When it comes to charging for your writing, many authors don’t know where to start. How much do you charge per hour? Per project? How much is too little? How much is too much? In this episode, Chris and Gena talk about that and recommend a formula they’ve used for years.
Episode 11 Transcription:
[00:00:14].680] - Gena Welcome to the Writing Momentum Podcast. I'm Gena Maselli and I'm here with my husband, Christopher Maselli. Chris, how are you today? [00:00:22].290] - Chris Hey, Gena. Yeah, I'm doing good. You know, a couple of podcasts ago, we talked about how to make time to write and we asked people for their answers. And do you know, we had like ten times the amount of listings we normally did? That topic really hit home. [00:00:37].350] - Gena That's amazing to me. I didn't know that that would be so popular. [00:00:42].080] - Chris Yeah, it was a good one. We really enjoyed recording it. If you haven't listened to that one yet, that was episode nine. And you can go back and listen to that. And we also have a blog post where we posted a bunch of people's answers so that you can see how others make time to write. It's pretty interesting. [00:00:57].120] - Gena Well, and I think that the thing that we learn through that is that it is a very practical, rubber meets the road kind of topic where we really are wondering, how do we do this thing that is a passion for us and that is a dream for us. So I can understand it from that perspective. [00:01:18].240] - Chris That is true. Now, today we also have a very kind of universal topic, don't we? This is something we're asked about a lot. [00:01:23].820] - Gena Yeah. I think this is one that's a bit of a mystery. We are talking about how to set your freelance writing rates. And you may be saying, I'm not a freelance writer, what does this have to do with me? But the fact is you may get a question from someone who all of a sudden asks you, what would you charge to edit my book? What would you charge to help me write my book? What would you charge to write a blog on my website or on another website? Or maybe you're a writer and you think, I just want to earn a little bit extra money. I want to do something a little extra. Maybe you have a full time job somewhere else, but you just want to earn a little bit extra money. And so you're wondering how to go about setting those rates. You don't want to be too high. You don't want to be too low. So what do you do? Yeah. [00:02:14].860] - Chris And it's important not to be too low here because first of all, this affects you, right? You want to make sure it's worth your time. But we have also seen times where writers charge way too little. And then it makes it tougher for all the other writers. We've had jobs before that people have asked us for a quote on. And then we found out that the writer before us charged like almost nothing because they were just doing it just for fun kind of thing. So the expectation in the eyes of the client was that this should not cost hardly anything. And we were looking at it going, well, wait a second, this is taking hours of our time. That person was charging way too little. So then it was up to us to reset the expectations. And that's never fun. [00:02:59].330] - Gena If I could add to that about expectations, Chris, I think there's something that is important about people paying for expertise. I think when it is free, there is an expectation that it isn't as meaningful, that it doesn't mean as much. I think years ago we had a garage sale with some friends of ours and there was this rowboat there. This is kind of a silly story, but there was this row boat there that some friends of ours were trying to get rid of. And we had a free sign on that thing. They had a free sign on that thing for most of the day. And this was like a four family garage sale that we were all having. And we could not give that thing away. We could not give it away. And all of a sudden the husband got an idea, a funny idea. And one of the families was selling their Forest Gump DVD. And so he went and grabbed the Forest Gump DVD, set it on the boat with a big sign that said Bubba Gump fishing boat, $40. And he sold it in minutes. I'm not even kidding. So I always think back to that really funny, silly story. [00:04:24].760] - Gena We all had a huge laugh about that one, the Bubba Gump. We were embarrassed when he did it. Everybody was teasing him and giving him a hard time. But you know what? He sold it and he didn't give it away. He got money for it all because of that expectation and that he was also branding it a little bit more about marketing and branding, but also there was an expectation that it must be valuable because people were paying for it. [00:04:50].770] - Chris Yeah, exactly. So let's go ahead then and just walk everyone through how we would set a rate for any project. Right. So the first thing we start off with is what? [00:05:01].930] - Gena Well, the first thing we start off with is, well, if we're talking about income, we're talking about how much do we need in order to make a project valuable to us? And I think that is important, that it needs to be worth your time if you're doing it. Sometimes as a writer, you can get so caught up with what should I ask for? What shouldn't I ask for? And the bottom line is, if it is not valuable enough to you to do, it will be one of the hardest projects you'll ever work on. [00:05:39].430] - Chris Yeah. And don't forget that what you're doing is an art. Right. You're not just putting a widget together. It's an art. So charge like it's an art because you should be, because you're putting your heart into it. So what we like to do is we recommend people start off with their overall goal of income. If you're wanting to choose, let's say we're trying to set an hourly rate because you can devise your rates for individual projects based on those hours. So, for instance, if you know you're going to charge $50 an hour and you know that a brochure is going to take you around 10 hours to do, then you know you can charge $500 for that brochure. Right. So the first thing we recommend you do is figure out what income do you want for the year? How much do you want to make for your writing for the year? And write down that number? It might be $50,000, it might be $100,000, it might be $200,000 or maybe $20,000. Whatever it is, write down that number, start with that, and then from there take and divide it by what the number of hours per week or per month that you're going to write. [00:06:47].080] - Gena So if you are looking at I'm adding writing to my income, I want to add $1,000 a month to my income. So you're just starting out and you're saying I want to add $1,000 a month. Well, then, you know, for $1,000 a month, if you're looking per week and you say on average there are about four weeks in a month, then you will need to make about $250 a week. And then you take that 250 and you say, well, if I'm going to work 10 hours a week on my writing to make that $250, then I need to charge about $25 an hour. And so that is where you come up with an hourly rate based on how much you're wanting to make, how many hours you're going to work. And just looking at the big picture of what you're going to earn in a year. [00:07:40].080] - Chris Yeah. And you need to be diligent about how many hours you really think you're going to write per week. Because the truth is, a lot of us may think, oh, I'm going to write 40 hours a week. Right. It's going to be like a full time job. But the truth is our actual writing is not usually 40 hours because we have a lot of other things we have to do within that writing time that we have. If you're a full time freelancer, you're also marketing and responding to emails and talking to clients on the phone. And there's a lot of things you may do during those hours. So you need to actually figure out when you're quoting a project, how many hours altogether might that project take? And then take that, of course, times the amount that you've decided to charge per hour and you'll get your hourly rate. And generally what we find is that quite often that number per hour is higher than most writers expect. They think, oh, I'm going to charge $30 an hour for my writing. And then they start breaking down how much they want to make per year. [00:08:42].080] - Chris Divide that by the number of weeks in a year. Divide that number by the hours that they want to work each week. And they end up wanting to charge $75 to $150 an hour for writing. And you know what? That's actually not really too much because some jobs should pay you at least that much because as we said, this is an art. And depending on what you're working on, especially if it's a marketing piece, it could be a lot more than that. We've been to conferences where they talk about writing. Let's say you're writing direct mail type pieces. Those are going to make sometimes in the six figures when you send out that piece of direct mail. So you, as the author, can charge enough to reflect the fact that it's going to make that much money for the client. So you want to keep that in mind, too. [00:09:30].960] - Gena Well, and that is a great point, Chris, that you need to be thinking when you're quoting a price. If somebody comes to you and they say, we want to know how much you would charge for XYZ, you need to be thinking about how is that piece going to be used? Is that piece going to be used as a marketing tool that will make sales? Will it lead to leads for a business? Or is it something like a blog that someone just needs content for their website and really isn't going to have a monetary value, a direct monetary value for them. So those items that have a direct monetary value, marketing, sales, SEO, that kind of thing, those will charge you can charge and demand higher rates than you could for something simple like a blog post or even social media that's just content. So keep that in mind, too. [00:10:35].550] - Chris It might also depend on the client. Right. So if you're working for a client that's a very large corporation, you can probably charge more again, because of the influence that's going to have versus a small business versus even something like a ministry. Right. Or a nonprofit, you may end up charging less for those because you know that it's a different cause, that sort of thing. Or if it's a nonprofit that is asking for money. Right. If it's an "ask letter", then you might charge more because you know how much it's going to bring in for them. So you have to weigh all those things. [00:11:08].450] - Gena Right. And you also want to take into account the area where you are working and who are you quoting that price for? So if you are quoting that price for a national corporation or even a national nonprofit or even international, that's going to have a different price than, say, if you're quoting a price for your local business right down the street that maybe doesn't have the reach of a national company or a national nonprofit. So keep that in mind. [00:11:42].030] - Chris But again, make sure it's worth your time, no matter what you end up quoting. [00:11:45].700] - Gena Yeah. [00:11:46].150] - Chris Because if you quote too little and it becomes a headache for you, you're not going to enjoy the project, and that's going to come out in your writing. So you want to make sure that people can see that. [00:11:57].080] - Gena And I would say also, if I could add on to that, Chris, I always like to see exactly... I never quote a price without seeing what they're expecting. So if they want me to work on a book, I would like to see what do they have already? If I'm working on a letter, I want to see what did they produce in the past. I want to know what their expectations are and what they already have. And that will feed into the price, too, because if they're giving me something that is just raw data, but they've got everything and they know exactly what they want, that's going to be a much quicker piece to write than if they are saying we don't know what we want, we need you to do research. We need you to tell us what our letter should even look like or what our book should, how it should be put together. That is, you're getting into research, you're getting into marketing strategy, you're getting into a whole other area of expertise that's going to take you a lot of time. You're not talking about just writing. [00:13:00].280] - Chris It's all part of writing. Right. I mean, when we write, we are almost always researchers also. And so you need to be sure you're counting that as part of it. But. Yeah, definitely count for those hours. Otherwise you'll regret it later. [00:13:12].230] - Gena Yeah. And that would also go if someone says, can you edit my book for me? I can tell you when someone says, can you edit a book for me? There is a sliding scale there of where that will be and where that will end. You could have someone who's a very clean writer, and they just need you to go over it and you're going to work through and it's going to go very quickly to a writer that really needs a lot of help. And you're almost going to be rewriting that piece. One book could be from a few hours all the way to several tens of hours. [00:13:51].120] - Chris Yeah. And I encourage you not to just get a sample of the book when you go ahead and do this kind of thing, ask them to see the entire manuscript, because I have personally had projects where I've asked someone to send in a sample, and they do. And then when I get the full manuscript, the ending of the book is in far worse shape than the beginning because they rushed it or something like that. And then it causes a lot more work on my end, and I'm already under contract, so I have to either go back and renegotiate the contract or I just have to eat it. And that's never fun. [00:14:23].530] - Gena And you usually eat it. [00:14:24].620] - Chris I usually eat it because I feel like you need to stick with what you agreed to do, but it can come back to bite you if you're not careful. [00:14:31].000] - Gena Yeah, absolutely. And I think the other thing that you need to realize is that for those who are just starting out, you will not be able to ask for the same amount that someone who's been in the business for 10, 20 years can ask. So you want to make sure that you're realistic in what you think you can ask for. Chris mentioned that it's not unthinkable to ask for $75 to $150 an hour, and that's very true, but not when it's your first few pieces. You're going to have to work up to that. It's a snowball effect that you're going to need to work up to. And this doesn't even get into we're talking about hourly rates. We're talking about that. But I will be honest, that hourly rate is really not my favorite way to quote. I prefer to quote by the price or by the project itself so that if it doesn't take me as long, I'm still coming out, okay. If it takes me longer then I'm still coming out, okay. And then you're not kind of nitpicking over. Well, I only spent an hour here or I spent 5 hours there. [00:15:48].730] - Gena Again, looking at what is the purpose of the project, who is your client, and what is the average rate for this type of piece, and how much experience am I bringing to the table and how quickly can I turn it around? [00:16:04].150] - Chris Yeah. But even so, when you quote by the project, it's nice to know what your hourly rate would be if you were to charge per hour. So, for instance, if you know that you're going to charge $50 per hour and that brochure or that letter is going to take 10 hours, you just take your hourly rate times that and then you can buffer it a little bit. Right. Put a little extra on there, or you can give them a little bit of a discount depending on what you think it'll take, and you'll end up with a general price for most projects. [00:16:32].620] - Gena So, Chris, we have given a lot of detail, and I think we could probably talk for a long time about this particular topic, but can you recap it for us? [00:16:40].760] - Chris Yeah. So let's just look at this real succinctly here. First of all, when you set your prices, you want to be realistic. Of course, you want to take in the cost of your area and who the client is and that sort of thing. And the more experience you have, the more you can charge. But overall, you want to base what you charge based on what you want to make at the end of the year. So for instance, if you want to make $100,000. And let's say we divide that by 50 weeks of the year divided by 40 hours a week, that means you're going to charge $50 an hour. Okay. Now again, that's not entirely realistic because you're probably not going to write for 40 hours a week and you may not want to work 50 weeks a year. So you're going to have to readjust that depending on what you want to make. But let's say you want to make $100,000 divided by 50 weeks divided by 40 hours. That means you're charging $50 an hour. Then if you know a certain project is going to take you 10 hours, you might charge $500 or you might add a little buffer to that and charge $600 or $700. [00:17:40].490] - Chris Or if you find out that most people charge $1000 for that, you can charge that. Or it might be less depending on what it is. Just realize you're not going to get paid for all the other things you have to do in your job like marketing, answering emails and networking and that sort of thing. So you need to build that all into your overall price so that it's fair. [00:18:00].810] - Gena That's perfect. We want to know if you have any questions or have any insights about this particular topic. We'd love to hear from you. Please contact us at writingmomentum.com. We have a form on our site that you can fill out. Give us your feedback. We want to hear about it. But until we see you again, which hopefully will be next week. [00:18:25].110] - Chris We hope that you will rate and review and subscribe and share this with someone. If you know someone who's struggling to know what their rates are, share this episode with them and maybe it'll help them out. [00:18:36].660] - Gena Absolutely. Thank you so much. We hope that your writing always has momentum. And this is Chris and Gena. We'll see you next time. Bye.