The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. – Robert Benchley
The quote above came from American comedian and writer Robert Benchley. Every freelance writer, or other freelancers even, can relate to it. How much should a freelance writer charge is one of the frequent questions asked among writers. Just recently, two readers have consulted me about this.
A freelance writer can charge whatever he or she wants as long as it makes sense for him or her, for the client, and for the market. As long as the freelance writer feels that it’s fair, there is nothing to worry about.
There are people who charge way too much and get those high rates because they’ve built their reputation and their business up and have earned it. I know someone who can demand a million pesos for a book project because she has great writing credentials under her belt.
On the other end of the scale are the other writers who charge way below what they should, unknowingly or deliberately, thus affecting other freelance writers and the market in general.
So how much is fair?
In the course of my freelance writing career, I’ve tried weighing four ways on how to charge a writing project: per word, per page, per project or per piece, and per hour. There are pros and cons for each but let me give you an idea how it works for me.
When I got hold of my first copy of Writer’s Digest back in the mid-80’s, I read from the ads that contributing writers would get between $0.05 USD to $0.25 USD per word. At that time, the exchange rate was Php 35.00 = $1.00 USD. I was in high school then and all I could say was, “Wow!”
When I joined the Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines (FWGP) in 2012, we had agreed that no Filipino writer should charge below Php 2.00 per word. And yet, some writers accept projects that pay way below that rate.
In fact, I’ve encountered a writing platform that pays writers $6.00 per 500 words. Although there are many writing tasks to grab daily, and an average writer can write up to 3 articles per day, it may look like the rate is fair if converted into Philippine peso. But think again, given the task requirements [like sticking to the SEO keywords and the exact 500 words] plus the time spent on research, writing and polishing the draft, the $6.00 per 500 words is way below the Php 2.00 per word FWGP standard.
When charging a writing project per word, better ask the client for the required word count. Most of my clients for web content require me to write articles 1,200 to 1,500 words long. Only a few would require me to write up to 3,000 words. Since the word count varies, it is easier to set the price per 100 or 500 words. This is much easier and acceptable to both client and me.
According to an article in Entrepreneur magazine dated October 2013, writers may charge from $2.00 USD per 100 words for academic writing, $3.00 USD per 100 words for special reports, $5.00 USD per 250-399 words, and $10.00 USD for 400-500 words for article and content writing. That was almost seven years ago. The rates have changed now. If we are to follow the current FWGP standard, the rate should be $20.00 USD per 500 words.
However, if the client specified a project long enough that charging per word may be too much, I go for the second option: per page.
Two years ago, I finished an e-book project that paid me by the page. I’ve checked around and saw that prices per page vary from one writer to another. One source said, it’s $15.00 USD per page. That is around Php 780.00 if converted. The client may say it’s over his or her budget, so be ready with a counter-proposal to meet halfway.
Editing and proofreading services are better charged by the page, whether fiction or nonfiction writing.
However, because of images, charts, diagrams, etc., the text would have to move along adding more pages which could be both an advantage or disadvantage. The more pages I have, the more money I’ll get. However, the not so good thing about it is when I compute for the per word rate, chances are it would go way below than my usual per word rate. Realizing that would make me think twice, my next option is to charge it per project.
This is something easy for the client because it’s a flat fee regardless of the project’s length. Also, I have an advantage to figure out how much I would like to get paid without the limitations of word or page count. I just have to factor in the hours and resources spent, in a way that it makes sense to both parties, and still have enough gain at the end.
Projects that require interviews, library research, and other non-writing tasks, etc. are best charged on a per project basis. I think as if I’m going to be paid a salary per month or per week, depending on the project’s time frame. Also, I ask the client how much is his or her budget and I base my quote from it.
The disadvantage of this method is if the project becomes more in-depth than I anticipated and I end up on the losing end. Most freelance writers suffer this kind of trauma — working on a project, being told to revise this and that, hoping to get paid but ends up not being paid due to some unfortunate circumstances, and if ever paid the amount is lower than all the effort.
One way to prevent this is to ask for a down payment to finance the project, and ask for the balance once the project is done. This is stated in my Statement of Work (SOW) along with the project’s details.
If ever the client decides not to continue the project, I usually state in my SOW that the down payment will serve as the “kill fee”. This way, I’m paid for the services rendered during the first days of the project.
If I can’t figure how much the whole project would cost me, then I try charging it per hour instead.
This method is fair but tricky at the same time. I’ve scouted around and saw varied rates from $5.00 USD to $40.00 USD. (And I also found a few who charge much higher.) If you try to convert that into Philippine pesos you’ll exclaim, “Wow!”.
I use a timer and an invoicing tool so I could easily charge the client and show him or her how my time was spent in the project. That includes research, Skype calls, writing, and editing. I just have to be conscious of my time and motion and be honest in charging.
I bid for $11.00 USD per hour for two separate writing projects. The British client said, “I guess you’ll just be writing for thirty minutes per item, how’s that?” The Australian client said, “The US dollar rate is too much. How about if it’s in Australian dollars?” In short, I sealed both deals in 2015.
The advantage of being a Filipino is having this kind of opportunity to work with foreign clients and still get comfortable with the rates even if it’s below expectation. Both $5.50 USD and $11.00 AUD were fine with me because I was comfortable with that. Believe me, it was much more than the starting rate I had in freelance writing back in 2012.
I have set a lowest rate where I could still be comfortable and resolve that I should not go lower than that. Also, I factored in other fees like the kill fee, time for research, meetings, and revisions. I check with the client what the project entails then decide which method to use.
To help me decide, I weigh in the pros and cons of each rate in relation to that project. I start proposing for the hourly rate, then go for the per project rate. For small projects, it’s simpler that I start proposing for a per project (or per piece) or per 500 words rate. Then I sent my Statement of Work (SOW) which could also be my contract with the client once it’s signed. The rate will now be sealed.
Among the four methods, I prefer charging by the hour. However, different clients prefer different methods. So this is a tough balancing act and yet I like the variety.
How you’re going to charge the client depends on you. As long as it’s fair for both parties, as long as you’re comfortable with the cost, then it’s fine to charge per hour, per project, per page, or per word. But please, freelance writers, not perhaps.
Tell me what you think of this article or let me know if you have issues regarding talent fee. Let me know, too, if I have missed anything, I’d appreciate your feedback. And if you like to read more about freelance writing, productivity, or creative writing, please do subscribe to my quarterly newsletter and join the tribe.