How much should I charge per word?

How much should I charge per word?

I don’t mean to smile amusedly when freelance writers, editors and translators ask me that question. There is no right answer to that question. But let me start with a story.

I was conducting a freelance business workshop when someone asked that question. I asked the group if any of them has a fixed per work rate. I was surprised by the number of hands that went up.

One translator said, quite adamantly, that she charge fifteen cents per word.

“No matter what?” I asked.

“No matter what,” she replied.

I then asked her how much she would charge to translate this phrase: “You deserve a break today.”

She didn’t skip a beat. “Seventy-five cents,” she said.

Now “You deserve a break today” is a former McDonald’s advertising slogan. I’m sure the company paid a pretty penny to have it written and a pretty penny to have it translated. After all, the words were going on all McDonald’s advertisement and a lot of other promotional material. I suspect that McDonald’s wanted the strongest slogan and best translation that money could buy.

In short, what you charge per word should depend in large part on the nature and value of the job to the client.

I expect corporate clients to pay more than newspapers and magazines, for the most part because the work you do for corporate clients is intended to make money or add value to the company. Hate to be cynical about this, but most journalism (not all, but most) is intended to fill space between ads. It’s the ads that bring value to the publication and to the advertiser. If you are writing one of those ads, ask more than if you are writing the space filling article.

By the same token, expect to charge less if you are editing a book of straight prose than if you are editing a corporate document, especially if it is a complex shareholder document or marketing material.

So if you charge per word for your work, think hard about your rate and scale it up for work that is more complex, critical and valuable.

*    *    *

Paul Lima is the author of Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing – Find, Price, Manage Corporate Writing Assignments & Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines and other books on promotional and business writing and the business of freelance writing.

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