Budding Writer, 1979: No realistic understanding

Reading Time: 2 minutes

About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

One bit of advice for freelancers that I’m finding in my own journals: Know what your work is worth. Not knowing may mean either you won’t get the job, or you’ll be undercutting yourself.

So: the highlight of today was this afternoon’s interview with Mr. Northrup of Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital. This guy is four years older than I. We got along quite well; however, I found it quite difficult to make an intelligent estimate on my fee for particular projects — e.g. brochures — because I’ve never done that sort of thing before. … and he says he has no realistic understanding of the market. Eventually this evening I did make an estimate: $5 to $7.50/hour; + $25/page for projects, plus expenses. We’ll now see whether that was an intelligent — let alone reasonable — estimate.

Journal, Volume II
15 May 1979

This kind of standoff leaves both sides frustrated. Both expect to hear “make me an offer” and neither knows where to start. And not knowing what you’re worth makes you look inexperienced.

I was young and foolish. Today I’m old and foolish, but at least I know where to start. If you’re going to quote an hourly rate, know the minimum wage and what is being paid for similar workers in your market. In 1979, the minimum was $2.90 an hour, or more than $10 today. My quote of $5 to $7.50 an hour was a little high. But what I was being paid at the newspaper was probably a little low.

But Mr. Northrup (note to self: next time get first and last names and title) was looking for piece work, not hourly work. Not knowing how long it would take me to work on a particular project undermined my bidding.

How could I have found out? If I had done my homework, several annual writer’s guides, including works by Writer’s Digest, give typical job scales. I could also have joined an association for public relations professionals, or found other sources.

One thing is for sure: I couldn’t have looked it up on the internet. Today, research is much easier. For example, it took me less than 30 seconds to find out that Daniel Northrup was Administrator of Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital from April, 1979, to May, 1982. It’s on his LinkedIn profile.

Bleeding hearts blossom in Southbury, Connecticut, May 17, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

One thought on “Budding Writer, 1979: No realistic understanding

What do you think? Let me know here. Comments are moderated, and I'll respond as soon as I can. Thanks!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.