The Pen is Mightier than the Sword!

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

The Great Rate Debate: Hourly or Fixed-Bid?

As a freelance writer, the rate you choose or accept depends on your personal preference. But there are other factors that should be considered. Among them: your level of experience (newbie or veteran), type of project (short or long-term), and knowledge of the project’s subject matter or knowledge of the client’s industry.

Based on my 3+ years of experience with one client as a contract freelance writer, my preference is HOURLY. The client company required that a suite of customized user manuals of 150-250+ pages be created for each of their clients. And their clients were from a very diverse cross-section of businesses, from cat-grooming spas to fast food restaurants. Just getting started on the first volume of the suite was a daunting task that required several hours of research both on the internet and of the several documents provided by the business owner. Often, that research time is not built into the cost of a fixed-rate project and the rate is non-negotiable. It is set by the hiring client, not the writer.

The fixed-rate system has a way of degrading your income potential, especially on a large project, and especially if you are not already knowledgeable about the subject matter. Consider this: If you know the subject matter you can probably write a 100-page manual about it in 20 hours or less. If you don’t know the subject matter, it could easily take up to 40 or more hours to complete a first draft. Do the math: $500 divided by 20 hours = $25/hour; $500 divided by 40 hours = $12.50; $500 divided by 60 hours = $8.33.

On the other hand, the fixed rate system may be a viable option for short writing projects where you are already familiar with the subject matter and you can complete the project in less than one day. If you have to spend more time than that on it, you’re probably cheating yourself. For example: If the rate is $30 and it takes you 8 hours to complete it, effectively you make $3.75 per hour on the project. Draw your own conclusions on whether $3.75 is line with what you would quote as a minimum hourly rate for a project. Keep in mind that the person setting the price (the hiring client) often has no idea how much time it takes to create a document.


If you are considering a fixed-rate bid project, ask the client how long they think it will take to complete the first milestone AND what all needs to be done to reach that milestone. Will you have to do any research? Will you have to customize their template or make a new one? Is their time estimate in line with your experience working on similar projects?

Before you accept a fixed-rate project on a 3rd-party site like oDesk or Elance, do some research on the site to find out when and how you get paid for your work. I found this link on oDesk:


Written versus Spoken Words

Whether or not you realize it, Writing and Speaking require different skills. A writer can craft a document with the expectation that it will be READ, not spoken out loud (unless they are a speechwriter). A speaker’s expectation is that they will be talking to a live audience and that the audience will not have written material to follow along.

Writing and Speaking are two distinct categories of communication. In my opinion and based on my experience as a writer, they certainly are not one and the same. Writers may also be speakers or write for those who are speakers. But mostly they stick to their craft – writing. Speakers might also write their own material, but generally writing is not their primary area of expertise (which explains why speech writers will always have a job).

Crucial Differences

Aside from the expertise of the writer versus the speaker, a crucial difference in my mind is the method of delivery: written word or spoken word. The written word can be read and understood by nearly anyone with a basic understanding of English, regardless of their native language. Conversely, the spoken word may have the influence of a non-native English speaker or the twang/colloquialism of a native English speaker from a different area of the United States that a listener is not accustomed to hearing. Examples include: the Southern Drawl, the Native New Yorker style, the Midwestern/Chicago style (Deese/These, Dem/Them, Doze/Those; Da/The Bears, etc.), and the Northeastern/New England style. One needs only to watch various TV shows to get a sample of how each of these dialects sounds. But how does a writer write them, especially if they are natives of the particular region of the country? The short answer is: a (good) writer will write a word, sentence, paragraph, etc. based on their knowledge of the written form – not the spoken form. The more formal or professional the work needs to be based on the audience, the more proper and correct the language should be. Hence, a writer will use “p-a-r-k” to describe an open area used for recreation, but the speaker of that word will pronounce it based on how they have learned to pronounce it in the region where they live or came from.

Understanding English with an Accent

Beyond the dialects and colloquialisms of English in America, we continue to be a huge “melting pot” that includes people  from other countries around the world. Even many who are a third or later generation from another country often speak English with some kind of accent that harkens to their native language. I have been in myriad situations where I simply could not understand what a speaker was saying because of their accent – one I was not accustomed to hearing and deciphering. But when I had the opportunity to READ what they were saying, it became crystal clear. The written word generally has no accent – it simply is what it is. The exceptions I can think of are words that came from another language to begin with like attache’ – a french word for a briefcase, or a person affiliated with a government agency.

Most writers I’ve worked with over the years use “common U.S. English”, regardless of where they are from or currently live and we communicate mostly by email – the written word. Sometimes it is a surprise to get on the phone (or VOIP) with them and realize they speak with an accent or in a dialect I’m not entirely familiar with. And therein is my point: Almost anyone understands the written word, but the spoken word is not always so clear and universal.

When a Typo Isn’t a Typo

For those who write, edit and/or proofread their own work or that of others.

I’ve been keeping a running list, based on proofreading other writer’s work and my own. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

  • often/of ten (I go there often./Here’s a list of ten things I found.)
  • ding/doing (Your boss might ding you for that activity./Are you doing that task correctly?)
  • tired/tried (I quickly tired of the task./I tried but failed to complete the task.)
  • fired/fried (He was fired for being late./I fried those eggs until they were done.)
  • wired/weird (Your connections must be wired correctly./Your configuration of those components is weird.)
  • or/our (You can go here or there./You can go to our website.)
  • there/their (You can go here or there./If you go to their website… )

I think (hope) you get the idea so I’ll continue with just the words – no examples.)

  • form/from
  • here/her
  • envelops/envelopes
  • principle (idea, concept)/principal (a person; CEO, president, etc.)
  • tough/though/thought/through
  • hew/new/mew
  • complement/compliment
  • compiles/complies
  • front/font
  • thing/think
  • closet/closer

This is by no means a comprehensive list. The correct word to use depends greatly on the subject matter of your document. For example: You probably would not use the word “mew” (the sound a cat makes) in a technical manual or white paper about a new customer management software program.

As you can see, a lot of these “typos” are not typos at all. They are due to “fat-fingering” on the keyboard as you’re typing your masterpiece. But as long as they are spelled correctly, the spell-check feature of Word (or your favorite word processing program will not flag them as typos. Finding them in your document requires keen attention to detail a.k.a. proofreading your own work – that is, if you don’t have the luxury of enlisting someone else to do it, who has the keen eye needed for this. Surprisingly, they are fairly easy to identify when you are reading or proofreading what someone else has written.

A primary reason for sharing this information is because anyone who is working (or wants to work) as a freelance writer wants their writing (article, log, marketing piece, etc.) to be polished and error-free. Errors like the ones I have listed above can degrade your integrity as a writer – regardless of the subject matter. A slip of the finger can make all the difference – particularly if you tout yourself as “detail-oriented”.

%d bloggers like this: