I’m occasionally asked why I charge hourly for most jobs. Some clients would very much prefer a flat fee or to pay by the word, both of which are common payment models for writers and editors.
The short explanation is that each project is unique and requires its own special touch. At the end of the day, an hourly charge ensures I get paid fairly for the work I‘ve done to provide what the client has requested.
Problems with Word Count
Word count is a terrible way to pay a writer and it doesn’t make much sense for an editor. It doesn’t consider research time or the fact that revision almost always involves cutting words.
Word count doesn’t inspire writers to provide the cleanest, sharpest, or even best end product. Historically, writers have thrown in extra words to pad the bill. Moby Dick by Herman Melville is an excellent example of a novella that was extended to preposterous lengths for this very reason.
Problems with Flat Fees
Some writing and editing jobs come together quickly and easily, while others are slow and tedious. Even after reviewing a sample, there’s no guarantee that a project will have uniform writing quality throughout. And sometimes the writing itself isn’t the problem.
Most personal statements run 650-750 words. Editing one of these usually takes me one to three hours, and writing typically takes two to four hours. If I charged a flat rate according to the average time, some folks would be paying more than necessary, while others would be getting a lot more work done for nothing.
There are a number of variables that can impact how long a project will take. The elements that most often determine the time needed for a personal statement include:
- Quality of starting content (draft or interview answers)
- Provided details (insufficient or vague information is a common time suck)
- Clarity and consistency of client goals (a moving target results in extra rewrite)
- Ability + luck to match the narrative to a voice that reflects the client
There are additional variables when it comes to web content management, manual development, and fiction editing.
I’ve had at least two clients who assumed an estimate was a flat fee; in both cases the jobs took much longer than anticipated due to a profusion of complications on the clients’ parts. These clients were unhappy, which is never my goal, but they also clearly undervalued my work, feeling $45 for three hours of skilled work a fair trade.
Final Thoughts on Hourly Rates
The top advantages for an hourly model are:
- I get paid for the words I use, as well as those I remove to provide a better end product
- The client pays for the work done for them, not what it cost for another person’s project
Because my client base is a little different, I will charge in 15 minute increments after the first hour. A lot of writers and editors don’t do this, but I take on some very small jobs at times.
While hourly rates can seem intimidating when the duration of a project is unclear, you can work with your writer or editor to set check in points or develop a plan that works for you both. Let them know your budget, and see if they have options or ideas to make this more comfortable. Many of my small project clients like a check in after the first hour. Some will have me write the initial draft, which they will revise and then return to me for final edit. I’m happy to help make this work for my clients, ensuring we both get what we deserve in the end.