Back in the 1990s, it was relatively easy for good writers to thrive. They rose through structured funnels, such as ad agencies and newspapers, which taught them their craft and separated the wheat from the chaff.
Freelance copywriters obtained referrals from printers and pinch-hit at agencies. It was a small, hyper-local world where 250 words of sales copy sold for $300-$500. Freelance journalists could pitch their stories to hundreds of publications nationwide that paid a living wage; it was common to make $2 a word, but an important feature in a publication such as Vanity Fair or The Atlantic Monthly might pay $25,000 up to $50,000.
Of course, now the Best Decade Ever is solidly behind us. Anyone who writes for a living knows that.
Freelance journalist Scott Carney gave a 2015 interview to Pacific Standard Magazine in which he spoke about the commoditization of writing. On the one hand, you have "subsistence writers" who miserably and unprofitably pound out underpaid content. On the other end, you have writers like Scott who parlay a few articles into a nice lifestyle.
It's a perspective problem that writers see their work as a commodity. It's been my experience that if you go out there and sell your work as a piece of art, you actually are able to sell it for more money. –Scott Carney
In others words, it's up to writers to set their own worth. Part of that involves educating clients (without boring them to death) that writing is a bespoke product, much like fine carpentry. Buyers who want cheap, throwaway furniture can turn to Ikea. But buyers who want to nurture a brand need finely crafted copywriting. That will be more costly simply because it takes more time and expertise.
There's no need to shroud your pricing in secrecy. If you are unwilling to sell yourself short, a price list will pre-qualify prospects. You will spend less time putting together proposals for people who cannot or do not want to pay your rates. There is no shame in making a good living as a writer. The best of us perform a valuable service and help businesses to be more profitable. We are an investment, not an expense. Experienced writers know how much time and effort will go into most projects. While a final estimate tailored to the client's needs is a good thing (and it should include a contract), there is no reason not to be open about ballpark pricing.
Clients quickly catch on to whether you are worth their money. They gain insight into how you think by the questions you ask and the suggestions you make. If you dig deep into how the client's business operates and make worthwhile marketing recommendations, the client will come to view you as an important ally. As long as you help the client make dramatic improvements to his bottom line, you won't have to worry about your fees.