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How Should You Set Your Writing Fees?

Money. It's a sensitive issue for so many freelancers. You might be uncomfortable talking about money, negotiating your fees, and asking for more for a job that warrants higher compensation. It's all good; I've got you. I have a foolproof, simple method for setting and communicating your fees, as well as a system that's nearly negotiation-free.

Ready? Here goes: Write them down.

It's not revolutionary, I'll grant you, but as a writer, you know the power of the written word. So, take advantage. You already know you need a good website if you hope to grow your freelance practice, so the simple way to communicate your fees is to be transparent about them. Put a range of fees for different projects on your website in a place where everyone can find them. If someone asks you for a specific fee for their specific project, have a pre-designed proposal sheet, plug in a number, and email the sheet to the prospect as a PDF.

Mic drop. The point is, why be coy about money? You know you're going to ask for it, your clients know they're going to have to pay you. Rip the Band-aid off and be direct about the topic.

Setting Your Fees

Determining what to charge is a moving target, in part because what I charge as a book ghostwriter is very different and based on different factors than a marketing copywriter, a speechwriter, or a journalist writing magazine articles. So, let's talk general guidelines.

First of all, if you're coming out of an industry like advertising or journalism where you already know the going rate for work, just stick close to that for the first few years. That's your best guideline. If you're not, answer some questions:

  1. What do your chief competitors charge?

  2. How do your experience, credits, or awards stack up to the competition?

  3. Are you going to charge an hourly rate or a flat fee?

What do your chief competitors charge? Look at other writers with around the same experience and portfolio as yours and set your fees at a similar level. If you have more experience and credits than your main competition, then move on to the other questions.

How many years of experience do you have compared to the competition? If you have more years in the biz, a fatter portfolio, or more awards than your main rivals, you should be charging more. For every 5 years of experience you have beyond your average competition, bump your fees by 10%. If you've won a lot of awards for your work or had some bestsellers, give yourself another 10% bump. So if your competitor average is $75 per hour, and but you have 6 years' more experience than average and you've got a shelf or wall of plaudits, tack another 20% onto that $75, which is $15. You'd be charging $90 an hour.

On the other hand, if your portfolio is lighter than most of the writers with the same level of experience, consider undercutting the competition by setting your rates 20% below the norm. When you're inexperienced, your number-one goal should be to build your portfolio and grow your network. That's worth a year or two of taking less, because you'll get more later.

Are you going to charge an hourly rate or a flat fee? Finally, decide whether you will charge by the hour or bid on projects with a flat fee. I prefer to charge a flat fee for a few reasons. First, I don't have to keep track of my hours, which is one less headache. Second, a flat fee gives my clients cost certainty. Third, I'm incentivized to be efficient and finish projects faster. If I bid $50,000 on a book and get it done and approved in $40,000 worth of hours, that's a $10,000 profit for me. But decide what works for you and make sure your prospects and clients know about it.

Some good rules of thumb:

  • Bid high so you have room to come down. You might really want a certain project, really like the client, or really need the cash. Aiming higher with your initial bid gives you some space to lower your bid if your prospect says, "Could you come down a little?"

  • On the other hand, if you're dead-set against coming down, make sure everyone knows your fees are not starting points for a negotiation. This is a boss move that only works for very experienced pros, but if that's you, use it. Present your bid, and if the prospect pushes back, let them know politely that this is your final number. You'll be surprised how often they don't push back.

  • Raise your fees every 3 years. As you become more accomplished, you should charge more. Every 3 years, bump your fees by 10%.

Keep something else in mind: your fees are more than what you charge. They inform clients and prospects how to value you. They also tell everyone how you value yourself and your work. Finally, fees are a powerful pre-qualifier. That's why mine are transparent. I don't want people calling me who can only spend $10,000 on a ghostwriter. By being open about my fees, I don't waste my time or theirs.

Feel free to ask any questions about fees in the comments. Now, go write.

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