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Fees – Writers Probably Need A Speciality Or Two

I’ve been reading the comments at Fees – It Does Matter What Others Charge! A Guest Article  by Ron Lewis. It occurs to me that having a speciality really helps when setting fees.

Here’s what I mean:

  • If you respond to ads that want you to write 500 word articles for a buck or two, you may get a couple of bucks and even have an article or two you can point to as a credit, but as a specialty, it’s probably a dead end, at least at that price.
  • Now, if you get intrigued with Search Engine Optimization, which is what most of these extremely low pay offerings are about, and learn how to do good SEO and good writing at the same time, you’ll be in a position to begin to look for and get higher pay – sometimes much higher pay. I’ve been paid up to $25 for a 400 word article that was both optimized for search engines and made sense to human readers, and I know you can get much more than that.
  • Or if you develop an expertise (or already have one) in a particular industry, like real estate, you might be able to parlay some inexpensive SEO writing into writing marketing copy for real estate agents that brings them clients. That can lead to ghostwriting books on making fortunes, or not, in real estate. How do I know? A friend of mine has done just that. She took her own knowledge, built on it and can command prices that let her write two or three books a year and live well.
  • Micheal Stelzner has done exactly the same way – built a lucrative specialty around White Papers. Today he not only writes them, and writes books about them but teaches others to do the same. 
  • Another example of someone who is hugely successful with a speciality is Peter Bowerman. First he wrote, self-published and sold The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds A Second Helping Of “How-To” For Any Writer Dreaming of Great Bucks and Exceptional Quality of Life. The specialty here is what he calls corporate writing – writing for corporations and other organizations.

  • Bowerman was so successful at profitable self-publishing he wrote The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living because he recognized he had a second specialty.

There are innumerable examples out there of writers who discovered a specialty that worked for them, then figured out how to sell it. Many of the topics or specialties aren’t particularly glamorous, although they could be. But search engines, real estate, white papers, corporate writing and self-publishing are pretty prosaic. So, come to think about it is freelance writing. But having and spending the money is sure nice.

Find a specialty or two or three. Concentrate there and you’ll have an easier time getting paid what you deserve.

Do you agree?

By the way, we do have a Setting Fees Series you may want to read.


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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • I may be a little late posting to this article. Even so, I would like to make some observations and present some ideas.

    I believe that having one or two specialties is important, especially when just starting out. Keep in mind that it may not be a particular target market, but a type of writing as well. For example, you may specialize in writing white papers, case studies or training content. Or ghostwriting or editing.

    Even so, it may be beneficial to choose a target market too. For example, I concentrate on the B2B sector, with emphasis on industries such as electrial products and various manufacturing businesses. It’s what I’ve grown up with. It’s what I know.

    One advantage to having a niche is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you write. As you become more familiar with the field, your writing becomes more efficient.

    You also get better referrals (and more of them) when you specialize. After you’ve established yourself, you are able to branch out more as you have a base from which to work.

    However, the main benefit from niching or specializing is that you can ask for and get better rates. I enjoyed the “10 Steps to Setting Your Freelance Writing Fees” article. It’s good to realize, however, the difference between total hours and billable hours. If you have a target income and base it on, say, 40 hours to set your hourly rate target, you will work your buns off to achieve it.

    Set your annual target, divide by 48 or 50 weeks (take at least two weeks vacation), then determine how many hours per week you will actually be writing. For example, set a target to write 20 hours with the remaining time set as non-billable hours (marketing, bill paying, trips to the post office, etc.). Now you know how to set your rates, based on your hourly rate and the time you can complete the project. And never, never, never (did I say never) quote your hourly rate, just the project rate. You will find yourself making more on your writing this way.

    To give you some examples, I recently edited (not wrote) a sales brochure and was paid close to $400. Editing a three minute video script netted me $80 for about 2 hours work.

    A white paper can generate between $2500 to $7500 or more . . . if you know, really know, the topic and can write intelligently about it. That usually comes from specialization.

    Finally, I believe that if you want to break free from 5, 10, and 25 dollar articles, specialization is the key to a greater income.

    Steve Maurer recently posted..Online/Offline Copy DifferencesMy Profile

    • Well said, Steve. If you’d like to do a guest post for me, holler.

      • Hi, Anne.

        I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through your site. I found it through a Tweet by my friend, John Soares. I spent an hour this morning just going from post to post.

        I do have an guest submission that I recently finished. I’ll send a PDF of it for your consideration. It will be from steve@maurer-copywriting.com

        Thanks again for all the great information!
        Steve Maurer recently posted..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?My Profile

        • Look for Steve’s excellent guest post next week! I learned some stuff…

  • Most people understand nothing of the writing process. I don’t care how many or few words something is, a cohesive article with a beginning, middle and end takes time to write. Sometimes it’s the topic or the angle that determines how long it takes to write something. I used to do 300-word book reviews: well, I spent most of my time CUTTING to get the review down to specs! For this reason, I’m insulted by offers of a few dollars for short pieces just because the person offering it thinks it’s easy to write. I take a lot of care revising, checking my spelling and grammar, etc. I’m not about to rush through something just so I can get it written within a time frame that will yield the amount of money I should be paid. As a result, these days I’m barely earning minimum wage.
    Marcy Sheiner recently posted..Ghostwriting: How It Works Part IIMy Profile

    • True and it usually doesn’t help to explain it to them. When I’m offered a low rate I explain what my rate is and invite them to get in touch if they need me, then I move on.

  • I agree that having specialties can be helpful for getting a desirable pay rate.

    I was recently in a pay negotiation conversation with a client who wanted to pay me much less for an article than what I had quoted. He mentioned that when he researched pay, the lower rate he was offering seemed to be within a generally acceptable range. I was able to acknowledge that the lower rate might be reasonable for a topic that many people tend to have some common knowledge about, but that my background would allow me to write authoritatively and fluidly on the specific topic he needed. In the end, we agreed to go with my original rate.

    That said, I don’t think having specialties limits you to those topics. My specialty is adult learning and corporate training…but I also dabble in travel writing and other lifestyle topics.
    Shelley recently posted..6 Techniques that Stimulate Recall in eLearningMy Profile

    • Great story Shelley, and good for you.

    • Hi, Shelley!

      I’m glad you stood your ground! The client may have been checking out prices on the many “content mills” and not the rates of good freelancers. One word of advice (which you may already know) is to never ask them what their budget is for the project to start with. That will lock you into that amount. You’ll either have to take a smaller fee or decline the project.

      If they him-haw about your quote, then you can ask their budget requirements. Now you are in a position to negotiate what you will do for what they can afford.

      Another good practice is never to give an exact quote until you have all the information. Give a ballpark estimate (between this price and that price) and only give a firm quote after you know exactly what the project entails.

      Again, glad to hear you stood your ground and got the fee requested!
      Steve Maurer recently posted..Are Discount Text Services Really That Cost Effective?My Profile

  • Deb

    I agree about having more than one specialty. My whole life has been spent learning new specialties (Not My IDEA, just trying to make a living). The challenge at this time is to not have too many areas of specialization!

    Deb’s last blog post..Free Anti-Virus and other Utilities

  • Sue Chehrenegar

    Yes, Writing about a “specialty” is a great way to make money. It is also very satisfying. I am in the process of completing web pages for a man who wants to market a new sort of supplement. My focus is on pages directed at children and parents.

    ( I majored in biology at college; since then I have taken a correspondence course about writing for children)

  • admin

    Devon and Isaac, you’re both right as well. Having more than one writing specialty or niche or genre is also a good idea. ‘Tis a balancing act isn’t it.

    Autumn, you’re right about being able to write 3-5 500ish word articles an hour. I did my stint at this in the real estate market and I found it terribly boring after awhile. Was grateful for the cash when I needed it and was more grateful when I could move on. Also nice to know I can go back there if necessary.

    Julia, what I really like about what you say is you’re already planning to diversify once you get a good start on the user guides, etc. Sounds like wisdom to me.

  • Hey, you guys want to limit yourselves into “niche” writing, there’s all that more open for me.

    One of the reasons I freelance is so I can follow anything that interests me and get paid for it.

    And I do.

    Devon Ellington’s last blog post..Friday, March 13, 2009

  • I’ve written plenty of SEO articles for $25 or more, and I did start out writing SEO articles that paid $5 each. Once you know what you’re doing, you can actually write several 500-word articles per hour. Granted, they’re not full of quality; in fact, mine were almost stream-of-consciousness writing with some keywords slapped in there. But they had proper grammar and made sense, and I could write about 4 or 5 an hour. That’s $20 to $25 per hour just getting started in freelance writing…I was able to pay my mortgage with such articles, and it led to better jobs that allow me to actually provide quality content.

    Autumn’s last blog post..What Are the Top 5 Traits of Good Content?

  • Isaac

    There’s an interesting article related to this over at editorunleashed.com about not boxing yourself into a niche too much. It’s an interesting contrast to this.

    Isaac’s last blog post..Query Letter that Worked

  • Yes, I totally agree Anne. In trying to get my freelancing technical writing career off the ground, I’ve seen all sorts of those jobs float by. I don’t know how people could possibly make a full-time living off of them. As you said, you’d get a bit of coin & some credits you could point to, but that’s about it.

    This is why I’m focusing really hard on my specialty of technical writing– by which I mean user guides & online help, not articles about technical topics. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do that in the future. It’s just that’s what I’m ready to offer right now, and what can earn me the most for my time. Once I’m able to diversify and do things like write up articles on technical subjects, I’ll offer that as well.

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