TIDKT: Freelance Pay

Hi, Hello, Howdy! Welcome to another things I didn’t know Tuesday – your behind the scenes peek into the world of knit and crochet design.

Inside Crochet, one of my favourite mags.

Today I want to talk, as honestly as I can, about freelance pay – what you can expect to earn as a freelancing designer. I think a few of you were surprised about the amount of work that goes into a pattern for self-publishing compared to the amount we can realistically charge for the pattern. Well I am afraid to say that freelancing work is even less profitable on the whole. You will not get rich doing this.

In this post I will talk about UK magazines (and a little about yarn companies) so I can speak from experience more accurately, however the situation is, as far as I know, very similar in the US and around the world.

In the UK the majority of knitting and crochet magazines pay rates in these type of ranges:

Small accessories such as hats and mitts: £60-£100
Lace shawls: £100-£200
Cardigans: £120-£275

These rates supposedly take into account the complexity of the item but rarely take yarn weight into account (which adds a lot of making time/sample making costs) in practice though the wide range is more to cover different publications rather than complexity.

Before we can calculate what we earn from this we have to deduct the costs. Parcels should be sent signed for so it will cost about £5-£8 to post plus you will need to pay for packing materials (I always try to recycle though). Some magazines require you to provide a stamped address envelope for return of the sample which means another £5 or so.

a sketch from a proposal

So now we need to look at how long it might take you to design the commissioned piece. Well this depends on your skill level and experience to some extent obviously but here are some ball park figures just so we can run some figures at the end – designers I’d love to hear your input as to how accurate these are. By designing I mean all the sat on your bottom working through the design elements including:

  • drawing up the proposal, the sketch and the swatch and finding yarns to suggest (although these are done on spec before the work is contracted that time has to come from somewhere)
  • grading the pattern,
  • writing the pattern to their stylesheet,
  • drawing up charts and or schematics
  • tidying up the pattern once the sample is completed,
  • invoicing the company,
  • packing and sending the sample and
  • sending the design package (pattern, headshots, biography, charts, schematics etc)
This probably takes around this amount of time (way more when you are inexperienced!):

Small accessory such as hats or mitts: 2-5 hours.

Lace shawl: 3-6 hours.

Cardigan: 4-8 hours.

Of course complex designs or ones that hit unexpected issues can take considerably longer than this. This accounts only for relatively simple shaping and design elements and a construction that you have done before probably.

The next cost is making the sample. You will either need to pay a sample knitter or make it yourself. So how many hours will this take? You can probably make an estimate at this yourself as an experienced knitter or crocheter but lets throw some ball park numbers out there so we can do some calculations.

Small accessory such as hats or mitts: 4-10 hours.

Lace shawl: 20-40 hours.

Cardigan: 20-60 hours.

A finished sample, photographed before sending..

There is such a wide variation here because of yarn weights and complexity of the pattern (for which there tends to be little pay difference) Because I have included knit and crochet designing and crochet generally works up quicker this accounts for some of the lower end figures here. (It is also generally the less well paid design work)

So how might this break down for an hourly rate for all this work. Lets take a couple of fictional but possible examples:

I am offered £70 to design a knitted hat in DK weight with a colour work brim. It takes me 3.5 hours to do the design work. I take 6.5 hours to knit it. Total time spent 10 hours. It doesn’t need any buttons and I can post it quite cheaply so cost is £4. Hourly rate £6.60. Just below minimum wage.

I am offered £150 for a crochet cardigan with a complicated stitch pattern in 4ply. It takes me 7 hours to design and 30 hours to make. It needs some nice buttons and costs quite a bit to post so the costs are £10. Hourly rate is just £3.78.

So, some would argue that you should outsource your knitting to sample knitters if you want to make a fair wage. This doesn’t sit well with me, getting someone to make something for so little money. It feels exploitative even if they are willing to do so.

Yes when we make samples especially and even the designing, it is very flexible work. Provided the work is to deadline and the quality is sufficient you can carry out the work in anyway you choose which allows it to fit well around children or caring. But even bearing this in mind the pay is very low when broken down like this.

To understand the magazine freelancing market we also need to talk about rights. When a UK magazine buys your pattern they are normally getting a period of exclusivity (6 months is average) where you agree not to publish it anywhere else. Some magazines will pay you if they use the pattern again, others (most) hold the world wide rights to republish it. You need to know what you are signing up for as this can seriously limit the amount of money you can make from the pattern in the future. (Example they post it free on their website, you can’t sell it in your ravelry store really)

Once the exclusivity period is over you are normally (check that contract carefully!) free to republish your pattern yourself. This means that for a few more hours work (taking and editing photos, checking over the tech edited version, laying it out etc) you can make some more money from the pattern. However, it is harder to launch a previously published pattern successfully so it may well make less than a brand new self-published pattern would for you. (Read more about self publishing here)

Some magazines (mostly US) and yarn companies will ask to own all rights forever. This means you will never get a penny more from that pattern. The pay is normally a little better, but not much. Be very sure before entering into a contract for this that you can earn an hourly rate for the work that you find acceptable.

The other, oft mentioned, intangible benefit of magazine freelancing is exposure. Having your name appear in a magazine will boost your career and help you sell other things, get other work. I think there is benefit to being published to help build your brand but beyond a certain point there isn’t and there is not much evidence about how many magazine buyers also buy individual electronic downloads.

Do I think the rates will change? Talking to experienced designers the rates have remained static or dropped over the last twenty years. This isn’t in real terms, this is in actual fees! While people will accept the lower rates the magazines would be fools to raise them in a market economy. (There is a lesson in there somewhere, no?)

So what is my advice?

  • Understand fully when you submit an idea to a magazine the number of hours you expect it to take and what your costs will be. Can you afford to take it on?
  • Do not undersell yourself because you are keen to be published. When you do this you will drive down prices and make it an unfeasible career.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if you feel your design is worth it. By having done your sums you’ll be able to provide evidence as to why you think it is worth more.
Still think this is the career for you? Make sure you read my article about submitting to magazines here.

Comments

  1. says

    All so very true. Thank you for bringing up things like postage and buttons – it often costs me 7-8% of my fee just to mail the finished item to the magazine. I do have to give credit to Interweave Press for reimbursing me for buttons used on a project. Another thing that sucks up the designer’s time is re-working the pattern to suit the yarn chosen by the magazine, which might be a totally different weight than the swatch.

    The payment scales often make little sense. I was offered a certain amount for a decorative item that took literally 20 minutes to crochet, and hardly any more for a small wearable accessory that took much longer in terms of labour and pattern-writing. Go figure. But I haven’t yet worked up the courage to haggle over fees … perhaps one day. I keep reminding myself that I do this not just for money but for the love of the craft. But a little more cash wouldn’t be a bad thing!

    I think there should definitely be a bonus for cover designs, don’t you? :)

    P.S. Regarding your never-ending blanket of doom … I have vowed never to submit a blanket design because there is not enough money on earth to pay for the time it would take to complete it! And though I have lots of garment ideas I am hesitant to pursue them for the same reason.