Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Dawn Copeman
Return to Contracts, Fees & Payment Issues · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version
Ah, the perils of the freelance writer. Most of the time, if we are lucky, then we know in advance the pay rates of the publication we are querying. They state it in their writer's guidelines as either a payment per piece, or a payment per word. Sometimes, they offer pay ranges, stating that the amount paid will depend upon the experience of the writer. But at least you have a rough idea of what to expect.
But that is not true of every publication and especially not in today's economic climate. It is very common, these days, for no pay scales to be given and for writers just to be told "this is a paying market."
In these cases, as in Marcia's, it is up to you to state what you would like to receive. Which is what life is like, every day, for us copywriters. We have to work out how much our work is worth. We don't want to come across as too expensive, but likewise, we don't want to price ourselves too low. Believe me, I know how tricky it is trying to work out how much you should charge.
Thankfully, however, you can find guidelines to help you work out how much to charge for your articles.
Use Your Past Experience
If you have submitted to similar markets, you know how much you generally receive for an article of this length and from this size of publication and can happily state this as your rate.
Even if you haven't submitted to this type of market before, but have been published before, you should be able to work out roughly what you think your work is worth.
Check out the Competition
If you have never written for this type of market before, or any type of market, you can use Writers Market and see what similar magazines pay.
Either way, you should soon have some guidelines to help you work out what you should or could get paid for your work.
The Writer's Dilemma
There is a tendency, however, amongst many writers to undervalue their work. Don't. If you are willing to sell your work for less than it's worth, or worse, for nothing at all, you will begin to resent the time you spend writing. Believe me, you will. It will start to seem a slog. A lot of work and effort for not a lot of reward. Don't go down that road.
You need to put a realistic value on your work, a value that the publication would not balk at paying and a figure you would be happy to receive.
This doesn't mean, however, you can arbitrarily decide that your work is worth $1 a word! You must tailor your earning potential to the type of publication you are querying and submitting to.
Generally speaking, for a modest publication, not a big national, for a short article of 525 words you could expect to be paid anything from $10 to $50, based on my experience.
If this is not what you were expecting, then maybe you are targeting the wrong publications and need to rethink your whole querying strategy. Maybe you need to query only magazines where the payment rates are clearly advertised.
Or, if you want to hit the higher paying markets, you need to build up to approaching them. Work on your query letters, work on focussing your articles and work on your article structure. Gradually move up the publication table to earn the higher fees!
Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).