Thanks, re: What am I worth/clueless newbie question

Subject: Thanks, re: What am I worth/clueless newbie question
From: Susan Grammer <grammers -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 1999 11:13:51 -0700

Miki, Michael, and all those of you who wrote to me "off-list".

Thanks so much for your input. Your suggestions are right in line with
what I have understood from my reading, and I will certainly be *adjusting*
my rates very soon. I hope no one truly takes offense at my pricing myself
so low in the beginning. The client I am accepting $10/hr from is actually
a faculty member paying out of his own pocket because he is in the midst of
trying to get a start-up company going.....so the deal was kind of "I know
you are just getting started and I am too, so let's try a 3 month deal."
His concession was to guarantee the payment for 10hr/week for 3 months,
whether he sends the work my way or not. I refused to work at that rate
without a contract, and I wasn't about to contract for longer than three
months. There is NO WAY I will continue working for $10/hr at the end of
that period! I pay babysitters for my twins (they are FULL of energy)
$7/hr. Of course I find writing much less physically demanding than
keeping up with them!

The grant I am translating from one granting agency's format to another for
$200 is going to be a fairly simple job, but I can already see I was way
low in pricing that one. No wonder they jumped on it. However, they came
up with that job immediately upon my turning down the first one they
offered, as I told them it wasn't feasible to complete it in the time
allowed. They have also discussed a backlog of research papers they need
help with if this works out, so eventually I'm sure things will even out.

I should say that this approach was kind of an *experiment* on my part to
try to reach a market that I think should be ripe for technical writers but
has (at least in my 15 year academic research career) under utilized the
writing resources that are out there. The laboratories that I worked in,
even those which were well funded, would not have thought to go outside for
assistance on writing proposals and papers. Many investigators, are great
scientists, but labor intensely to get their ideas and results into a
concise well written proposal or report. Quite often, either because of a
lack of writing skills, language barrier, or just not enough time to devote
to the task, they do not turn out documents that clearly present their
goals or results. As a research associate (non-ph.d.), I used to take
grants and papers home and work into the night pulling them together so
that I could arrive at the lab at 7am to start a new experiment. That, of
course, was before I had kids! I tried continuing that approach for two
years and then decided I liked writing into the night MUCH more than
showing up for the bench work the next morning. I believe that research
suffers when investigators are swamped with writing responsibilities. They
cannot supervise their staff; they rarely venture into the lab to verify
that work is progressing as they planned. And such a low percentage of
these grants they commit weeks of their time to are even funded, so they
must have several in the works at once. Of course, there isn't much chance
of getting funded if they leave the backlog of 30 research papers on their
desks for long.

I may find that there is actually an active group of medical/technical
writers doing just this type of work and that I just never worked for
anyone who made use of you. If this is the case, please let me know!

Several listmembers wrote me personally and asked how I marketed this idea
and where I came up with the email addresses of faculty. I decided to post
it here (but PLEASE don't take my potential clients if you live in Houston
;)!

Email addresses can be found on websites of most academic departments. I
just pasted the entire faculty list into the address line of my mail
program and then went through and deleted everything but the addresses. I
set up a mailing list for the department I wanted to target and sent the
following generic email to them:


"Dear Faculty Member,

Grant deadline coming up? That review article you promised is due soon and
you just don't have time to finish it up? Six manuscripts in various
stages of completion await your attention?

Thinking of pulling your postdocs or research assistants off the bench to
help? Keep the data coming and call me instead!

Thanks for your consideration.

Sincerely,"

Then I listed my name, email address and on-line resume website. I
received about 10 replies and my site was viewed 40 times. At least two of
those I am working with did not check the website. I have turned down
three jobs because the deadlines were too close for me to commit to at this
point, but a year from now (kids in school), I might welcome one of those
now and then.

I don't know how well this will work, but it really seems to me to be a
market that is ripe with opportunity. Another aspect is that many of the
postdocs and faculty members in biomedical research are not native english
speakers, and, as such, could use some help in re-writing for publication.
As a matter of fact, one of my initial faculty contacts has a former mentor
from overseas who is here on a *writing sabbatical* and one journal has
asked him to have his accepted paper re-written by a native english
speaker. At this point, having been out of science for two years, all of
this is welcome exposure to me.

Of course, although this market might be ripe, until folks realize just how
much time and money a technical writer can save them in the end, it is
reasonable to charge reduced rates.

I do hope to market myself a little more heavily towards the biotechnology
industry once I am working closer to full-time (my twins start kindergarten
in the fall), as I'm sure I can demand a much higher fee than from academic
institutions.

I am in a large city (Houston), so hope to be able to work up to the top
rates soon. Any other medical writers on the list from Houston?

Miki suggested taking on some unpaid work or taking classes until I feel I
deserve the higher rates.a Actually I do newsletter articles for support
groups and did a book chapter for a parenting organization) and to take
some classes, but, as I have been "unpaid" for two years now (and my salary
in the lab used to be 50% of our income) I have to get some income rolling
in to be able to do those things. It's either work cheap in the beginning
to land a few clients, or go back to the lab full-time to finance classes
that I won't have time to take! My husband doesn't say a word when he
finds I've taken on another freebie, or bought another $30 book on a
special writing topic, but the car is gettin' old, the kids socks have
holes in them and the house needs a coat of paint - you know - reality!

Thanks for the warm welcome. I look forward to hearing all the other great
advice you guys have (BTW, keep those Mac to PC posts coming......)

To those who wrote me off-list, I'll be responding soon.

Thanks again,

Susan Grammer
Houston, TX
Freelance Biomedical Writer
grammers -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com


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