Setting and Getting Your Ideal Rate: A Roundtable for Freelancers
Wednesday, February 19, 1997
Chair Lisa Carlson led a packed meeting on a topic of widespread interest—rates—by first relaying some suggestions garnered from successful Bay Area editors and writers: Value your time and understand your level of expertise. Compare your rates with others'. Be prepared to charge by project or hourly. Charge hourly for meetings. Pay shipping and phone charges yourself (and take a tax deduction), but build reimbursement into your fees.
During a roundtable discussion about negotiation, a member suggested that whoever first mentions a rate is the loser. Respond to "What do you charge?" by asking, "What is your budget?" Think about how a job suits you. What is the travel time? Raise your rates periodically: "As of January 1, my rate is —." Beware being asked to charge less for high volume ("we have a lot of work coming up"), especially if the volume is not yet in hand. Decide your rates as if you were a salaried worker, allowing at least 20 percent for health and vacation benefits and more for office, administrative, and marketing costs. Lisa distributed copies of fee guidelines from the "Freelance Editorial Association News." Ranges of rates are also shown in the 1997 Writer's Market.
Marketing: some found that people are more likely to answer a phone call than a letter. Learn to describe your work and rates by practicing three times in front of a mirror. Practice wincing at the client's first rate suggestion. Cathy de Heer recommended a class on salary negotiation she took at Alumnae Resources, where it was suggested that if your estimates are never turned down, you are asking too little.
Barbara Fuller, editcetera coordinator, said there are two pieces to price negotiation: the editor's worth, based on experience and skills, and the client's budget, both of which vary widely. For example, proofreading in book publishing can start as low as $13 per hour, though most publishers pay at least $15 and often, especially for experienced people, $18 to $20; copyediting can start at $15 but is generally $18 to $25; for substantive or developmental editing, $25 would be low and rates go to $35 or $40. Corporate proofreading can be $25 to $40; copyediting is commonly $30 to $40. Technical editing ranges up to $50, with more for developmental editing. Rates in all settings are influenced by turnaround time, difficulty of the material, the experience required, and other factors.
Barbara said that it's always good to ask if there is a set budget for a job. If you need to give an estimate or a cap, work on some sample pages (from the middle of the project). Very important: trust your estimate. A small font is slower. When you quote the project cost, say "assuming this sample is typical," or "if there are no surprises" (e.g., a second author for whom English is a second language). Bill honestly; overbilling and underbilling affect all of us.
Our second guest speaker, J. A. Savage, said she specializes in environmental writing for businesses because she was "terrible" at negotiating rates and had to compensate by developing a niche. She strongly recommended the support of belonging to the Writer's Union and also brought along its guidebook, "Freelance Rates and Standard Practice."