There’s a saying in yoga to “know your edge” — this means knowing how far you can push before you hurt yourself. The same is true, I’m finding, about setting rates for freelance writing.
When it comes to my own freelance rates, I did a lot of experimenting and worrying about how to charge clients for my work. How do I remain flexible to the different kinds of work available — how far can I stretch, while not going past my “edge” of what is acceptable for my time and effort?
So far, all of my billing has fallen within one of two parameters: hourly or per word. I need to make at least .25-1.00+ a word OR I need to make at least $25+/hour, depending on the work. I think this is median for my experience, since I have a lot of writing background, but I am still new to several kinds of business copy writing. As I get more experience, and more clients, my edge will change.
At the moment, there are cases where I may write 400 words for $35, but that only takes me 60-90 minutes or less to complete, so it meets the hourly rate. But with greeting cards, I can make $75 or more for one greeting card verse of 25 words or fewer – and sometimes the idea only took me a few minutes to spin, so this clearly meets the per word rate, as well as the hourly rate, and then some. But pay for greeting cards is sporadic and always “on spec.” So I spend only a little bit of time on generating ideas, after other work is done. Spec work — or work that may or may not pay out — always comes after work that pays when it’s done. That’s a definite edge I don’t stretch past.
Another example is a 20 or 40-word product description that pays $1/description. This is good even though it doesn’t meet the base per word count, because if you are getting 100 or more descriptions a week (or a day), the work is easy and an experienced description writer can work fast. So the hourly rate is there, and goes up with experience and volume (one editor told me her experienced product description writers can do 150-200 short descriptions in 2-3 hours).
Novels are the absolutely least efficient writing you can do in terms of time and money, unless you “break out” and make a lot of dough. For a novel of 50K, I need to make at least 5,000-6,000 or it’s not worth the time (unless I do it in free time, just for enjoyment). This isn’t a great per word rate or per hour rate, especially when you double the initial time to revise, edit and market. Still, 6K is a nice chunk of income, and it’s about equal to what I would earn at a 40 hour/week job for 3 months at $15/hr (after taxes etc) – but I get it doing creative work at home on my own schedule. And one or two novels that earn around 6K a year is definitely a good boost — as long as it doesn’t budge out your other paying work.
And, you know, writing books is cool. 🙂
So for now, I remain flexible — but I know my edge. My rates evolve as I do, and they are qualitative as well as quantitative – that will probably always be the case. Thoughts?