Re: FW: Fee Disclosure

Subject: Re: FW: Fee Disclosure
From: Peter Kent <techwr -at- ARUNDEL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 09:55:44 -0600

> Seems to me a lot of people would like to know what rates others are
> getting, but no one wants to be the first to disclose. Understandable, I
> think. If there's really a lot of interest, perhaps we should find one
> person who has the time to take on a survey, and send him/her info on
> what kind of work we're doing, where we're doing it (geography is
> important), years of experience, and what we get paid. That person could
> put together a report with each person's response, line by line, sans
> ID.

> Unfortunately, I don't have time to take this on myself (sorry to be
> suggesting work for someone else). And I don't post often enough for
> most of you to know who I am and feel comfortable sending me that info.
> But it's a thought....and failing that, interested parties might check
> the geographic pay range on the STC website.

I've been lurking here for a while, but thought I'd jump in.

I'd be prepared to collate a simple survey if people are interested in
taking part. This rates thing is a special interest of mine, for a number of

First, as many of you know, I'm the author of a book on freelance technical
writing (see the sig at the end of this msg). In the course of writing that
book (a couple of times), and in the course of doing the research necessary
to run a profitable writing business, I've noticed that writers often have
low expectations. That's partly because people don't gossip enough about
rates with other writers, and partly because the STC surveys that so many of
us rely on misrepresent freelance rates by creating averages that hide the
really high rates. For instance, on a couple of occasions I've tracked down
the person running an STC chapter survey and chatted about the actual
numbers that were received (I've done this for both the Denver and Dallas
chapters). What I've found is that a number of freelance writers are making
well in excess of $100k, but that these numbers are not obvious in the
published survey data because only the averages are published. This creates
two problems. 1: Many people don't realize the potential income, so they're
prepared to settle for less. And 2: the averages are in a sense too high,
being inflated by very high incomes earned by a small number of writers who
have learned to play the technical writing market very well. In a way these
people are running a different business--or, perhaps, running their writing
careers more like a real business. The average writer, then, can't expect to
make the average income, because he's not using the same business model.

A quick note about this "should we talk about rates" discussion. I find it
quite bizarre that anyone who's in business (and of course we all are,
whether "employed" or "self-employed") would not want to know what the
competition is earning. It's essential! I've met writers earning 50% of the
going rate, simply because they didn't know any better. It's especially a
problem with the agencies, because most agencies have a "supply and demand"
attitude; if they can get you cheap, they will (that's not a criticism, just
an observation of how a free market works). Why would anyone risk earning
literally half what they could be earning, out of some strange concept of
professionalism that's designed to keep employees in the dark? It reminds me
of another writer's rule: "you must never send out multiple submissions of a
magazine article." Who exactly does that benefit? The writer? Hell no!
(Incidentally, it's a rule broken by all agents and virtually all successful
writers.) The same goes for the "don't talk rates/salary" rule; who does
that benefit? The employer, of course. (By the way, the comment that you
shouldn't have to tell a potential house buyer what you payed for your house
is totally irrelevant; the price I paid for my house five years ago has no
bearing on today's market value, in the same way that the income I made five
years ago is irrelevant to salary/rate negotiations--which is why I have
never provided salary histories when asked for them.)

The first chapter in my next tech-writing book discusses the rates issue;
you can read this (unedited) chapter at if you're interested. And if anyone
wants to do a salary survey I can put together a simple set of questions,
and set up a special e-mail address people can send responses to. (I have no
intention of doing any heavy statistical analysis, though!)

Peter Kent

Coming this fall, the revised Technical Writer's Freelancing
Guide. New Title: Making Money in Technical Writing. 80% bigger,
lots new info. See for more...

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