Nor’easters and Writing Questions

What I’m listening to: Mademoiselle De Paris by Jacqueline Francois


As I write this, we’re waiting for the brunt of a Nor’easter making its way up the coast. Joy. Here I am with a faulty furnace and a house full of people. Oh well. Water wings for all and more wine!

Finally, I finished the draft of the large project three weeks ahead of schedule. I was happy to get it to the client early so that they can go over it and have time for revisions. I had to spend much of yesterday doing everything other than work, so it was nice to get this off my desk. Today I have some marketing to do, plus I have a client project starting. The small break yesterday was refreshing, but back to work now.

I got an email from a reader (hey, Jeremy!) who asked a very good question. I won’t post the entire note as I didn’t ask his permission, but the gist of it: he’s in an area of the country where he can’t get a really good wage out of the local community. He thinks he’s worth more (and you are, Jeremy, you are), but what to do?

We’ve all faced this same question, haven’t we? We wonder how, in our small circle in a community no one has heard of, we can charge a competitive rate.

By going outside that small circle. That’s how.

I remember thinking the same thing back when I started my career, which happened to be shortly before the Internet hit the mass market (did life really happen before Internet?). I lived in the middle of nowhere. How could I possibly get more than minimum wage out of these people I called clients? I struggled in local newspapers and moved my way up into regional magazines before finally getting into a national publication. The rates weren’t great, but they were improving.

Now things are infinitely better. So how did I — how does anyone — move beyond those low rates?

Take yourself seriously. If you do, your clients will, too. Not all of them, for there will always be bargain shoppers and cheapskates, but if you charge like you mean it, you’ll weed these ones out quickly.

Charge more. Writer Walt Kania made that point right here on this blog. You don’t need to prove anything, nor do you have to work your way up. You. Just. Charge. More. It’s so stupidly simple, it’s brilliant.

Work nationally. Unless you live in a large metropolitan area, you’re not going to be able to charge what you’re worth. So why, then, are you concentrating on the locals? The majority of my clients (save one) are all somewhere other than here. It’s uncommon that my clients are anywhere near me. Spread your wings.

Choose a concentration that automatically demands higher rates. If you’re tired of making 25 cents a word at that magazine, spread your wings. Other publications publish those same topics. So why aren’t you trying to get your work in those? Also, if you work in a specific area already, what industries support that area? Chances are, there’s an area right in front of you that pays much more.

How did you move beyond your lower rates? Are you where you want to be now?

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  • Paula October 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I only write for a couple of local publications, and even then it's only on occasion. The editors at those places actual apologize for having such low pay rates, but we happen to live in a community that has a long way to go in order to begin rebounding from the recession.

    Early on in my career (when we mailed or faxed in copy – does anyone even fax anymore?) I started writing for a national business trade magazine published in my hometown. They didn't pay well, but it wasn't insultingly low. At least not until I learned from a friend/former editor there that the publisher paid much higher rates to out-of-town writers!

    He knew he could get away with stiffing local writers since there weren't many local opportunities for freelance writers. What he didn't realize was that his masthead included several local pros who had more national credits than regional bylines. He is a big reason I seldom work with local clients. (When I do it's usually because I'm friends with the editor.)

    It's also why I don't include my location on my LinkedIn account. Just the other day the EIC of a trade with New York and LA offices sent me a link to a full-time job opening in their LA office. She'd forgotten I lived in the Midwest.

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