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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Talking Freelance Money: Per-Hour Versus Per-Word

Hi, readers! Today's post is a flashback of sorts--an updated version of one of my first, and also one of my most popular. It encompasses one of my freelancing philosophies--that it's more important to pay attention to what you're making per-word than per-hour

Per-word rates are the norm in the freelance world. You may be paid $2/word for a national print magazine, $0.25/word for an online publication, or, say, $200 for a blog post of about 600 words. The per-word figure, multiplied by word count, tells you how much you’ll make for writing a particular article. story. But it may not tell you whether it’s really worth it to take it on. To know the answer to that, you must also consider how much time the piece will take to pitch, research, and write--and possibly rewrite. Divide your assignment fee by the number of hours you put into an assignment, and you'll have its hourly rate. 

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. Because 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 does a higher per-word rate mean you're making more money if you were to write for a market that pays less? 

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 appears to be a more lucrative 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 during the last 16 years) expect a lot more work from you to earn that higher rate. In many cases, I’ve found that regional magazines, trade publications, custom magazines, and websites pay more per-hour than their national counterparts. And that makes them worthwhile markets, at least for me. 

Another example? I sell reprints to a variety of markets. No, the rates aren't high--and may be as low as $40/story, but last week I got a request for an article of mine. It took me less than 15 minutes to locate the story on my hard drive and email it to her along with an invoice--an hourly rate of $160. That number puts a new perspective on selling reprints, huh? 

To know your hourly rate, you have to know how much time each assignment takes, and thats's why I recommend using a time sheet, especially if you're a new writer. As you gain experience, you'll find you can more easily estimate how long a piece will take and have a better feel for what its hourly rate--its true value--will be. 

**Looking for more advice on writing for money? Check out my latest two books, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, and Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition

You'll save money by buying them direct through, my newly-launched publishing company. Use the discount code, IMPROVISEPRESS (all caps, no breaks) for 20 percent off of your order--and let me know if you'd like a signed copy for yourself or a friend! 

1 comment:

  1. My favorite writing quote, by Robert Benchley. "Freelance writers get paid per word, per hour or perhaps."