A six-figure freelancer runs some numbers and shows you how that seemingly low-paying assignment may turn out to be a good deal after all.
In an attempt to determine how much time I end up spending on each assignment, especially a low-paying assignment, I started tracking my time last year.
The results were shocking.
That low-paying assignment for $350 that I take on four times a year because I like the topic and love the editor? I finished it in fewer than 3 hours, which means that I made more than $100 an hour.
That wasn’t all. I finished a $1,200 assignment that I thought would take days (thereby making it low-paying in my mind) in fewer than six hours ($200 an hour!). Then, last week, I was contacted by an editor who wanted a 600-word essay for $300. That’s a decent per word rate already, but then I realized that since this was a topic that I was really passionate about and that this was an essay, I’d be able to do it in about an hour. You can’t ask for those kinds of rates if you were asking for an hourly fee!
I started realizing the sanity of what six-figure freelancers like Kelly James-Enger have been advising for years: Don’t look at the per-word rate of an assignment, but the per hour cost. This works even better for you if you’re familiar with a topic or if you’re a fast writer. (Don’t miss this post on the six numbers you can’t afford to ignore as a freelance writer.)
Here are some other ways in which that seemingly low-paying assignment might actually turn out to be a good deal.
1. Hourly rate
There are $2-a-word assignments that can go on and on for weeks and months and by the time you calculate your hourly, it’s almost embarrassing. And there are $100 blog posts that take you an hour to write. There is no way to determine which the better assignment is—that $2-a-word assignment that you spend weeks investigating could go on to win an award, after all—but on purely monetary terms, that $100 blog post doesn’t sound bad, does it?
I appreciate bulk work from a client or editor when I can get it, and if it’s on offer, I will lower my fees. For instance, if an editor were to offer me an article for $1,000 a piece or four articles for $750 each, I’d take the second deal. The reasoning is simple: I’m getting an extra $2,000 for no additional marketing. In my business, as it currently stands, $2,000 of incoming work can require anywhere between two to four hours of marketing (in a good week), so if I can spend that time doing what I enjoy instead, I’d be happy to make that tradeoff.
3. Regular work
What sweetens a deal even more is if it’s guaranteed monthly work. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you know that marketing can easily take up as much as 50 percent of a writer’s time and if I can avoid that time spent in marketing and instead put it towards writing, that’s a winning deal, as far as I’m concerned.
With regular work, I not only get to take off that marketing time each month and spend it on writing, but that steady paycheck is something that’s extremely welcome in the often unsteady freelancing life. So if an editor offers a lower rate but provides a steady paycheck, I’m often willing to take that until I can replace it with a high-paying steady paycheck.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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