You Ask, I Answer: How do I know how much to charge?
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Amy asks: A job opportunity I encountered asked my rate for articles. How would you suggest is the best way to determine rates I should charge per word for articles? I hate to charge too much and not get a chance at the assignment. How do I know what the magazine wants to pay?
This question is actually a compilation of several e-mails I’ve gotten this week as I get this question all the time. My response: First, I hate when potential clients and employers ask for your rates, because they’re basically asking you to guess what they’re willing to pay. Why can’t they just say, “We pay 25 cents per word” and let qualified, interested writers respond? I’ll tell you why — because they’re hoping that they’ll get a frenzy of writers offering 1,000-word articles at a fraction of a penny per word, because they’re worried about being underbid by everyone else.
For pricing, the thing is that you have to figure out what would be worth it for youto do an assignment — you can’t guess at what the magazine can/will pay. Otherwise you’ll end up writing for less than you would like and feeling resentful, and not able to pay your bills as well. But I always do keep in mind that the smaller the magazine, typically the less they pay. So I may offer a small magazine my 50 cents/word minimum rate, but I’ll ask for more from a bigger magazine.
You also need to figure out your minimum rate for writing work — and stick with it. You can turn to Writers Market, which offers a list of average rates for different types of writing, as a starting point. But you also need to determine how much you need to earn per hour to actually, you know, make a living — keeping in mind that not every hour you work will be billable. For me, a minimum of 50 cents per word usually works out — and I earn up to $2.50 per word for the higher-end (read “higher PITA”) magazines — because I’m a fast writer and at those rates I can make $250 per hour and even more.
I realize it’s a crap shoot, and we hate the idea of charging too little and being ripped off, or asking for too much and not being considered for the job. But really, you’re writing to make a living. You can’t spend all your time trying to underbid everyone else while still not screwing yourself out of decent pay. All you can do is set the rates that will let you earn the income you need, give out that rate when someone asks, and let the chips fall where they may. If that client can’t afford you, don’t worry — there are plenty out there who can, and you can spend your time working to get those clients. [lf]
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