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View Full Version : Am I being underpaid/what can I do?



Freelance91
06-28-2005, 06:48 AM
I just got a job as an hourly employee writing for a website serving small business owners. Prior to this job, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a quality local weekly paper that paid next to nothing but I gained much knowledge, experience and clips.
When I took this job two weeks ago, $15 an hour seemed so much better than what I was getting, but after doing some checking I realize that many writers doing the same work are getting $50 to $75/hr. In addition, my boss who says I'm a "good writer" just told me that she would prefer that I limit my time for writing a 1000-word piece to about 10 hours (Quality is my number one goal, and sometimes it might take me 16 hours).
Help!!! Is this time constraint reasonable?????
And if things go well on this job, how and when can I increase my pay?
Any feedback on this would be greatly appreciated.

Cathy C
06-28-2005, 05:58 PM
Well, from my experience in newspapers and magazines, ten hours (actual time) for 1,000 words is a really reasonable amount. Even including interviews and research, mine only take about five to six. Something you might consider doing if your researching is taking up more time than you would like is to increase your typing speed to compensate. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=6856075&type=product&id=1093469216724) is a super software program designed to increase typing speed. If you move from 50-60 words per minute to 80-90 (I personally type at 110), you could fit a lot more research into those ten hours.

IMHO, I think the time is reasonable, but will be interested to see what other people say.

Tish Davidson
06-28-2005, 09:31 PM
To some extent pay depends on experience. I'll bet that writers who are getting $50-%75 per hour have a much higher output and are not taking 16 or even 10 hours to write a 1,000 word story. With experience and by developing an area of expertise, you will cut down on the time it takes to write a story and then you can ask for more money. 16 hours for a 1,000 word service story or a feature is a huge amount of time. It might fly for investigative journalism, but I can see why your editor thinks 10 hours is plenty. Try to avoid getting sidetracked in interesting Web sites, long interviews, answering e-mail, etc.

Rose
06-28-2005, 09:54 PM
When I took this job two weeks ago, $15 an hour seemed so much better than what I was getting, but after doing some checking I realize that many writers doing the same work are getting $50 to $75/hr.
Is this company giving you benefits or handling the taxes? Are you working in the company's office and using their stuff? Is this a long-term gig?

We (freelancers) have to charge as much as we do because we have to cover both sides of social security, buy our own printer ink, hunt for work, etc. I'm not saying $15/hour is reasonable or not reasonable, just noting some reasons freelance rates are what they are.

I really don't know WHEN it'd be appropriate to ask for more cash per hour, but I'm interested to hear others' opinions! Still, I'm guessing it's a moot point unless you can crank out quality articles in 10 hours -- that's what the client wants and its seems others here believe it's a reasonable request. By the way, I love quantified information like this and will use it to gauge my own productivity.

lauram
06-29-2005, 06:54 PM
Wow, 110 wpm! I am only around 30-40. Sad... I can at least type though. I see lots of people who use the "hunt and peck" method. Of course they can type about as fast as I can though. :)
Sorry to side track this topic. I am thinking about buying that software though. :)

Cathy C
06-29-2005, 07:08 PM
I highly recommend it! I still use it to help with some of my bad habits (transposing letters, capitalizing the first AND second letter of a word, etc.) It's really easy to get lazy using a keyboard. I come from a time when typewriters were unforgiving, and the first strike of the key stayed there! LOL!

A week or so with Mavis and I'm in pretty good shape for about six months. It's sort of like maintaining your vehicle. The little things ensure that the BIG things don't get you later! :D

But it's also SUPER for increasing your speed. The car race game is a lot of fun. The faster you type (accurately) the faster your car goes. For every error, a splotch of mud gets thrown on your windshield. If the windshield gets covered before the race is over, you lose. And if you complete it in a good time, it adds seconds to the clock so you keep racing. It's a kick.

wardmclark
06-29-2005, 08:44 PM
To some extent pay depends on experience. I'll bet that writers who are getting $50-%75 per hour have a much higher output and are not taking 16 or even 10 hours to write a 1,000 word story. With experience and by developing an area of expertise, you will cut down on the time it takes to write a story and then you can ask for more money. 16 hours for a 1,000 word service story or a feature is a huge amount of time. It might fly for investigative journalism, but I can see why your editor thinks 10 hours is plenty. Try to avoid getting sidetracked in interesting Web sites, long interviews, answering e-mail, etc.

As with anything, the pay also depends on the client. A large, multi-national high-tech manufacturing company won't blink at $50-70 an hour for an experienced professional. A guy running a computer repair shop in a strip mall who wants some web copy written? He's probably going to balk at that kind of money.

Know your target market.

William Haskins
06-29-2005, 09:03 PM
i charge between 25 and 125 an hour, depending on the size and needs of the client, factoring in the value and visibility of the copy i'll be producing.

but, what others have said is true - regarding track record.

reph
06-30-2005, 08:06 AM
Do writers and editors here believe that pay should be higher if the material is boring (something you wouldn't want to read in your spare time), or is that just me?

Cathy C
06-30-2005, 06:35 PM
No. I find a lot of things boring that my husband laps up with no signs of stopping. Your personal opinions of the subject matter should always be put aside so that you do the best job you can, for the benefit of the article. The money is the same either way.

William Haskins
06-30-2005, 11:00 PM
i charge between 25 and 125 an hour, depending on the size and needs of the client


i just realized that i obviously charged based, in part, on the client's body type. i wonder what freud would say...

wardmclark
07-01-2005, 02:24 AM
i just realized that i obviously charged based, in part, on the client's body type. i wonder what freud would say...

Any shrink worth his parchment would have a field day with pretty much any writer I've ever known.

They certainly would with me. :crazy:

reph
07-01-2005, 02:29 AM
No. I find a lot of things boring that my husband laps up with no signs of stopping. Your personal opinions of the subject matter should always be put aside so that you do the best job you can, for the benefit of the article. The money is the same either way.
I'll put my question differently. I'm not talking about my opinions of the text. I'm talking about my experience while working with it.

I don't write articles. I currently write puzzles, but let's use an example that more people have experience with. I used to do a lot of editing and proofreading. Part of my compensation was the stimulation from reading the text. If it's something I don't care about, I'll feel less like doing the job. Better pay would be one way to induce me to keep going.

As a really simple example, suppose you had a choice between proofreading a good novel and proofreading a document that consisted of pages of numbers. Would you want more money for the latter because the work wouldn't be fun?

maestrowork
07-01-2005, 02:36 AM
Salaried web content writers rarely make $75/hour. If you're doing freelance, consulting work, it depends. I know a freelance copywriter who charges $90/hour, but she has a great resume and track record.

I mean, I worked in the IT field. While independent contractors can make up to over $200/hr, it's rare that a salaried employee makes more than $60/hr, that's considering full-time employment. And IT pays. Not sure about "writers."

Cathy C
07-01-2005, 03:06 AM
Not really, reph. I spent too many years in law, I suppose. The pay is the same whether you're working on something thrilling and mind-blowing that will change the world, or retyping dusty old documents from the basement to attach to the back of a document that nobody will probably read anyway.


Fun as it would be to charge different rates, it's not fair to choose only the choicest nuggets for my regular rate and make them pay extra for stuff I don't want to do -- so I don't. But that's just me.

EmmaMac
07-02-2005, 07:49 AM
Fun as it would be to charge different rates, it's not fair to choose only the choicest nuggets for my regular rate and make them pay extra for stuff I don't want to do -- so I don't. But that's just me.

This is the way I work, too. Also, if I tried that with a repeat client, I wouldn't want to tell them that my rates were higher because their work was boring. I think I'd be more likely to reject a boring project if I was already involved in more interesting things rather than raise my rate based on the excitement level. And if I didn't have anything going on, I'd be happy to be working.

Freelance91, is there any way you can check out the median rates for freelancers in your area? Rates vary greatly depending on where you live. For example, being a freelancer in New York will probably command a far higher rate than doing the same thing in the Midwest.

anais
07-07-2005, 12:02 AM
16 hours!?!

I was a reporter before I started freelancing. We had to (as in - fired if you didn't) crank out several stories everyday. When I did investigative pieces, we were given more time, but 16 hours is a VERY long time to spend on one article.

My guess is that you're not using your time effectively if it takes you that long. Listen to Tish's advice to cut out on long interviews, stopping surfing the web, or whatever you're doing that isn't on point. Focus your time at the beginning of the project. What do you need to know? What can you skip? Know where you're headed before you start so that you don't get caught up worrying about things that aren't important.

As for the pay, I wouldn't want to pay you $50 an hour unless you could produce a much larger quantity of writing. If you took 16 hours, that's $800 per article, and my guess is that your employer probably couldn't afford too many of those projects.

Good Word
07-07-2005, 05:36 AM
Lots of good comments here.

Freelance91, my guess is that the website you are writing for doesn't generate a boatload of cash, and while $15 per hour may not be a lot in your area, the job sounds like a good stepping stone for you. Keep your boss happy and put yourself in her shoes--the reference will be worth it. I'll bet she isn't making much more than you. Also, you might want to write your next assignment, send her the draft and tell her you would normally spend several more hours on it, but want to get her feedback before you do. She might say it just needs a few tweaks, whereas you might agonize over it for hours (the way we writers often do).

Entelechy
08-03-2005, 09:48 PM
Wow, I can see I'm spending too much time on my features. And yes, I am guilty of long interviews & doing too much research. Wow, this thread has been an eye opener for me! Thank you all!

Does anyone know what the going editorial rates are? I have a friend in NYC doing PR for some boutique hotels. I have over 500 published clips in this area & have written for & with her since '87 (formerly as my editor & we've co-written a few major pieces). Yesterday she was in a panic & asked me to edit a press release for the hotel & she'd pay me $20. What she sent me was pretty dry & boring so I told her I couldn't do it in 15 min. She said fine, she'd pay me more but she wanted me to "do my thang" & make it more "jazzy". (She likes my style.) I spent an hr. and a half on it & really re-worked it. She was thrilled & asked me to do the editing for the whole project. I told her I can't work for $10. an hr. (what she paid me awhile ago for research) because I am very busy with magazine work paying .50-.75 a word. She suggested $15. an hr. & I'm thinking that's pretty low! I know she's mentioned charging $75. an hr. & she said she doesn't think she can pay me more than 25% of her fee because of taxes etc...? I have to pay taxes, medical etc. too!


On the one hand, I'd like the PR experience & it's not very hard work. But I've been a full time journalist for 10 years & have about 1000 clips in business & travel & think I am worth more than $15. an hr. Am I? :Shrug: I'm also making $30.$40. an hr. writing for mags but as we all know, that can be up & down.

Any suggestions as to what is reasonable? I do want the experience because my background is as a meeting planner & I have heaps of contacts & know PR would be a great way to pay the 10K in dental work I need done!

Isn't $15. a little low? I was thinking more like $25. She just writes down the facts & it's up to me to tighten the copy, make it "sing" & get the grammar right.

Any comments would be much appreciated.

Judy

Rose
08-04-2005, 12:42 AM
It's so hard to discuss money without knowing all the facts but, yes, $15/hours sounds low to me -- especially for clients in NYC. I live in a city with a population around 200,000 people, and freelance rates range from about $65 - $100/ hour. Well-established (and/or well-connected) writers can command even higher prices. The only time rates go lower than $65, as far as I know, is when writers are first starting out and want to get their foot in the door at a given agency or are working for fledgling non-profits or very small businesses. Still, I've yet to enounter anyone working for $15 or less.

Cathy C
08-04-2005, 12:49 AM
True enough, Rose, but the original post indicated it was a full-time position, which is a different thing (at least to me.)

Rose
08-04-2005, 04:23 AM
Oh, sorry...I was responding to Entelechy's post!

Entelechy
08-04-2005, 07:22 PM
Thanks for the advice Rose. I think it's low too! It just didn't feel quite right. I mean I'd make that as a receptionist. Hairdressers make more! Yikes. I've been publishing for 20 years & I don't want to be guilty of hubris but this seems more like a slap in the face.

Her rationale? She gets $100. for the press release & she can't pay me more than 25% of what she makes. Has anyone heard of that formula? When I had my meeting planning biz I had two girls, ages 18 & 19 working for me & eighteen yrs. ago I was paying one of them $15. an hr for secretarial, admin & help with organizing conferences.

Thanks again Rose. She's gone to the Hampton's for the weekend ;-) so I'll let her think it over. I never thought I'd see the day when magazine pay was substantially higher than PR pay! :)

Have a good day all!

Judy

ATP
08-22-2005, 01:50 PM
16 hours!?!

I was a reporter before I started freelancing. We had to (as in - fired if you didn't) crank out several stories everyday. When I did investigative pieces, we were given more time, but 16 hours is a VERY long time to spend on one article.

My guess is that you're not using your time effectively if it takes you that long. Listen to Tish's advice to cut out on long interviews, stopping surfing the web, or whatever you're doing that isn't on point. Focus your time at the beginning of the project. What do you need to know? What can you skip? Know where you're headed before you start so that you don't get caught up worrying about things that aren't important.

It appears to me that those who have come from a background in newspapers have learned speed. Probably a case of the quick or the dead (you're out of a job!). Yet, as not all writers are the same, so no two writers will approach a story the same.

I am frequently asked to do overviews, and come into a subject 'cold'. Research is a big component; also, in such cases, it doesn't help much that one has to take time to assimilate the information, and build the story and links within it (internal consistency), not forgetting the fact checking that one is required to do. This all takes time, and it adds up. And, sometimes, interviews done on the phone take around an hour - I think that I have only had one take 30 minutes, in relation to some very basic questions. E-mail interviews are quicker, but subject to far less control.

It appears to me that the per hour return for such articles is small - the payoff (hopefully) comes whereby you receive /obtain subsequent articles with the publication, allowing you to build on the knowledge base you've built ie. repeat business. Here, you start to develop 'expertise', and a broadening knowledge base, in which you can then spend less time learning the issues, and are more quickly able to provide meaningful insight, where you can go and can provide the publication.

ATP

Tish Davidson
08-22-2005, 09:05 PM
It is true that if you come to a subject with minimal background, you'll do more work. This is why people who freelance for a living tend to develop specialties.

TashaGoddard
08-22-2005, 11:31 PM
Her rationale? She gets $100. for the press release & she can't pay me more than 25% of what she makes. Has anyone heard of that formula? When I had my meeting planning biz I had two girls, ages 18 & 19 working for me & eighteen yrs. ago I was paying one of them $15. an hr for secretarial, admin & help with organizing conferences.

Not actually to do with writing, but with outsourcing work: We run our own business and when we use freelancers to do any work, we pay a percentage of what we get from it. We usually pay 90% of what we get paid, but sometimes if the freelancer is new and their work needs a lot of fixing when it comes back in, we might go as low as 70%. Under no circumstances whatsoever would we consider paying as little as 25%. That's pretty much daylight robbery IMO.

Freelance91: I would expect to be paid less money for a salaried job than for freelance work, but I would hope that it comes with some benefits. 16 hours for 1000 words seems a lot to me, as well. I would expect to take a maximum of 2 hours to write 1000 of non-fiction, including research, although I imagine that would go up if it required interviews as well (I don't have any experience of interviewing, so don't know for sure). If the employer is going to allow you up to 10 hours, I would think that is very generous. You might need to do a little bit extra in your own time, until you have gotten into the habit of churning things out a lot quicker. Yes, that will bring the hourly rate down even more, but you're be building up some good experience and hopefully will be able to speed up fairly quickly.

(And now I look up again at the rest of the posts, I see that the original was posted months ago, so perhaps Freelancer91 has not come back again!)

ATP
08-24-2005, 08:59 AM
It is true that if you come to a subject with minimal background, you'll do more work. This is why people who freelance for a living tend to develop specialties.

True enough. Developing a speciality overcomes the intensive, get-up-to-speed approach I mentioned earlier. Less reinvention of the wheel.

The only difficulties I see with a speciality are: i) are there enough outlets/markets for the work?; ii) you have to like it enough so as to not get bored. When boredom impinges on your work, it comes through, and can only have a deleterious effect on your bottom line.

ATP

Featurewriter
08-25-2005, 03:53 AM
Just wanted to chime in with a tip that a multi-millionaire recently told me: "In business, don't count the other guy's money."

If someone handed me a fact sheet and said, "I'm making $100 for a write up that you will be doing, but because of (insert whatever reason here), I'm only paying you a fourth of what I'm getting," I would have a piece of information that may or may not come in handy at some point later. But in the greater scheme, it really wouldn't matter. I don't get bogged down in what other people are making; it's better to focus on what I'm bringing to the table.

The only decision I'd have to make would be whether to accept the offer or not. My choice might be based on other factors that haven't been brought up in this thread -- such as whether the compensation itself aligns with my own perceived value, regardless of what my client was making in the deal.

If I would make $25 for a half-hour's work, I'd probably go for it. It would depend on the client and the nature of the work. In fact, I DID accept a similar offer a year ago and it led to much higher paying, fairly easy, regular work that so far has generated about $4,000.

So I guess it all depends. But I'd like to hear more from everyone else ... this is a great topic!

JuliePgh
10-24-2005, 10:44 PM
Her rationale? She gets $100. for the press release & she can't pay me more than 25% of what she makes. Has anyone heard of that formula? When I had my meeting planning biz I had two girls, ages 18 & 19 working for me & eighteen yrs. ago I was paying one of them $15. an hr for secretarial, admin & help with organizing conferences.

Judy
I'm very new at this, so maybe what I have to say won't carry much weight, but quite frankly, if you're "saving her butt" by helping her out, she should be glad you're making time for HER client. Afterall, is she going to give you credit when she turns the work into the client? I'm guessing you're ghost writing your part, in which case, she gets to impress the client and you stay silent... which alone should be worth more. You won't get the credit in the end, she will. And she, not you, will likely get the continued business from the client as well.

I ghosted a piece for someone recently and he paid me most of what he was paid. It was more important to him to keep the client and no lose face by going back and saying he couldn't meet his client's needs on this one item. Though I need credits myself, I won't get any for this piece. But at the same time, I was well compensated for my time. In the end, his client loved the work and he will likely get more work from him. Repeat business ... I know he still benefited, despite not coming out of this one project with much in the way of $s.

Freelance91
11-06-2005, 06:50 PM
Freelance91 back again. It's now been almost five months since I started my new job writing for a business site. Thanks to everyone for sharing their helpful advice. I have gotten my writing time down to no more than ten hours for my pieces that are typically 1000 to 1200 words. I still believe $15 an hour is generally very low pay for this type of work, as many of you have affirmed.

I have a new question for all of you. When I took this job, I gave up all rights to my work to my employer. My articles have been appearing on a multitude of other sites on the web, and obviously, my employer reaps the monetary reward. What do you think of this arrangement and is this typical when you write for a website?

reph
11-07-2005, 03:32 AM
My articles have been appearing on a multitude of other sites on the web, and obviously, my employer reaps the monetary reward. What do you think of this arrangement and is this typical when you write for a website?
"Obviously" well, maybe not. Other site owners may have copied the articles without your employer's knowledge. That happens a lot. You might want to tell him or her about the duplicates.

If you signed an "all rights" or "work made for hire" agreement, the employer can use your articles any way he or she wants, and you get no extra money. If that person is really your employer, "work made for hire" is assumed. If you're a freelancer, it isn't. It's in the interest of freelancers to get agreements that assign limited rights and specify additional compensation for additional uses of their work. Whether you can get such an agreement varies with the relative power of the two parties, how tight the budget is, and how fair-minded the site owner is, for example.

Good Word
11-07-2005, 05:45 AM
It's up to them, but you might feel better if your name was on the article if it's appropriate. People at newspapers get a byline, right? They might be a little touchy about it, but if you have a good relationship and can present it in the right way you might get it to fly. When I worked for a large corportion, and was writing software books, writers didn't get their names in the books, and I didn't really care.

I don't know the specifics of your situation to know if the above would be appropriate, but it may be something worth considering.

Mike Coombes
11-11-2005, 01:58 PM
It's no different to any other job; being a writer doesn't make you special. Your job is worth what your employer is willing to pay.

If you don't like it, you have two options - decide what you consider to be a fair rate, and ask for it, or walk.