What does copywriting pay?
December 10, 2007 3:50 AM   Subscribe

What does copywriting pay? A computer consulting firm wants to hire me to write founder bios, customer service email templates, redo the copy on their website, etc. Also maybe some light technical writing. As far as experience, I've done all that (unpaid) for a startup of my own, which was very successful. I'm also a very experienced popular writer (articles and books). But never did this sort of copywriting for pay. What's typical renumeration?
posted by jimmyjimjim to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could you ask the people who publish your work now?
posted by mdonley at 3:54 AM on December 10, 2007

You left out a couple of key pieces of information here: your physical location, and the physical location of the company (if the two locations are different.) Even in this globalized, work-remotely-from-anywhere world, with offshoring pushing overall rates down in many areas, the market rate for writers will vary widely by location.

Anyway. In the commercial world, this is called "marketing communications," sometimes abbreviated "marcom." There are professional groups devoted to it, and the Society for Technical Communication has a special interest group for marketing communicators -- if you know an STC member (I'm no longer one, though I was for years) ask if they can get you a copy of the Society's most recent salary survey for technical writers, as the average pay rates are broken down by geography and will likely track pretty closely for marcom.

I've been in business communications (technical and marketing) for over 20 years now. Feel free to write me privately if you have further questions.

Two quick pieces of unsolicited advic:

(1) It's "remuneration," not "renumeration."

(2) As a general rule, don't use a five dollar word like "remuneration" when you want to know "how much does this sort of thing pay?"
posted by enrevanche at 4:06 AM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Remuneration for writing varies enormously, in the business sector, under many different economic models, depending on the need for additional related services, like editing, proofing, and research, as well the end use and visibility of the writing. Copywriting is generally a term business people apply to the specialized craft of writing for advertising.

In the last couple of years, I've done small technical manuals for 2 hardware products, adapting existing foreign manuals to an American audience, and after soliciting bids to have others do these 150 page projects, found that mid-4 figure fees in the southeastern U.S. were common. I'm not a technical writer, but I previously had contributed to a number of technical documentation projects, and my familiarity with the particular products involved made me a logical candidate to do the jobs directly. I did pay for an outside editorial review on the first one, which cost about $1,500, and included proof reading, some editorial guidance, and pre-publication recommendations. I used the style recommendations from that, to conform the second project, too, and just had my text proof read by a pro on that one. The result has been acceptable to the supplier of the hardware products, who includes these materials in the sale price of the industrial hardware systems they describe. They seem to be useful to the maintenance people and engineers who use these products, and of several thousand copies distributed, I've had exactly 4 complaints, all on technical errata I had no means of knowing at publication were incorrect. But dividing the hours I spent by what I eventually charged for these tasks, I only earned an hourly rate sufficient to ensure I wouldn't do such a thing again, without the additional incentives I had for doing these projects in the first place. Namely, that selling such systems, as I do, requires having decent American manuals for them.

Bidding out typical jobs, if you can, is probably the best way of getting a feel for commercial rates, where they are comparable. But don't go hog wild; outside NYC, Chicago, and maybe LA, the technical writing community in any given area isn't as large as you might think, and people who are only tire kickers soon have trouble getting their phone calls returned. And remember, being a staff writer on salary or retainer can have fringe benefits and perks not easily comparable in commercially bid work.
posted by paulsc at 4:37 AM on December 10, 2007

(Am I really the first one to answer the OP's question? Wow.)

I've got a small writing and editing business and our current rates are generally as follows:

Editing (students): $15 for the first page, $5 for each subsequent page.
Editing (general): $20 for the first page, $7.50 for each subsequent page.
Copywriting (anyone): $8-$10/page (generally double spaced)

I've found that a cost of between $8 and $10 for every 250 words or so is about average in the industry.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like more info on what I do!
posted by omnipotentq at 4:37 AM on December 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Darn it! I swear that paulsc's comment wasn't there when I previewed!
posted by omnipotentq at 4:38 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Note to the thread: I'd be doing this freelance as an independent contractor rather than on salary. So I could use an hourly or per-word rate. Also, if anyone has suggestions on how to force AMF software to insert correct line breaks, I'd be eternally grateful. I used
tags on that last one, and it worked out not so good. And the preview function doesn't seem to help.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 4:39 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Oy/duh. I was trying to say that I used "BR" tags.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 4:40 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Omnipotentq, thanks. That seems awfully low. Popular writing is a buck a word! And this stuff, unlike magazine/newspaper writing, doesn't go into the trash the next day, it's used for bid-ness....so I'd have hoped, if anything, more pay rather than less! Oh well...

Paulsc, that was really interesting, thanks. I think this job will actually be more on the advertising/marketing side than on the technical side. I won't be doing hardcore manuals, etc. But your posting was way informative if I do ever get into that.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 5:07 AM on December 10, 2007

I'm a copywriter and generally charge by the hour, not the word. I would estimate how many hours each project would take me to complete (make sure to include interview/research time, editing, etc.) and then multiply that by my hourly rate (depending on the client and my relationship with them this can vary from $25 to $150 an hour).

Before you bid out the project make sure to include stipulations on how many rewrites that includes and how much any rewrites after that will cost. You don't want to end up rewriting something twelve or thirteen times and not getting paid for it (I'm not even kidding, it can and will happen).

I hope that helps.
posted by jodic at 5:55 AM on December 10, 2007

Mod note: A few comments removed. Take the grammar zingbacks elsewhere.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:27 AM on December 10, 2007

My apologies to the original poster for the inappropriate tone of my response; I was trying to give helpful information in the first few paragraphs, and trying for "crusty and amusing" in the last couple; I may well have failed at both, but no malice was intended.

Main point in my comment was that you need to find out what the going rate is *locally.* It will vary significantly by location. (And to reinforce jodic's point, it will typically be by the hour, not the word.)
posted by enrevanche at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: jodic, the problem with hourly is that I work fast. Being speedy and experienced shouldn't be to my deficit, after all. Well, I can anticipate your reply: just raise the rate accordingly. Problem is I'm friends with the principal of this firm and while I don't intend to give him a particular bargain (I can't afford to work for the rates suggested by omnipotentq), neither do I want to rip him off.

enrevanche, they're in Nassau County, Long Island. I'm elsewhere, telecommuting. No sweat on the grammar jocularity, I appreciate your advic ;)

cortex, sorry...it's so tempting to weenie back at (apparent) grammar weenies...
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:51 AM on December 10, 2007

The Editorial Freelancer's Association rates page.
posted by notyou at 7:12 AM on December 10, 2007

Check out Freelance Switch for some more advice and resources. Search and/or join the forums and you will probably find some great information, and get feedback from people who are doing exactly what you want to do.
posted by The Deej at 7:26 AM on December 10, 2007

Yeah, omnipotent's rates are rather low. What you're talking about consists of writing, research and editing. So, in New York, you can reasonably ask between $40 and $50 an hour.

My rate, in NY, is $40-45 an hour, and I've yet to publish a book.
posted by brina at 10:53 AM on December 10, 2007

Those NY rates are low -- I've been charging double that rate for 3 years (in Atlanta) and am about to raise my rates in the coming year. I have 10 yrs experience in copywriting (web and print) and a solid background in information architecture and technical writing. Plus I do magazine writing and blog for a major mag publisher.

I also work very quickly, so what I do is quote a per-project rate but state that it encompasses a set number of hours, a set number of revisions (usually 1, sometimes 2). Anything beyond that set number of hours will be quoted at a rate of X dollars per hour. And of course I notify the client as soon as I see any overage on the horizon.

The hard part of course is estimating how long the project will take in the first place, and you may get burned a tad in the early days, but you'll soon know how long a project should take (both under ideal circumstances and less-than-ideal ones). It's important to build in a buffer of time and money just for taking care of things like phone calls, in-person meetings, and all the other back-and-forth of a project. Think of it as a wage you are being paid to NOT be working on someone else's stuff, because all those short meetings add up.
posted by mdiskin at 11:24 AM on December 10, 2007

I used to get $1000 a day for conceptual ad work, $750 a day for straight copywriting work for a rough 8 hour day, with a fast and proven track record and a strategic foundation.

What you're describing, I've hired freelancers at between $65 and $150 an hour, depending on their familiarity with the product space, how proprietary/good their style was and speed of output.

If the company has an established brand voice, I'd err on the side of $50-65. Same for tech and straight writing. (The tone is pretty much established for tech writing.)

If you've establishing a corporate tone/brand voice for them in writing this (and you've got enough marketing savvy to make that as a strategic rather than a "it'd be cool to do it like this" way), I'd go more towards the $90 an hour side.

I work and have hired in SF.
posted by Gucky at 11:31 AM on December 10, 2007

jodic, the problem with hourly is that I work fast.

There's an hour, and then there's a billable hour.
posted by rokusan at 11:51 AM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm in NYC. You can get anywhere from $50-100 per hour for technical/marketing writing and editing in this metro market, depending on your experience level; for long-term assignments you might also consider "day rate" consulting.
posted by enrevanche at 11:54 AM on December 10, 2007

Here in Chicago, my marketing/advertising colleagues get between $50 and $125 per hour. (I'd say the $125 is more high-end, like creative director level, while anybody can get $50.)

I also know people who have the problem where they work too fast for an hourly wage to work as hoped. In that case, you could spend some extra time proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. Be known as the copywriter with the best attention to detail that this town has ever seen. And then you'll be worth even more. :)

Many freelancers I know also pad to a great extent, in the form of rounding up. Don't ever bill for 15 minutes of work, for instance.

I read this somewhere recently but can't remember where exactly (it might have been here): as a freelancer you're billing for more than the time you just spent working. You're billing for your expertise, your other expenses, etc.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:46 PM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Gucky, good point on tone. These are computer guys...their "voice" is raw geek-speak (while their clientele is entirely non-tech). So, yeah, there'll be a lot of attention to creating a signature tone .
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2007

I've been freelancing for years in this type of marketing communications writing. Most of my set rates are between $50-60, but bidding a new job I'll ask for more if I think I can get it.
posted by slogger at 4:54 PM on February 7, 2008

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