Here’s the Definitive Word on What Writing Clients Usually Want

Carol Tice

Confused - ethnic - businessman - scratches - head

I dunno…this writing gig seems fishy to me…

Have you been wondering what standard practices are in the freelance writing world?

I mean…there should be a rule book somewhere you could consult, to know if you’re getting a good deal from a client. Right?

If you’re wondering what is acceptable practice in freelance writing, you are definitely in good company! I get a steady stream of questions about what norms are for a variety of freelance writing assignments.

Questions like:

“This prospective client just asked me to write three articles by 9 pm tomorrow night, and I haven’t even seen his contract yet. Is that normal?”

“My client keeps sending back my articles for rewrites…on round three now. Is this OK?”

“I get $25 for 500-word articles, and now they want me to write 900-word ones for the same price. What’s your opinion of that?”

“My client wants me to not just write their blog posts, but find photos (or maybe take them?), schedule posts, and post them in WordPress. Do clients usually make you do all that?”

Here’s what you really want to know

If you find yourself asking “Is this what writing clients usually require?” you should stop.

Think.

What’s really happening here?

You’re asking the wrong question.

There’s a reason you want to compare your gig with some standard.

It’s because you’ve got an oogy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

It’s a gut instinct you’re having – and it’s telling you you’re being exploited.

That’s a good instinct. Stick with it, and you will avoid a lot of crappy gigs.

The truth about what writing clients want

If you’re looking for the yardstick by which to compare your deal terms and deadlines and editor attitudes to get a reality check, here’s the thing:

Every writing gig is unique.

Every client wants a different thing.

And every writer is in a different place in their career, and has different goals.

Some clients are dysfunctional messes who want to IM you 24/7. Others are a joy.

Some pay low, some high.

I’ve tried suggesting that blog posts should pay at least $50, only to hear from writers who’ve told me, “I’m writing for $5. $20 would be a gold mine.”

I’ve left gigs that I thought were too lowball, or the editor was too much of a pain in the butt…and referred them to other writers who were thrilled to have them.

So stop trying to find the secret, Universal Code of Good Freelancing Rules. It doesn’t exist.

One writer’s scam is another’s opportunity. Like the writer who recently commented here on the blog that she was happy to make $200 a month on Examiner, for writing 60 articles. She said she has other income streams and does her Examiner sites mostly for fun.

Like I said…it’s all about where you’re at, and your goals as a freelancer.

Now that we’ve looked at the “is this usual?” question more closely, let’s reframe the question.

The real question to ask yourself is: Does this gig feel fair to me?

Not saying you shouldn’t run the scenario by your writers’ network…you should.

But the bottom line is, only one opinion really matters: yours.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal, ask for a raise. Or quit the gig.

Create your own standards

As you progress in freelance writing, you’ll find yourself creating your own rules. And they’ll evolve as you go.

For instance:

“No more clients that pay less than $200 $300 $500 an article.”

“No more blog clients who want two posts a day.”

“I’m not doing any more overnight rush work for peanuts!”

“No more doing tryout free samples — I have a portfolio now.”

These are the rules that matter: the boundaries you decide to draw with clients. The moment when you decide what you’re worth, and that you demand to be treated fairly.

Just keep raising that bar, and you’ll find yourself moving up to a higher-earning place as a freelance writer.

What are your rules of freelance writing? Leave a comment and let’s compare standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

67 Comments

  1. Alexis

    I love this blog!

    I’m struggling with feeling confident enough to have high rates. I know I am intelligent and a good writer, but what qualifies me to be a good writer for whatever project? I never went to writing school and am still finishing my b.a. (with a baby, no less)…at what point does one become allowed to say, “I am a qualified writer.” Plus, not wanting to scare away potential projects with a too high rate because, you know, I really need the money- yet, also highly valuing my time… that kind of thing. I mean is $15 for 500 words really so cheap? It is a bit more than I would make waiting tables, but a lot easier in my opinion. Guess I’m just struggling to know my value. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Carol Tice

      Yes, Alexis, $15 for 500 words is… appalling. Not a rate for any writer who’s trying to earn their living from their craft. I get $500. I’m sure you can see the difference that makes to your lifestyle.

      And by the way, I never went to writing school. And didn’t ever finish my BA. Nine months into freelancing, I was writing $500 features for the Los Angeles Times. The need for some kind of formal legitimacy is between your ears.

      Here’s the point where you are allowed to say it.

      Look in the mirror and say: “I am a qualified writer.” And…presto!

      If you can write, you can write. No one cares where you learned it.

      This post may help: How Aspiring Writers Can Become Legit.

    • Alexis

      Sigh, you and your cute curlies are simply dreamy. Thank you for challenging me to charge what I know I am worth! I just decided to be a writer a few months ago, and this is by far the best resource I have come across in all my research. I am using Elance, but you are inspiring me to go even beyond that. Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      There’s a whole big world of professional rates out there once you get off the race-to-the-bottom bid sites, Alexis…so definitely go beyond that!

    • Perry Gamsby

      I’ve worked for less than $15/500 words and was glad to get the work and the money. I confess $1/word is great but I’m not there yet! Still, I know which I would prefer to chase. I do have a D.Lit, and MA(Writing) and a Dip.Business and while they offer some clients some sense of value or what have you, Carol is correct. 100% correct. You don’t need any of that to be a freelance writer. All you need is the ability to write, the belief in yourself and your writing and of course the get up and go to get up and go for it. The first thing I do in my writing classes is to write out my name and degrees, then I wipe them off and say you don’t need any of these to write! Having said that, finish your B.A. as if you go for teaching jobs or salaried positions and it is a toss up between someone with a degree who can write and someone without one who can also write, they will choose the degree holder if only because should they not work out HR have plausible deniability! If you are freelancing, you are only as good as your last piece and the post nominal letters don’t matter a great deal to most clients anyway and once they know you can write they matter not a jot!

    • Carol Tice

      I think you’re so right, Perry. I had a mentee recently and when I reviewed her website she had headlined it “Cindy Writersmith, MBA.” And first thing I told her to do was take the degree notation off. Just comes off pretentious.

      The only way a degree might help you is if your professor has editor connections. Otherwise, what matters is if you can write. An amazing number of people with journalism degrees can’t — or can’t crank it out reliably on deadline. And a bunch of us without degrees end up editing their work!

  2. Techboy Rocky

    I always provide writing service at a very affordable price and that’s why I never thought about raising the price that I charge….You are giving writers very good advice of having a standard price for all clients and not charging anything below it..All the writers should do this so that they will get paid enough for their hard work….

  3. Mike McCallister

    While anyone whose gone through the comments probably knows this already, I want to talk to the writers for whom “$20 (per blog post?) would be a gold mine.”

    Certainly, when you’re starting out, any credit is a good credit. I started out (25+ years ago) writing for the college paper, and then the local alternative weekly. I’m proud of those clips, and even the pittance I was paid for them. But sooner or later, you figure out that putting sentences together in a coherent, informative and entertaining way is a powerful skill that not everyone has. That’s when you become serious about writing professionally. Professionally in both senses: you take greater care in getting better at your craft, and you recognize that your skill and time has value.

    So, those of you who do accept a low-to-nonexistent rate, don’t think that’s the best you can do. Value your skill, your time, and your talent. It’s true, not everyone wants to be a full-time writer, but if you do, demand more!

    BTW, I do take on tech topics (almost entirely), in case someone needs something. 😉

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