Friday, February 02, 2007

Determining your writing rates

The writing wage debate is such a hot topic, especially lately with the debates about Associated Content reopened, that I wanted to offer a few tips for beginning writers about determining their rates.

Back when I was only freelancing on the side for extra money, I read a book on how to make six figures as a contract technical writer. I wish I could tell you the title and author, but unfortunately it was two years ago, and I can't find the title in the library catalog where I checked it out.

Anyway, one of the things that made an impact in that book is its discussion on how to determine your rates. It basically walked you through the steps of determining what you would like to make each year or month, and breaking that down into an hourly rate. The formula reminded you to take into account business expenses such as buying your own health insurance and office supplies.

Another book I read some time later added another variable to the equation. Believe it or not, a full time freelance writer doesn't write eight hours a day. Realistically, you need to account for time-consuming tasks such as searching for jobs or publications, developing ideas, querying, networking, building and maintaining your website, blogging, advertising... The list goes on and on.

The point is that there are a lot of things you need to take into consideration when determining your rates. Here's what I think the process should consist of:

* Decide what you absolutely have to make each month in net profits in order to pay your personal bills.

* If you know you absolutely can't live without shopping, dining out, or any other type of superfluous expense, be sure to add that in there too. The best way to have the money for it is to plan to have the money for it.

* Add whatever you need to make each month to cover your business expenses. This might include ink and paper, stamps and godzilla-sized envelopes for sending submissions out, etc.

* Divide this number by the number of days in a month that you intend to work (i.e. I do at least a little work most weekends). That's your daily goal.

* Divide your daily goal by the number of hours that you can actually devote to writing each day. For many freelance writers, this is only about 4 or 6 hours. Trust me, all that other stuff - trolling the markets, querying, standing in line at the post office, marketing your services online - takes up more of your time that you would think.

So now you have an hourly goal. Fantastic. But what do you do with that when most projects you get pay by the word or by the project?

Clients generally don't want to pay you for your time, but for your services. In other words, no one is going to look out for your own interests but yourself, so it's vital for you to have a good idea of how long a project will take you, and what you need to make in order for it to be worthwhile. Again breaking it down into bite-sized pieces, here's how I think the process should go:

* Before ever accepting a project or providing a quote, find out all of the pertinent details of the project. This includes how many words or pages the end product is expected to be, the specific topic (so that you know how much research you'll need to be doing), and how long you'll be given to do the project (rush orders generally deserve a more generous rate).

* Figure in the time needed to make two revisions. You should always figure revisions into your quote to make sure you doavoid lowering your hourly wage with unexpected revisions. If you want, you can tell the client that there's a discount if he or she doesn't ask for revisions (or only asks for one), but you should also let them know that your quote only covers two revisions. This won't apply to all projects, of course, but if you think there's even a chance that you'll be asked to make revision, make sure to include that time in your quote.

* Decide how long it will take you to complete the project, revisions as all. Estimate as generously as you dare - the mechanic's rule of thumb says that any time you're trying to complete something in a limited time frame, something will go wrong.

* Multiply the estimated number of hours by your desired hourly wage. Or, if you're trying to determine whether a project is worth taking on what the client is paying, divide the project's flat fee by the number of hours you think it will take.

All too often, writers don't realize how long a project will take them, or how unrealistic it is to expect an eight-hour writing day. Breaking the thought process down into these steps will help you to not only realize your worth, but also make sure you get it.

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