How To Price Your Creative Work

    November 24, 2003

How do you put a dollar value on your creative work? Are you charging too much? Too little? In your creative small business, pricing issues will come up again and again. I struggled with them for years, until I managed to get them straight in my own mind.

Now I price my writing and writing services to ensure that the buyer is getting MORE than his money’s worth. When I’ve set the price to my own satisfaction, I’m happy to negotiate, because I know my base price. I know what I’d like to get, and I know the lowest price I will accept. This makes for peace of mind.

Are you an apprentice or a master?

All things being equal, you will be able to charge more for your creative services if you’re highly experienced. This is because you will bring more to each project. You will see ways of doing things better, faster and more effectively, because you’ve done similar projects many times, and have made all the mistakes possible and won’t make them again. :-)

For example, I create many news releases for clients in my copywriting practice. News releases seem easy on the surface, however to write a news release that will get coverage is a complex skill, much of which consists in knowing what not to do. I charge more for news releases than other writers, because I have the skills and the contacts that ensure that my news releases work.

Are you selling or licensing your work?

As creatives, we have the option of licensing rights to our work, or of selling works outright. Much of my work — my business writing and copywriting — is work done for hire. The buyer gets all rights to the work.

When you sell all rights to something, that work has gone for good. You can’t reuse it, or resell it. Therefore it’s important that if writing (or any other creative occupation) is your fulltime work, you devote some of your working time to creating products which you can license.

For writers, these products could include books (fiction and nonfiction), magazine articles, scripts, and ebooks.

This is building your inventory, which I covered in this article:

Be aware of rights issues, and of which rights you’re selling, at all times. When a magazine editor offers you fifty cents a word for FNASR (First North American Serial Rights) you need to know exactly what that means. It means that you know that you can still sell second NASR, and you’ve got the rest-of-world rights to play with too. I’m in Australia, so for short magazine articles, I’m quite happy to sell First Australian Serial Rights quite cheaply, because I know I’ve got lots of rights still to sell— although “license” is a better term, because when you “sell” rights, you’re licensing your work for a specific use and for a set period.

If you’re not a hundred per cent sure of how copyright and the rights to your work operate, please buy a book on the subject. It’s worth spending the money, to have the information at your fingertips.

When you know how rights work, you can ask an editor who’s offered you a dollar a word what rights she’s buying. If (horrors) she tells you she wants all rights to the piece for a dollar a word, that perceived good price starts to look shabby if you’ve been intending to use the material in other ways: as a chapter in a book, for example, or if you’ve been counting on selling only FNASR, and wanted to sell UK rights as well.

Learn to negotiate

Most creatives are not born good negotiators. You can however, become an expert negotiator. Here’s how:

* know your base price: your rock-bottom limit. When you know your base price, you can walk away;

* set your preferred price a third higher than your base price;

* offer a sweetener rather than reducing your price;

* be patient when negotiating;

* in complex deals (like books) get someone (an agent) to negotiate for you.

Your ability to price your work will develop as you continue to work at your trade

The ability to price your creative work develops over time. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll kick yourself for signing poor contracts. Look on this as paying your dues.

In my writing courses, some students get so paralyzed by fear over pricing that they stop writing. It’s important to relax. You will make mistakes, it’s natural. Resolve that you’ll learn from any perceived mistake, and move on.

Review your pricing structures regularly, and keep up with the latest news on copyright and rights issues. As a creative, your rights are your nest egg, your money in the bank. Guard your rights, but don’t become paranoid.

Your most important task is to get your pricing straight in your own mind. When you’re happy with the prices you charge, you will become a superb negotiator.

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