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.


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]

Mad, bad, sad

Mad, bad, sad

“None of these babies are even close to handling this other dickhead baby on a swing.” From 39 Renaissance babies who can’t even

This week has been… I’m a professional wordsmith and I can’t even—I cannot find or create a word that can actually describe what this week has been like. It’s been mad, bad and sad in immeasurable ways and as I’m trying to process things, other things keep coming up that are important, true, significant, relevant. So I’m sorry that this post is going to be a collage of musings rather than anything analytical.


Tony Abbott and Richard Flanagan Photo: Josh RobenstoneThe craziest things that have happened have happened to the Abbott government, mostly because they deserve it. First there’s Richard Flanagan and Bob Graham who, at the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards—usually a safe space for the PM of the day to do something positive and get in a few photo ops—pledge prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Asylum Seekers Refuge Centre respectively. It was one way to fire a shot at the foundations of this lunatic government: see all those things you’re not funding any more? We’ll fund them because you’re an arsehole for not valuing those things, and we’ll do it publicly too.

Then at the Human Rights Awards, once-upon-a-time Gitmo detainee David Hicks heckles Attorney-General George Brandis, possibly the strangest person to invite to speak at anything related to human rights. Apparently Hicks was there to support his lawyer, who was up for an award, and had no idea Brandis was going to be there to speak. When opportunity knocks…


I could keep you here for hours with a rant. instead, I’ll just give you a short list:

  • Not just the evidence of the CIA torturing people but the fact medical professionals assisted them (also, don’t read below the line).
  • Scott Morrison using detained children as a bargaining chip with crossbenchers to extract more immigration (read: refugee control) powers.
  • Malcolm Turnbull, that lying bastard, trying to filter the internet (to ‘protect copyright’) but not calling an internet filter an internet filter.
  • Tony Abbott playing the gender card for Peta Credlin. Not pretty.
  • Greenpeace setting back the plight of climate activists by trampling all over the Nasca lines. Idiots.


Stella Young, writer, comedian and disability advocate, died. The tributes to her last week were mostly heartbreaking with room for a laugh. The one thing that really hit me was this letter to herself, which appeared in Between Us: Words and wisdom from Women of Letters, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.

#writingwhilefemale, a hashtag Maxine Beneba-Clarke started, that shares the everyday struggles of writing while female. I’ve been fortunate in my career in comparison to a lot of the contributors and for that I am grateful.

Having to rearrange my dentist appointment (my third in two weeks) because the $1,417 I’ve paid to him so far, including an $800 splint that gave me a headache all Saturday, was pretty much my cash reserve for the rest of the month and I have no money until my clients pay my invoices. Yeow.

PayDay #1: Should I write for free?

PayDay #1: Should I write for free?

The perennial question for many young and emerging writers is if and when they should write for free. If you are a hobbyist, writing for free may not bother you all that much, but if you intend on making a living from writing there are obviously decisions you need to make about if and when you should write for free.

This post will focus on the writer’s point of view (and not whether or not a publication/outlet can/will pay).

There are a number of great resources that can help you decide whether a project is worth donating your time and skills to:

If you’re not too keen on dichotomous keys, flowcharts or diagrams, however, the answer to the question essentially boils down to this:

  1. Can you write for free?
  2. Do you want to write for free?
  3. Will you get something else out of writing for free?

You need to answer ‘yes’ to one or more (preferably all) these questions to make a case for writing for free.


Can I write for free?

Let’s talk business. If your job is writing and you’re giving away your writing for free you really can’t afford to do it too often. Writing for free is simply not a sustainable business practice.

Unfortunately, too many inexperienced writers fall into the trap of treating their skills like a supermarket promotes its goods. Consider the loss leader, which is where a supermarket product is sold at a loss (ie the supermarket makes no money on that product) to attract customers to the store. The store then makes up for the loss by selling the customers other goods while they are there. This does not work for writing. You cannot sell ‘other goods’ while gouging yourself on your main product.

Writing for free is also not like those little samples of cheese on a tray in a supermarket; outlets really shouldn’t ask for a free taste to buy from you. (Alert: If an outlet or someone purporting to represent an outlet sets you an assignment they want you complete for free on the promise of further work, you should do your due diligence: are they just looking for free content? What happens if they publish your ‘trial assignment’ but you don’t get any further work?)

They want samples of your work? Here’s a portfolio you prepared earlier. Publishing outlets don’t usually start giving you paid work after you’ve submitted something for free. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to move from being an unpaid writer to a paid writer at the same outlet. You have to be tenacious, and you have to invest a lot of time in the publishing relationship and you need to have a conversation many writers find difficult (more about that later).

“Unless you’re selling heroin, it’s very hard to get people off the free.”

—Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network

That being said, if you have another income stream, from [insert occupation here] and writing is a side project you want to grow into a career, then you might have a bit more flexibility.

Let’s say the answer to this question is ‘yes’. Then what?

Do I want to write for free?

Of course you would rather be paid for writing, yes? But if you have a passion for something, sometimes the writing doesn’t feel like work and you want to write about X and you’re happy to do it for free.

I once wrote an article on Catherine Jinks for an indie kids’ literature magazine called All Write! I’d interviewed Jinks as part of my day job and there was a lot of writing craft things she said that didn’t fit the brief of the initial article. All Write! was the perfect vehicle to re-use the interview in a way that didn’t encroach on my employers’ readership. I didn’t get paid, but I was happy to see it reach the right readership.

So, this project you’re thinking about, if I were to say to you ‘no one will ever pay you for that’ are you still happy to write it for free because your muse won’t let you rest until you do?

Will you get something else out of writing for free?

Things you may be able to get from writing for free:

  • Payment in kind (gifts, tickets, free stuff)
  • Experiences (attending events/doing activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to)
  • Writing/work experience, mentorship opportunities
  • Exposure

A lot of indie media runs on the exchange of free stuff (books, music, tickets) for reviews. This is quite normal and, in most cases, fair enough. (To get a better class of critic, however, I’d expect reputable outlets to actually pay for the writing as well because reviewers cannot live on free entertainment alone.) If you’re happy with this, go ahead, see all the things and write about them for free.

Many writers also relish the chance to work with a certain outlet or editor and are happy to intern or write for free in exchange for mentorship or valuable experience.

I am a full-time freelance writer and get a lot of work in the business, education and project management space, because that’s where I’ve built a reputation. I still write for free, however. I am the communications officer at the Australasian Specialty Tea Association (AASTA) and I want to pursue more tea writing. As a result I write for free for our media partner, BeanScene, wearing my AASTA hat and have started to contribute articles under my own byline. In effect, I’ve become its tea writer. I know I’m never going to be paid by BeanScene, but now I can leverage this for paid work elsewhere; not to mention there are a number of other opportunities—such as free travel to tea plantations around the world—in the offing.

As with any work experience relationship, though, make sure you’re actually getting something from it: you should feel that you’ve learnt something, that you’re progressing. If you feel exploited, you are probably being exploited. Get out of there and find someone else.

Which brings us to the biggie: exposure. This is probably a whole blog post in itself but I’ll keep it short.

If you work in [insert occupation here] and you want to be known as a thought leader in that space, having your byline in the right place can be beneficial to your personal brand. You write for free because that time is part of your marketing budget (and if you can’t write but you have great ideas to share see me, I’m a ghostwriter).

Writers have to be more careful, however. Where you choose to write for free affects your portfolio. Aim for shitty little publications with poor editorial values and it could stain your career; people in the industry know it says ‘I could only get published in this terrible publication and I didn’t even get paid’. Now decide whether nowhere is better than anywhere.

The Walkley Magazine doesn’t pay its writers (I have an issue with this, but bear with me) but because it has high editorial values, writing for this publication is something you can put on your portfolio and it will enhance your reputation.

Also consider whether writing for exposure gets you a reputation as a person who writes for free. Remember Kevin Davis’ statement: “It’s very hard to get people off the free.”

Exposure and getting your name out there is pretty important, but don’t forget you can’t pay your rent with exposure. What is the opportunity cost of writing for free?

“You can die from too much exposure.”

Tim Richards, freelance writer

Let me state there is nothing wrong with writing for free if you offer this of your own volition, if you are happy to write for free and you understand what the end goal is.

Your thoughts?

[This is the first post in my PayDay Series]