The caller got right to the point. “How much does it cost for a 250-word newsletter article?”

The thing about services is that there’s rarely a simple answer to “How much?” You can always answer with a range, but that’s only helpful if you provide context and details.

Think of renovating your kitchen. How much does that cost? If the renovator said it would cost from $1,000 to $75,000, would that help? Not really, unless you had some qualifiers. The price depends on whether you’re just going to repaint your cupboards and change the hardware, or you want to gut and replace the existing cupboards, flooring, countertops, backsplash and so on.

So I asked what would be involved in coming up with the 250 words. If I need to do research and interview one person or more, that’s a different project than summarizing and paraphrasing existing content. If I have to interview three or four people and only have 250 words to tell their story, the project is quite different from one where I can take as many words as necessary; it takes more time and skill to write concisely and still include a lot of detail.

I also asked about who the readers would be, and if the newsletter already existed or was being created. If just being created, I wanted to know what the company wanted to achieve and why they thought a newsletter was the answer. I love newsletters, but I would say something if I thought it wouldn’t be right for their needs.

The caller did not know the answers to any of my questions; she was just calling around to find out “how much.” Presumably the company would then compare the prices and pick the cheapest.

Freelance writer Paul Lima answers the “how much” question by saying:

“There is no one right answer. I know many writers. They charge anywhere from $35 to $250 per hour. They charge anywhere from $0.50 to $5 per word.”

The Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) likewise says:

“[T]hat frequently asked question [What to pay a writer] lacks a simple answer. Fees charged by professional writers vary according to the work involved. Many factors affect payment…”

These factors include the type of assignment, the number of words and/or time required and the number of interviews or research. Writers also tend to earn more in large cities, and an experienced writer can charge more than someone just starting out.

PWAC lists a range of rates:

  • Per word: 10 cents per word at small community newspapers to $3 per word for government reports.
  • Hourly: $40 per hour for writing advertorials to $150 for speechwriting and news release writing.

The numbers aren’t necessarily helpful, are they? Not unless you know how many hours are involved, or how many pages, or why you would be charged $3 per word over $1 per word. So if you’re trying to find out “How much does it cost?,” be prepared for a conversation before you get an answer.

If you’re an independent, how do you answer the “how much does it cost?” question? If you’re on the buyer side, what kind of answer do you expect to get to that question? Please comment.

 Image: Dollar sign by “sscreations” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Updated April 21, 2017.