Quality+Speed: The Equation for Making Money Writing

Passion's great, but it doesn't pay the bills. Define your "hourly rate" so you can work less..and then have time, resources and peace of mind for passion project. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta at the Eastbank Esplanade, Portland, Ore.).
Passion’s great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Define your “hourly rate” so you can work less…and then have the time, resources and peace of mind for passion project. (Photo: Flickr, Chintan Mehta at the Eastbank Esplanade, Portland, Ore.).

The equation for making money writing is simple—it’s just quality plus speed. You need to be able to write exceptionally “good stuff” in as short amount of time as possible. I have some clients (those who pay over a certain benchmark) who demand publication-ready work (others have their own editors in place). In this instance, I use one of my editors to do a final copy edit/fact check, and they get a cut of the final price. However, even after my editor’s fee, I still “have” to make a certain amount per piece (and ultimately per hour) in order to make a project worthwhile.

My first rule of thumb with writing? Never accept an hourly rate.

I offer either a price per word, or a flat rate per project based on an average word count. Your per word or per project rate can be whatever you like, but you need to know what the “hourly rate” will boil down to. Different projects will take more or less time. For example, a 450 word blog with no image curation, no links required, and on a subject you’re really familiar with is going to be much faster and easier than a 450 word blog that requires a quality stock image that’s cited, three authority links, and is about EPDM roof coatings (which you’ve never heard about in your life—at least I hadn’t!).

First, figure out the “hourly rate” you need/want. Then choose projects per word or per hour accordingly.

How a Writer’s Time is Money

You’re going to get paid the same for a $20 blog whether it takes you five minutes to write or five hours. Remember that it’s quality+speed. Does a five-minute blog sound insane? It shouldn’t once you get your writing career rolling. I have numerous long-term clients where it takes me less than ten minutes to read what they want, write the blog, find authority links, and upload it to their system or email back the assignment. From beginning to end, that’s $20 for ten minutes or less—which is ultimately $120 per hour.

Pro tip: If you didn’t learn proper typing as a child, it’s not too late to take a class. I type 120 WPM with a 99 percent accuracy rate. It’s never too late to ditch the two-finger typing approach, and it’ll dramatically boost your speed. Plus, those typing classes can be a tax write-off.

What can you do in 60 minutes?

Personally, my “hourly rate” is between $100-$200 per hour. Let’s break this down. Averaging $150 per hour and assuming 40 hours per week, that’s $6,000 per week. Assuming 50 weeks of work per year (allowing for a two week vacation—crucial for writers!), that’s $300,000 per year. That’s how you make money as a writer: Speed, quality, and knowing your “hourly rate”.

New writers will of course demand less as they’re starting out. Plus, sometimes the experience is worth more than the money in the early stages. If you have the opportunity to write in a lucrative field, there will be a steep learning curve. This might include SEO, a certain medical field, technology, etc. Only you can determine if still getting paid (albeit below your goal “hourly rate”) is worth the learning experience and your time.

It’s not enough to be a great writer. You need to be a great, speedy writer. That’s what makes the difference between the clichéd starving artist and a six-figure salary.


So You’re a Writer…What’s Your Real Job?

Do your passion, even when others think it's foolish. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta from An Elefabulous Evening at Wildlife Safari, Winston, Ore.).
Do your passion, even when others think it’s foolish. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta from An Elefabulous Evening at Wildlife Safari, Winston, Ore.).

Contrary to popular belief, you really can write for a living without the need of a second job, part-time job, inheritance or wealthy love interest. I know because I’m doing it, but there’s still a big, stinky stigma around writers as professionals. Plus, I also boast a lot of cliches myself. Yes, I got my undergrad degree in English (making it even better by specializing in British Medieval Literature, and then going on for a master’s degree in writing). Yes, I love to read, I consider myself a “creative type” and I’ve published books through a traditional trade press. However, that’s largely where the stereotypes end.

Before founding MehtaFor and writing (much more!) than full time, I worked for a variety of non-profits for eight years. My titles ranged from Director of Alumni Relations to Director of Event Coordination. It basically meant I was writing press releases, grant proposals, RFPs, website content, brochures and everything else you can imagine. I was a writer with a different title charged with a bunch of admin tasks to boot.

They weren’t horrible jobs, but it just wasn’t the right fit. Why couldn’t I make a living doing both what I love and what I was naturally good at? The better question was, “What the heck took me so long?”

Happy Accidents

I stumbled into entrepreneurship and then small business ownership (and then training others to do what I do) the way a lot of people get there: Getting laid off during the Great Recession. The department I was working for closed, and I had an opportunity to move to Costa Rica (where cost of living is much lower), so I grabbed it. En route, I picked up my first freelance writing gig from a Craigslist fluke.

A few years later, and plenty of hard lessons later, business has blossomed. Here’s what nobody tells English majors in college: Every single business, regardless of size, needs professional writing. Some businesses figure it out sooner than others. Especially in the digital era and the age of mobile readiness, this means writers who specialize in web content, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, etc. are particularly in high demand.

Writing. It’s a recession-proof job with endless projects, clients and opportunities if you’re good, fast, and know where the best (for you) clients are.