Help me bid on a freelance writing project.
July 28, 2005 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Freelance writers: help a newbie make a bid on a writing project.

I've been offered a freelance project writing nonacademic-friendly summaries of incredibly dry research papers. I'd be writing a one- or two-paragraph summary for each of dozens of research papers. This is for a yearly project, and apparently last year's project ran to 6500 words.

This will be my first paid freelance writing gig, and I have no idea whatsoever what to bid. Can someone give me an idea what a reasonable bid might be?
posted by goatdog to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is a little tough because although the word count is low, you have to read and understand every paper first. So it'd be better to bid based on time rather than on word or page count. Here is my advice (I did freelance tech writing for five years) -- it may be off target, but it's a place to start.
  1. How much time do you estimate it'll take you? Maybe do a couple to find out. It'll probably be roughly proportional to the length of the paper being summarized, so take that into account.
  2. Add 50% to attempt to account for Hofstader's Law. (Due to the nature of Hofstadter's Law, any such attempt will by definition fail, but at least you'll be making more money than you would if you hadn't made the attempt.)
  3. Multiply by what you want to make per hour. I don't know typical hourlies for that sort of writing, but in most fields it would be at least $25 an hour if you can write well and possibly two or three times that if the work requires specialized knowledge or experience.
The main danger is of being underbid by someone who hasn't taken Hofstadter's Law into account or who has underestimated the value of their own labor (happens an awful lot when people are trying to get started). However, it would suck to do so much stultifying work for too little money, so you have to take the attitude that your bid really is the minimum you're willing to take to do the work -- if someone else bids lower by even $1, you by definition don't want the job, really, end of story.

If there is prestige involved and you want that more than you want money (i.e. you just want to make sure you're not going to starve), omit step two and lowball the hourly. You could consider a small discount if you think this will lead to more work (but never, of course, do that at the request of a client).
posted by kindall at 10:14 PM on July 28, 2005

I was just researching this for myself this morning. I thought that googling "'technical writer' rate 'per hour'" would give me writers who advertised their rates, but instead I still got a couple good hits. I saved them to my acct. (Check out everyone's "freelance" tag too.)
posted by booth at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2005

This is the first I've heard of Hofstader's Law, but 50 percent seems too high. My typical corporate clients don't blink at a 20 percent contingency over and above expected hours. I also reserve the right to have a change order if the scope of the assignment grows or changes beyond the original estimate. I live in a midwestern city (where everything is less expensive), and the cheapest freelance writers charge $45 or $50 an hour, the more expensive charge up to $100. Since this is your first gig, I'd go with the lower figure. Good luck.
posted by wordswinker at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2005

I've been freelancing for about three years, and I tended to bid low when I was starting out ($12-25 an hour). Once I started looking at what others invoiced, I began bidding comparably at $60-75 an hour. Not only did I see an increase in business, but I tended to get much more respect from clients. You're like any other skilled contractor out there--plumbers, consultants and tech gurus regularly command hourly rates in that range, or often even more.

Be prepared to keep detailed records about how you spend your time, and consider asking for a good faith advance of 25%, or have them put the money into escrow. Whatever you do, get your deal in writing.
posted by hamster at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2005

Some clients are uneasy about hourly rates, unless you can give an estimate of how many hours the job will take you. You might want to give them a per-word rate.

$1 per word is good rate for polished magazine writing that's been heavily reported from multiple sources.

.10-.20 per word is a good rate for proofreading.

Thus I'd probably quote .40-.50 per word with an estimate of 6500 words. This is a fairly aggressive/high quote and ultimately this negotiation will depend on how badly they want you, what their budget is like, how much you value your time, and how much you need the job. But if you can get .40-.50 a word, I'd say that they're paying you well.
posted by thecolor12 at 10:16 AM on July 29, 2005

I suggested padding the time estimate by 50% because most beginners woefully underestimate the amount of time that will be required. On my first freelance job I estimated two weeks. It took six weeks -- of 18-hour days. And I got paid a total of $3000 for it, and that was twice what I initially asked for. It was pretty much a disaster, although I did get some excellent referrals from it.

But of course it doesn't matter how much you pad the time estimate, because of Hofstadter's Law: your estimate will always be too low even after you take into account that your estimate will always be too low.
posted by kindall at 6:25 PM on August 17, 2005

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