Sunday, May 31, 2009

Consultant rates in the communication / technical writing field

Getting in the right ballpark in terms of cost is critical to survival as a freelancer. The pitch, proposal and negotiation process is complex, and it's more an art than science. It helps to know the general boundaries, though, and in an effort to continue sharing those, here are some tips I picked up recently from Karen A. Shriver, author of "Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers" and a successful consultant on major national projects but also regional and local ones as well.

She recently spoke at Texas Tech about consulting and efficiently described the job as selling either A) Production skills (redesigning, reevaluating, etc.), B) Advice or strategy (assessing and evaluating options) and/or C) Training (teaching people how to ...).

In the communication field, she said the rate range right now is roughly $50 to $125 an hour for those with master's degrees and $100 to $500 an hour for those with Phds. Those are broad numbers, of course, and many factors shape a bid and job. Yet those looking for starting points on bids might find that scale helpful.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sample query letter for a magazine submission

Another common question, what does a query letter look like, when trying to pitch a magazine story?

The first step is to check the submission guidelines of the publication and determine who exactly will be receiving your query. Also make sure to read the publication beforehand, to determine the tone and style and audience. It helps to look at fixtures in the magazine (recurring features) that might need filling.

Most queries are fairly straightforward, a couple of lines about the angle and idea, followed by the broader approach and potential sources. Only a little biography is needed, since it's really mostly about the idea. Sometimes it is fun to try to add a little spunk. Here is an example of that approach:

Editorial Submissions
XXX The Magazine
123 W. 1st St.
Washington, DC 20049

Put date here


A robber near my home recently ran out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with his loot and encountered an emerging form of crime fighter: the vigilante granny.
This 66-year-old woman followed the fleeing man in her car, on a hunch. She confronted him, then took chase when he started running. Eventually, she trapped him in a corner, pinned him against a fence, grabbed him in a headlock and waited for the police to catch up.
Forget the cultural stereotype of a little old woman clutching her purse as she shuffles down the sidewalk. A generation of empowered women now has grown older but not necessarily weaker. Some of them aren't standing around anymore while crime or injustice just happens in their neighborhoods.
There was a 75-year-old furious recently with the customer service at Comcast, who brought a hammer into the cable company's office and smashed a computer to make a statement. There was an 80-year-old who tracked down the con artist who bilked her, demanding her money back while wielding a knife. There is a group of elderly women, dubbed the Granny Squad, that patrols the Texas border trying to stop illegal immigration. But none of those stories can match, I think, the bravery and righteousness of what the granny did here in this area. And the danger. The robber was carrying a knife.
This incident could make an interesting short feature or it could be a larger trend piece about these types of Grambo cases appearing throughout the country. I would like to use a narrative approach on the story, either putting readers into the action throughout the work or using those techniques to bookend a bigger trend idea. I see this fitting well in either the general interest section of the magazine or the profiles portion.
As for my background, I worked in daily newspaper journalism for more than 15 years before becoming a freelance writer. I have won many national, regional and state awards for my work. I will send a few clips, and you can see more at I was chosen to be one of the first arts critics in the country to be a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and I teach journalism and writing at Washington State University as well as other colleges in this area.
I would enjoy talking to you more about this idea and its possibilities. Thank you for the consideration!


Brett Oppegaard
360-521-8150 (c)

Web designer - What is the going rate?

This is a question that comes up often, so I'll address it here.

Every job is different, of course, and there are many factors to consider before making a web design bid, like any freelance bid. But there are standard considerations and rates that can help you in the process of projecting costs.

Those include recognizing and accounting for the five-step process involved in creating a web page:

* Concept (determining who the users are, what they use the site for and how they use the site, layered with aesthetic, navigational and maintenance plans)
* Design (thematically, how the pages and sub-pages are going to be designed for maximum efficiency, effectiveness and coherence, including plans for visual elements and page framework)
* Coding (creating the page in the most appropriate computer language)
* Copy writing (content design, from headers to body text to rhetoric and reputation management)
* And coordination (through an iterative process, putting it together and making sure it all works as intended for 100 percent customer satisfaction)

It is difficult to generalize about this sort of work hourly, because of the wide variety of factors involved in the creation process, but the standard professional rate for such service is roughly $500 a page, or $100 for each of the five steps of the process per page.

Again, that rate will vary depending on experience, expertise and skills. This is probably not the level for student web designers to work at, but it's an appropriate starting point for most competitive professional bids.

- Brett