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Monday, February 10, 2014

Blast from the Past: Dollars/Word Versus Dollars/Hour

Hi, readers--I'm in the midst of the project that will not end. If I was charging by the hour, this would be good news--I'd be making more and more money. However, I'm being paid a set fee (or a project fee), which means my hourly rate is plummeting. It also means that I have close to zero free time, which is why this week's post features a "blast from the past"--one of my most popular posts--about a semantic difference that many freelancers ignore to their peril.  

So, let's talk about what you're making per-word for the articles you write. Is it $1/word? $2/word? $0.40/word? $0.25/word? Even less? 

You may be surprised that I've taken on assignments that pay $0.40/word, even $0.25/word, and yes, even less than that. I don't care about the per-word rate as much as I care about what I make per-hour.

Per-word rates are the norm in the freelance world. This figure, multiplied by word count, tells you how much you’ll make for writing a particular story. But it may not tell you whether it’s worth it to take it on. The real question is how much time the story will take. The assignment amount, divided by the number of hours you put into it, gives you your hourly rate for the piece.

Knowing how much time an article (or any other project, for that matter) will take gives you a concrete idea of the return on your time. And those $1/word and up assignments can be mighty misleading. Sure, it’s a bigger check than writing for a market that pays a lower per-word rate. But are you really making more money?

For example, let’s say I do a 1,000-word story for a national magazine that pays $1.50/word. Fair enough—I’m getting paid $1,500 for my work. But what happens if between researching and writing the query, writing an outline (per my editor), researching the article, finding sources, doing interviews, transcribing interviews, writing the piece, turning in the piece, revising the piece (per my editor’s request), finding new sources (per my editor), interviewing those sources, turning in the final revision, submitting my backup material, answering additional questions from the editor (say, nine months later…it happens), I’ve put 25 hours into my story? That means I’ve made $60/hour on that story.

Not bad, but here’s the thing—compare that to a 1,000-word piece on the same topic for a smaller magazine that pays only $0.35/word. Yet I know the editor and my query is just a short paragraph. The story requires some background research and several interviews, and takes me a total of five hours to write. (No revisions requested! Yay!) That a total of $350, for five hours’ worth of work—or $70/hour.

At first glance, the $1,500 piece looks like a better assignment—and it is a bigger check. But my experience has been that national markets (and I’ve written for more than 60 of them) expect a lot more work from you to earn that higher rate. In many cases, I’ve found that regional magazines, trade publications, websites, and specialty magazines actually pay better per-hour than big national pubs. And that makes them worthwhile markets for me.

What about you? Are you tracking your time…or just your dollars?


**Readers, I'm working on a list of topics to cover for the rest of the winter. What questions do you have about freelancing? Comment here and I'll be happy to consider them. In the meantime, if  you're serious about turning your passion for writing into profits, check out Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets. Already making money as a freelancer, but want to take your career to the next level? Then you need Six-Figure Freelancing, Second Edition: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money.