I was recently contacted by a business I interned with when I was in college. (That was four years ago, and I now have an MFA in writing.) They want me to work on a project--they want me specifically, so I don't need to worry about trying to sell myself to them. That's done. I'm trying to decide whether I should charge them a project fee or an hourly fee.
The project is basically a short book on the history of the business. They are giving me a transcript of the CEO's recorded stories from his time (several decades) with the company, and they want me to transform it into something they can self-publish. I don't know yet whether they want to keep the first-person narration of the CEO or whether they want it in third person. Right now the transcript word count is about 23,000 words, and they expect the CEO to do another recording session.
I have not done a lot of freelance writing/editing yet, so setting rates is fairly new for me. I am unsure how many hours the project will take me--partly because I haven't done anything exactly like this before and partly because I don't know what the client will end up wanting in terms of revisions, how much meeting time will be necessary beyond my initial conference to discuss the project. I do think I will spend at least 30-40 hours total, but maybe I'm way underestimating.
Any advice on whether I should give an hourly rate or project rate? And if you would go with a project fee, how much might you charge? If I were to go with hourly and give them an estimate of how long I thought it would take, how would I give them a safe estimate, given that I'm unsure and that I don't want to go way over my estimate?
FWIW, the client is the largest employer in my hometown and has an annual revenue of $50-100 million.
Projects rates can be good but clients often get the wrong idea. They feel that they paid a good sum of money and deserve whatever they want, even if it's not what they specified. Because your time is not directly linked to their dollar they will not think about it as compensation for time. I try to avoid writing quotes for this reason. I give an estimate for what the project should land around if everything goes as specified. But clients nearly always change specifications on you. Charging per hour takes away any claim they have to free hours.
I suggest you read Lowengards guide to writing quotes. While a little tongue-in-cheek it shows the attitude to quotes you have to have if you want to avoid being screwed.
Regina, standard practice with this kind of writing is to link the price to the number of words in the final document. What the per-word number should be will depend on what exactly you're asked to do. Lightly edit and proofread only? Provide analytic headpieces or comment to each speech? Turn the speeches into a cogent, multi-chapter book? Format the document and deliver "camera ready?" Will you have to source pictures or get permissions to use them? Compile an index or bibliography? Do research into the history of the company (beyond reading whatever is on their website)?
If you look around the internet you can find examples of price structures for writers/editors that might guide you. But remember that there is no "going rate," only what you need to earn.
If you're completely in the dark about what to charge then try this.
1. Figure out what you would need to earn in a year, if you were a freelancer. Don't forget to add in social security, taxes, insurance, etc.
2. Divide that number by 1200--a hopeful number of the hours you are available to bill in any year, given such things as holidays, vacations, illness, and the need to do many things for which you won't be paid directly. (By that, I mean administrative work, meetings, finding clients, etc.).
3. If you have a lot of experience you might want to increase that baseline number. Don't decrease it because you're inexperienced--this is what you need to earn.
4. Think about how long it might take you to do certain tasks. Can you proofread and edit 6 pages/hour? Then your basic editing rate might be $[that number]/6. Or, for a per-word rate, $[that number]/1500. (For editing purposes, a page is still 250 words, no matter the margins or type size.)
5. I always advise against telling clients your hourly rate, because it leaves you open to arguments about why it's so much--no matter where you set it--and that's none of your client's business. I find it more useful to tie the price to the tasks I do, so if the client wants to pay less, I can delete some of the tasks.
And finally, just a note. I've been writing for a long time, and doing exactly the kind of writing/editing you describe here for more than 10 years. Taking 25,000 words of raw material to a good, publishable book in 40 hours, especially if you have no experience in the details of this kind of writing, is more hopeful than realistic. Unless they only want you to proofread and lightly edit.
Turn the speeches into a cogent, multi-chapter book?
Yes. I will be turning the CEO's first-person ramblings into a third-person narrative.
Format the document and deliver "camera ready?" . . . Compile an index or bibliography?
I just emailed the client to verify these things. They do want an index of people mentioned in the book, and I think they will want me to compile it.
Do research into the history of the company (beyond reading whatever is on their website)?
No. I asked about research beyond the transcript, and the client hadn't thought of this. They don't think there would be time for the project to include research.
That brings me to the deadline: they need the finished product by January 17, the CEO's retirement date. They want to know if I can have a first draft by December 7. That gives me three weeks and means I will need to work a lot over Thanksgiving. I haven't yet received the new copy of the transcript with the CEO's edits (I was told I'd receive it yesterday), and I told them I need that to determine whether Dec. 7 will work as a deadline and to give them an estimate of my fee. Does this seem like a quick turnaround to you? Should my fee reflect a quick turnaround?
When you set a per-word fee, how do you handle revisions and meeting time? And do you ever run into the problem of a client deciding to cut a long section that you spend a lot of time on?
I read a bunch of online information and a couple of books on building a freelance writing business, but I'm still struggling a bit with how to set a rate that compensates me fairly for everything this project involves without making the client think I'm charging too much. Online I see everything from a few cents per word to a few dollars per word.
If I charge 20 cents per word and the finished product is 20,000 words, the total fee would be $4,000. Does that sound about right for what I'm describing? To high? Too low?
a 3 week turn around for a 25,000 word draft would mean working very hard. I would consider this a rush job even without the holiday, but you may feel differently.
Your per-word fee should include such things as a round of edits, 1 or maybe 2 f2f meetings, etc., and everything else. As indexing is a specialist job, you might be able to bill this separately or as extra...up to you. You would identify what the fee includes in your contract, as you would normally.
I can't tell you what to charge, Regina, for the reasons I outlined above. $4000 would not be enough to entice me to take the job, as it's likely to take up the entire 2 months left until the retirement party. You should recognize however, that I have considerable experience at this kind of work and charge accordingly. I also know (from that experience) that jobs such as these, the ones that are thought up at the last minute or aren't started until the last minute because the people who instigate them don't understand how long it takes to produce a good publication, end up being very deep and very dark holes. I know how to avoid the problems and that is worth something to my clients.
On the other hand, if you are learning how to do this kind of work as well as how to freelance, it may be worth it to you to make less money and discover the parameters.
Make sure your contract identifies everything you're responsible for, with deadlines, including number of rounds of revisions and meetings you'll attend. Don't forget to include a payment schedule. Don't forget to mention that, if you submit something and haven't heard in X hours or business days you assume it's approved. Don't let their lawyers tell you that you have to sign a hold-harmless agreement but they can't do the same. Make clear what kind of credit you get for this (will your name be on the finished book? who holds the copyright? will you get copies you could use to promote your work?)
I've agreed on my rate with the client, but I have another question. The client said that they want to credit me in the book and asked how I would "prefer to be referenced" in relation to the book. Is there a standard for what I should request? I am not ghostwriting for an individual who will be listed as the author; I am simply writing the book for the business, and my source material is the transcript of the CEO's stories.
I've been a freelancer for over 10 years. Charging hourly rates has never worked for me. I charge by the project on agreed upon specifications, and I usually include a certain number of hours of site revisions into the initial project proposal. Any additions past the initial project will be additional cost the client must pay, though I do sometimes charge by the hour for additional minor site revisions.
For example, I built a site for a small business. They wanted a fairly basic Joomla driven website with seven menu items, some specific functionality with file storage and sharing, and they wanted a few logos and graphics designed. I also included in 20 hours of revisions. I charged them $2200, and when I had done 20 hours of revisions, I charged them $60/hr for the additional revisions.