Freelance Q&A: How do I charge for my work?

In most cases, the media organization for whom you are working will dictate your pay, and your paycheck will be calculated one of three ways:

  • By the word
  • By the page
  • By the assignment (or a flat rate)

Payment by the word can be tricky to calculate, because it will probably be determined based on the edited word count, not the word count of the original submission. You can use that word count as an estimate though. Let’s say you write a 600 word piece at a rate of $0.20/word. You’ll earn $120 for that story, give or take, based on word count. The same is true of payment by the page. It will be based on the edited version, not the submitted version. For payment by assignment, this is typically a flat rate per piece. Longer, more complicated stories normally merit higher rates but that will depend on the news organization.

There is one other payment method to be aware of – the kill fee. This is a fee that a news organization pays for a story that it decides not to run. Let’s say, for example, you write a story about seed potatoes for an agricultural magazine. You fulfill the assignment, submit it to your editor and your editor decides to write about vegetable seeds instead. You may get paid a kill fee. It will be substantially less than the amount you would have received had they used your story, but you will get something for your time. I’ve had editors offer to pay a research or travel fee, too, when a story didn’t really pan out but I had spent time doing some preliminary work.

If you are doing corporate work, like writing website copy, you will need to set your own rates. I recommend reading Michelle Goodman’s “My So-Called Freelance Life” for advice on setting rates for your services.


Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of and An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10 and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).



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