How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Writer?
“Every freelance writer should charge ten cents a word.”
Of course, this is a ridiculous statement. For some of you, this rate seems high, since you are just getting started and many writing platforms you have explored don’t pay more than two cents per word. For others, this seems painfully low, with some writers asking as much as a dollar a word and more.
For me, I can work comfortably at this rate and make $50-$100 an hour, depending on the work.
But here’s the thing: There is no one right answer.
Over the years, I’ve developed a formula for setting my writing rates to make me accessible, while allowing me to work the number of hours I want, and say no to projects I don’t feel are a good fit for me.
So, how much should you charge as a freelance writer?
Grab your calculator and follow the easy formula below to determine your own writing rate.
Start with a generous estimate of what you need to make
This is the only way to accurately determine what rate you should charge. As I explain the rest of the formula this part will make more sense.
Don’t start at the very minimum for survival. That’s a recipe for starving artists. Also, don’t concern yourself with what other writers are charging. Calculate what it would take for you to live your life comfortably and have enough to save a bit. Be sure you overestimate, if anything.
- Include all of your regular bills, from rent to utilities to groceries and your car. Add anything that you pay for every month.
- Add in occasional expenses, such as car repairs, new clothes, upkeep on your home and car. Be sure to be realistic.
- Include enough to occasionally enjoy life, go out to dinner, take a vacation, buy gifts for holidays, etc.
- Add all of this, then add at least 10% for savings, and a 15% cushion for times when work slows down. (it will)
X = $ you need to make per month
Example: X = $3000
Next, decide how many hours you would like to work
We are working toward your ideal rate. So, be realistic. Do you want to work 50 hours a week and really buckle in, or would you rather work 20 hours a week? Remember, this estimate is just for writing, not marketing, promoting, networking and applying for jobs.
- Calculate the number of hours per week you want to spend at the keyboard, actually putting words on paper. You’ll need to spend about 20% of that time on promoting to keep your work coming.
- Be realistic and leave yourself a little margin. You may work a lot more hours in the beginning, or sometimes there may not be enough work to fill every hour, choose an average.
- The more hours you choose to work, the cheaper you can work. This will open up more opportunities. The fewer hours, the more you’ll have to charge and clients will take longer to find.
T = hours you would like to work/week
Example: T = 20 hours
Determine how many words you can write in an hour
For some of you, this is a known commodity. When I am in the groove, it is easy for me to crank out 1000-1500 words in an hour. That’s after ten years of daily writing. Don’t go by how fast you type. That is only one factor. If you’re not sure, write up some blog posts for your own website, time yourself and check your word count.
- This is another place where you need to be realistic. I average mine to 1000 words, because that’s not hard, and 1500 for more than a two or three-hour stretch, is grueling.
- Calculate time for meals, answering phones, replying to email, taking kids to school, etc. Writing may be your life, but it can never be your whole life. So, reduce your average writing speed by 20% for safety.
- Examine your life. Is it realistic for you to have enough uninterrupted hours to work at that rate for the number of hours you want to work? If not, adjust accordingly.
W = Words/Hour
Example: W = 1000 wpm
Multiply your working hours by your words per hour
This gives you the number of words you can produce in a week. Not all weeks are equal, remember, this is just a goal. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to produce faster, which means you can make more money at the same rate. You’ll need to find enough work to fill all of these hours, which can be a challenge, but we’ll adjust for that.
- Next, take your weekly output (working hours, times words per hour) and divide them into your income requirement. This will give you a “price per word” which is my favorite way to bid.
- To get an hourly rate, simply multiply your price per word, by your hourly output.
- This rate can be adjusted to account for down time, experience, and other factors, but it gives you a goal to strive for.
T x W = Weekly Output (WO)
Example: 20 x 1000 = 20,000 words per week
X / WO = Price/Word (PPW)
Example: $3000 / 20,000 = 0.15 cents/word
PPW x W = Hourly Rate
Example: 0.15 x 1000 = $150/hr
Bring the market to your rate, instead of bringing your rate to the market
Most writers will start out trying to work for a “fair” price. That’s understandable.
Here’s a secret: A fair price is anything that makes you and the client both happy, no matter how high or low it may be. Some days I make $150 an hour. Some days I make $20, depending on how much premium work I can get.
Here are a few other things I’ve learned:
- The more I charge, the fewer customers I have to find, the more time I can spend getting each customer.
- I can always lower my rates in negotiation, but it is nearly impossible to raise them and negotiate successfully once a lower price has been quoted.
- Customers that demand a lower rate, are often more demanding and less understanding. You may find you work harder for less.
- A client willing to pay a premium price, is less likely to complain, because they’ve seen you as a premium service provider. As long as you deliver quality goods, this relationship will continue.
- There are clients in the market willing to hire at almost any rate. It may take longer to find them. You may also have to develop new skills to access higher paying clients.
Be prepared to adjust your rate
You may find you’ve overshot and no one is willing to hire a beginner for your optimum rate. That’s okay. In addition to an optimum rate, you need to know what your base rate is. Use the same formula to calculate how much you need to make to pay the bare minimum, rent, utilities and groceries. This is a good price to set as your minimum, even for fill in work when you don’t have enough premium clients to fill up your schedule.
If you cannot work enough at your optimum rate, you’ll need to increase the number of hours you work until you can. Do good work, build your portfolio, get some good samples, and keep your resume up to date and before you know it, your original optimum rate will be your new base rate.