Monday, 15 June 2009

What's an hour worth?

I write a Writing Life column for the PWAC newsletter and wanted to share this particular column with you. Give it some thought.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about rates. I’ve often second-guessed the rates I charge, and am never fully confident I’ve priced accordingly. Is it too high? Too low? What are others charging?

This topic comes up occasionally on the PWAC List and on the EAC’s member discussion list. When it does, I pay attention, especially when senior members join in. One member wrote that freelancers shouldn’t shy away from raising rates significantly – I think the word double was used. I was gobsmacked. I can barely convince people to pay me what they do now, let alone twice that figure!

Reservations aside, I followed the suggestion ─ more to investigate “what the market can bear” ─ and implemented a rate increase I was comfortable with. I went up $10/hr. It felt right because it was more in keeping with what I believe I’m worthy of making. After all, I had spent over $70,000 on my education, so why shouldn’t I make a decent amount of money per hour/per assignment? I’m not some loafer hiring out services because my friends say I ‘write and edit great’. But that’s how many people treat writers and editors, as though it’s a skill anyone can pull off. The state of the English language is in such perpetual decline, I’m not certain people care if their writing is accurate, clear, and grammatically correct. (A few weeks ago I saw a print ad with the following headline: You’ed better watch out.)

I decided to scrutinize the nebulous world of rates so I could compare average writing rates against what others (in different service sectors) are charging for hourly work. The results are ludicrous. Consider these hourly rates (based on industry averages):

Hair stylist: $50
Graphic/web designer: $85
Duct cleaning: $150
Massage (RMT):$85
Make-up application: $65
SEO services: $100
Pedicure: $70
Spiritual tarot reading: $120
Colour consultations: $70

And my personal favourite, Undesirable Energy Removal from the Home: a whopping $200/hr.

When I realized my stylist makes more per hour than I do, and new age charlatans charge exorbitant rates for craftily-created bogus services, my sense of entitlement intensified. Where in the scheme of things does this make sense? You scrub my feet for an hour, cut my hair, vacuum my ducts, rub my back and make more money than educated, skilled professionals who spend years pursuing post-secondary educations? It’s absurd. I’m ready to take to the streets, burn my bra (whoops – wrong march, but a heck of an idea anyway), call my MP. Seriously, what can writers and editors do to get the respect deserved, in payment form?

My little experiment, you ask. How did it go? In the beginning, it seemed to work in my favour. But overall, it’s been a complete and utter bust. I have never before in the history of my 11-year career as a freelance writer and editor had so many people tell me they found someone else with more affordable rates. Either I’m being undercut by newbies charging out at $20/hr or people are less willing to part with their cash.

In these difficult economic times, I’ve decided to no longer quote at the higher rate. I need that competitive edge and that extra $10/hr shoved me out of the game completely. Maybe I should dust off my pack of Tarot cards and start reading people’s futures ─ I know mine could potentially include a cushy $120/hr.