One of the most difficult questions you’ll ever be asked about your work is: “What’s it worth?”
Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the road to becoming a professional writer involves navigating the intricacies and trade-offs of this difficult question and coming up with answers that lead to advancement toward that goal, rather than retreat.
The intricacies of that difficult question involve issues that are practical, economic, competitive, and emotional. Let’s take a look at each of those sets of issues:
The first set of issues you encounter when setting prices for your work involves practical matters:
- How much money do you have on hand?
- How much do you spend each month or each year?
- How much money is coming in?
The bottom line of all this is simple: How long can you stay in the writing game before you run out of money and must quit writing to put that time and energy toward other means of earning a living?
Pricing is one way to directly change that bottom line result. If you can adjust your pricing to increase the amount of money coming in, you can stretch out the time remaining in your career as a professional writer. If you can increase the amount of money coming in substantially enough, you can keep writing professionally for the rest of your life.
Most times, to increase your writing income you’ll need to raise your prices. But this calculation can lead you to lower your prices, too. The point is to maximize the income you generate from the combination of two factors: the amount of work you sell and the price you earn from each sale.
For example, suppose you’re now selling ten pieces of writing per month at $100 per piece. That’s $1000 income per month. If raising your price will not lose too many sales, you might be able to sell eight pieces at month $150 per piece. That would earn you $1200 per month total income.
On the other hand, if lowering your price will result in extra sales, you might be able to sell 15 pieces per month at $90 per piece. That would bring you $1350 per month.
A great many factors go into determining the most lucrative “price point” for each item you sell. Sometimes, you won’t know the best price point until you experiment. But the basic fact is that changing your prices is the first, and often most practical, way to increase your income as a professional writer.
If you lived in a vacuum, or in a static world, you could raise and lower your prices however you wish and expect to receive a mathematically calculated result. But you live in an economy which has its own ups and downs independent of you and your wishes.
That’s one reason professional writing can often be a case of “feast or famine.” During good economic times, you might sell all the work you can produce at prices you enjoy. During bad economic times, you might struggle to sell any of your work, and have no choice but to accept prices you wish were higher.
Your pricing decisions should therefore recognize and take into account the current economic climate in which you are operating. You should be alert not only to current economic conditions, but also to upcoming changes in the economic climate. Looking ahead, you can strive to position yourself – by means of pricing changes (and perhaps other ways, as well) – to take maximum advantage of the economic hand you will soon be dealt.
Just as you live in an economic climate, you also live in a competitive climate. If you’re the only one capable of writing a particular piece of work – say a Katy Perry song or a best-seller on White House intrigue – you can pretty much write your own ticket as far as income from that work is concerned.
However, if you are cranking out the same kind of boiler plate that’s available from ten thousand other writers, it’s hard to price your work outside of the competitive range the market has established for such work.
This has two implications for professional writers:
- Don’t expect to earn more from highly competitive work than the vast majority of your competitors are earning. Your prices and to some extent your income will be tightly constrained by the market.
- There are major advantages to stepping out of the competitive rat race and into some niche where competition is relatively scarce and where your natural talents help you become a leader – or even a “one of a kind.” There are lots of genres and markets out there. Which one fits you better and offers you a greater chance to earn the living you want as a professional writer?
So far, we’ve covered three practical, objective, external issues that tend to influence how much you can earn from your work. But the most important issues are internal:
If you don’t feel worthy of big bucks for your work, you won’t ask for them. And if the market nevertheless insists on offering you those big bucks, psychology tells us you’ll find ways to screw up, or even to lose hold of those big bucks very quickly after they are forced on you.
If you don’t work at improving your pricing, you’ll set your prices at less than optimum levels. The result: you’ll leave money on the table, money that could have been yours.
If you don’t build up the psychological strength to withstand the inevitable stresses, losses, and – yes – even failures you will experience not only on the road to becoming a professional writer, but more generally in life, you will burn out, quit, or otherwise settle for less. Without sufficient inner resilience, you’ll be far less likely to last long enough to accomplish any of your most important goals.
The road to becoming a professional writer is much easier to travel when you recognize that however large and unyielding the external barriers to success may seem, the barriers that are most difficult to surmount are the internal ones.
Having said all this, I recognize and understand that you may not make the same choices on pricing as I make. But I still challenge you to price your work as close as you can to its full value. It’s a difficult challenge to meet, and a continuing one. Yet optimum pricing is a central aspect of becoming a professional writer, and also a key element in earning a good living from your skills and your craft.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.