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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...
October 2003 Column


Set Your Fees and Increase Your Income
by Tama Westman

As a mom or dad, you know the price of mac & cheese, the value of an occasional takeout dinner, and what school supplies cost each year. But, when it comes to your own writing career, how do you approach the price paragraph in your query letters?

Pay your dues to see big bucks
If you have been wondering how to set a price for your articles and stories, the bad news is, you don't. Editors already have set fees they offer freelancers based on the circulation and budget constraints of their publication.

As with any other rewarding career, writers have to pay their "dues." When I first started writing for the paper---I would work a week and a half and blast through countless drafts to arrive at my 800-word article. When I divided the $25 I made per column by the number of hours it took to create, I found that my earnings added up to an astounding 62 cents an hour. The time and energy for each piece was still worth it, however, because rather than a powerful paycheck, I earned credibility, credentials and clips as each issue was published. Confident that the day would come when the money would flow more freely, I continued to give each piece my best effort.

You've got to get on the ladder to move up it
Remember, no matter how much your mother may like your writing, most likely, you will not see mind-blowing amounts of money in the beginning. Start slow, and then expect to grow. Once you have a good bit of experience under your belt, you will be able to negotiate better pay per piece, but in the beginning, just be thankful you are getting published.

How far do you want to go?
Decide where you want to go with your writing. Are you happy with the occasional letter to the editor? Do you dream of naming your own column? Would you rather write for magazines, create Web content or do you want to author a book? How far do you want to go---and when do you want to see it happen?

Put your aspirations on paper and tape the page where  you will see it every day. Without clearly defined goals, how do you know if you are heading in the right direction? Here's the catch to a successful writing career---NEVER go down in your rates. During my early days, I worked for free to gain experience and better techniques. However, once I cashed my first check, I marked the calendar, "Today is the first day of my PAID writing career. I will not go back from here."

Decide when good is good enough
At first, I would give each column my all, knowing that I had to impress the editor and win over the readership. However, it is important to learn how to value your time and when to relax your "perfection status." Not that there should ever be grammatical errors or shoddy writing---that is never acceptable.

But, you should wage what you are willing to invest in the research and actual crafting and editing of a piece. Measure this against the amount you might be paid. How much are you worth? A lot more than you will get, let me assure you. One of the hardest things to learn in the writing biz, is when good is good enough. Challenge yourself to do the same job, put out the same quality work, but better and faster. In this way, your personal "hourly wage" increases and you have time to work on other writing projects and assignments.

Whether you are a newbie writer or an old hand, when querying, consider approaching the price paragraph with a line that says you are willing to sell your rights (either one-time, first rights, etc.) for "standard rates." This cues the editor that you know the business (even when you don't) and that you are aware that industry standards, to all intents and purposes, dictate what monetary payment you might receive.

My rates run the gamut. While I maintain my bi-monthly column with the local paper, I was thrilled to learn that the standard rates for other types of writing paid much more. When my editor asked me to begin writing news articles and feature stories, I said, "Yes!"

When he needed someone to cover council sessions, board meetings, court reporting, and so forth, we negotiated a rate for each article, plus an hourly rate for time spent at the meetings. This more than doubled my take for each article. The best thing you can do for yourself is to build your writer-editor relationships. Though it is still my dream to sit on a European shore and write Pulitzer prize winning pieces and collect five and six figure checks, the reality is that when an editor asks me to do something, anything, even the grungy-no-one-wants-assignments, I do it. While these assignments are far from glamorous, they pay the bills. Become invaluable and your price goes up.

Market guides make it easy
Editors know what they can offer you. A lot of times it is based on your level of accomplishment and what you bring to the publication. You can get a good idea before you query however by means of a user-friendly writer's market guide. Both Writer's Digest and Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide put out excellent market guides that give detailed information such as genre specific publishers, editor names and contact numbers, audience, pay rates and the best way for you to break into their publication. Why get paid $15 for a story when there are publishers who will pay $300 for the same material? Take the time to dig deep into a writer's market guide. You will find ideas, inspiration and new possibilities for your queries that will boost your self-worth, as well as your income.

Revise and resell for reprint revenue
Be sure to know what "rights" you are selling on your first go-round and respect the proper turnaround time before you query for a reprint. This time varies from publication to publication, that's why you want to be sure to ask. I have a super-simple way to remind myself about these additional moneymakers. I pop a Post-it™ on top of my hard copy and place it in a file marked "More Money."

I write down the date of publication, the periodicals or compilations that I think might take the reprint and my release date (when I can begin querying for resale). I will also paperclip reader response comments to the page. These comments are great to add to the query letter, because they show the impact of the story and prove the value of reprinting the piece for a new audience. When the release date comes up, my homework is done, and I pop a new query in the mail. Resales really work to help you pocket more money on work already completed. Be creative and get as much mileage from a published piece as you can. Have fun, and remember you have nowhere to go---but up!

Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary and arts magazine, Haute Dish. As a freelancer, her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students and helps to edit the column of her 18-year old, British-bred cat on coolpetsites.com, Purrfect Gypsy – The Cat’s Eye View. She is married with two college-enrolled children, and keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Her published clips can be viewed via her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com and she can be reached at tamajoy@earthlink.net.









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