Figuring Out A Good Pay Rate for Writing

by James Chartrand

This is the third post in a series on increasing your rates and getting more money writing for a living. We’ve already discussed when you shouldn’t ask for a raise and how to find the confidence to ask for a raise. Today’s post covers figuring out what you should be paid for your work in the first place.

Feel free to ask your questions in the comment section, and we may cover the answer in an upcoming post.

The pay rate of writers is a hot topic. With the wide range of pay rates for various types of writing, no one can really figure out what they should be charging or what they should be paid for their words.

Sure, we can all cry for industry standards and level out the playing field so that both clients and writers know what the going rate should be. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, unfortunately.

There are way too many factors involve in different types of writing for people to set a standard rate. Both print and web content pay rates vary according to readership, subscription numbers, types of articles, the amount of research… the list goes on.

Toss in local economic factors and the jumble gets even messier. Live in California? Pay needs to be pretty good just to get by. Live in Siberia? Well, things are a little different over there.

We can look at going rates around the net to try and figure the problem out, but that’s not much help either. An article that pays $500 here might only bring $5 over there. Which is the right price? Both, really.

The only way to figure out what you should get paid for your work is to sit down and start thinking.

  • What’s the typical minimum wage where you live? If it’s $8 an hour, then you certainly don’t want to be writing for less than that amount. Know your “no go” pay point and start from there.
  • How fast can you work? If you can produce two pieces per hour, that helps you determine what kind of money you might make in a day.
  • How many distractions do you have? You may be a fast writer, but if you can only work a couple of hours in a whole day, then you need higher pay to make ends meet.
  • What are your personal expenses? Knowing what you have to pay each month for bills, rent, mortgages, utilities and credit cards helps you know what you need to bring in.
  • What are other people paid? Visit sites like Payscale.com, writing associations or other credible sources to see what they suggest as going rates.
  • What are other people really paid? Sites that suggest pay rates are great, but they’re often posting what people should be paid and not what they actually receive.
  • What are your overhead costs? The answer, “Nothing,” is false. Writers have to pay for internet connections, PayPal fees, bank fees, daycare costs, insurance, and all sorts of things.
  • What do you pay in taxes? So many people think about what goes in their pocket but forget what they’ll have to pay out in taxes. Factor tax payment projections into your rates and stay covered.
  • What will you be left with? Decide what you’d like to be paid per hour (not per piece). Subtract all overhead costs and taxes. If you’re left with a dollar or two, your rates are too low.

Why did I mention that you shouldn’t base your rates per piece? People get a little stupid when money is involved. They believe $50 for 500 words sounds great, but then they forget that the level of quality may take them longer to write. It could be more advantageous to take a gig for two articles at $15 instead.

So let’s say you’ve figured out that you need at least $400 a week to make ends meet. You’ve decided that you can only work 20 hours peacefully each week. So you need a minimum of $20 an hour to reach your $400 goal.

You’ve also figured out that you can write 350 words in a half hour. Now you can tell your client that you want $30 per piece.

Do the math. You’ve not only met your monthly monetary goal in the number of hours you’ve chosen to work, but you’ve also made a $10 profit on each hour you work. That’s an extra $200 you can set aside every week.

Lean weeks? No work? Getting desperate? That’s okay. You know that you can drop down to $10 per piece and still meet your goals.

Now that’s smart business.

Do you have suggestions to add? Any tips to share with new writers? Share how you figured out the rate you wanted to be paid when you began writing in our comment section.

Comments

  1. Interesting. I’ve never thought of it from that perspective before. Great thoughts!

  2. James,

    I’d like to get your opinion on if one should include rates when asked for…old-time wisdom was not to include that because client might be willing to pay more, but not sure that is the case any more.

  3. I always ask upfront what the pay/rate is (or what their budget for the project is — different clients, different wording), and I have found that in most cases the client is willing to pay more than what I would have asked for.

    Honestly, I feel that setting rates and getting the most money you can for your writing is half strategy, half game, and a welcoming pinch of good luck on a lean week.

    James, I think you offered some good advice. That is a very good way to get started on setting rates.

  4. Hi everyone,

    Can I get some feedback on pay and the “asking for a raise” dilemna?

    I am writing for a magazine that is distributed free and has a circulation of over 40,000. I seem to have become a main writer for the mag (the last issue had three of my articles in it). I have been writing for the publication for a couple of years now (bi-monthly).

    I am getting paid .10 cents a word, which seems to average – when I time myself for a piece – about $10 an hour – usually less – (with research and etc.). Mainly, I feel I am not getting what my work output deserves; in addition, there is my apparent “feature writer” status, though that is secondary.

    I am given 1-2 assignments every issue (bi-monthly), I am paid in a timely manner, so I tell myself maybe I should just shut up and keep going…

    I would like to at least get .15 cents a word, but am a little intimidated.

    Any thoughts and feedback will be appreciated!

  5. Hey Theresa,

    While I don’t write for magazines at the current moment, that pay rate sounds very low compared to what I’ve heard from other magazine writers. I’m also aware that web content writers usually command much lower rates than print publishing writers, so again, I’d say that’s low.

    The question of shut up and take the money is one you have to answer. I’d say, though, that if you’re already feeling dissatisfaction, you know that you’re being poorly compensated for what you’re giving.

    But! Are you willing to lose that client if you do decide to ask for better pay? That’s the most important question to ask yourself.

    And I hope other magazine writers will chime in here… come on, guys, help me out! :)

  6. Hey! I like your post “” so well that I like to ask you whether I should translate into German and linking back. Answer welcome. Greetings Kroatien

  7. Thanks for your input. Yeah, I know I should be getting more. I think I am going to approach the editor before I agree to any more articles. I guess the worst he can say is no… And then I can decide if it’s worth my continuing as is.

    Thanks again!

  8. Theresa,

    As a magazine writer for several different pubs, I would say that rate is below low. 50 cents a word is decent, some pubs pay $1 a word, and anything less than 25 cents a word is subpar. I’ve taken on some of the lower paying work due to cash flow issues (daughter with high medical costs), but only to fill in holes around other items.

    That being said, if a pub has gotten by with certain rates, they’re unlikely to raise them. The pubs I write for have never increased rate, despite rising costs of living. So I’m always looking for opportunities that enable me to do higher paying work (typically corporate).

    However, if you’re relatively new to the business, it might be hard to command more. I was writing for more than 20 years (15 as an employee) before getting some of the better paying gigs.

  9. Theresa,

    It really depends on the circulation rate: I also work for a small regional magazine, earning about 10 cents per word. I keep the assignment because it’s a monthly column (guaranteed work) and I truly enjoy working with the editor. If this were a national magazine, I would expect a much higher rate of pay.

    I do my best to keep overhead low for these assignments and focus on time management. While my “per word” pay is low, I’m still making about $30 per hour. Much better than minimum wage… and not too bad for our low cost of living area.

    It’s all relative, really! Does this assignment meet your goals and objectives? My goal is to enjoy my work and life while still paying the bills, so I’m happy to keep the relatively “low” pay.

  10. Excellent article. I’m still stunned, however, how many people want to pay me $10 an hour before seeing my writing samples, etc. – as if they already had a rate in mind. And then, of course, there are the online “jobs” that pay $5.00 for 500 words….*shudder.*

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