Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Ask the Book Doctor: About Freelance Issues
Q: My office has asked me to write some PR pieces, and I have no idea what to charge. So far, the first piece is about 400 words, and I've spent about three hours on it. While my credits are limited to short story publications and a few things in the local newspaper, those items gave me no remuneration. What would you recommend I charge? I have given the first article to them today, and in case they ask my fee, I don't want to appear ridiculous.
A: Whoops! You have already broken the very first rule in freelance writing. Before you begin work—not after you turn it in—you must negotiate and set a price, a deadline, terms of payment, and guidelines, such as how many times the client can ask you to make changes without the price increasing. Without all this information set out before you begin, you and your client may have completely different expectations of the outcome. For example, you already work in that office, so your superiors may expect that your normal salary covers anything they ask you to do, and they may not plan to pay you anything above your normal salary.
Do not grieve, though. Every first-time freelancer who did not have a good mentor has made the same mistake, and most of us have learned at one time or another that we unintentionally worked for free or for peanuts. I did it myself, when I first started freelancing.
A friend asked me to edit his book of poetry back in the 1970s. After writing and editing business communications and company newsletters for years, it was my first foray into book editing, and I jumped at the chance. After I spent hours upon hours working on the manuscript, I told my friend it was ready, and he asked me to meet him for lunch. Visions of dollars danced in my head. I decided I would ask for $500, a low figure, because he was a friend and I was just learning to edit books, but I had already decided exactly how I would spend that money.
Over lunch my friend thanked me profusely for the work, but bemoaned the fact that he had almost no money. After he paid for lunch, he pulled out two $5 bills and asked if I would accept lunch and $5 as payment for my work, so he could keep the other $5 to pay for his dinner. The work was done; I had no recourse; and he was my friend. I said yes. The lesson was more valuable than payment would have been. From that day forward, I set out my fees, payment schedule, and desired results before I begin any job.
Basic Freelance Rule #1 aside, you still want to know how much to charge should someone ask, and that answer varies by region, experience, amount of work, type of work, and many other variables. For your first freelance job, ask slightly more than you get an hour at your current or past job, because you are also learning, and your client should not pay for your training. After you have established yourself and rely on freelance work as your only source of income, your fees have no cap; that is, the fee may depend upon the client's ability to pay.
For regional information on a range of prices charged by others, see http://www.salary.com, but remember those rates are reported by the people themselves, and if asked by fellow writers, many startup freelancers claim higher fees than they actually receive. In the end, find a price that seems fair to both you and your client, and that's the bottom line in all freelance jobs.
Q: I read about a new magazine starting for single mothers, but did not see any contact information. As a long-term single father, I want to send a query about writing an article from the standpoint of a single father. How can I find the magazine?
A: Go to Google.com or any other strong search engine and type in the name of the magazine. Chances are good you will find a Web site with contact information, maybe even submission guidelines. If the title of the magazine does not bring you the information you want, use the publisher's name or editor’s name or any other information you can use in a search engine. Contact information for new magazines sometimes takes a few months to appear on the Internet. Be patient and check again in a month or two.
If you’re willing to pay a fee of about $20 a week to subscribe to LiteraryMarketplace.com, you can search its vast database for information on new publications, as well. WritersMarket.com also lists periodicals, and it costs much less, but its information is not always as thorough as LiteraryMarketplace.com.
–Send your questions to Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas for a personal answer. Contact her at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com.