Archive for December, 2006

Setting Income Goals

I’ve received a lot of questions from freelancers on what they should be making per word.

On the surface, it may seem discouraging to most independent writers that the top rate at $1 per word hasn’t changed in the least since the 1980s.

Don’t be like me and get hung up on what you’re making per word, it will only lead you to frustration.

Calculate what you’re making per hour. I started working smarter this year, calculating my per hour rate and employing more basic business principles and as a result, my writing business is flourishing.

When I finally wrote up a business plan this year, I knew I wasn’t making what I wanted to make and barely making what I needed to cover the monthly bills and business expenses. I was discouraged that I wasn’t making the $1 per word I had heard other professionals talking about on writer’s forums. That’s when I changed my business model and started calculating my projects by the hour. It not only made me work smarter, but it allowed me to weed out and turn down lower paying projects.

Here’s the formula I use: Income Goal (this could be what you made on your last job or a rate you need to make you comfortable – I took last year’s gross income and added 25% to come up with my income goal – I do want my business to grow) + Expenses (include all of your bills and projected business expenses). For example, let’s say your income goal is $30,000 and you have $20,000 in bills and projected business expenses. $30,000 + 20,000 = $50,000. This is the number you have to make to reach your income goals.

This doesn’t mean this is all you will make. It just gives you a number to shoot for. Let’s say you work on average, about 50 hours per week. But how many hours do you want to be working to make what you need, leaving the rest of the week to pursue projects such as writing books, essays or maybe working for lesser paying markets because you enjoy that type of work?

I decided I only wanted to be working 20 hours per week making what I needed to survive. The rest should be gravy.

So, taking 20 hours x 48 (the number of weeks I’m working per year less vacation and holidays) = 960 billable hours.

$50,000/960 = $53 per hour. This is the hourly rate you need to make for at least 20 hours per week.

Now, let’s say you have a really steady gig with a publication that pays $300 per 600 word article. That’s only 50 cents a word. Discouraging? Not necessarily. You’ve calculated that interviewing all your needed sources for a usual article takes you at worst, 2 hours. Writing and going through edits, another 1-½ hours. That’s a total of 3 ½ hours on a $300 piece. Your hourly rate = $85.71 an hour, more than enough for the needed calculated hourly rate above.

You’re ahead of the game if you can secure enough assignments like this to make up 20 hours of your workweek. The faster and smarter you work, the more time you have to pursue other interests.

If you have a gig that pays “top” at $1 a word, but it requires multiple interviews, research and possibly even observation and the editor is a PIA with regards to edits and multiple rewrites, you may not make your per hour rate.

This formula worked for me this year. What are formulas others use?

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An Independent Sued

A report on the suit against freelance writer Susan Paterno:

NEW YORK Editor Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review said his publication would provide legal support for freelance writer Susan Paterno, whose story about the Santa Barbara News-Press prompted a libel suit from the paper this week…

Read more on Editor & Publisher:

What do SPJ freelancers think?

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One of our independent journalists, Scott Wallace, wrote to tell us about a couple of assignments he’s recently completed:

“National Geographic Adventure, Dec.-Jan. issue, “The Mega-Fauna Man,” a profile of renowned naturalist George Schaller, based on our two-month trek through Afghanistan’s rugged Wakhan Corridor in search of Marco Polo Sheep, one of the world’s most elusive animals. National Geographic, January 07, “The Last of the Amazon,” warning of the danger of an impending collapse of the rainforest.”

Scott Wallace is a freelance writer, photographer and producer who began his career in El Salvador in 1983 as a stringer for CBS News Radio and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wallace has written for some of the world’s most prominent media, including National Geographic, Smithsonian, Newsweek, the Manchester-London Guardian and the London Independent. He also produces and shoots newsmagazine programming, and his television credits include: CBS News, CNN, Fox News and National Geographic Television. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Outside, Details and many other publications. He lives in Washington, DC.

Great job, Scott! If any of you have interesting or pieces you’re particularly proud of out there, please send me a blurb on where to find it and a short bio on yourself.

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I’ve Got My First Clip, Now What?

One of our members, Anna Matetic, is fairly new to freelancing. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting some of her questions and my answers to those questions – but I’m hoping other members will join in with their experiences or questions as well. Here’s Anna’s first question:

“There was a class once at the Loft, a great writing center in Minneapolis, called “You’ve got your first clip, now what.” That sums up my situation perfectly. I’ve proven I can write a query letter and get an assignment. I’ve proven I can meet a deadline. I have repeat work with two editors that I have worked with this year.Now what do I do? I have come up with goals for the next year. One is to write 20 queries a week. ”

Answer: Whoa! 20 queries a week is a lot of queries if they are done right. Anna also wanted to know if she should know her markets first or come up with story ideas first. I spent the first few years of my freelance career trying to sell local story ideas that I picked up from local/regional newspapers to national markets. Sometimes that’s ok, I actually sold a piece to Audubon that way this year. But, it won’t pay your bills, in my opinion. I still do that as a side, but I also study my favorite magazines, my dream markets, if you will and tailor story ideas to those markets. To write an effective query letter, you should be researching your subject a little and maybe even doing an interview or two so you can include quotes. The piece I did for Audubon was so well-researched in my query letter, the editor took my actual letter as the article with only a couple of minor changes and additions. Writing a query a day is an ambitious goal. Remember, one of the major rules of goal setting is not to set them too high and doom yourself for failure. I would start with maybe a goal of 3 a week and work your way up, the more you write them, the faster you will get. And, as you develop on-going relationships with editors and they know your writing style, your queries won’t have to be as detailed. My goal is to keep 20 in circulation all of the time, but 20 a week just wouldn’t be feasible.

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Indy Journalists Rumble with Star Management

Both Editor & Publisher and the Poynter Institute are reporting on the fracas at The Indianapolis Star.

See Guild: We’re Not Stopping ‘Indy Star’ Info Center, Just Fighting For Ethics and from Memo sent to Romenesko.

The discussion continues on two local blogs (Ruth Holladay’s and Taking Down Words, both by former employees at The Star.

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