When you start out as as freelance writer, there’s one area that is especially notorious in terms of understanding the landscape: how to price yourself. Let’s take a look at researching publications’ budgets and the factors to consider in setting your own freelance rates.
There are a number of ways to find out whether a publication pays and how much. Some websites like clippings.me and newspapers like The Guardian publish their standard rates on their websites (here and here for reference), whereas VICE work on a sliding scale according to a writer’s experience and the strength of the story.
Simply Googling ‘publication name’ plus ‘pay rate’ can usually give some indication, and resources such as Scratch Mag’s Who Pays Writers are invaluable. For UK-based freelancers, the National Union of Journalists has a database of rates their members have been paid, along with their recommended minimums that writers should work for.
Often though, the best way to find out the situation is to ask other writers. Most publications work with a multitude of staffers and freelancers, so exploring their website and identifying the freelance contributors is easy enough. Once you’ve found them, social media makes it easy to get in touch and start a conversation—though I wouldn’t recommend doing so publicly.
There comes a point, sometimes early on or sometimes a little way into a freelancing career, when you’re asked the question, “What’s your rate?” And the first time it happens, it’s terrifying. Try not to panic. Most freelancers have no idea how to respond to this question initially either.
Think about what you’re being asked to write. Is it a first-person opinion column? If your pitch was strong enough to get commissioned for op-ed, you already know a lot about the subject. That means you can likely write, refine and edit it in a matter of hours, and the price you quote should reflect this. If it’s something more in-depth like a feature or original report, you’ll need to do background research, track down experts and conduct interviews. The pay rate should compensate you for this extra time and effort.
From here, move on to thinking or asking about how soon the editor wants you to file copy. If you’re being commissioned for breaking news or a column based on something that has just happened, there’ll be an expectation that you’re available to write it quickly. As a result, you might need to prioritise it above other work you have going on. This is another factor in determining the appropriate rate for a job.
Finally, think about similar work you’ve done in the past, and what you were paid for it. This calculation, combined with the points above, should leave you with a ballpark rate to charge. Once you have that number, it can be a good idea to quote marginally higher than you’d actually expect to receive, allowing you a little flexibility if the editor tries to push you down on price.
Freelance features journalist and foreign reporter. Writes mostly about politics, development, technology and culture. Twitter: @LaurenRazavi (www.twitter.com/laurenrazavi)