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Writing Fees – How Much to Charge?

In order to make your writing as an independent contractor equal your income as a full-time employee, apply the following formula to your current salary:

Salary + benefits + expenses divided by your hours worked/week = earnings per hour.

Then add at least 50 percent to your current salary to cover the cost of your doing business when you begin working as your own boss. This includes mortgage or rent payments to maintain your home and place of business; utilities; telephone, fax, online and other electronic connections and maintenance; equipment and supplies; postage/UPS/FedEx/messenger services; transportation; subscriptions, memberships, and training; and whatever else may be required to enable you to function professionally.

Once you are no longer on your employer’s payroll, you will have no insurance coverage, sick leave, paid vacation, retirement, or any of the other benefits that you may now enjoy. You will need to replace them, and the way to do so is by factoring their costs into your fee.

If you are currently working a 40-hour week to earn a salary of $ 36,000 a year, your formula will look like this:

$ 54,000/year ($ 36,000 + $ 18,000) or $ 1,038/week divided by 40 hours = $ 26/hour.

A salary of $ 50,000 per year translates to $ 36/hr; $ 75,000 a year equals $ 54/hour.

Of course, you cannot bill 40 hours of your work each week–you’ll be lucky to bill half that many (see below); full-time writers usually bill around 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year. Therefore, in order for your independent writing income just to equal, not exceed, your current full-time salary, you must double the above hourly rate, and roughly $ 50 to $ 100 per hour becomes the absolute minimum you can charge. Anything less means decreasing your scale of living.

Here’s the tricky part: Tell a client that you charge $ 75 dollars an hour, and right away he or she will mentally multiply that amount by 40 hours in a work week and get $ 3,000. (People can’t help themselves; it’s a reflex!) Then your potential client will multiple that $ 3,000 by 50 work weeks in a year and get $ 150,000, which may be more than the boss is earning. “Wow!” the client thinks, “I can’t hire someone for more than Charlie makes. He’ll have my hide.” And you’ve lost the job.

TIP: Don’t reveal your hourly rate; roll it into the overall cost of the project. Figure your time by the hour and charge by the project. Renegotiate if necessary (see below).

You can bill only about half the time you spend “at work” each week because the rest of your time will be spent

*marketing your business (no one else will do it for you)

*improving and updating your skills (you’ll be your own training department)

*researching current and potential clients (vetting will be solely your responsibility)

*making copies (you’ll become your own support staff)

*going to the post office (support)

*maintaining your computer and other equipment (support)

*shopping for supplies (support)

*keeping your books and records (you must become, or hire, your own bookkeeper)

*invoicing and collecting from your clients (support)

*worrying about where your next assignment will come from (it’s lonely at the top).

Two final points: When estimating a project fee, don’t forget to factor in research, rewrites, meetings, and travel time and expenses. As a writer you’re selling your talent, skill, experience…and your time.

If your client balks at your price, resist the impulse to reduce it to get the job. If you immediately lower your fee, the client will assume you were charging too much in the first place and will lose confidence in you. Instead, offer a compromise: longer deadline; fewer deliverables (suggest the client provide research or proofreading); or a bartered product or service in return for a reduced rate.

This article may be reprinted with credit: Jim Kepler owns Adams Press, a family-operated producer of books for small presses and self-publishing authors since 1942. He is the presenter of “You Ought to Write a Book” and other writing workshops. Visit