Mark Terry

Sunday, February 08, 2009

3 Cents A Word

February 8, 2009
I'll be traveling for the next few days and I'm not taking my laptop with me, but will rely on my iPhone. (It occurs to me that if I had read that sentence in the 1970s or 1980s it would make no sense whatsoever). I'll be in Philadelphia, a city I've never been to before, and as it turns out, will be in meetings pretty much from 8 to 5, so I may never actually see anything except the inside of a hotel.

Anyway, let me leave you this to ponder. It has to do with a sliding scale for payment for writing.

One of the other nonfiction writing websites I visit regularly--primarily for a daily list of writing gigs--has a blog and the blogger went on a bit of a rant about crappy paying nonfiction gigs--blog jobs are the worst--that say things like, "Need highly qualified, motivated writer. Pays $15."

Not $15 per word or per hour (per hour, that rate still sucks). But, write an article or whatever and we'll pay you $15.

Or, as the title of this blog suggests, 3 cents per word.

Which also really sucks.

The best per word rate I've made is $1 per word. The worst, 10 cents. I also occasionally write per hour ($40-$50 or more, depending on the gig) and often per project. (As high as $20,000 to-date).


Ah yes, fiction. You know, a 100,000 word novel at 3 cents a word would bring in $30,000. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Oh shit. I just re-did my math. No, a 100,000 word novel at 3 cents a word would bring in $3,000.

For fiction, my per word rate is...

I don't know, is it possible to even break down cents into fractions? In fact, I DON'T want to know. Don't calculate this for me. I just plain DON'T WANT TO KNOW. (Actually, I just did. And I still don't want to know. Dammit.)

I would note that Jonathan Kellerman commented once that his advance for "When The Bough Breaks" came to something like 97 cents an hour, although it's worked better for him in the long run.

So I'll throw this out, asking for your thoughts in general, but a specific question is, If you know your fiction writing would earn you 50 cents an hour, would it still be worth it to you? A penny a word? The same word rate penny-dreadful writers earned in the 1800s?

Mark Terry


Blogger Idea Man said...

I guess it's a good thing politicians don't get paid by the word for their speeches. (Or do they?)

Have phun in Philly. And if you like sculpture and have some spare time, the Rodin Museum is pretty cool.

Alan O.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Claire M. Caterer said...

I've written fiction for a penny a word, 6 cents a word, and $1 a word. Mostly, though, I write it for no money at all (those unpublished manuscripts). I write fiction because I love it; the other stuff pays the bills. I certainly join the rant about those wanting "quality writing"--or 500-word articles that they'll pay $10 or less for.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Given that most literary journals pay in contributor copies, it appears many writers are willing to write for $0.00 per word. Kinda makes a rejection all that more humiliating, doesn't it?

Philadelphia. So much to see. The Liberty Bell. Independence Hall. My oh my.

If you have a few minutes to kill, run down to the corner of Fifth and Arch and peek through the spiked fence into the Christ Church Burial Ground. Right before you, adjacent to the fence, will be the grave of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin. And you'll be its only visitor.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Betsy Dornbusch said...

I written from free to fairly well paid tech writing. I still have to write, unfortunately. My magazine only pay 20 bucks for stories. Trust me, we wish we could 10x or 20x that, but we fund it ourselves.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

To me the only important categories of compensation are "enough to live on" or "not enough to live on." If the pay would not be enough to live on, whether it is 3 cents a word, or 5 cents, or $15 an article or $35, then if I'm writing it I'm writing for fun. Which I will do, of course. If it's something I want to write.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I write because I love it. Would that my father had been write when he said, "Do what you love and the money will follow."

As for my advice about Philly, if you have time, South Street is the Carnaby Street of the City of Love. Great cheesesteaks at Jims, but be ready with your order immediately. And if you're into Iron Chef, Morimoto's sushi place is, I think, at 7th and Chestnut, give or take a block or two.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

Yeah, it still does. Never had any illusions I would get that $300 a word rate that Rowling gets.

Right now and for the last 10 years I've gotten zero cents per word. I still write.

5:02 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I doubt I'd go less unless they can buy a ton of quantity, but yeah, I have. :-) As long as it's a payment and NOT against an advance, and as long as I'll get a good royalty rate after.

At 3 cents a word, you're making about $30 an hour. Not terribly bad. Not at all great for a self-employed person, though.

8:34 AM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

Ha ha! Even if you're fiction earned .002 cents per word, it would still be .002 cents per word more than I earn with mine ...

Perhaps they call it "paying dues" for a reason.

Truth is, I never really expect to make anything from fiction. In our recent experience, my agent talked a few times about how we were going to negotiate for a higher advance (ah, sweet delusions), and I was always like, "I don't care if there's ANY advance. If they publish it, I'll sell it."

12:14 PM  
Blogger Elle said...

I've never made anything from writing but I still do it. Sometimes.

I figure it's better than hobbies that cost me money. Sometimes.

Right now any money would be good money, I guess.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Philip Hayes said...

I've decided I want to be a writer.
How in the world do I filter through all of this garbage, 3cents/word and the rest of this nonsense and make some reasonable money.

I'm not trying to be a Mark Twain or Shakespeare.
I just want to be able to write and make about 70 or 80 dollars a day.

Where do I go? What do I do to get started?

7:47 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Start with reading the 12 posts on "Freelance Writing For A Living" on the right-side of my blog.

Then read "The Well-Fed Writer" by Peter Bowerman.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Started Out Dumb said...

Keep grinding, it sounds like you're heading in the right direction.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Christy Joy said...

I wrote a very short story of 650 words. How much will you pay me??

10:24 AM  

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