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Arghhhhhhhhhhh! There Is No Typical Pay For Writers! Really!

How Long Is A Piece Of String AwardDear Anne, the email began, then described the kind of writing in question then asked:

What is the typical compensation?

I just wanted to tear my hair and shout:

THERE IS NO TYPICAL PAY FOR FREELANCE WRITERS!

Nor are their typical rates for freelance writers, nor any usual or standard hourly fees.

Any question that asks me something like that leads me to give out the How Long Is A Piece Of String Award!

Humph!

Okay, that’s not fair

I’m off my high-horse now. And all questions are welcome here, truly. And I do remember wanting reassurance when I first began setting rates. Like the questioner, I did some research and discovered that at best you can locate a range of prices for a particular kind of writing.


For example, this year’s Writer’s Market says that full time freelance editors earn between $35,000 and $200,000 a year! Ghostwriting there ranges from $30 an hour to $125 – which is low. But neither set of figures, even if accurate is particularly helpful. The range is to broad.

And that’s my point when I say, even nicely, that there simply is no typical rate for writers, or, I suspect, any other freelancer.

1000 Billable Hours A Year

Most freelancers bill about 20 hours a week. Sure, you work 40 or more, but actual hours you bill or can count as time spent actually earning keeps coming out around four hours a day or 20 hours a week. And yes, some weeks you’ll work more, and some weeks less. If you take two weeks off, and you should, that comes out to 1,000 billable hours a year. Much more than that and you risk serious burnout.

How much do you want to earn? How much do you think your worth?

Try this approach. Add up all your expenses for the year, including insurance and retirement and some extra and divide that by the 1,000 hours. Now you’ve got an approximation of what you should be charging by the hour. If you want $100,000 a year you need to charge $100 an hour.


Do this two ways: with your current expenses and then with the income you wish you had. This will give you your range.

For example, if all your expenses, including benefits, taxes, retirement, etc. add up to $36,000, your bottom line rate is $36 an hour. If your goal is $60,000, which is $60 an hour, you’ve now got your range of hourly pricing – $36-$60 an hour in this example.

Yes, there’s a whole lot of flex in these numbers. You can work more or less, and charge more or less. And you will. Over time you’re rate will go up. You’ll get smarter about finding work, choosing clients, managing your time and setting your rates.

Do you see why I say there is no typical pay for writers?

How do you set your hourly rate?

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • I appreciate your frankness in telling clearly that “there simply is no typical rate for writers”.

  • Defining a set hourly rate to bill has been a challenge for me based on the project. I have charged a lower rate for the few editing gigs I’ve gotten but don’t really know why I’ve let myself get in that rut. Plus as a freelance newbie, I’ve been guily of taking whatever a client offers instead of being in control of the project. Thanks for your insight!

    • Anne

      CJ, we’ve all made mistakes and learned from them… that’s the key to errors, leaning from them. No biggie.

  • Ted

    Anne,

    I charge according to what I am willing to work for and not necessarily according to what I see other people charging. In my opinion, my time is worth $80 an hour. So that is what I charge. Some people realize that I am worth that much and actually much more depending on the project. Others would think, “He’s way over priced.” Either opinion is fine by me. To be honest, I don’t want any work from people who don’t think I am worth that much. So, the people who move on because they think I am charging too much are doing me a huge favor by just leaving me alone. I am a firm believer in zero pressure sales. They either want what you have got or they don’t.
    Ted recently posted..Free Content For Your Blog or WebsiteMy Profile

  • Danielle

    Hi Anne,
    Coming from the finance sector, I went the spreadsheet/WM average/living indoors route. After adding what I needed to live, included a few ‘variable’ expenses and one unpaid employee (IRS) to the mix. It’s not a slam dunk but it’s livable for me with an occasional trip to Starbucks.

    What I learned is you’re right – it depends. Who, what, when, where, and how are a freelancers optimum questions when deciding.

    Thanks again for the reminder to ‘figure it out’.

    • Anne

      Danielle, you’re welcome and I like the way you did it too.

  • I have a template handy that shows the differences in my rates vs. the product. For my freelance writing, I say I have a base rate of ___, ___, and ___ then give samples of posts done at each of those different rates. Then I look at the website they want me to write for and say “based on the type of content you have, you would probably want my articles at the ___ rate.” Seems to work the easiest. 🙂
    Kristi Hines recently posted..How to Optimize 7 Popular Social Media Profiles for SEOMy Profile

    • Anne

      Kristi, great way to organize things.

  • Reminds me of the Chevy Chase line in Caddyshack: When his character Ty is asked “Well, how do you measure yourself against other golfers if you don’t keep score?”, he responds, “By height.”

    To answer your question, I started in ’99 at about $50, and I’m more than double that for new clients now. I’ll shoot higher if I think I can get away with it, and I don’t worry about the ones who say no. Honestly, I rarely disclose what my hourly is to a client without being put in an empty room, tied to a chair, with a single lightbulb dangling over my head. Much better to get them focused on per-project rates.
    Jake P recently posted..Freelance Follies: A Second OpinionMy Profile

    • Anne

      Jake, I started lower and am now higher… it’s all a process. When asked about my hourly I bob and weave and talk about the reasons for flat fees. But knowing my hourly is handy for me.

  • See, I’m so ADD that I can’t even count hours. A lot of my writing time involves frantically flipping between windows, stopping to write, stopping to think, stopping to get up and throw stuff away that’s bothering me, stopping to talk to someone. I do have what I call “focus mornings” where I go to Starbucks and FORCE myself to just do the work and nothing but the work, but even then I find myself window flipping. It’s just part of my creative process and it helps me spark off ideas. I’ve had to think about it another way:

    How many pages can I reasonably do per month? (I came up with about 400, I work very fast, at maximum, 300 at optimum).

    What would I have to charge per page to make that profitable for me? Per word?

    Then I based my new rates (cause I just hiked ’em!) on that.

    I found the Writer’s Market Chart still pretty far from my own experiences, even at the low ends, and I don’t feel like I’m doing badly at all. It’s probable that this reflects, however, a weakness in my marketing or a weakness in my expectations.
    Carmen Hudson recently posted..What is it worth to you?My Profile

    • Anne

      Carmen, flipping between windows, walking back and forth, etc. all indeed can be part of the creative process. And it can be total distraction. And I bet you know the difference. And you’re the only one who can judge your success… I’d say if you just upped your rates your certainly on the right track.

  • GREAT answer! Remember to also break it down into how many words per hour you will be able to create so that you can translate the per hour rate into a per word rate.
    Kathryn Lang recently posted..Discover the Steps to MY Writing SuccessMy Profile

    • Anne

      Good thought… never even thought of that to tell the truth, Thanks.

  • This is a really helpful post. I know there’s no definitive answer, but the way you broke it down was great to see. Thank you!
    Flora recently posted..Macau: Las Vegas of the EastMy Profile

    • Anne

      You’re welcome.

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