Freelance Writer Fees; How Much Should I Charge?
As a freelance writer, I tend to avoid the how much should I charge? question until the very last-minute. Setting your rates and fees is hard! But, if you don't do the homework beforehand, you'll end up like me the night before I wrote this article: up too late, struggling through a freelance writing price proposal that was due at midnight.
Writers Shouldn't Do Math at Midnight!
Even if you've come to this article by querying "how much should I charge for freelance writing?" in relation to one project, take a moment to set some parameters on your freelance writing rates and fees now. You'll be doing your future self a favor.
Types of Freelance Writing Rates
When that prospect you've reeled in asks the dreaded question, the first thing you've got to understand is what form of a rate we're talking about. As far as I can tell, there are about five types of freelance writing rates, They are:
- By the project (flat rate)
- By the hour
- By the word
- By the page
- Retainer fee
For the purpose of setting your writing rates, we're going to concentrate on these three:
- Per hour
- Per word
- Per project
These are the most common types of rates in the current freelance world, especially for beginners and intermediate writers.
So, which type of rate is your potential client aiming for? If he/she hasn't clued you in, no worries; there are some general practices that you can go by. For example, consumer magazines are generally per-word rates. Trade magazines can be either per-word or a flat fee. Business, technical and marketing writing work is likely to be priced out at a per-hour rate or by the project.
One caveat on charging per-hour rates applies here. If you're potentially looking at a long-term or repeat client, you may want to avoid charging by the hour. It is because repeated work for the same client will make you faster and more efficient. Once you've got the repeat client's voice, tone and preferences down, you'll be spending less and less time on the same kinds of projects. A press release that made you $75 yesterday will now net you only $50 because you've got the form and verbiage nailed.
Despite this, many businesses prefer an hourly rate. You may just have to acquiesce.
Knowing What to Charge By Type of Writing
Next, you'll need to understand that different types of writing have vastly different earning potential. To price correctly, you need to understand where your composition falls in the spectrum of freelance writing and communications.
Here are some hints: online writing, web content, blogging, SEO writing and content mill work are generally at the lower end of the pay spectrum. There are some exceptions, such as feature articles that are equivalent to print magazine writing in terms of length, research, audience, and outlet. So, for example, the incredible writing over at The Atlantic's site does not count as "online writing." Another exception is content marketing and other digital marketing pieces or projects. Other low-end areas seem to be novel editing, especially for new or self-published authors (not for a publisher) and indexing.
At the middle of the payment spectrum, you'll find newspaper writing and associated functions (copyediting, etc.) and some social media work (posting, campaigns, planning, and production). Editorial projects for book packagers are middle-of-the-road, along with some business writing, such as white papers, brochures, and position statements. Working on pieces that are typical for non-profits may also fall in this average area.
If you're looking for high-paying freelance writing work, you'll want to concentrate on technical writing, medical and scientific writing projects and marketing/PR products such as commercial campaigns, media kits, and advertorials.
Freelance Writing Rates and the Research Question
I want to give you one very important warning. If you take nothing else from this article, please keep this in mind: many a beginner freelance writer has been tripped up by research. A recent email from a new writer related how she had produced articles for a website at a rate of $50 per article. This netted her what she felt was a decent hourly rate, at first.
But then. . .
The topics of the articles start to get more difficult for her to write about. She didn't know anything about them, and so she has to engage in some heavy research. Suddenly she's spending three hours on an article, instead of one.
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard woeful tales about research. Be careful and aware of the topics you'll be writing about in the long term. If there's even a hint of more difficult work ahead, insist on an hourly charge.
One way to avoid the research issue is to form a niche specialty in your writing career and attempt to stick to a topic you know and enjoy. For example, I'm almost completely a social justice writer at this point in my career. I know the topic, I know the field. I am passionate about the projects I work on.
Other Factors to Consider as You Set Your Freelance Writing Rates
Before I walk you through setting your rates, let's talk a bit about other factors to consider before you quote a project, write a project proposal or set your rates. Many of these are mentioned in this article on increasing your freelance writing income, but let's just touch on them here. Following are some factors that you should be aware of as you set your freelance writing rates:
- Consider the cost of living in both your area and in your client's area. Yes, it's true! Your client may be accustomed to paying higher rates, and it's OK to take that into consideration.
- Consider the type of client. For example, I give a break to nonprofit clients. I do a lot of writing for nonprofits, and I support their missions (or else I wouldn't work for them). I understand they're not in it for the cash. However, I also know that multinational conglomerates have CEOs that are millionaires. Sorry, guys, you're not getting the same rate as my local non-profits (don't worry; I'm worth it anyway!).
- Am I getting a byline or not? Is this an opportunity for a lot of exposure or no? Although neither of these things pays the bills, I must say that my work as a Huffington Post blogger has netted me innumerable opportunities. Sometimes it's just worth it.
- Do I get to keep my copyright? Keeping the rights to what you write means that you could potentially re-sell it later.
- What about the volume of the work? If a client is proposing an ongoing, high-volume relationship, I may be interested in negotiating.
How--EXACTLY--To Set Your Freelance Writing Rate
What worked for me, having been employed as an editor and marketing writer in a past life, was to use my hourly rate as a jumping off point.
Now, the fact is, your (traditional) employed hourly rate is generally a very small fraction of your true earnings. Therefore, it would be ideal if one had access to their employer's total compensation numbers. This number figures in the amount your employer pays for health insurance, payroll taxes, retirement matching amount and so on. You may be able to get such a thing from your former HR department. If your salary is $25 an hour, your true compensation, with all your benefits added, might be something like $35 an hour.
Knowing this number would be valuable. However, if you cannot get it, a good rule of thumb is to add about 25% to your base salary.
Take your hourly rate, and add 25%.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your employer provides the roof over your head, your computer system, and all your office supplies. These are things that a freelancer must provide for themselves. So, if you've added about 25% to account for your benefits, go ahead and add another 10% in there.
That's right. Add 10% for things like your computer and home office.
This number should be your minimum hourly wage as a freelance writer. (VOILA!) From there, you will take into account the variables mentioned in the previous section, and use those to quote potential projects.
As you're setting your rates, you'll want to think about the kinds of projects you'll be asked to take on and estimate how many hours it will take from start to finish. For example, I can generally write a press release in about an hour and a half, depending on the industry. What kinds of writing will you be churning out? Web articles? Newsletters? Website content? Estimate your hourly undertaking, and adjust it as you go along! If you're an intermediate freelance writer, you likely have some data, such as a spreadsheet recording your hours, to use for these estimates.
Freelance Writing Rates List For Those Starting From Scratch
If you have no past employment, or simply cannot get ahold of starting numbers, you'll have to start from scratch. I've compiled this list of freelance writing rates and charges over the past 10 years of my freelancing career. It shows a wide range of costs in a per project, per hour or per page format. Beginning writers will, of course, start at the bottom of the range, while the rest of you can work your way up. In addition to that, you may want to check out these additional freelance writing rate resources:
- The Writer's Market includes tables on typical wages.
- The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes freelance writing rate examples.
- Glassdoor compiles salary information.
- The calculator available at All Indie Writers is a great tool.
- You could just check out your rival's websites and rate pages. Be sure to look for those who are in similar geographic regions as you are.
You'll need to continue to adjust your fees as you progress in the career, especially as you build more clips and credits. I'd suggest revamping your rates every three to six months.