Years ago I met another freelancer at ASJA and we got to talking about the markets we were writing for. She was surprised to learn that I wrote for markets that paid relatively low rates, and told me that she only wrote for markets that paid at least $1/word. "Otherwise, it's not worth my while," she said. I couldn't disagree more. The question is not what you make per-word; it's what you make per-hour that's critical to your success. So as I reviewed my blog's stats recently, I was happy to see that this blog's most popular post of all time was one I wrote more than three years ago about why I don't care what I make per-word. Here it is, updated somewhat: So, what are you making per word for your articles for print and online markets? $1/word? $1.50/word? Only $0.40/word?
Who cares? I only care about what I make per-hour.
While blogs typically pay a set rate per-post, Websites, magazines, and e-zines pay per-word. This per-word 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 itto 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. Plus it's a lot less of a hassle for me.