I am employed at a university, and moonlight as a popular science writer. The gig is pretty ok, pays well enough and the pieces are interesting to research and write. I am paid a fixed price on a piece-to-piece basis, regardless of the time spent.

Lately the venue have started to write me with science questions unrelated to the pieces I am writing, but connected to other articles. Given my background, the questions are not hard, but can be answered with little research in about 10 minutes. This happens approximately once every or every second month. Normally I work approximately 10 h/month for them.

I don't mind answering the questions - in fact, I quite often answer similar questions for free, when people from the general public approach me - but I do feel a bit uneasy about it. I don't have great experience with the freelancing world, but the general idea is that they should pay me for answering, right?

Is this normal, and should I stop feeling uneasy about it? Should I require payment? If I should approach them, do you have any suggestions how to do it?


This is a solid question. While I don't have a background in science writing, I do write about trade-related issues for a few clients, though I get paid for my time rather than per piece.

I would recommend approaching your client about hiring you as an on-call expert for technical questions. Explain that you spend a decent amount of time on answering these questions, and they have become regular enough that you need to be compensated for your time. You can float a reasonable rate and explain why it's reasonable (ie your availability, expertise, background knowledge, etc.). Just because you enjoy the work doesn't mean you shouldn't be paid for it! You can also aim high with your rate if you think they might bargain down.

I have a strict 10-minute rule with my clients: if a question requires more than 10 minutes of my time to answer (due to research, problem-solving or something else), they get billed for it. Otherwise, I'm happy to answer questions for free with the caveat that I charge if they become excessive (ie multiple questions per week). I already have hourly agreements on file with these clients, and they've signed contracts with the terms clearly stated.

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