Look up how much you should be charging for writing, or how much others charge and you might be seeing dollar signs and a six-figure income. However, time and again I come across people who’ve quit their jobs, lost a job, or have decided to become a part-time writer thinking they’d make bank, but end up struggling. To me, there are a couple reasons this happens. First, the writer becomes caught in the content mill cycle. Been there, we all have, and while it can pan out in the end, you really need to understand how to use content mills to your benefit, rather than just jumping in and hoping for the best. Let’s reserve that for a future post. For now, I want to focus on the second reason writers don’t last long. That is, writers don’t know the reality of what they should charge, or they find out long after they’ve begun writing.
Before the numbers, let’s chat a little about misleading information. We’ve all seen the ads that describe courses and books that will guarantee you will earn $100,000+ every year if you follow their step-by-step process. There is some truth to this. You can, and many writers do, make six-figure incomes writing. The vast majority don’t do it from online courses. In fact, most of those courses are written by people like me for someone else. That’s not to say all courses are written by other writers. I’m sure a lot of writers write their own, but I am saying you need to vet the person the course is coming from, value the course for the money, and realize that writing is often a situational business and not a guaranteed income business without putting in the work. The writers who do well have found great clients who pay well and know they pay well, often work crazy hours, and know how to say “no” to low paying clients (even when you need money) and “yes” to the good long-term clients.
So, yes, you can do really well, but that money comes with time, hard work, steep learning curves, and sometimes a little luck.
How much can a writer make? REALISTICALLY
This is a highly variable question, but I’ve bumped into a lot of writers over the years, done my research, and been around a long time. The income range I regularly hear spouted out is between $45,000 and $60,000. For many people that is really good, for others not quite what they expected. However, considering the additional benefits to writing, that range comes with a lot more than just a decent income.
Benefits of working as a freelance writer include:
- Work from home
- Travel when you want
- Live, and move, wherever you’d like, and when you’d like
- Most work will be done virtually
- You make your own hours, or don’t. No one needs to know when you are working
- Develop relationships with clients you enjoy working with
- You get to set up an awesome office that is all your own.
Okay, so let’s look at what you can expect to make per year based on how much work you would like to do. By the way, when I say writing, I am talking the average book writer, blogger who writes for others (and yourself), content-writer, etc. So, all of it. That’s because most writers (all of them I know) do everything.
- Part time writer: This is generally a student, stay at home parent, or someone with a full-time job who wants to earn a little extra money. The salary range is typically $5,000 to $15,000 a year depending on your availability and clients.
- Full-time beginning writer: Let’s say you quit your job and want to start writing. It’s likely you will hit the content mills and job boards first to pull in some quick income. You may not have had the opportunity to vet clients or even set up your business yet. You might not even know what type of writing you want to do. $25,000 to $50,000 a year. This is a wide range, but a realistic one. After all, you are learning more about the business and with a little study and some work you are on your way. What is different between a beginning writer and an experienced one is that you probably don’t have the connections you will need to reach out if business is slow.
- Full-time average writer: This writer has been around a couple of years, has been through the ups and downs, but currently has a steady stream of work, connections, and has snugly found their self a niche, payment structure, and knows what they are doing. It can take as much as five years to get to this point, but some do it much sooner. You can expect to see incomes in this range at $40,000 to $80,000.
- Full-time experienced writer: A full-time experienced writer has probably been writing full-time for at least three years and been through nearly every good and bad experience you can imagine. These writers can tell you stories, lots of them, about the clients that got away, the embarrassing things they’ve done, and a wild range of topics they’ve written on. This writer’s income is usually based on preference rather than experience. For example, these writers realize the benefit of living anywhere to write and move where they will feel the most comfortable. I know writers who live in the Florida Keys, Australia, Southern California, Hawaii, Charleston, and throughout the U.S. They moved where they want to live. Some choose to live in a less costly part of the country where they can spend more time on their hobbies and less on their work. Others prefer big cities where the cost is high, but so is income potential. These writers have paved their path. These writers commonly earn $60,000 to $100,000+ and it is often their decision what that amount is.
- Starting over: One thing I’d also like to mention, because I had to do it recently, is writing is a business of fluctuation. There are times where you might lose your biggest client or even all of your clients at the same time. That can be difficult. The good thing is that there are a lot of resources out there to get you back on your feet. If you are just looking for a quick income you can get back up fast. If you are looking for the income you made before you lost your clients you will need to navigate potential clients till you find the right ones which can take longer, but is more beneficial in the long term. Because I experienced this a couple years ago I’ve spent a lot of time asking others the question about how much they earned in the year following their loss because most have experienced this. The range I typically found was about $30,000 to $45,000 the first year before they could get back to where they were at before. Keep in mind these writers were all full-time average and above.
What to charge
One of the distinguishing differences between beginner and experience is what you are charging. To be fair, you can charge whatever you want. You will also need to test out your rates early on. Also, as a beginner, it is not a bad idea to start low and move up every 3-6 months until you are comfortable. Though, your goal should not remain low for very long (6 months to a year).
Note on underbidding: Underbidding is popular in the writing industry. The thought that, “if I charge less I will get the work,” is a thought you will understand – when you become experienced – has lost you a lot of money. Most good clients are willing to pay more than less because they have been through a lot of low-bidding writers and know that can be risky. So, if you are underbidding that’s fine if it works for you, but also understand you don’t need to do that because there is a ton of work out there. You’ll be fine, and better off in the end if you don’t underbid to just get work.
There are several ways to charge clients, but the most popular are:
- Per word
- Per page
- Per hour
- Flat rate
Per word pricing is popular, especially with shorter pieces like blog posts and articles that do not require a lot of rewrites. Per word has a wide range. The broadest range you can expect is $.01 to $2.00 per word. However, that includes the lowest to the highest. For most the realistic range is $0.05 to $0.25 per word for shorter pieces, and $0.10 to $0.50 for book-length projects. Books can be much higher, but that often comes with experience on high-end books, agents, or working directly with a large publisher.
Things to consider with per word pricing:
- Define what you will charge for rewrites ahead of time
- I strongly advise you to not use per word for longer projects such as books. If you do, then you should double your per word rate. One example I have from early on is a client who wanted 50,000 words, then when we were about done he decided to drop the word count to 30,000, telling me, “Well, you said your rate was per word, so that’s all I’m paying.” Be careful.
- Do not think because a blog post says you shouldn’t ever charge less than $1.00 per word that you shouldn’t. Perhaps for blogs that require extensive travel and research, but for about 95% of blog posts you won’t be near that.
- Keep per word to small projects that don’t require a lot of collaboration, research, travel, or time.
- Billing practice is usually upon completion.
Per page is very similar to per word and most writers I know use the formula: high per word rate x 300 words = page rate. Per page is often done with longer projects of 25+ pages. High per word rates for many writers are $0.10 to $0.25. That means per page rates are typically between $30 to $75 per page.
Things to consider with per page pricing:
- Define what “per page” means immediately. This can be done by defining your margins (1″ margins, 12 pt. text Times New Roman). You can also stipulate that a page is a certain word count such as 250 words per page.
- Determine an estimated or minimum page count to start.
- Determine pricing for rewrites and even for decreasing page counts. This is usually done by the hour.
- Per page can work good with longer projects over 25 pages.
- Best with projects that you know won’t require a lot of extra work.
- You may want to consider a deposit for prep work such as interviews and research, or raising the overall per page cost to account for this.
- Billing practice is usually a flat rate for start-up costs and then invoiced upon completion of a set number of pages such as 10 or 25.
Hourly rates can work for any type of writing and I’ve seen rates as low as $15 per hour up to $200 per hour. Though, the realistic hourly rate ranges from $25 per hour for beginners to the range of $40 to $125 per hour for the experienced. Much of this is the clientele you are working with, where you live, and your general needs.
Things to consider with hourly rates:
- Some writers charge different rates based on what they are doing. For example, interviews may be $30/hour, transcription may be $45/hour, and writing is $75/hour.
- Define for your client what will not be hourly. For example, your client should cover travel expenses (define those costs), required research material such as books, memberships, and subscriptions, and other non-standard costs for that project. Standard costs (which you should not charge) are pens, paper, printer ink, computer, etc. What I do, is when a client requires a purchase I either have the client purchase the item for me, or I invoice prior to purchasing item.
- Hourly rates are great for longer projects and projects that will require a lot of collaboration such as web-content, books, brochures, technical guides, etc.
- Determine a regular payment structure. I suggest invoicing every week or every two weeks. Some writers invoice once a month, but keep in mind that a lot of work can get done in a month and if your client doesn’t pay you may be out of luck.
- Itemize, in detail is possible, all of your hours to provide your client when they ask. I use a free time-tracking program called Clockify which has both a PC and app version which can be synced.
- Billing practices for hourly work often include a deposit up front. I generally charge 25% to 35% of the estimated project. This will cover interviews, transcriptions, research, and outlining. What most clients don’t realize is the pre-work that is put into a project. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I get is during the interview stage. I may put in 50 hours of work without a page being written. That can be difficult for a client to understand.
Flat rate can be very useful for long-term clients and shorter projects like blog posts. I strongly encourage you to stay away from flat rate pricing until you have a lot of experience and know your client. Flat rates are similar to per word and per page pricing as you can use those to help identify how much to charge.
Flat rate pricing is helpful with blog posts and some content, and if you work well with a client can be used for book-length projects. If you are using flat rate pricing for blog posts stipulate a word range and a cost for that post. For example, blog posts between 400 and 600 words might range from $30 to $50. What I’ve found useful in determining the cost of a book-length project is basing the book on difficulty level per 50 pages with a 10% increase per each 50 pages. Then also determine a per word rate if you and your client decide to go over the estimated amount.
50 pages: $1,500, $2,400, $4000
50 to 100 pages: $1,650, $2,750, $6,000
101 to 150 pages: $1,815, $3,000, $7,000
151 to 200 pages: $1,996, $4,000, $9,000
The first, second, and third number in each series represents difficulty level such as easy, moderate, and difficult (lots of research, time, and collaboration)
So what you would do is add up each page count range and corresponding difficulty level. For an easy book of 200 pages you would add: $1,500+$1,650+$1,815+$1,996= $6,961. I would round this up to $7,000. A difficult book of about 200 pages would be $26,000. In this pricing you should note word count for the client and the page count would be your decision such as 250 to 300 words per page.
Things to consider with flat rates:
- Flat rates should be done with experience behind you
- Have a formula rather than just spouting out a rate
- I typically charge 25% to 50% more than what I estimate the project will be if hourly. This is because clients tend to be cautious of time when charged hourly rates and loose with time otherwise.
- Consider the collaboration time. The reason I up the cost per 50 pages is because books become more complex the longer they become.
- Flat rates work great for small projects and big projects alike once you know how to price them and how long it takes you to complete.
- With smaller flat rate projects, I will often start with an hourly rate and after completing multiple projects switch to a slightly lower flat rate. Clients have always appreciated this because they know what they will be charged and by me offering a slightly lesser price they appreciate my honesty in pricing.
- Make sure that your flat rate pricing identifies what is and is not included. Many writers will charge extra for phone calls, travel, and non-standard purchases. Others will price accordingly into the flat rate.
- Determine a payment plan that works for you and your client. Smaller projects are often upon completion, though I offer a slight discount if paid in full at the beginning of the month for the coming month’s work. For books I start with a deposit of 25% to 35%, then arrange smaller bi-weekly or monthly payments. I also offer payments based on pre-pay for steps such as a deposit, to begin writing, partway through writing, to begin editing, and completion.
Learning the realities of what writers earn is one step that will hopefully help you understand if writing is for you or not. It takes time to develop a career in writing, and while earning a high income is possible and even common, you will have a steep learning curve to get there.
Understand where you are in your career, your goals, and how much is realistically charged for the work you are doing and you will avoid obstacles such as overpricing for your experience, underbidding, and falling into traps perpetuated by misleading advertising and content mills.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on pricing, experiences, and anything else you can offer to other writers out there.