quoting a writing feeQuoting for Your Work - the First Interaction

by Ann Harth


Writers are unique. When it comes to running a business -- we all have our own ideas. The following method may or may not be the best, but it works for me. My mantra?

"Communication is crucial."

But let's take a step back. Before you can send a quote, you must decide what to charge. Setting your fees can be one of the most difficult parts of running a writing business. If you're filled with self-admiration and rank your writing skills up there with those of Stephen King or Harper Lee (ten points if you can tell me what Harper Lee wrote), you won't have a problem asking people to pay for your time.

If, however, you're like many of us were when we started out, you may be filled with a touch of unworthiness. Why would they pay me for my expertise? An attitude like this will not pay the bills, not even the milkman's. A humble persona may have its place when you are meeting a prospective mother-in-law or a testosterone-laden boss. It will not give your business the kick-start it needs.

Want to change this attitude?

Prove yourself, not only to others, but also to yourself. Even if you are the next Hemmingway, without experience and a few articles to throw about, who's going to know? Before you start asking for money, spend some time writing a few articles and get them listed on one of the dozens of article sites on the Internet. www.ezinearticles.com, www.goarticles.com and www.infogoround.com are just a few. Build up a portfolio and include snippets of fiction, non-fiction, articles and testimonials. It takes time to build up an impressive profile, but it's the best marketing tool you will ever have. Create a background so impressive that even you will be blown away by your expertise.

Okay, you have collected articles and writing samples. You have built a website and people are beginning to show some interest. You are running a business. Let's assume you want it to be financially viable. A good way to find out the 'going rates' for your services is to have a look at other people's websites or check out the ASA recommended rates for writers. With these in mind, you need to decide on a few basics:

  1. How much do you want to earn annually?
  2. How many hours per week do you plan to work? Don't forget to take into account weekends and holidays.
  3. Do the math

Obviously there is a lot more to it than this. Eventually you need to take insurance, possible illness and business expenditure into account, but we'll go into the nitty gritty another time.

At this stage, let's assume you have a preferred hourly rate in mind. You may have to work up to this rate, but it's good to keep it in mind. You check your emails ten times per day just waiting for that first job to land in your lap. Finally, one morning, you log on are greeted with an email:

I have a written a 10,000-word story for kids. I have never written anything before, but I really want to publish this. I think it will initiate everlasting world peace and create a renewed passion for the protection of the environment. Can you please tell me how much it will cost for you to get this to publishable standard?

You have an important job to do. The plight of the planet rests on your shoulders. You know you are the only one for the job. But how do you even begin to figure out how much to charge this crusading author? How do you even label this work? Is it a rewrite? A ghostwrite? An edit?

These are the steps I follow.

1. Take a look at the manuscript. Read at least the first third as well as a synopsis. This will give you enough information to decide whether the manuscript needs a light copyedit, an entire rewrite or something in between. As you read, jot down a few ideas. How would you improve the structure, the grammar or the characters? If you have some direction before you begin, the job will seem much less daunting.

2. Communication is crucial, starting now. Outline the specific services you can offer and find out how much input your prospective client wants. Do they want you to give them suggestions so that they can improve their own work (a manuscript assessment) or are they simply handing it over for a complete rewrite? This is very important, as the time allotment will differ significantly. Be sure to keep records of all interactions with your client. These can help clarify your role and settle possible disputes in the future.

3. Once you have a clear idea of your client's wishes, you are ready to send a quote. There is no single template for a quote for writers/editors, but be sure to include:

  1. A list of the services you will offer. This can include marketing assistance or help writing a synopsis or cover letter. (I often charge a little more for a synopsis, as I detest writing them!)
  2. The services that you will not offer (as in countless rewrites due to a change-of-mind on the part of the client)
  3. When you plan to complete each stage of the work
  4. Schedule of payment. It's good idea to break the work into steps and ask for payment after the completion of each. I often break a rewrite into three steps: Outline -- rewrite - final edit and proofread. At the completion of each step I send an invoice. When I receive payment, I send the completed work for approval. Once I have the go ahead, I make any necessary or agreed upon changes and start on step two.

- The completed work's final format.  

- Type of communication. Email, phone, etc. I prefer email as it is quicker and much more concise. A phone call can easily carve an hour from your day.

My quotes often take the form of a chronological list. (See sample below). This way it is easy to work through your project step by step. If a payment isn't made or feedback isn't sent, you know to sit back and cool your heels until your client has fulfilled his part of the bargain.

Janet Planet
6 Saturn Way
Jupiter Village, 4001

Bobby McGee
68 Dylan Close
Zimmerman City 1965

26 October 2010

Dear Mr. McGee,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with a quote for rewriting your manuscript. It sounds as though it will benefit the entire planet.

If you decide to engage my services, we will work through the following steps:

  1. I will read your manuscript and make initial suggestions re structure, point of view, word count, age appropriateness, etc. I will also devise an outline for the rewrite.
  2. I will send the first invoice for approximately 1/3 of the total balance.
  3. When invoice is paid, I will send outline and suggestions.
  4. We will discuss suggestions and outline. I will apply any agreed upon changes and complete the rewrite.
  5. I will send second invoice with approximately 1/3 of the total balance.
  6. When invoice is paid, I will return the rewritten manuscript.   
  7. We will discuss suggestions and rewrite. I will apply any agreed upon changes and complete a final copyedit and proofread. I will format according to normal submission policies.
  8. I will send the final invoice for the balance of payment.
  9. On final payment, I will provide you the final draft of the manuscript in a Microsoft word document. I will also compile a list of appropriate publishers and/or agents and general guidelines for submitting your work. This will include method and general information re cover letters and synopses.

For the above services my total quote is $_______ , to be paid in three installments. Balance is due before completion of final step.

If invoices are paid within 7 days of receipt, I will complete this work by the 1/1/08.

If you are interested, I will also provide an added service of writing a synopsis and cover letter for you, at $9000.00 each.

If you wish to respond, please use my private email address. planet@spacecity.com

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,
Janet Planet

I often use my quote as a firm guide when I write a contract. I find that adhering to my list keeps things honest, straightforward and simple. Don't let writing quotes intimidate you. Focus on a clear and complete explanation of your services and insist upon open communication.

Next time: Invoices

© copyright Ann Harth. Ann Harth is a freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all genres of children's fiction from picture books to young adult novels as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. She has successfully completed several text-editing projects for university students and authors, and is the assistant fiction editor of www.moondance.com, a  literary on-line magazine. She is also on the creative writing staff of www.storydog.com, a website for children.

More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth offers can be found on her website at www.annharth.com.


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