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One of the first questions a new freelance writer will have for me is “how much should I charge?” Setting your rates as a freelance writer can bring on a heavy dose of anxiety: charge too little and you could be feeling burnt out, charge too much and you could have a hard time delivering on your value to your ideal clients.
Sadly, there is no easy or even reliable answer for this. A lot of times, people will tell them to charge what they’re worth — but even this seemingly-sage advice has its issues.
Of course, when you're creating a rate card for freelance writing, there are all sorts of things to consider:
- type of writing involved
- goal of the project (revenue-generating or some other goal?)
- timeline to complete the project
- living and work expenses
- overhead and salary
- topic knowledge / niche
- research involved
- accompanying assets, such as graphics
- byline included?
- publication or ownership rights included?
The list goes on and on.
But before we even try to dig deep into each of those concerns, we’re going to take a look at the four most important considerations you must make as you start setting your rates as a freelance writer:
- Your Experience
- The Venue
- Your Time
- The Scope of Work
4 Things to Consider when Setting Your Rates as a Freelance Writer
1. Your Experience
A lot of people read “your experience” and they immediately think that I am talking about how long they’ve been working as a freelance ghostwriter. Not even how long they’ve been writing or how long they’ve been a freelance writer — but specifically how long they have been working as a freelance ghostwriter.
To this day, it still amazes me at how many people think they should lower their rates because they are relatively new to freelance ghostwriting even if they have a lot of experience with writing and even if they have a lot of experience in the given niche or field.
When I am talking about your experience, I am referring to any and all experience you will lean on for any given project. And while, yes, that will include how much time you’ve spent working as a ghostwriter and/or as a freelance writer, that will also include your experience within the specific niche or genre the project is in. Have you written in that niche or genre before? Have you taken any classes or certifications in that area? Do you have a deep understanding of the subject matter that another writer might not have?
If you’re coming off a career as a nurse, your knowledge and experience in the healthcare professional lend you much more experience than someone who’s trying to write with no experience at all. Writing can be learned, but experience has to be gained.
2. The Client
Who are you planning to write for and what is this piece being used for?
Every client is going to have different requirements for their ghostwriter, so you’ll want to take into consideration just what some of those expectations are. For example, if someone has hired you to write a memoir, that can often require a lot of research as well as interviews with people familiar with your client or with the situations your client wants to include in their memoirs. Depending on the exact needs, you may find yourself drawing up and signing numerous nondisclosure statements, contracts, and other legal documents.
You may also find the need for separate data-handling processes than you would use for other clients. In fact, for a couple of my clients, I had to make sure I bought and used a separate, external hard drive to store all files, so no files were stored on my computer at all — even while I was working on them.
Another thing to consider is what this work is going to be used for. In most cases with books, the book is being used to support their marketing strategy or build brand and authority awareness, so the client is gaining notoriety or a level of fame (even if it is a small level) from the book. In other cases, the book is solely being written for monetary reasons, in which case your writing will have a direct correlation to their income. You don’t have to charge differently for these scenarios, but they are things to consider if you wanted to.
3. Your Time
Nothing will get you in financial trouble faster than underestimating the time you will need to complete your project.
And I don’t just mean the time it takes you to write the book itself, but I mean the time it takes to do the research, gather your thoughts and materials, as well as taking the time between milestones to talk to your client and gain their feedback. Writing a book for a client can take several weeks, sometimes several months. Can you imagine going that long in-between paychecks? Even if you secured a deposit before taking on the project, you could still sometimes go weeks or months before any more money comes in. This means that the money you do bring in has to last you long enough to get to the next invoice.
4. The Scope of Work
Exactly what will be included with the project? Are you expected to do all the research yourself, or has the client already completed the research and will be handing you their materials? Will you be conducting interviews, taking photos, or gathering quotes from other sources? Will you be editing the book when you’re done? Or putting together promotional materials?
Some clients just want you to write their book and send it to them to handle the rest. Others would much rather stick with one person to do as many steps as possible before having to bring in another set of eyes.
Setting your rates as a freelance writer, especially for the first time, can be a bit overwhelming if you're not sure what to charge for. And the fact that there's really no set standard that you can use as a formula to check against doesn't really help matters. However, if you approach setting your rates as a freelance writer with these things in mind, you'll have a better idea of where to start.
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