Freelance Writing Pay Rates FAQ

Dear Freelance Writing Expert:

I recently read your post on freelance writing rates, and while the example rate ranges were useful, I wanted to know specifically how you come up with and set rates for the different kinds of jobs. It was helpful to see the potential income for each kind of freelance writing job, but as someone transitioning from a salaried writing position to freelance, I am still trying to understand rates.

My specific questions are:

  • Do you invoice by the hour or by word count?
  • Do different kinds of jobs have differing pay scales (for example, per word cost for writing a brochure probably looks different from per word cost for writing a feature article, right?).
  • How do you make sure that you price the job accurately?

Any (detailed) information you can provide on rates would be great! Thanks so much for providing such a helpful resource. ~Tom

Dear Tom,

What a great question--and I'm not just saying that! This question comes to me in one format or another about once a month. I appreciate your specific requests for information!

Types of Rates in Freelance Writing

There are several types of rates for freelancers. Most writers that I know don't have a set-in-stone way of pricing, such as "I always price by the word." This is because the different clients that we work with have different parameters. For example, when I write for magazines, their pay scales are pretty much set, and their largely by-the-word. So I'll consider my personal preferred by-the-word rate when I accept or reject their offered work, but I won't turn them down in favor of an hourly rate or anything. 

However, when I am approached by a potential customer, my personal preference is to price by-the-job, in total. This is because I don't want efficiency on my part to reduce my pay (in an hourly situation). In addition, I don't want word count to influence the polish and quality of my prose--if it needs to be longer, it should be. If it doesn't, I don't want to feel the need to inflate it for monetary gain. After all, this could lead to purple prose and puffy pieces. No one wants that, and the client who pays by the word may be paying for fluff without even realizing it.

This also answers your second point about brochures versus magazines and so on. Making 75 cents per word for a magazine article may be worth my time. However, making 75 cents per word for a brochure would likely not net me a decent amount of money, even though it entails research, careful composition, editing and multiple iterations. This is because there's simply not enough words in the document to account for the work that goes into the document. That is to say, final words per piece rarely match the final outcome of the piece. A long article doesn't necessarily indicate great quality, and a short brochure certainly doesn't point to sub-par work! Therefore, I would always prefer to price something short like a brochure via a flat rate. This also avoids any surprises on the part of my client; they know ahead of time what their bill amount will be, and they can budget for it accordingly. 

Pricing Freelance Jobs Accurately

Over almost a decade of freelance writing, I've managed to gather a significant amount of data on how long certain kinds of projects are going to take me to complete. I've done this by diligently recording my work hours and activities via a basic spreadsheet throughout my career. I can mine that data for information such as How much research time do I put into a 1200-word article? Or How long will it take me to write the answer to a FAQ and publish it? Having this information available is a lifesaver. 

However, for those new to the freelance career, I counsel careful research into going rates via various sources, such as rate surveys and articles such as this one. Many websites post this kind of information, and I would suggest this careful process when you first set your rates:

1) Aggregate the information from two or three freelance rates charts into one chart based on the kinds of work that you're most likely to seek out.

2) Average the rates given, and then adjust that average up or down (slightly) based on your location, past experiences and hunger. Remember that freelance writers must pay self-employment taxes, which can be as much as a third of your income, so don't be astounded by large numbers. When I tell my friends here in Michigan that I bill $75 an hour for some services, they're unduly impressed. Trust me, not all of that comes into my pocket!

3) Adopt these rates as your "standard," but note that they're open to negotiation. I do recommend posting your rates publicly, as it weeds out "tire-kickers." Other freelance writing experts have differing opinions on that.  

4) Try them out on a couple of your initial buyers. Make notes of their reactions, and be willing to adjust them as needed.

5) Revisit your rates every six months in the beginning, and then once a year after that.