How much to charge for a catalog essay?
December 7, 2009 7:00 PM   Subscribe

How much should a freelance writer charge for a catalog essay?

An emerging artist peer asked me to write an essay for an upcoming show of hers. As a freelancer I know one generally tends to "ask for as much as they can" (and not blink) - but I really have no clue what the standard fees are for this type of gig. Anybody have experience and insight to share here? If it matters - I'm guessing this document will be 1000-1500 words.
posted by serial_consign to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As a freelancer I know one generally tends to "ask for as much as they can" (and not blink) - but I really have no clue what the standard fees are for this type of gig.

Uh, as a freelancer I can tell you that I have never done this.

A 4-6 page catalogue document that does not involve any research for an emerging artist should not be worth more than $100-$150, I don't think.
posted by mr. remy at 7:19 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: A medium-small artwork is often the exchange rate for this situation.
posted by ovvl at 8:34 PM on December 7, 2009

I charge $50 an hour for copywriting services (and I've been offered considerably more). No client of consequence has blinked at this yet. It sounds like your project could take as little as two hours and as many as eight. For something like this I'd probably charge about $300, and my portfolio isn't huge.

"Don't undervalue yourself" is the big rule I'm learning as a freelancer. Ask for what you think your services are worth, not for what you think the other person will pay. That way you're always starting negotiations from the higher number.

(I also like ovvi's barter suggestion, but only if you like the art.)
posted by hifiparasol at 8:57 PM on December 7, 2009

10 cents a word is the usual bottom rate for published writing- which, like mr. remy suggested, would come to around $100-150. But, since it's a more informal assignment for a peer, maybe consider charging by the hour- which would definitely be cheaper for her.
posted by joechip at 9:02 PM on December 7, 2009

I generally charge between $50-80/hr, depending on the client, and my by-project estimates are literally all over the map. The last artist-statement type thing I wrote was for an NEA-sponsored design competition catalogue, which was probably 20,000 words, and I'm pretty sure billed by the hour on the low end of the pay scale. But for friends with businesses/ventures I support? I've written for record labels in exchange for records and restaurants in exchange for meals and musicians in exchange for free shows and yes, for artists, I've written in exchange for art.

In my experience, most artists don't have huge marketing/advertising/publicity budgets unless they're independently wealthy or have awesome day jobs. See what she's willing to pay. And it may then come down to whether you want to do the project regardless of the price tag. After all, that painting/sculpture/print/whatever might look great in your living room.
posted by thivaia at 9:32 PM on December 7, 2009

It really depends. I've charged anywhere from $150 to $1000 for 1000-1500 words, depending on who and what it was for, and how much research it required ($150 was for the friend just starting up a web business who had very little to spend; $1000 was for the record label who needed me to turn around a liner notes assignment in a week). I guess for me it generally comes down to A) who's actually paying you (i.e., is the catalog being financed by your friend or your friend's gallery?), and B) if you think they have very little or a lot of money to spend.

Bartering is OK too, but try to be fair when you estimate the amount of time you spent vs. the amount of time your friend may spend on a piece. That is, I don't think it's fair to ask for a painting or sculpture that may have taken them 50 hours to make if your text only takes you 5 hours to write.
posted by scody at 10:40 PM on December 7, 2009

It really depends on where this essay is going, and who's paying for the publication. Is the catalog being sold? Is the gallery doing it? Or is your friend responsible for paying? I've written catalog essays where I've gotten a dollar a word and ended up feeling underpaid. I've also written stuff for artist friends (whose work I particularly liked) in exchange for a couple of beers, and been perfectly happy.

If payment is up to her and out of her pocket, I'd ask her what she's willing to pay and then see how you feel about doing it.
posted by neroli at 10:50 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: Curator from Canada here who's done some freelance essays of the kind you describe, but also worked on some bigger institutional ones.

Although bigger public galleries tend to charge $1 per word for longer essays if you're an Important Writer and it's an Important Catalogue about an Important Artist, smaller galleries might charge as low as $250 for a 2000 word essay.

But if this artist is emerging, as you suggest, and the catalogue is being given away for free, or is sold for $2, or if the publications and exhibition is being financed by the artist themselves, I would suggest taking less than that OR - even better - doing an art trade, perhaps a small sketch or sculpture by the artist (depending on the medium they work in), in exchange for your work?
posted by jennyhead at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2009

Response by poster: Hey thank you for all the advice everybody. Ideally I think asking for a piece of her work (which conveniently I do really like) would be for the best but she is a new media artist and doesn't generate much in the way of artifacts - everything is installation based. I think I'll just give her the suggested $100-150 flat rate and do a really good job.

I'm used to per/word freelance rates and I was wondering if this applies in this context. It sounds like it can. I appreciate all this info, it will be a helpful reference in the future.
posted by serial_consign at 7:58 AM on December 8, 2009

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