Clients, actual and potential, frequently pose the question of “How much do you charge per page?” The question invites multiple questions in response: How big is your page? What are the margins? What font are you using? What size is the typeface? What’s the leading? Are there any graphics on the page?

Although the questions may seem sarcastic or even rude, they have a purpose. It’s pretty much impossible to charge by the page when the word count per page when so many variables affect the number of words on the page. Referencing the standard manuscript page of about 250 to 300 words doesn’t necessarily help, either, if the prospective client doesn’t know the average number of words per page on his document.

If I’m not making sense, try this. Find a blank sheet of paper and a pen. On the sheet of paper, write a sentence in the tiniest cursive you can manage from one edge of the paper to the other. Then print the same sentence as small as you can from one edge of the paper to another. Repeat in cursive and in print, enlarging your handwriting with each pair of lines. Then add in margins–space between the edge of your writing and the edge of the paper. You’ll notice that the larger the writing and larger the margins, the fewer words can fit on the sheet of paper. Now fold the sheet in half and repeat the same exercise using the same sentence.

That’s why writers and editor usually charge fees by the word. Whether those hundreds or thousands of words are written in 10 point type or 18 point type, the number of words remains consistent, but the number of pages changes. Add in more space between lines of text and the page count adjusts yet again; however, the word count will remain consistent.

Now, I’ll confuse you some more. The amount charged per word varies with the anticipated level of research needed to write the content. If I expect to spend several hours researching a topic to write a 1,000-word article, then my fee must cover the time spent on performing that research. If a client wants unlimited revisions to content, then calculation of the fee will take into consideration the additional time that may be required massaging the text.

Fee determination of this sort is not intended to gouge the customer, but to provide a fair estimation of the effort and skill involved. Saying that you want Grandma’s diary typed up and edited for a book won’t receive a bid because I have no information to use in calculating that bid. If you say that Grandma’s diary has 200 pages, I still cannot calculate a bid. The page count means nothing. That’s where the client must do a little work to determine an estimate of the word count.

Whether using a typed or handwritten document, find an average page within the document. Select an average line of text on that average page. Just eyeball it. It’s not difficult. Count the number of characters in that average line of text. Include spaces between words: they’re called character spaces for a reason. Divide that number by 5 (which the average character count of the average word). That’s how many “average” words are in that average line. Now count how many lines of text are on that average page and multiply that times the number of words on the average line. With the new calculation, multiply that by the number of pages. That’s your document’s estimated word count. Once you have that, the writer can then estimate a fair fee for service because now I know how many words you have to edit, type, and/or rewrite.

When it comes to document formatting, somewhat different variables come into play. I still must content with page specifications (size, margins, fonts, etc.), as well as other factors such as whether chapters will have title pages, special headers/footers, placement of images to illustrate the content, etc. If editing is also required, then the project fee will be composed of two lump sum calculations: one for editing and one for document formatting.

Producing content and making it presentable to others entails a bit of effort on the client’s side before the writer/editor/designer can understand the scope of work and expect to receive fair compensation for services rendered.