Instructors and reviewers have lauded your creative and practical writing skills. You are beginning to amass a small mountain of bylined articles and other clippings. Finally, you believe it’s time to strike off on your own as a freelance writer or editor.
How can you determine what to charge your clients?
For more than a quarter of a century, I have worked as a freelance writer and editor for a wide variety of corporate and agency clients. My fees have varied somewhat, depending on each project. (I’ve had special-interest articles published for $25, and I’ve billed clients upwards of $150 per hour.)
Here’s a Simple Formula:
If you were working full-time for a given client, what would be your annual salary? Be honest here.
Based on your professional qualifications, what would you earn as a staff writer for that magazine, a communications specialist for that corporation, a newsletter editor for that association, or a speechwriter for that chief executive officer?
Run a check on a salary survey website, if you’re not sure. Be sure to include accurate information about your credentials and relevant work experience.
Take that number, and divide it by 2,000. (40 hours x 50 weeks). Now you have a basic starting point for an hourly rate. Based on this formula, you can bill a particular client by the hour, or you can calculate an estimate and bill them for the total project.
Several Variables Apply.
1. Building a business requires an initial investment.
If you are just getting started as a freelance writer or editor, then you will find it is important to build your client base and your portfolio. You might consider taking your first professional assignments on a reasonable fee-per-job basis. You may even accept a lower pay-rate, just to get things rolling.
Even pro bono (for free) projects may prove worthwhile, for network-building and to gain contacts, writing samples, tear-sheets, and experience.
2. Assorted assignments equal a range of fees.
Different types of writing tend to earn different payment amounts, based on the levels of experience and expertise that may be required. A highly technical piece, a ghostwritten feature article, or a top-level executive speech may command a higher billable rate than a simple media release or newsletter article.
If an editor or client actually assigns you a piece, be sure to ask up-front if your related expenses will be covered. These may include travel, mileage, phone usage, relevant admission tickets or entry fees, and more.
3. Be flexible, if you are entering a new field.
If you are trying to branch out into a new field of writing, then you may decide to reduce your rates temporarily for your first projects in this area. You might consider this an investment in your new business development.
4. Creative writing is rated differently.
Poetry, short fiction, essays, and other creative writing pieces are priced altogether differently. Some publishers offer printed copies as their sole method of payment. Others may pay by the piece, the line, or the column inch.
Unfortunately, creative writing usually commands lower pay rates than technical or business writing. Check the current issue of the annual Writer’s Market for details and current rates.
5. Good writing has its own rewards.
Most of all, the writing business can be very rewarding, but it can also be brutal. If you love it, you won’t be able to live without it. It’s got to be a passion – so that you will want to write every day – whether folks are willing to pay you for it or not! A true writer will keep on writing, no matter what.