4 Ways Freelance Writers Charge Clients and Get Paid

by Anne Wayman

how writers get paidLaToya Irby wrote a guest post at AllFreelanceWriting called Do You Have a Standard Payment Policy? There she lists the four typical ways freelance writers got paid. That got me thinking how we determine the way we charge.

If you’re like me, when you first started writing you were happy to get almost anything. I know that I simply accepted what I was offered when I sold a booklet to Hazelden or an article to Runner’s World. (This was long before content mills – I doubt even in the beginning I would have written for them more than once or twice.)

Understanding how each of these payment methods works is important as you consider how to set your fees.

Paid by the hour

You charge your client for each hour you spend writing for them. The problem with this is that the faster you learn to write the less you get paid per word or per page. And you will get faster if you continue to write regularly.

On the other hand, knowing your hourly rate can be a guide to help you set other kinds of fees and to help you determine an offer is worth doing. You’ll find a free hourly rate calculator at AllIndieWriters.

Paid per word

Paying writers per word has a long tradition. I’ve heard it said that one reason Charles Dickens’ books are so long is because he was paid by the word.

Some magazines and even some blogs pay by the word. Some book ghostwriters also charge by the word. The potential problem is the temptation to write more words than are strictly necessary. The few projects I’ve done this way as I reach the end I find myself thinking more about the number of words than perhaps I should.  I’m also not convinced that by the word says anything about the quality of the writing or the effort that went into it.

Paid per page

Book ghostwriters often charge per page and sometimes magazines will offer a page rate. Of course, the number of words on the page in question has to be defined. Fonts and margins and spacing all play into the number of words we actually get on a page.

As a writer I’d rather worry about the writing than how the page is set up. Of course, if you’re writing something that will be printed on paper, the publisher actually does control how much space your writing takes. Per word is easier to understand.

Paid per project

Here you and the client agree that you will be paid x amount for a writing project. Everything from $50 an article to $150,000 for a ghostwritten book is an example of being paid per project.

One way to get at a project price is to determine how long it will take you to actually get the writing done, multiply that by your hourly rate, and add 10-20 percent for contingencies. That’s the project cost.

The risk for the writer is they will badly underestimate how much time will be involved. Nonetheless, this is my preferred way of working. I don’t want to charge my client for the mistake I make that takes me a couple of hours or more to fix. I also want to be paid for the inspiration I have in the shower that makes the whole project work. It takes some experience to set per project fees and be comfortable.

Most freelance writers find they get paid in several ways, depending on the nature of the work and the desires of the client. Chances are after you’ve been writing for several years you’ll find you too have a favorite method. Just be sure you think your choices through as you make them.

How do you charge your clients?

You might find 8 Top Freelance Writer Business Problems helpful. You can also  sign up for my Freelance Writing Problem Solutions series.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer

 

 

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by ChodHoun

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Amandah April 2, 2012 at 5:51 am

I prefer to charge per project (sometimes per word); however, potential ‘new’ clients usually ask for an hourly rate. I have my hourly rate figured out and factor it into my project rate.
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Ali | Writers Blog April 2, 2012 at 2:58 am

Hi Anne,

You forgot to mention one way of getting paid: Per Haps ;-)

Just as Robert Benchley said: “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps”

I usually charge per word or per piece (when ghost-blogging)!

Question: do you ask for the whole payment up-front?
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annew April 2, 2012 at 6:04 am

Per haps doesn’t work for me as a form of payment Ali, altho’ it has happened. I hadn’t heard that quote from Benchley before. Thanks.

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Ali | Writers Blog April 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

Yo welcome :)
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LaToya Irby March 28, 2012 at 2:32 pm

For me, it’s usually per word, per article (which I guess is basically per page), or per project. I’ve used the hourly wage once for a large project where I couldn’t really estimate the final number of words or pages. But, even my per project quotes are based on my hourly wage.

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annew March 29, 2012 at 8:19 am

Makes sens, LaToya – good to see you here.

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Carrie Schmeck March 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

I tend toward per-project rates, especially for an initial project with a client, for the same reasons many of my fellow commenters mention. For repeat business, I’ll often charge per hour and use Toggl to keep my time though I question my “method” every time I bid a job! Glad to know I’m not alone.
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John Soares March 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

I always charge per project, and I avoid any discussion of per hour!
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Carrie Schmeck March 28, 2012 at 8:11 am

I like that idea, John. One never knows how a client will react to the per-hour charge. If they’re accustomed to paying employees $15/hour, a writer’s hourly rate might seem exorbitant or they worry we’ll rip them off or…
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AizaMarie March 28, 2012 at 6:23 am

Well I agree with this…Sometimes it depends on how they want them to get paid…I think the most reliable with this is the per word…
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Anne Woodman March 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Yes, I think clients are less wary of per-project quotes… the whole project is right there in front of them. With per hour, I think many are concerned that writing may take a very long time (as you said, when you’ve been writing for a long time, you’re usually pretty quick). I also, with many projects, have the concern that per hour should only include the writing, not the interviewing/fact collecting. I’ve done a project or two where the interviews (actually the more difficult part) were charged at a lesser hourly rate. I don’t think I’d do that again.
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Sharon Hurley Hall March 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I’ve done all three. I usually work it out that if all the planets are in alignment and I don’t have to do much research I can write a certain number of words in an hour. So I use that to determine per word or per project (which I prefer) rates. I only use the per page rate for proofreading, and then I specify a word count for the page so I don’t have to think about formatting.
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Megan Harris (MeganWrites Media) March 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Depending on the kind of work, I either quote per hour or a flat project fee. With one client I do both and invoice on separate lines for the type of work. For example, the blog writing I do for him is charged hourly, whereas larger monthly projects are a flat rate we agree upon ahead of time. For other clients, I charge flat rates per blog posts because it’s easier than calculating time every time.

I have not tried charging per page because I think we would have different ideas of what a page is, nor am I a fan of charging per word because it often varies by blog post. Plus, if there are revisions, what is charged – the new word count or the old one? Better to stick with what I know. :)

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Cathy Miller March 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Definitely per project. I have an hourly rate for me that I use with an Excel spreadsheet I created to price out projects, and I have used the per word for smaller projects like an article, but still quote it to my client as a project.

I just find it the cleanest all the way around so everyone knows what the fee is. Of course, I include my detailed scope of work so they know exactly what’s included in that fee.
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Amelia Ramstead March 27, 2012 at 10:58 am

I’m a fan of per project myself. There’s no accusation of padding and I can take the time I need to get the job done right, or I can blast through it, if that’s what it needs!
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Kimberly March 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

I tend to mix it up depending on the project, but like Spike I usually lean toward charging per project. I find a lot of the clients I work with seem wary of the per hour rate approach, so I usually use a simple formula based around my hourly rate to arrive a flat rate we’re both comfortable with.
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annew March 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

Sounds like we do it in similar ways, Kimberley.

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Spike March 27, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’ve done all of them except per-page – that one’s always scared me because I’m a little paranoid and always suspect I’ll agree a per-page price, THEN find out it’s A3 with 2-point font and no margins! :)

It’s very hard to find hourly paying clients who understand that writing is not like digging holes: you can’t measure how much you’ll produce in a given amount of time. I’ve been fortunate to work for one, once (for a couple of years) and it was really nice but the pressure was still there: what does HE think I should be able to produce in an hour?

I definitely have a preference for per-project (article or ebook or whatever). I find it less tempting to waffle than with per-word rates and less stressful than working per-hour.

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