Question from Clueless Newbie

Subject: Question from Clueless Newbie
From: Susan Grammer <grammers -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 27 Feb 1999 19:45:14 -0700

Hi all,
I have been lurking on your list for a couple of weeks now and have had
many questions answered. Thanks. You might point me to the archives for
this question, but I'm short of time just now and hoped that I could get
some quick answers.

As a short introduction, I am a former biomedical researcher (B.S. and
sixteen years on the immunology/biotechnology lab bench) who left the lab
two years ago. I have been at home with my twins for the past two years
(they are 4.5 now), taking a writing correspondence course, working on a
few magazine articles (sold one small one) and writing a book chapter for
the National Organization of Mother's of Twins. I should say right off
(since I got myself "mildly flamed" on the NASW list two years ago when I
said I wanted to leave the bench to write science - OUCH!) that I have been
a writer for years (first poem at age six, and newsletter contributor for
years), but was too chicken to try to make a living at it. A good part of
my previous career involved writing at a very technical level - an aspect
of the job which I, unlike many bench scientists, very much looked forward
to. I recall that one of the most frustrating aspects of the job for many
investigators was the constant pressure of grant deadlines, backlog of
journal articles to write, etc. My mentor was constantly pulling post-docs
and scientific staff out of the lab (thereby effectively shutting down the
progress of the research) to help with proposals and papers that had
nothing to do with their goals. Also, because many of the postdocs and
visiting scientistics were not native English speakers, they required
assistance putting their data into publishable form. I was often called
upon to help in these instances, and found that I learned alot about topics
that were not my speciality. I really enjoyed it. I also found that
sometimes (actually often) it is much easier to re-write a concise report
or proposal on someone else's project, because I did not get bogged down in
feelings of "oh, I should have done that experiment, too." I could write
much more efficiently for them that I could for myself!

Anyway, my twins will be starting Kindergarten this fall, and I have
decided not to return to the lab. I have enjoyed my writing these past two
years immensely and hope to find a niche where I can work anywhere between
"very part-time" and "massive overtime" depending on what else is going on
with my family. I have spent the last couple of years getting a home
office set up and searching for resources on technical writing. We moved
to a large city swollen with biomedical research opportunities a year ago,
and I have been collecting resources with an idea in mind.

Two weeks ago, I sent a short generic email message to about 500 faculty
members at the five medical/graduate schools at the medical center and have
been amazed by the response. So far I have a four month part-time contract
with one professor, a grant to rewrite for submission to a new funding
agency, and a paper, which has been accepted subject to being revised by a
native English speaker, to rewrite.

Anyway, my question is this. Apparently there is a market for my skills,
in spite of the fact that several of the institutions have scientific
writing departments (which, I found out, also work with freelancers and
tell me they are putting me on their list). I know I am pricing myself
very low just now (my kids are still at home with me most days, and I have
been very upfront about this, telling people that I really hadn't thought I
would get this kind of response until the fall), and I have stated that my
current rates are only good until September. I figured that would give me
a chance to get a few references and possibly long-term clients (all three
so far say that if it works as they think it will, they will use me alot in
the future - all have tall backlog stacks of papers in various stages of
preparation) this summer, and then I would know by the fall whether I am
going to be able to make a go of it.

So, do most of you who do this type of work charge by the job, page, hour,
or what? I know from the Kent book that the range of hourly salaries can
go from $20 to $80/hr, depending on the type of job, whether an agency is
involved, experience, etc. I hate to admit that I have hired myself out
for 10hr/week for three months for $10/hour to one client. I had asked for
$20/hr from academic institutions and $30/hr from biotech industry, but
this guy drove a hard bargain, and the potential is there for a major
contract down the road if we work well together. The other client I told I
would charge $200 to take a 20 page NIH proposal down to the length and
format required for another granting agency. They jumped at it - no
questions asked. Am I REALLY undercutting myself here? I did tell them
that I thought it was low, and that the rates would be higher in the fall
and they seemed to think we will work together again. So just how high
should I go?

Well, excuse the length of my first posting. Hope you all can help me out
as I decide what I am worth in this business!


Susan Grammer
grammers -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com

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