So, what are words worth?

Our Wordsworth survey was completed by 63 members, which goes to show that it can’t have been that hard. Thanks to all of you for making it statistically significant. (Note to the unscientific: this means that we can safely assume that it represents the views and situation of writers around and about the UK at the moment.)

Who are we and how do we work?
57% spend all their working hours writing.
30% spend most of their time writing.
Another 13% spend less that half their time in the wordsmithery trade.

Two thirds earn 100% of their income writing.
Another 20% earn 50-80% of their income from writing.
Which means that 10% do a load of work which isn’t writing but don’t earn any money from it.

Other sources of income include music, marketing, PR, consultancy, going to meetings, teaching yoga (that would be me), managing events, education, coaching, training, brand consultancy and “runing a business”. (We’re guessing that this was supposed to be running not ruining).

70% of us who responded are self-employed. This probably indicates that people who have to decide what to charge have a greater interest in taking part in the survey than those whose employers decide for them. 27% are in full-time employment and there was one solitary part-timer.

50% of us said we’ve been wordsmiths “for ages” and a further 25% for 5-10 years.

How did we get here?
60 people told us how they got into this line of work. Three stumbled, one moved, one fell, one jumped and one jostled. One met someone at a party. Many started as journalists. Some of my favourites:

“Tea making led to work experience, work experience led to paid work, paid work led to freelancing, freelancing led to full-time employment, full-time employment led to setting up own company.”

“Took a chance after my previous business was sold. No experience but plenty of self-belief.”

Fewer than 10% did relevant training at the very beginning of their careers.

40% of respondents subcontract or employ writers. Of these, just over half pay on a daily basis, 19% pay per 1000 words, 24% by the hour and 24% by project.

What do we say we do?
20% of us say we are copywriters.
20% say we are writers.
Here are some of the others:

“My card says ‘Poet and Wordsmith’”

“‘Writer’ (if I’m brave), or long-drawn-out explanation about marketing background, now specialising in written comms (if I’m not brave)”

“It changes. At the moment, ‘writer, editor, web consultant’”

“Poetry activist”

Now the big one: what do we earn?
Highest: £100,000-200,000 a year
Lowest: £15,000 (We’re ignoring the smarty pants who claimed to earn 32p.)
Mean: £44,500

Take this figure and take off the percentage you added on to make yourself feel better and you’ll have the real average.

Our rates (these are not mutually exclusive categories so they aren’t supposed to add up to 100%)
93% of freelances charge by the day.
High: £1,500
Low: £50 (not including the free work)
Mean: £373.50

60% charge by the hour.
High: £150
Low: £20
Mean: £60

32% charge by the thousand words (standard for the press).
High: £1,000
Low: £200
Mean: £444
(One respondent wrote “Never – it undermines the value of words”, which is great in theory but tricky when you’re negotiating with The Independent.)

35% charge by project.
Generally estimated by calculating how many hours or days it will take and grossing up those rates. One person gives a 5-10% discount on projects of 10 or more days.

15% charge by other means.
Including half days, translation fees, Equity standard rates.

How do we decide what to charge?
Only one respondent reported that he or she never varies the rate for individual clients. Of the other 44 who answered the question, a typical answer would be:

“Horses for courses – top rate for banks etc, much less for small companies, nothing at all for some charity projects.”

Things which influence our decision include:

“We consider what the value of the project is to them. So, strategy and branding we charge more for than copywriting.”

“A long-term contract will get a discount. Crisis management will be charged at a premium.”

“The less I want the job, the more I charge.”

“The rate on which I base a price depends on how long I’ve known the client. The oldest clients are on £500 a day because that’s what I was charging when they came on board. Now I don’t take on new clients for less than £750 – unless it’s a job I really want to do.”

“Complex combination of time (mostly how much time and effort it takes to gather the relevant material), value added (ie, how bad the source material is), and client’s perceptions or expectations of cost.”

As a self-employed writer struggling to pay a mortgage on my West London flat, I take exception to this one: “I research the market by devious means. I also have a caller display phone. If it’s an 020 number, I charge more.”

Charging according to how much fun the work will be seems to be an emerging theme.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your views
I’ve found it genuinely useful and I hope you do too. For a full version of the results, line by line, email sarah@littlemax.co.uk.

If you’d like a survey designed, I charge according to how much fun it is.

We’re planning to meet again for Wordsworth 2: the follow-up in autumn.

I’d like to give the last word to respondent number 11. The survey was anonymous – except for Julie who signed all her contributions – but you know who you are.

“I don’t think price is an issue with copywriting. If clients like what you do, they’ll pay for it. I set out to charge above the average because high rates send out a marketing message about quality. Quote with confidence and people believe you’re worth it. I never haggle over prices. There’s always going to be someone cheaper than you, so it’s a waste of time trying to compete on that level. If someone doesn’t want to pay, I suggest they find a cheaper writer. Sometimes I even suggest a few names.”

Finally, you can follow this link to see the topline results as a fancy barchart:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=147278571407

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