Writers Worth: Editors, Review Your Rates

Welcome to Writers Worth Week!

For six years now, Writers Worth has become a mini-movement designed to help writers at all career stages find, and assert, their value in the marketplace. Over the years, it’s gone from one day of my pushing and fussing to a week of advice and strategies, to last year’s month-long celebration in which many of the best writers I know contributed their advice and support to those of you who struggle with what to charge.

This year is no different. While I had to whittle it back to a week or so thanks to surgeries and family issues, this year’s Writers Worth is still a wealth of information and advice from people who have been where you are — new or mid-career — who need to embrace their worth and charge like professionals.

No matter what stage of your career you find yourself in, this week is for you.

You know how designers start their fashion shows with a strong piece at the beginning, or like how your hook in your story or article is used as a great place to set the tone for everything else? Consider this that show-stopper. Since Paula Hendrickson has been a supportive champion of the Writers Worth cause, I felt it only appropriate to start this week(s)-long celebration with her post.

Paula asks the question “When was the last time you gave your writers a raise?” It’s not just a good question for editors, but for the writers who work for them.

When was the last time you gave your
writers a raise?
by Paula Hendrickson 

Think about all of the magazine and newspaper subscriptions you’ve had over the years. Subscription rates don’t increase dramatically each year, but they gradually go up over time, as do cover prices.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most publications regularly adjust their ad rates, too. Do you really think a full-page ad in your favorite weekly magazine sells for the same price today as it did ten or fifteen years ago?

Yet how many publications have raised their freelance rates over the same period?

I’ve been a full-time freelancer for over 15 years, and it’s frightening to realize how stagnant most freelance rates are. About five years ago, one of my regular clients bumped its rates up an extra quarter per word. Then the economy tanked and they “temporarily” lowered it back to the original rate, where it remains today. That title has been sold and resold over the years, so the newest owner might honestly have no clue how much time has passed since its top-notch contributors were given a raise.

At the same time, readers’ attention spans are decreasing. Trades that assigned 3,000 word features ten years ago are probably assigning 1,500-2,000 word articles – with the same fee structure. One magazine cut its 500-600 word “shorts” down to 250-300 words. Thankfully the rates were adjusted enough that I make more writing several short articles for that magazine than I’d be paid if I turned in a feature with the same number of words.

Most periodicals have maintained the same freelance rates for at least a decade. When still writing for a former client, one of the editors — who started out freelancing for the company — mentioned the pay rate hadn’t changed since she first freelanced there twenty years earlier.

With increased ad rates and subscription fees, how can that be? Without well-written content there’s no reason for advertisers to buy ad space or subscribers to renew. It makes no sense that the people paid to create the content that generated a publication’s cashflow are generally the last to get a raise.

Sure, writers can seek out better-paying markets, but after attaining a certain level it’s difficult to find markets that pay higher rates.

In the spirit of Writers Worth Week, I’d like to encourage every editor and publisher to check their records and pinpoint the last time their freelancers got a raise.

Has it been five years? Ten? Twenty?

If it’s been more than five years, the time has come to increase your freelance rates a bit. If it’s been more than a decade since you’ve raised your rates, make it a hefty raise. We’re worth it.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to several national consumer and trade publications, ranging from EMMY MAGAZINE and VARIETY to AMERICAN BUNGALOW. When not writing, Paula is probably knitting, baking, crocheting or scouring antique malls and flea markets with her sister, seeking out funky, inexpensive vintage light fixtures.

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Comments

  • Cathy Miller May 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Interesting, Paula, and not something I thought about. I write a lot of articles, but they are ghoswritten for my clients. My client pays me so I don't have this issue to deal with, but I can say I'm not terribly surprised.

    Most of my clients are corporate clients, and I can relate to the decreasing word length. White papers used to be a large portion of my work, but now they are being cut back to other forms that are half the word count.

    Reply
  • Paula May 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    I need more corporate clients. I've always enjoyed ghostwriting – even when I had to explain to a client that they were too self-congratulatory and should dial it back a bit.

    Unfortunately, the industry I spend the most time in has an army of in-house publicists and huge PR firms handling all the writing tasks. And the do it well, dog gone it.

    Reply
  • Jenn Mattern May 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Paula,

    I'd bet at least some of those PR firms and publicists use freelancers. Why not try to get an in with some middlemen clients like them, marketing firms, and ad agencies? They can bring a lot of work on a regular basis, and you get to work on the end projects they'd otherwise be monopolizing. 🙂

    Reply
  • Paula May 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Next time a publicist asks me what else I'm working on, I'll have to turn the tables and ask what I can help them with! Thanks for the suggestion, Jenn. I just always assumed big PR operations would have every angle already covered.

    Reply
  • Lori May 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Paula, this is great. What I like is that you challenge convention, which has dictated that we simply accept the rates offered. Why have we accepted that for so long? I can't fathom why, but we just have. I think for me it changed when a long-time magazine client raised my rates without my asking last year. They loved my ideas and the attention my articles generate. They rewarded me for it by paying me more, so that speaks to how arbitrary publication rates can be.

    I can't thank you enough for all you've done for me these past few weeks. Thank you for this post, and for being the driving force behind Writers Worth this year. I truly owe you!

    Reply
  • Paula May 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    All you owe me, Lori, is that you're healthy enough to enjoy Writers Worth Week next year.

    Reply