Get Paid! The Anatomy of a Writer’s Paycheck

13483674021616Today I’m not just talking about the satisfaction of a job well done; I’m talking business. Rates, skills, and time.

Alongside my usual freelance work, I recently edited friends’ grad school portfolios and cover letters. I’m happy to help them out; I’m invested in their success and I want to support them however I can. But far too many people out there don’t realize the pecuniary worth of a writer.

You may have heard people say “how hard can it be?” They expect to hire you for very little, because writers are “a dime a dozen.” Please don’t let clients degrade your skills or devalue your time. If you urgently need portfolio pieces, by all means, get them. It’s okay to work pro-bono once in a while. But once you’ve built experience and confidence, don’t look back. Part of being professional is holding your ground against people who expect you to move mountains for uninspiring pay. Though they may be able to get someone cheaper than you, that’s not your problem. Getting a cheap writer either means that the client will receive low quality work or he’ll abuse a desperation-flattened spirit. Neither option is great.

To help you accurately estimate the value of your time, let’s look at another profession: cosmetology. Hairstylists charge $25-50 dollars for a simple trim and layering. But according to the “May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates” for the U.S., hair stylists make a national average of $13 per hour. Why is that?

The price reaches the $25-50 range because solons consider many factors:

  • Overhead costs: salon space, supplies, any expense that enables the actually hair cutting to occur
  • Time: set up, the actual cut, clean up
  • Experience: certification, work quality
  • ‘Hidden fees’ that customers never consider: taxes, business licenses, insurance

Many freelance writers forget the weight of taxes and insurance–they’re less immediately evident than raw supply costs. Since supplies differ greatly from the hair stylists profession, it’s easy to forget to account for them as well. Overhead includes rent or mortgage, an office chair that doesn’t destroy your posture, your computer, etc. Also, how much experience do you have? Do you offer quality services? Your time is a fraction of the actual rate that you can (and should) charge. According to the U.S. wage estimates, writers and editors earn $30 per hour and technical writers earn $32 per hour on average.

Hair stylists are artists in their own right. Many people don’t question their prices because they wouldn’t dare to cut their own hair at home. However, some ask the often disastrous question: “how hard can it be?” Untrained hands attempt a simple shearing–sometimes suffering a hack job as a result. Jon Acuff’s article “Why is Good Photography Expensive” simplifies the matter: good work is expensive, but bad work is pricier in the long run.

Respect your craft. Value your art. If you’re genuinely skilled, demand genuine pay.

How do you determine your rates? Have you dealt with clients that don’t value your work? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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5 thoughts on “Get Paid! The Anatomy of a Writer’s Paycheck

  1. Great advice, thank you! I’m just starting to build my portfolio so I’m focused on getting anything I can in print, whether I get paid or not, but this advice will come in definitely useful for me a little bit further down the line!

  2. Pingback: Friday Thoughts: Word Counts, Getting Paid and Writing for Video Games | Tomorrow's Tale

  3. This was so helpful to me as a new Etsy seller! Perfect analogy with hair stylists. Their costs are more obvious than those of writers + other crafty home businesses. I did try cutting my hair at home, and yes, it was a disaster. Thank you!

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