PayDay #3: Asking for payment

PayDay #3: Asking for payment

So you want to be a writer. A professional, paid writer. Assuming you know roughly what you want to be paid, the next step is actually asking for money. In a world where $0 for words appears to be the default rate, this is no easy task. Tiered systems, where more experienced or prestigious writers command a different rate, complicate things further.

Your first step should be to find out if the publication (or organisation) pays at all. Publications will generally state on their website whether they pay and how much they pay. If they don’t, basic research skills (ie a decent search engine) and some careful questions sent through your network should tell you. There are also some great resources such as the Emerging Writers’ Festival and Hey Pay Up that can give you an indication of whether a publication pays and if so, how much (or the range).

The rest of this post will cover:

  1. How to ask for payment
  2. Rejecting unpaid work
  3. Upping your rate

asking for money

Asking for it

I once went to a talk featuring journalist Wendy Bacon who says she always has the money conversation as early as possible, which generally meant at the pitching stage. I personally don’t think this is necessary if you know that the publication does pay in the range you’re happy with and prefer to bring up rates once the editor has accepted the pitch.

Most publications will have a commission document that contains the brief, deadline, copyright stuff and payment details (including the rate and perhaps how to invoice). If not, I will usually send a reply email that confirms the scope of the work and the deadline and then throw in something along the lines of: “Would you mind confirming the rate?”

If you know what they pay, you can write something like: “I understand you pay ##c/word, can you confirm this is the rate?”

Not sure whether the publication pays? It may be wise to take Bacon’s lead and pitch your idea with all the charm you need to get the editor interested, then mention money in the same correspondence. Bring in your research at this point just to make them understand that they’re not dealing with a chump. A line like: “I’ve had a look at your submission criteria but it doesn’t mention your rates, do you mind letting me know how much you pay?” could work here.

Rejecting unpaid work

Say the editor comes back with “actually we don’t pay”; if you feel you can get paid elsewhere, gracefully withdraw your pitch and pitch elsewhere. “Thanks for considering this article, unfortunately I’m going to need to withdraw my pitch.” You can soften and personalise the withdrawal any way you like; trust me, most editors wish they could pay/pay more and they understand you need to make a living. Don’t be nasty, though, because one day they may receive a budget or edit another publication that does pay so it’s not a good idea to get into the bad books.

If you are approached to write something for a publication and it turns out they meant ‘be a word slave’, allow yourself to be flattered for a moment (after all, they chose you over all those other potential word slaves) and then work out if you want to do it for free or not.

Not? Don’t feel bad about being direct. Freelancer Benjamin Law once recalled being approached to emcee an association awards night pro bono. He wrote back something like: “Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately I need to prioritise paid work at this time so am unable to accept your invitation.” The funny part was the association came back and then offered to pay him. So sometimes editors or organisations may just be fishing for free content but may be willing to pay the right person.

Getting a pay rise

Of all the money conversations, I have the most difficulty with the one asking for a pay rise ie upping my rate.

With freelance budgets getting tighter and publications turning to pulp left, right and centre, you’re never going to be offered a higher word rate without asking. In many cases you get what you’re given and there’s no room for movement. Still, even though things are pretty cutthroat out there, it’s sometimes worth asking the question, particularly if you have a good relationship with your editor and if you know there’s a rate range and you haven’t yet reached the upper tier.

As with any pay rise negotiation, know what your value is to the organisation. Do you turn around a story quickly? Do you have expert contacts that no one else does? Is your copy so squeaky clean editors save time on the proofing stage? Build a case and find out whether a raise is possible. If yes, keep in mind two figures: what you want and what you’re prepared to accept (which may be what you’re already getting).

Also consider other non-monetary perks you might be able to angle for in lieu of a raise if there’s no budget to meet your asking price: do you want first dibs at certain stories? Can you renegotiate resell rights? Does the editor have contacts s/he can introduce you to where you might get more or more lucrative work?

Remember: If the publication can pay, it should pay. Never ever do the work or invoice an editor without discussing money and rates first. Good luck.

PayDay Series

  1. Should I write for free? 
  2. What should I charge?
  3. Asking for payment [you are here]

2014: Books I read

2014: Books I read
  1. Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
  2. The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (re-read)
  4. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton [book club]
  5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  6. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  8. Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (re-read)
  9. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  10. Life After Life by Kate Atkins [book club]
  11. The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey [book club]
  12. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult [book club]
  13. Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois [book club]
  14. Sabriel by Garth Nix (re-read)
  15. Lirael by Garth Nix (re-read)
  16. Abhorsen by Garth Nix (re-read)
  17. Across the Wall by Garth Nix (re-read)
  18. The Happy Prince & Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
  19. Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
  20. The Chaplain’s Legacy by Brad R Torgersen [Hugo nominee]
  21. The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells [Hugo nominee]
  22. Equoid by Charles Stross [Hugo nominee]
  23. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie [Hugo nominee]
  24. Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross [Hugo nominee]
  25. Parasite by Mira Grant [Hugo nominee]
  26. The Double by Fyodor Doestoyevsky
  27. The Diviners by Libba Bray
  28. Clariel by Garth Nix
  29. Livid by Francesco Verso (translated from Italian)
  30. Maze Runner by James Dashner
  31. All You Zombies and other stories by Robert Heinlein
  32. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  33. Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
  34. Mortal Instruments: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
  35. A Great & Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  36. Stranger on a Train by Jenny Diski
  37. Inheritance by Lisa Forrest
  38. Moron to Moron by Tom Doig
  39. Book of David by Anonymous
  40. A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
  41. My Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  42. Deeper Water by Jessie Cole
  43. The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
  44. The Call of the Trance by Catherine Clément (translated from French)
  45. The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David M Henley
  46. The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon
  47. Manifestations by David M Henley
  48. Holiday in Cambodia by Laura Jean McKay
  49. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (re-read)
  50. Stories of Sydney edited by SWEATSHOP and Seizure
  51. A Man Made Entirely of Bats by Patrick Lenton

Some random stats:

  • 25 books by women; 24 by men; 1 anonymous (Book of David—presumed male but may be a collaboration); 1 mixed gender collection
  • Books from 10 series or parts thereof (throwing dirty looks at Jaclyn Moriarty and David M Henley who’ll have their respective third books of trilogies out in 2015)
  • 47 novels/fiction collections versus 4 non-fiction books (my quota of 3:1 went out the window when I read 18 novels before I picked up Murder in Mississippi)
  • 6 short story collections
  • 9 of these books were made into 11 movies in the last five years (that odd number brought to you by the three movies made from The Hobbit)
  • 18 books by Australian authors
  • 14 authors I’ve seen live at events

PayDay #2: What should I charge for my writing?

PayDay #2: What should I charge for my writing?

Having established that you don’t want to write for free, you need to figure out what you should charge (or accept, if you are not in the fairly privileged position of setting a rate).

I highly recommend Anthony Caruana’s posts on his blog Totally Freelance, particularly these three:

  1. Setting a pay rate
  2. There is no correct rate
  3. The Balancing Act of Setting a Rate

There are really three ways of looking at setting a rate:

  • What you need to earn
  • What you want to earn
  • What everyone else is getting

It very much depends on what kind of person you are as to which method you’ll find more appealing.

smart money frustration

Be smart about what you charge

Cost plus

This is easy if your life is fairly stable and you’re thinking of switching from an existing job to freelancing, or you have a part-time job you want to supplement with side work.

Tally up all your expenses (and I mean all your expenses, from rent/mortgage repayments and food and bills to discretionary shopping, travel and entertainment) from the last year. Add the tax that you paid. This is your base figure.

Now, add the amount on top of that that you would like to earn in the coming year; say last year you went to Queensland for your holiday (nothing wrong with Queensland… don’t snigger) but this year you want to go to Iceland. That’s eleventy-bajillion dollars more (trust me, Iceland is expensive, and that’s coming from someone who lives in Sydney).

Base figure + eleventy-bajillion = cost plus figure

Divide your cost plus figure by the number of hours you think you’ll be working this year (don’t forget to give yourself a few sick leave days and holidays!). Boom! There’s your hourly rate. Adjust for word rate if required.

Because this method is based on expenses, you can make gains or losses by shifts in your spending, whether involuntary (‘oh yay, a new tax’) or voluntary (‘I’m going to buy fewer Faberge eggs this year’). If you were pretty spendthrift last year but this year you’re planning an austerity budget, your cost plus figure might actually be a little inflated. But that’s okay, it’s a guide.

Pro: Gives you a hard minimum and a solid incentive to earn money.
Con: Dependent on spending habits/discipline.

Target salary

This is basically you saying ‘I want to earn a six-figure salary’ and then crunching the numbers until you get an hourly rate. Say you want to earn $100,000 and you plan to work 200 days per year. This means your target day rate is $500 and your target hourly rate is $62.50 (based on an 8-hour day).

Don’t forget that tax comes out of this and remember to account for the fact that there will be some hours of work where you won’t earn any money (doing admin etc).

Pro: Great if you’re an ambitious, goal-setting kind of person.
Con: May not be realistic.

External

Organisations such as the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance and the Australian Society of Authors have a rate sheet you can use as a guide, though you need to check if the rates they propose work for you.

Information provided to writers’ resources like Rachel’s List, the Emerging Writers’ Festival and this anonymous Tumblr can also give you an idea of what other people are being paid and you can set your rate accordingly and/or slam your head into your hands and cry for all those starving writers.

Pro: Allows you to set a rate aligned with the market.
Con: Market could be (is) totally screwed and you won’t be able to pay your bills.

And another thing…

Some of the variables you might want to consider are:

  • Experience: Those new to writing (or new to a subject) may feel more comfortable asking for a lower rate to cover possible deficiencies in their knowledge/experience. Conversely, those who are highly experienced may simply be quicker at writing on a particular topic and therefore need a higher rate to compensate.
  • Expense of time: A fraction of your earnings should also cover your ancillary costs (administration, pitching, liaison, invoicing, chasing up invoices etc). Being more efficient at this is obviously good, but you can also add a little to your rate to compensate.
  • Time cost of money: Money that you have now is worth more than money you’ll get later. Remember this if you have a few slow payers on your books (for example. a quarterly magazine that pays 30 days after publication but requires copy 30 days before publication). Assess whether the wait is worth the rate.
  • Easy/painful client or topic: Ah, where would we be without pain pay? If it’s a topic you can cover but you find boring, perhaps push for a little more to make up for the unchallenging work. On the flipside, you might find a client who is a dream to work with, briefs well and pays on time and you may want to reward them.

What do you use to calculate your ideal rate?

PayDay Series

1: Should I write for free? 
2: What should I charge? [You are here]