we have different rates for different levels of service. If the client wants only senior executive writers on the project, or if he/she requires a journalism feature story, rates come at the executive level. For blog posts and things like that, we usually allow our junior staff writers to take the job. This results in a lower hourly rate. We, of course, review and edit content written by junior staff.

    Reply
  3. I totally agree with you about building up an online presence. Branding is a huge part of marketing online, and many writers do forget that ability and desire are only part of the formula that determines rates. Often the best writers aren’t the ones with the highest rates. It’s very much a balance of marketing, branding and ability. Thanks for the feedback!

    Reply
  4. Excellent post, Rebecca! And I do agree that while the EFA provides some perspective, writers should charge what makes sense for them. I also think that a huge part of pricing lies in how much the writer values his or her work.

    Reply
  5. This is a good reminder about setting your freelance writer rates.

    I believe self-worth is tied to your rates. If you’re a damn good writer, but have low self-confidence and self-esteem, you may not command a high rate because you can’t sell yourself and your writing services. It’s time for you to own your writing skills and set your rates. Remember, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, CPAs, etc. have no problem setting their rates. They simply say, “My hourly rate is $125.00 per hour; or “I charge $500.00 for a consultation.” That’s it. They’re not ‘wishy-washy’ about it.

    Own your value and writing skills and start charging what you’re worth. 🙂

    Reply
  6. When your work is accepted by newspapers, magazines, or literary journals, you’ll have little say about what you’re paid. Once you become established, you’ll earn a bit of wiggle room when it comes to negotiating rates upward, but only a bit. For the most part, rates are set. But when you write for the corporate market, it’s you alone who determines what to quote for a given assignment or project, and this will be based on the hourly rate you determine for yourself. Writer’s Market lists low, high, and average rates for every type of writing you can think of. Base your hourly rate on this data. When people ask what you charge, don’t be sheepish. Answer quickly and firmly. The more you sound like you believe in the value of your services, the more potential clients will believe it, too.

    Reply

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