“Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” —Red Smith, Sports Writer
Truer words were never written! I find that the most difficult thing for most writers to do is sit down and start writing. Something about how everything we write comes directly from the heart makes it like opening a vein when we share our thoughts on paper (or electronically) with the rest of the world.
Not only that, writing well takes time. Most professional writers do not sit down and write a perfect first draft. To craft a well-written, well-worded article, book, short story, report, or even a letter requires time—time to write, edit, rewrite, edit, perhaps rewrite again, copyedit, proofread, and so on.
Most writers have a ritual or process they go through when they get ready to write. Once you know what your process is, it’s easier to sit down and let the creativity flow.
When I first began writing for publication, it took a while to figure out my process. I finally realized that I tended to avoid writing when I wasn’t sure how to begin an article. The Professional Writer’s Secret Weapon changed all that. Whenever I use it, the articles practically write themselves.
So I decided to share it with other writers because the world desperately needs good information to counter some of what I call the ‘junk writing’ that proliferates now because, thanks to computers and the Internet, just about anyone can publish whatever they write.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love using my computer to write. And I love how easy it is to publish my work and get it out to the world using today’s technology. What I take issue with is the proliferation of poor writing that this wonderful technology also makes possible. That’s why I write this blog. And that’s why, too, I wrote The Professional Writer’s Secret Weapon, an online course that is delivered directly to your email inbox.
Because the Professional Writer’s Secret Weapon is an email class, you can do each lesson when it’s convenient for you. I’ve taught this course through the extension program for the University of California and through various writers groups. Now I’m making it available to writers everywhere online.
This class goes on sale for $250 but I’m offering it to Writers Inkwell readers for
Most writers, being creative types, are loathe to talk about money. They especially dislike when they have to tell a new client their rates or when they have to invoice a client. I know that side of freelancing can be difficult because I, too, struggled with that when I first began freelancing.
If you want to be a successful freelance writer or editor, you must overcome your resistance to talking about and asking for money. You do like to eat, right? I’ll bet you also like to live in a warm home with heat and air conditioning and, well, all the comforts of home, right?
So, as Cher said to Nick Cage in the movie, Moonstruck, “get over it!”
Here are 3 easy ways to present your rate to clients. Feel free to reword them to make them your own and practice saying them until you feel comfortable. When they ask what your rate is, answer calmly and clearly without missing a beat:
1. “My rate is $xx per hour and on long-term projects such as this one, I will invoice you every 2 weeks.”
2. “My rate is $xx per hour and with first-time clients, I require X percent up front prior to beginning work. The remaining X percent will be due Net 15 days (or Net 30 days) upon completion.
Note: If this is a long-term project, instead of the remaining X percent being due upon completion, explain that “upon completing X percent of the project, explain that you will begin billing every two weeks and each invoice is due in Net 15 days (or Net 30 days).” Make sure you choose an approach that works best for each project.
3. If you’re working for a mid-size to large company that has provided you with a purchase order, you know they’ve signaled their intent to pay you. In these instances, I usually say, “My rate is $xx per hour and since we’ll be working on this project/these projects long term, I will invoice you every 2 weeks beginning on (month/day/year).”
These are just a few ways to present your rate to clients. What are some of the ways you present rates to clients? Dip your pen into the inkwell and share what works for you!
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At my Business of Freelancing workshop, I recommend that each freelance writer or editor set their rates based on research and on the number that feels most comfortable to them. I still set my rate this way. Why?
You must feel comfortable with the rate you are charging. By comfortable, I mean you must feel and believe that the rate you charge is right for you and fair for your clients, as well as competitive in the marketplace.
But what do you do when a potential client asks you to lower your rate just for them? This is something every freelance writer and editor deals with on occasion. The solution is simple. Let me give you an example:
Over the years, there have been times when potential clients have challenged the rate I was charging. Some presented strong, but usually selfish arguments for lowering my rate, such as they only wanted to spend a certain amount or they thought that because theirs was a non-profit they should get a discounted rate.
On the few occasions when I granted a potential client’s request to lower my rate, I struggled to complete those jobs. Why? First, I felt that I was not getting paid a fair rate for the work I was doing. Consequently, my self esteem and my self confidence faltered. Second, those clients proved to be extremely high maintenance.
Comparing notes with other freelance writers and editors, I’ve found that if a potential client does not want to pay the going rate, which is fair and competitive, they are more likely to be a high maintenance client, which means the writer or editor will be working harder for less pay.
If you are charging a fair rate, one that is competitive with other technical writers and editors in your field, and if you are good at what you do, there is no reason for you to lower your rate. In my opinion, to do so shortchanges both you and your client—it short changes you because you don’t get paid what your services are worth and it short changes your fellow technical writers and editors because it sets clients’ expectations that prices are random and can be lowered upon request. In other words, it under values the services offered.
In addition, the almost inevitable high maintenance factor results in you getting paid less than the project is worth because you have to spend a lot of time dealing with the drama created by these high-maintenance clients.
Shortly after those experiences, I realized that I was quite comfortable charging clients my current going rate. I am also quite comfortable ending the conversation when a client presses me to lower my rates. I calmly explain that the rate I charge is fair and competitive and in line with the experience I bring to each project. I then suggest that they may be more comfortable working with someone whose rates are more in line with their budget and I politely close the conversation.
As a result, I enjoy my work and my clients, which makes my workdays worthwhile.
Dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us how you deal with clients who ask you to lower your rate.
When I first began freelancing, I was fortunate to have, as mentors, two experienced technical writers who each had almost 20 years of experience working as freelancers in Silicon Valley.
For the first year and half I was in business, I charged $20 per hour for technical editing. My mentors thought my rate was too low and one of them raised my rate for me when he hired me as a subcontractor to edit the technical manual he was writing for Motorola.
The day he called to ask if I had time to edit a manual for him, I had just completed a contract project for one of my regular clients. I was delighted because this meant that I didn’t have to go out looking for another project.
Then he asked me the key question, “How much are you charging now?” When I told him that I was still charging $20 per hour, he replied, “No, you’re not. You’re charging $35.” Thinking he hadn’t heard me, I repeated myself.
He said he’d heard me and then said, “It’s time for you get a raise, so you’re now charging $35 per hour because you’re a good editor and that’s what you should be getting. Besides, that’s what I put in my proposal.” And that was that!
Of course, raising my rate that way was easy. And, although I felt a bit hesitant about getting a $15 per hour raise, when I saw the manual, I decided he was right. I definitely was going to earn that $35 per hour!
Thanks to my mentor, I learned to feel comfortable about raising my rates. I’ll tell you how I approach raising my rates in an upcoming post.
I’d love to hear how you’ve raised your rate. Please share your rate raising stories with us by submitting a comment below.
New writers and editors often ask me how to set rates for their consulting work. Establishing a set rate for your work is one of the most important things you will do in your business. Does that surprise you? Let me tell you why setting your rate is so important.
The rate you set for the consulting work you do, whether it’s writing or editing, determines your overall income. Your rate also sets you apart from the amateurs and ranks you with the professionals in your field, that is, if it’s a competitive rate.
When I first decided to be a freelance editor and writer, I called several people I knew who were already doing what I wanted to do. I asked them what the current rate was for freelance editors and freelance writers. To do this, I had to, essentially, overcome my aversion to talking about money and ask them what they charged. (This is something you will need to do as well, if you want to join the ranks of professional writers.)
A few (a very few) refused to answer. Obviously, they were even more loath to talk about money than I was. The other writers and editors were happy to discuss their rates with me and to share how they determined what to charge (and when to raise their rates).
After doing this research, I sat down with the data I’d gathered and weighed my experience against that of the more experienced professionals who had so generously shared their strategies and their rates with me. I set my rate and began marketing myself as a freelance editor and writer.
I encourage you to do the same. Ask other writers (or editors, if you’re an editor) what the current rates are for doing the type of work you want to do. Make sure you ask this of pros who are already doing what you want to do. Then sit down with the data you’ve collected and weigh your experience and expertise against theirs to determine your rate.
How do you set your rates? I invite you to share your approach in the comments section below.
Note: If you’re reading this post on the home page and you want to leave a comment, please click the Title of this post and you will see the comments box at the bottom of the new page. This is a glitch I’m working to resolve in the theme I’m using. Please do leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time, Write On!
When I was first starting out as a technical editor, one of my biggest concerns was how much to charge. The idea of setting a rate for my work was exciting and frightening at the same time.
I had no idea where to begin. I’d heard that technical writers earned more than technical editors, but knowing that didn’t help me figure out what to charge for my services. How much was more?
Deciding to be proactive about setting my rates, I picked up the phone and called three technical writers I knew. They referred me to some editors they knew.
The editors were very helpful, although a few of them refused to share rate information. Those who were willing to share rate information also shared some tips about how to present rates to clients. I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.
I learned that rates for technical editors covered a broad range—from $15 to $65 or more per hour, depending on your knowledge, skill, and experience (length of time working as a technical editor).
After talking with two of the technical writers I knew who each had almost 20 years of experience and were mentoring me, I decided to charge $20 per hour. They thought I was experienced enough to charge $25, but I was nervous, so I started lower. Within six months, I raised my hourly rate to $25 because I realized they were right. A year later, thanks to one of my mentors, I raised my hourly rate to $35.
In my next post, I’ll explain how that happened and in a future post, I’ll talk about how to set your rate.
When I was 12 years old, I discovered Writers Digest magazine. It was the most fascinating thing I’d ever read and I was a voracious reader. I wondered why school wasn’t nearly as interesting as publishing and I devoured every issue from that point forward.
By the time I started working at InfoWorld, a microcomputer magazine in Silicon Valley, I knew everything there was to know about writing and publishing fiction, how the book publishing industry worked, and how much money fiction writers could earn.
Yet, in spite of studying the publishing industry for more than 10 years, nothing I had studied could have prepared me for the differences between fiction publishing and technical writing and magazine publishing. They were the same, yet they were worlds apart.
One of the main differences was that InfoWorld was a weekly magazine. That meant that we had weekly deadlines. So we didn’t have time to do multiple rewrites, over the course of a year or more, as book writers sometimes did. I’m saying “did” because today some books are written in a matter of days and published online almost immediately. Things certainly have changed.
I found working on a weekly publication very rewarding because we saw the results of our efforts in only seven days. Every week we had a brand new issue of the magazine in our hands. Whereas, in book publishing, it sometimes took a year or more to see your finished work. By that time, you’d forgotten the heartache, hard work, and effort it had taken to complete the book because you were working on several other books.
But I digress. Back to why to choose technical writing:
Speed is at the top of the list. If you’re an instant-gratification-type-of-writer, many technical magazines are published weekly or monthly. If you write computer user guides, many companies update their products every 12 months and they often want these guides written within 3 to 6 months. Marketing collateral has even shorter lead times.
Boredom is not much of a factor with technical writing (unless technology bores you) because turnaround times are generally fast.
Income is generally higher, much higher, in technical publishing than in other publishing arenas because of the demand and more specialized knowledge that’s required.
Cutting Edge technology is kind of addictive. If you like knowing what’s going on behind the scenes, high-tech is the place to be, although you have to be good at keeping secrets because you only get to know about the new products after you sign a non-disclosure agreement.
These are a few reasons technical writers and editors enjoy working in high tech. What are some of your reasons?
Technical writing and editing are not for everyone. In fact, the majority of technical writers I’ve worked with over the years either fell into technical writing or wanted to write fiction. Let’s face it, technical writing is boring, dry, and uninspiring, unless you’re crazy about technology and how it works. Then technical writing is interesting, even fascinating, because you’re often writing about products that are new and about to change people’s lives.
I was one of those writers who fell into working in the high-tech arena. You might say I entered it with more than a little trepidation, even kicking and screaming a bit. I credit the legendary Stewart Alsop II and Apple’s 128k Macintosh computer, with helping me overcome my aversion to computers.
Stewart and I started working at InfoWorld magazine within a day of each other. Stewart was our new editor-in-chief. I was an editorial assistant and knew nothing about computers, except how to make them crash spectacularly (although I didn’t understand just how I managed to do that).
Stewart met with each member of the editorial staff in an effort to get to know his new team. When I confessed my love of publishing, along with my deep reservations that I may have chosen the wrong magazine to work for because of my strong aversion to computers, Stewart encouraged me to give InfoWorld a chance. He told me that as long as I knew how to write, he could teach me about computers. He asked me to give it six months. Although I had serious reservations, Stewart was very certain, so I agreed.
In only three months I was explaining computers to anyone who would listen, thanks to Stewart, his faith in me, and the 128k Mac, Apple’s first Macintosh computer.
When InfoWorld’s editorial staff received a 128k Macintosh to review prior to its release, so we could write about it in time for Apple’s big announcement, I fell in love with it immediately. I’d finally met a computer I could understand. A computer that spoke my language. And it didn’t crash.
A year and a half later, I opened my own editorial consulting business working as a technical writer and editor at such high-tech companies as Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi America, and many more—and I never looked back because technology was finally interesting to me.
Some editors work closely with the writers they hire. Others only speak with their writers when they absolutely have to. And still other editors evolve into a mentorship relationship with some of their writers. No matter what type of relationship an editor has with the writers who work for her, there are some things an editor should never say to a writer:
1. Never Talk About Another Writer’s Faults.
It’s not ever right to talk about another person’s faults. It’s unprofessional and the writer you’re confiding in may begin to wonder what you’re saying about him behind his back.
2. Never Promise a Writer an Assignment in Advance.
Never, ever, ever promise a writer an assignment in advance because it if doesn’t come through, your name will be mud with that writer and with every writers he knows.
3. Never Say You’ll Let a Writer Review Her Work Prior to Publication.
Most editors already know this, however, sometimes they get chummy with their favorite writers and try to do favors for them. Most publications have an unwritten rule that writers, especially freelance writers do not get to review their articles prior to publication. They have this rule for a reason. Adhere to it.
4. Never say, “Sure, I’ll Give You a Raise.”
Only promise a raise if you are certain that the company is going to back you on this.
5. Do Not EVER Promise a Writer a Specific Amount of Work Every Month.
Not only will the writer believe what you say, he will depend on that income and be very disappointed if he doesn’t receive the assignments and the income.
I often find I do my best writing when I’m speaking. It’s easier to tell a story verbally than to write it. There’s something about having an audience that makes the words just flow. My listener laughs at all the right places and I’m infused with enthusiasm.
So when I run into a bout of writer’s block and can’t get the words to flow, I tell my story aloud.
The catch is that there’s not always someone nearby to whom I can tell my story. Fortunately, I use a Macintosh computer, so I have a built-in recording studio in the form of GarageBand. When I’m traveling, I use my phone’s voice memo feature. But my favorite mode of breaking through writer’s block is to tell my story out loud.
I’d love to hear how you eliminate writer’s block.