Freelance Medical Writer Laurie Lewis on Setting Rates

Laurie Lewis 445

Laurie Lewis is freelance medical writer is author of the award-winning What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants and just released an ebook called Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOWEbyline asked Lewis for the inside scoop on freelance pricing.

What inspired you to write your books on pricing?
I used to teach a course on pricing for a professional group, Editorial Freelancers Association. A friend from the group kept telling me I should write a book on pricing. After years of his nagging, I finally caved. The first edition of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants came out in 2000.

I thought the book would never become dated, because it is a strategy approach. But who could have predicted the events of the next decade? Computers matured from glorified typewriters to can’t-live-without appendages that transformed every home and business into an unlimited library and communications outpost. A transforming influence of another stripe was the recession that began in 2008. The way we work and live changed, and What to Charge had to be updated as a result. I’m proud to say, however, that the strategies offered in the first edition held up.

As author of a book on freelance pricing, I have often been approached by panicked freelancers who want help setting a fee for a job. I was doing that a few months ago when a thunderbolt hit. When a client is breathing down a freelancer’s neck for a price quote, there’s no time to read an entire book on pricing. What’s needed under those circumstances is an immediately accessible template to help the freelancer price the job. I can think of no better reason for an ebook. See if you agree when you read Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW.

What factors should freelance writers consider when setting prices? Time is obviously a huge factor, but what about new projects where it’s tough to estimate the time investment?
A freelancer needs to consider many factors when setting a price. The client will mention the obvious: the length, the deadline, the type of work involved. You’re probably going to charge more for a Fortune 500 company than for a little guy with a startup. If you know the client is going to be difficult, you should charge top dollar. And as you indicate, how long a job is likely to take is a huge factor in setting a price.

If you keep good records, you should be able to estimate the time investment with some accuracy. I am a firm believer in logging by task. For every project, keep a list of tasks that you do and how long you spend on each. Then when you have to estimate the time a new job will take, look back at logs for past projects. Your old logs are an instant reminder of what you might have to do on a new project and how much time you’ll need.

Freelance writing rates are all over the map. Some consumer magazines pay $3/word, while online markets might pay in clicks or page views. How can you compare markets when there doesn’t seem to be a standard?
The range in rates has always been broad; this is nothing new. Back when I started freelancing, consumer magazines paid between a penny and a dollar a word. In my field of specialization, medical writing, the pharmaceutical industry pays at least four times as much as traditional publishing companies. The only difference is that we now have new criteria, such as reader-driven clicks or page views.

A freelancer needs to decide which markets to pursue. I hope that professional content writers will stay clear of the lowest paying markets, especially the content mills, because they are driving down the rates for all of us. Leave those markets to the wannabes. Eventually, the low payers will realize that they have to give freelancers more if they want high-caliber writing.

Any closing thoughts on the brave new world of online journalism?
Thousands of websites are looking for unique content. They’re not always willing to pay appropriately for it, however. They feel they don’t have to, because, after all, anyone can be a writer, right? And a lot of people who like to think of themselves as writers are willing to go to any forum to have their magnificent prose on display for all the world to see.

The online world changes so fast that what we happens today could well be passé tomorrow. Freelancers who are flexible, who are willing to try something new and are also quick to abandon it if they discover it diminishes their professionalism, are the ones who are going to succeed.