Put a Tag on It

November 23, 2021 § 18 Comments

These traditional Madhubani paintings are only made in Bihar, India, and are, with 35 others, the result of 3 hours of tea-based negotiation.

Some time ago I saw a writing program that looked amazing. You’ve seen something like it: a respected writing teacher/coach works with a small group of students for 6-12 months, with goals, deadlines and feedback. This type of program is for writers who need accountability and welcome feedback, but don’t have the time/money/desire to pursue an MFA.

I thought one of my writer-clients would be a good fit for the program, but I couldn’t find the price on the website. I know and like the teacher, so I emailed.

The response (paraphrased): Oh we don’t tell anyone the investment cost until they’ve applied and been accepted into the class.

You know who else doesn’t give the price up front? Used car salesmen.

You know who else describes their need for your money as an “investment”? Prosperity-gospel shysters. Jesus is gonna return that twenty-five dollar check tenfold, Grandma. Trust me.

I know this strategy: get people engaged and excited about how awesome the product is before getting frightened away by the price. I’ve tried it myself, experimenting with highlighting the deposit on my retreat website and making the payment plan less conspicuous. I had info calls with two writers who didn’t understand that was only the deposit, a waste of their time and mine. Now I put the whole price.

How can you be up front with potential clients for your course, services or freelancing, without scaring off your income?

1) Price your work fairly. For yourself and for the client. You’re not meant to be affordable to everyone, and I’m not advocating for creatives to undersell ourselves. When I lead a class or retreat, I do a spreadsheet: How many hours will I work? What will venues, meals, gift bags, flights, Zoom subscriptions, website design cost? It all gets factored in.

2) Never compete on price. I do a lot of snooping research on what other editors and retreats charge. Mine cost less than some and more than others. I see programs and people I know are at my level or better, who charge more—or less. I’ve been a workshop student, and most of the time, I didn’t pick based on price. Students choose classes because they want to study with that teacher. Or spend a blissful week in that place. Clients book freelancers on how the writer handles the topic. Writers pick editors because they loved the sample edit. Usually, creative clients aren’t shopping for who they can afford, they’re figuring out if they can afford you.

3) Never feel guilty about your price. The magic words: “I totally understand if we’re not a match for your budget.” I know my price is fair for what I offer (see 1 & 2). If I’m way out of a client’s range, I can refer an editing partner who fits their budget and who I know will do a good job; recommend a webinar; or edit 25 pages and give the writer a list of fixes to apply to the whole manuscript (a wise option for most writers even if you’re ready to pay for a full edit, btw).

Charging a fair price lets me offer an occasional discount to someone truly in need, or whose work I adore and want to be part of. I’ve more than once reached out to a writer I knew would benefit from an experience to say, “Just come, we’d really like to have you and I know you’re tight right now.”

4) Put the pricetag where it’s easy to find. By putting my pricing up front, I save MY time. I no longer go back and forth in emails with people who’d like to negotiate the cost, the services, or the scope. Weighing opportunity cost, I probably save 3 billable hours a month by not interacting with people who can’t afford me, but say no to themselves before I have to.

I’ve walked through my fair share of souks, flea markets, mercatos, melas and car boot sales. I’ve sat with tea and a salesperson for hours, working out the price of gold relative to the necklace I have my eye on, or how much the paintings are if I buy 10 of them. I enjoy the ritual of determining together a fair price, meeting somewhere between “I know I’m a tourist but come on, dude” and “Madam, you will ruin me!”

But most writers I know don’t have that kind of time. They’d like to find out what I do and how much it costs, and ask questions from there. Most writers deserve the respect of your fairly determined, confidently stated price.

Save your time. Save their time. Put a price tag where your clients can find it.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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