There has been an ongoing controversy about writing jobs that pay crappy wages. Last week, I asked you how much you’d write for. This week, we’re featuring the answers. Names and URLs below are only featured after getting permission from the writer. The rest are, understandably, only identified with initials, or no identifier at all.
$1-$2/WORD…EXCEPT FOR “FUN STUFF”
I’ve been a full-time freelancer for about 20 years, doing both corporate and magazine work. I typically get paid per word, generally $1-2 per word. That said, I also figure out how rates translate into daily pay. Ideally, I like to make about $175-200 per hour. A lot of the work I am doing is corporate stuff — case studies, white papers, etc. I don’t delude myself that it has any purpose except to help the company that is sponsoring it to, in some way, make money, so I only write this stuff for money, and expect to be well paid. Occasionally, I’ll write fun stuff for less, but there really isn’t too much stuff that is really all that fun to justify my taking lower rates. I’ll knock out the occasional feature or essay, and get nominated for journalism awards, but pure journalism probably represents less than 5% of my work and income these days. Generally, if I am going to make less than $100 an hour, I’d prefer to work on my own speculative stuff.
I’VE MOVED INTO HIGH-PAYING SPECIALTIES
How much people charge or are willing to work for is based on a lot of things — their experience, their skill, their expertise, their ability to market themselves, their desperation. Because I have purposely moved into high-paying specialties, like technology and wooed big clients, the last few years have been as good as any years for me (knock wood).
I CHARGED $60/HOUR 15 YEARS AGO AND NOW I CAN’T FIND A JOB
That has been my dilemma for two decades of my freelance career. I’m not very good at selling myself and I don’t have an “a la carte listing” on a website of my services and fees. Also, I know at different times in my career, and depending on the subject matter or client, I can write slowly. I feel bad charging per hour in those circumstances. I usually enjoy the creative process of writing and don’t mind spending more time searching for that “right phrase.” However, sometimes my perfectionist tendencies make sure I’m paid next to nothing. And, that was okay when I was solely a freelance writer with a husband to help support us. But, that’s not the case now. I’m alone and lost my full-time job. I’m having a terrible time finding work, which is very frustrating. I have more confidence in my abilities than I’ve ever had before, yet I can’t find writing work at decent pay. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is not an inexpensive place to live. Last week, I spoke to a company that wanted to pay me $25 per hour not just for writing but also for attending meetings with their clients. I suggested that instead of using several freelancers, perhaps they could hire me full-time. I have to have health benefits. While the job would be ideal for me, except that it’s freelance, I will have find a full-time job. And, then I wouldn’t be able to attend their daytime meetings.
Since freelancers pay our own taxes, we only take home about 60% of what we are paid. I charged some clients $60 per hour about 15 years ago. This is why I prefer a job based fee. Clients seem to understand that better.
I WOULD CONSIDER WRITING FOR $9 OR $10 PER HOUR
This might surprise you. I currently bill my accounting and tax services at $135 per hour. And, yes, I would consider $9 or $10 an hour for a writing gig.
For awhile, that is. You see, the $10 per hour is for a writing gig. It is not for a dream job – which would include “doing what I want to do” plus “earning what I need (want) to earn.” In most occupations and professions, the worker gets better at the job as he or she performs the duties that are required from place to place. Writers, on the other hand, can hardly expect to succeed unless they write. And write. So $10 an hour does happen to be better than $0 for article after article or novel after novel until the craft is perfected sufficiently to bring $135 per hour or $135,000 (or more) per book.
WOULD I TAKE A $9/HOUR JOB? IT DEPENDS…
In response to your survey … I happen to live in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Would I take a $9/hour job? Depends. The recession has kicked my butt for the last several years, and I have taken advantage of Mayor Bloomberg’s generous food stamps, lol … I’m currently working on a $600 assignment — the highest-paying article I’ve had since I moved to my new apartment. It won’t buy me Burberry bags, but I’m not complaining — yet. If I had the choice of working fast food and a quick, low-paying gig, I’ll say “see ya” to Ronnie McDonald!
$9 IS NOT TOO SMALL CONSIDERING MY LOCATION
Thank you Angela for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion about “how much would you write for?” As for me $9/hour is not too small considering the geographical location where I live because most of the citizens here live a comfortable life with less than $9/hour. So, if earning $9/hour just for writing at the comfort of my home can give me a kind of life I want then I’m okay with it. But, to be honest with you, Angela, professional writing deserves more than this pay because every profession has its own value and the value of every professions determines their pay, not the geographical location of the workers. So, writing is a skillfull, creative and lucrative profession that should not be under-rated and, thus, deserves more than $9/hour. Thank you.
THE LOWEST RATE I’VE ACCEPTED IS $15/HOUR BUT MOST OF MY GIGS PAY $25-$30/HOUR
The lowest rate I have accepted recently is $15/hour, and this is pretty low for me as I live in NYC. I was somewhat desperate to fill in more hours of the week, plus it was for a startup company where my friend worked, and kind of a fun job. But, for most writing/editing gigs, I get $25/hour or $30/hour. I have been freelancing for less than three years and hope to raise my rates as I get more experienced and as the economy continues to improve.
I WOULD WRITE FOR $10/HOUR, OR ANY AMOUNT, IF I WAS INTERESTED, AND NEEDED THE JOB
I would write for $10 an hour, or any amount per hour if I was interested and needed the job. My opinion is, if you think it’s beneath you to take whatever pay is offered, then don’t!
I wouldn’t write for an attorney’s website if they paid me $500 dollars an hour. But, if a gardening site asked me to write for $10 an hour, I’d jump for happy joy!!! It is a matter of what fills my heart and what my monetary need is.
I am just freelancing now, so I don’t have a steady gig, but I live in a very modest home, in a modest, small town, so I could accept a $10 an hour job and be just fine. The economy has had no affect on my writing income at all. The good thing about freelance is you can take as much or as little as you can handle!
I believe each person has to decide for themselves what they believe they are worth, what they NEED to live, and what will fill their lives with joy, or stress. As for those who are angry with you for posting these jobs; just remember there are all kinds of people with all kinds of needs. Why limit their opportunities?
Just my opinion,
I CHARGE $50/HOUR BUT WOULD ACCEPT LESS IF I WAS RETIRED
$50 per hour, but much less, and maybe even as little as $9 per hour, if I was retired and just trying to keep my mind sharp, for a few hours of healthy diversion each day, and looking for a bit of balance.
I WON’T WRITE FOR LESS THAN $100 PER ARTICLE + EXTRA FOR PHOTOS
I made a rule a few years ago that I would not write an article for less than $100. I had been intermittently writing for a magazine for 10 years whose per word rate came out less than that. Knowing that I might lose that market, I contacted the editor to tell her I would not write anything for less than $100 and I wanted to be paid separately for photos that I took. She immediately agreed to my request stating that she had been paying other writers that much and more. I should have made that rule much sooner. You just have to ask.
I HAVE EARNED $10-$20/HOUR
Hi Angela, regarding regular paying writing work, in a previous long time writing gig, I made an average of 10-15 dollars per hour for each story, including the involved editing process. I recently got another gig which pays closer to $20 an hour when I calculate how long it takes me to complete each part of the work. The best part is that my current employer sought me out through a referral that I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years.
FOR NON-FICTION, I WON’T WRITE FOR LESS THAN $0.30/WORD…BUT IT USED TO BE $0.50/WORD
You ask what is the least I would write for? I have taken jobs based on hours and that never quite works out. The hours of research, re-write, and thought development never seem to hit the time card. On the other hand, pay per project usually works much better for me. It’s my problem if I quote a price and find that I was wrong.
I won’t work for less than thirty cents per word as far as freelance non-fiction writing goes today. A few years ago, that figure was fifty cents per word. And when I first started in this strange business, the norm was one dollar per word. Modern technology at work for you?
Fiction writing is a whole different ballgame. Too many of these so-called literary journals pride themselves on not accepting advertising then telling writers they might get a free copy of the issue with their offering, “and you can buy copies for your friends at a discount.”
If I call myself a professional writer, it means, simply, I want to get paid at a professional rate.
Thanks for giving me the chance to rant a bit. Keep up the good work you do for writers at all levels in their field.
I AM WILLING TO WORK FOR MINIMUM WAGE
This is a difficult question to answer, as it depends on so many factors. I have a ‘freelance desk’ job at a magazine in London, and get £120 a day (8-9 hrs, plus commute). I am one of the lucky ones. That said, I write regular 800-word features for another magazine, which pays £120-£150 per feature, and the features take only a couple of hours, which makes my desk job low-paying by comparison. In the past I have written for ‘exposure’ markets to build up my credits, as well as numerous ‘token-paying’ markets. As a general rule, these days I try to avoid those markets and only sub to ‘semi-pro’ markets and above. If I were to put a figure on it, I would work for whatever the minimum wage is. I worked for minimum wage in a factory for 9 years at the start of my career, and wrote for whoever would publish my work in the evenings. It might not make me a fortune, but at least I’m making money doing something I love.
I hope this helps!
I WON’T GO MUCH BELOW $15/HOUR
It depends on what type of work it is and what the situation is. If it is basic product description or business informational work, I would willingly write for less an hour. I would not want to go much below $15 an hour, simply because there are limited hours in the day, most of the work is part-time, and as a single parent in a higher cost-of-living town, I really need to make at least that in order to survive. If, however, the work requires more creativity, and especially if they retain the rights, I would want to work for more than $15 an hour. With writing work, this is still on the lower end of the pay scale, but one has to pay the bills and sometimes the better paying jobs just aren’t to be found.
$10/HOUR OF STEADY WORK = $400/WEEK. NOT BAD FOR SITTING ON YOUR BACKSIDE.
A wage of $9 or $10 dollars an hour may not seem very glamorous, and apparently several writers took offense at what they felt was such a ‘meager’ amount. But let’s have a value Vs service reality check here.
I’m in Minnesota. My company employs unskilled (and sometime no high school diploma) labor (and trains them) for $12/hr. Persons in this position do heavy manual labor as well as detailed oriented labor, which leads to serious improvements and maintenance of the property. They stay off of welfare, and pay their way. There is NOTHING about these tasks that requires anything above an 8th grade education.
So, what does this have to do with writing you ask?
In the same breath, anybody – regardless of their education level (from barely literate to a Nobel prize winner) – can create wonderful pros and write. You don’t need a special degree to do it, just a creative mind, mental clarity, and a desire to express yourself. Which brings us back to an education/experience Vs value comparison.
A product or a service is as valuable as people want to make it and no more. The value of a written work is no different. Its value is ultimately reflected in what business or revenue it can generate for the person who has engaged the writer to produce it. Frankly, many people have far overrated their written ‘product’ based on their personal ‘worth’ opinion.
So, is $9 or $10/hr for steady writing work acceptable?
You decide if a steady $80.00 a day ($10/hr x 8hrs), or $400/wk wage, for sitting on your backside and exercising only your fingers on a keyboard is worth it – especially if you currently have nothing steady for pay. If someone is willing to put an out-of-work writer on a contract for that, I’d suggest you say “Thank you”, and mean it.
WRITING IS A SPECIALIZED SKILL, AND WORTH MORE THAN MINIMUM WAGE. $9 OR $10/HOUR CAN’T SUPPORT A FULL-TIME WRITING BUSINESS (TOOLS, SUPPLIES, UTILITIES, DOWN-TIME, ETC.)
When considering an hourly rate, a freelancer must think of his writing as a business and that he is not an employee. The writer must compare himself to a plumber, not a worker at a factory. A plumber must charge more than $9 or $10 per hour for many reasons. He has to cover “down time” when he’s not fixing pipes: driving, filing, calling back customers and vendors, performing billing tasks, advertising/marketing, and stocking his supplies. All of these tasks take time. If he performs six hours of plumbing and two hours of non-plumbing work per day (or a writer working on writing projects for six hours and performing non-writing work for two hours per day), he’s actually making only $54 per day, not $72. That works out to $6.75 per hour for an eight-hour day.
An hourly employee gets paid for every time he punches in or fills out the time sheet, regardless of output. A freelance writer gets paid only when there’s work to do. Dry spells can make staying profitable difficult if he charges low-end rates. Like the plumber, the freelancer also has administrative chores, and must take time to find more work. A steady gig providing 40 hours of work per week at a low rate may seem like the goose that laid the golden egg, but if the goose goes toes up, the $9 per hour is gone.
Like a plumber, a writer possesses a specialized skill. Minimum wage jobs–and those slightly higher than that rate–do not require specialized skills. Plumbers and writers also buy their own tools, supplies and utilities. If you work at a factory, the business owner provides all these things, plus unemployment insurance, Workers Compensation, and possibly health benefits. The employer also helps bear the tax burden. Once again, a sole proprietor (plumbing or writing) has to pay for all of these things himself.
The rate I charge per job can vary depending upon many factors that add up to how long it will take to complete the project and to a small degree, the chances that the job will help me get more work. Freelance writing jobs that pay $9 or $10 per hour may help someone build a portfolio and get into writing, but it can’t support a full-time writing business.
IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU LIVE BUT MOST ONLINE JOBS MAKE IT HARD TO EARN A LIVING
Here, minimum wage is $10 but, if that was what I wanted, I would work at a restaurant where I would get more money. In Markham, $10 won’t buy a trip to the restaurant for your family. $70 will get you a really good meal that would feel like a night out. $10 dollars would take you to the movies, but you would need $10 more for popcorn and, if you want someone with you, it is another $10. The minimum price of a house is about $400K where the average is more like $600K or $700K. If you are in a place that not many people live or want certain jobs, then (you can work at) McDonald’s for $15 or more an hour (Calgary Alberta) or have a 6,000 square foot house in Halifax Nova Scotia being only around $50K to buy. Everyone wants to be paid enough to go above the cost of living but, with something online, it is really hard for most of us to make a living from what they pay. People making $200K a year want writers to give them their work for free. It comes down to the point where, if we charged based on only being able to sell a couple books of our titles, people would complain that they have to pay $25K for a copy of a book. If I made $100k a year I would be okay, $250k is better. Where I used to live, $20k per year would have been okay.
George Arnold Hall
$9 IS A GOOD START FOR NEW WRITERS
I feel that for writers new to freelancing, $9 an hour is a good start. When I started on oDesk, I was asking $9 an hour. I have since upped my hourly asking wage to $15 an hour.
My first year on oDesk, I earned almost $1000 without really trying very hard. I would not balk at a job that paid $9 an hour. I have problems with jobs that want to pay me a $1 or less for 500-word or more articles that require research.
I would love to see the $9 an hour job listing to see if it was something that I would like to apply for.
Cindy Blair – Writer
MY NORMAL RATE IS $65/HOUR
I’m so glad you included your email at the end of the article because I wanted to thank you for protecting us from editors like the one you mentioned in last week’s issue of Writer’s Weekly!
Now, to answer your questions…
I would never apply for a writing job that offered only $10/hour. When I run across them, my eye just skips right over them and moves onto the next potential job.
The lowest hourly rate I’ve accepted for an ongoing freelance assignment has been $30/hour. I have one regular client who pays me $60/hour. The normal rate I quote projects at is $65/hour. My goal is to eventually hit $100/hour!
I have not experienced any negative effects as a result of the economy. I have increased my marketing over the past couple of months, and seen a steady rise in my income as a result.
Hope this helps! I appreciate your newsletter very much.
I EARN MY AGE PER HOUR SO I GET A $1 RAISE EVERY YEAR
Loved this column (ditto all yours), and I love answering this question. ToWhit: My first couple paying gigs (pre- and early-Internet days) paid embarrassingly low. And, I was glad to get them. Ever since, I threw some real effort into freelancing, though. I, too, set hard minimum prices and I, too, am pretty insulted by some of the “do not bid over” rates that we’re seeing in the Elances of the world.
I made up my mind a long time ago that I’ll get paid my age per hour. I get a dollar raise every year. Not to say I don’t offer some degree of discounting if I’m courting a client I like or the work’s particularly compelling. Or, if it’s something I deeply care about. I recently did a page’s worth of webtext, pretty simple stuff, for a great nonprofit, for a double sawbuck. They just asked me how much for another page’s worth, and I told them to put however much they valued my work back into the donations jar.
I’d agree if I did that for anything other than a nonprofit, then I’d be devaluing all writers’ work. But I hope we can all agree that while lowball gigs stink, those of us who feel nice doing it can still donate work to worthy causes.
And wow. “Writers” accepting regular gigs then farming them out to the desperate for pennies. Never heard of that. LowLowLow.
Thanks for that question, and thanks for reading my above vent.
I WON’T WORK FOR LESS THAN $100/HOUR
I won’t sit down at the computer if I’m going to make less than what I expect to balance out to $100/hour. I never bill an hourly rate – only per project- and most people embrace my proposals. That’s partly because of my portfolio and partly due to the fact that most of my work comes by way of referral, I’m sure; it’s also because I make sure they see the value, not just the price tag.
I completely disagree with the angry/indignant comments people made on your 2007 piece, though. Writers who work for $9 an hour will either work their way up to play with the big kids or they’ll fizzle out. Everyone has to start somewhere. They are not devaluing the entire industry, like some people suggest; they’re in an industry all their own. They aren’t attracting the clients I want to work with and they’re not landing the clients who want what I have to offer. We’re not only on different playing fields – we’re in different ball parks, and that’s okay.
If you’re mad that someone is “devaluing” what you do, then you’re doing something that isn’t all that valuable to begin with. Let people work for what they will… everybody has to eat.
Thanks for bringing up this topic. It always bugs me when people give a crap what others are doing when it doesn’t affect them in the least. (You can definitely publish my name!)
Angie Papple Johnston
I CAN’T LIVE ON $10/HOUR
At $10/hour, I would have to write for 200 hours every month to earn $2,000.00, which probably amounts to about $1,300 after taxes. $1,300 won’t even get you a halfway decent one-room apartment where I live (nor would it in the last three places I have lived in California and Washington). And then, how to pay for food, utilities, clothes, etc.? I’d have to get a second job, probably at minimum wage, which means I’d be working between 70 and 100 hours per week just to make ends meet. Which in turn means I’d be working between 10 and 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. That idea, especially at my age, holds no appeal for me whatsoever.
I realized a long time ago that if I was going to continue to write, I was going to do it for the love of writing, whether I made a dime or not. Now I do other work for money, and when I write, I write what I what to write, still clinging to the dream that someday I’ll be one of the very, very few lucky souls who are actually able to make a living doing this thing that I love.
What the input above shows us is beginners (and those in low-cost-of-living areas) are okay with low-paying jobs and writers with lots of experience and credits (and those living in high-cost-of-living areas) must demand higher pay. The higher-paid writers aren’t particularly threatened by the low-paying gigs and the beginners are constantly striving to increase their pay as their experiences grow.
Thanks so very much to everybody who wrote in!
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Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the author of 19 books, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
Angela has lived and traveled across the U.S. with her kids in an RV, settled in a river-side home in Bradenton, FL, and lived on a 52 ft Irwin sailboat. Angela now resides on a mountaintop in Northwest Georgia, where she plans to spend the rest of her days bird watching, gardening, hiking, and taking in all of the amazing sunrises.
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