The Going Rate for Freelance Writing — Revealed!

Are you wondering what an appropriate pay rate is for your freelance writing gig? Have that nagging feeling that maybe you’re being underpaid?

Pay rates are one of the toughest issues in the freelance-writing game. Everybody wants to know — what’s the going rate for this type of gig?

There are a few places where you can at least get an idea of rates. The Writer’s Market publishes an annual survey that provides ranges for many types of writing.

For copywriters, Chris Marlow publishes a rate survey.

For magazine and other print markets, often writer’s guidelines will give you a range — Wooden Horse has many guidelines you can view for a small fee.

Laurie Lewis wrote a book all about how to decide your rates called What to Charge.

But in the end, those usually just give a range, and usually a pretty broad one.

So today, I thought I would publish the definitive rate chart for freelance writers.

Here you are. These are the going rates.

Articles: What you can negotiate.

Blog posts: What you can negotiate.

White papers: What you can negotiate.

Copywriting: What you can negotiate.

Web content: What you can negotiate.

Did you notice a pattern there?

That’s right.

The reason it’s been so hard to figure out what the going rate is for your particular type of writing is because it all depends.

Ultimately, there is what you are willing to accept as payment for your work, and what the market will bear. Where those two rates meet, you have a gig.

Some of the key factors that go into determining rates are:

  • How much writing experience you have.
  • How much experience you have writing this type of assignment.
  • How much experience you have with this particular topic.
  • The size of the publication or company.
  • How highly that client values freelance writing talent.
  • How much revenue that client is pulling in.
  • How urgently they need to get this writing project done.
  • How unusual the skills needed for this writing assignment are.
  • How pro your writer website looks.
  • Whether you can provide testimonials or referrals.
  • The strength of your query letter or letter of introduction.
  • Your negotiating skills.

Now that you understand how variable rates are, how can you decide what to charge? My big tip for determining your rates:

Ask around.

Hopefully you belong to some writer networks. Find out what they think of your bid proposal. I personally have made several thousand dollars more this year so far by asking my networks and learning I should raise my bids.

I know some of the writers on this blog, and on Freelance Writers Den, have been nothing short of shocked to compare notes and discover how underpriced they were.

Use research resources like I’ve listed above to get at least a vague idea of rates for your project type.

Try to get a really good estimate of how long the project will take, so you can figure it by your hourly rate. Which is the only rate that really matters, time being your most precious resource.

Ask my favorite client question: “What’s your budget?”

Ask a lot of questions before you give a quote.

Finally, here’s the number-one thing you need to know about freelance-writing rates: As you do more gigs and get more experience, your rates should go up.

Come back later this week to learn ways you can make that happen.

How do you decide what to charge? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

 

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54 comments on “The Going Rate for Freelance Writing — Revealed!
  1. Yeah, I really hate it when the client lists the pay as “DOE.” Most times, “DOE” is another word for “I’ll increase your miserable pay by 10 cents per 500 words every year.” LOL
    Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…How Computers Work – Part 11 – USB [Mega Series]My Profile

  2. John Soares says:

    Carol, I follow your main advice here: determine how many hours the project will likely take and then multiply by my hourly rate. I usually add another 20% or more on top of that in case the project takes longer and also for negotiating room.

    And I always ask “what’s your budget?” However, many editors counter with “give me a bid.”

    My overall goal is to land interesting projects that pay me well.
    John Soares recently posted…All Your Writing Clips on One Site: Cuttings.me Review and InterviewMy Profile

    • Like 99% of the time a client tells me “give me a bid,” it’s probably because he either doesn’t have enough money to get the project done well or wants to see how low he can get.

      Let’s say there’s a client who has enough room in the budget to pay 10 cents a word. He’s going to roll the dice and hope you say 6 cents. If you counter with 10 cents, he’s immediately going to feel like it’s too steep and offer you 5 cents or something like that. Arrggghhhhhh!!!
      Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…How Computers Work – Part 11 – USB [Mega Series]My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, sometimes you won’t get an answer and it’s still on you, but I’m surprised at how often this will get me some very useful info. I really recommend it with new writers who’re looking to move up, so that you don’t waste a lot of time bidding someone who’s never going to pay a fair rate.

  3. I have to agree with the above posters. My favorite question to ask is, “What’s your budget?” However, at times I find it very difficult to find someone willing to answer the question. They always want to hear what you have to say first.

  4. Dr. Kris says:

    That’s basic negotiating strategy — the first one who names a number, loses.

    Now, can you find out (or estimate) what it would cost them to do the project in-house, including ALL the employee-based overhead; paid downtime between projects; desk space & furniture, equipment, etc.; etc., etc., etc., in addition to the hourly pay rate.

    Then work those costs into your conversation so they see how your hourly rate saves them all these costs (often a totally new idea to them) and there is no hourly pay-to-hourly pay comparison.

    Now, at least double your rate….

    After I have worked with a client enough times to see how solid, or not, they are to work with, I prefer to quote a flat fee.

  5. Amy Gutman says:

    Carol, I completely love the “What’s your budget?” question. I just used it and instantly got a very clear response that was more than I’d have anticipated. Taking the web class was worth it for this tip alone–wish I’d used it for a project earlier this fall.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Surprising, isn’t it? I do find that is the case so often — that if you can get them to say, you find out you would have been bidding low.

      • I agree, I use the “what’s your budget” line frequently; it’s more successful than asking “How much are you willing to pay.” However, you always get the wise guys who either ignore the question and insist on hearing your bid, because they want you to name the number first…and you then lose control of the negotiation. Say too much, you may lose the job. Say a cheap rate, and if they were willing to pay more, you lost money. That’s one reason I prefer to take jobs with a fixed, stated budget, or to bill at an advertised hourly rate.
        Jessica Hollis-Brown recently posted…Open Letter to Authors 2: Gaining Perspective and Ugly BabiesMy Profile

        • In my experience, I rarely see a job with the price mentioned. It’s rather tough.
          Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…A Guide to Breaking Your ComputerMy Profile

          • If you use clearinghouse sites like Freelancer and eLance and ODesk, they almost always have a price range for the project. Of course, you can and often do negotiate from there. Of course, they are often lower-priced jobs, and the competition is fierce for IT/tech jobs, both writing and actual tech jobs, especially from freelancers from countries like India and Pakistan, where they work for peanuts.

            I started out on Freelancer (still do some odd work there occasionally), but I really despise it. I’ve picked up several long-term clients that keep me busy. My biggest problem is working in time to finish the novel that I’ve been pushing to the side for a few years now. Once writing becomes a “job”, you look at every hour spent on yourself as a potential loss of income, and it stinks. But…I’d rather be writing anything than anything else.
            Jessica Hollis-Brown recently posted…Open Letter to Authors 2: Gaining Perspective and Ugly BabiesMy Profile

            • I don’t dare touch oDesk, eLance, or Freelancer… Ever… They are riddled with clients that see articles as some fluff to add to their sites. They have no clue what makes their site fly. All I see there is in the $3-5 range, and I figured a long time ago that it’s not worth wasting my time. I found a client on Craigslist, but it’s not exactly reliable, either.

              eLance actually makes a slight exception. I found clients that can pay something intermediate, but I’ve gone years without ever using the account and I have no rep in that site, so it’s a tough search there.
              Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…A Guide to Breaking Your ComputerMy Profile

              • I agree completely about those sites, but sometimes you can pick up a decent client there. You just have to sift through the listings. Freelancer sends out emails with new jobs postings, which makes it much easier to sift–you just skim through the titles and price range, and if you like one, you can bid on it. Doesn’t happen often. As I said, I have been able to pick up some good clients there, those that give me ongoing work at an acceptable rate, and we no longer use Freelancer as an intermediary. I’ve also gotten some ghostwriting (fiction and non) jobs that paid pretty darn well through those sites.

                It’s about resume building, I suppose: you have to slog your way through the trenches at first, get a good reputation, earn some bylines. I currently have a career as a freelance copywriter, editor, and ghostwriter, but “when I grow up” I want to live by my own books…if I can finish them. 😉 The things I write for others are a means to an end, but they’re also excellent practice and help build up my discipline and hone my craft. I’ve also been able to learn some really cool stuff!
                Jessica Hollis-Brown recently posted…Open Letter to Authors 2: Gaining Perspective and Ugly BabiesMy Profile

            • Carol Tice says:

              I think your ability to negotiate on bidding sites is pretty severely curtailed by the masses of competition! But a good point made, you can still try to work with those clients and negotiate as well, especially if you’ve done a project for a client on there and then they’re back for more.

  6. Amy Gutman says:

    Hmm. Why didn’t commentluv work on my previous post–trying again
    Amy Gutman recently posted…NaNoWriMo for the rest of us (NaPerProMo, anyone?)My Profile

  7. It’s helpful to be in front of the right kind of potential client when using this strategy (companies that can pay for quality writing and understand its value, they do exist). If you aren’t, you’re going to get the typical responses like “that’s too expensive” or an unwillingness to answer the budget question.

    Sometimes, after building a good deal of rapport, I “soften” the budget question like this:

    “Hey Mr. Potentialclient, I don’t want to scare you off with my quote, so what are you comfortable paying for this type of project?” (in a light-hearted, joking type of way)

    If they reply with a number that’s not what you’re thinking (too low) you have a decision to make (in the end it’s always your call), if they reply with a number that you can live with, you’re on. :)

    This isn’t a perfect strategy, but it works for me and allows me to discover their budget when it works.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I like your approach.

      Another one I take if I HAVE to bid without a range from them is I close with, “I’d appreciate your feedback on that quote, and if you’re considering another vendor purely on price, I’d appreciate a chance to reconsider my bid.” Leaves my door open. I may not be willing to go down, but it lets them know I’m flexible and negotiable and can keep you in the running long enough to have a conversation with them.

      It’s true that you’re not going to get anywhere with lowball junk-content-and-ads business model startup type places. But the point is not to be pitching those, and to go out and find real clients…this is what we talked about in the first week of the Freelance Writers Den bootcamp…probably why it’s on my mind.

  8. Amy Gutman says:

    I’m thinking that the “what’s your budget question?” may be easiest/most effective when you already have a level of trust between the parties so no one feels that they’re going to be taken advantage of. That was the case when I used it recently. (Not that it’s not a great question for other times, just that one might meet with more skepticism/resistance)
    Amy Gutman recently posted…NaNoWriMo for the rest of us (NaPerProMo, anyone?)My Profile

  9. Riki says:

    I think there’s two ways of approaching this: If it’s corporate work, say for a magazine, bank, hospital, etc, these people have a budget and the person hiring probably isn’t looking to screw you. They will likely the answer the “what is your budget question” and will be glad to just get it out of the way. The startups, blogs, and mom & pop stores/services have a budget and with those you need to approach the matter more delicately. Sometimes I frame my bid by saying, “the going rate right now for this work is…” Some people take that as if they’re going to hire a professional, this is what they’re going to pay. So pay it to me or you’re going to pay it to someone else. And here is where I like what Carol said earlier if they stutter at your bid, “I’d appreciate your feedback on that quote, and if you’re considering another vendor purely on price, I’d appreciate a chance to reconsider my bid.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      If it’s a small company, sometimes an approach is to give a range, from the lowest you could imagine to the highest you could imagine they would do. “I’m thinking this sounds like something like $750-$1200 worth of work — that sound like the right ballpark to you? Then if their ballpark is $100, you can stop wasting time immediately.

      I see a lot of freelancers wasting loads of time phone or email chatting with prospects who are never going to pay a fair rate. Two problems with that — one is you’re simply wasting precious hours. The other is the longer you spend on them, the more likely you are to take the gig at the inappropriately low rate, just because you’ve invested so much time developing that prospect that you don’t want to end up with nothing. You get too enmeshed with them, you love what they’re doing, your touched by their current challenges…and the next thing you know, you’re working for peanuts.

      That’s why I’m for screening quickly with a range or “what’s your budget” question, so you don’t start fantasizing this is a client before you know if they can pay.

      I’ve really never gotten a lot of pushback on that question. They might say “I don’t know!” which might be true, or often they’ll tell you the range. If they don’t know, it’s time to throw out that big, broad range to make sure there’s a point to continuing to chat.

  10. Cathie Ericson says:

    Great discussion. I really like the “what’s your range?” and to be wary of investing too much time before you have even had a budget discussion. I usually let them know right up front what the (my) “going rate” is and then they can decide if they want to continue talking.

    I am not going to discount my work for a particular client, because that is discounting my professionalism and talent — and it’s also very unfair to other clients! Imagine if they somehow met at a dinner party and your trusted, long-term client found out that they were paying double what an upstart was. That is a scenario I always keep in the back of my mind.

    I have been fortunate as I began my freelancing career that I connected with some like-minded professionals who never even considered writing for peanuts. That helped me realize the value of our art and talent, and never made me feel uncomfortable sticking up for great rates. Sounds like this community is very much like that.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You raise a really interesting point, Cathie, that I’ve noticed quite a bit. Hang around on the Demand Studios chat boards and a culture permeates where $30 an article is a fortune, and it’s impossible to imagine a world where articles pay $800. Hang around on a professional board, and you find out what you can really earn. I think writers are really influenced by what they hear the norms are — so you want to hang out in the right places!

      • I’ve been writing for Demand Media a while. The articles are easy, hence the low pay. There’s one problem, though. I know I could be earning more on my expertise (14 years in IT). Since I’m an expatriate in Romania, I’d rather not earn $3 an hour working some IT job when I could be doing it for $100k in USA. So… I took up writing and earn much higher. The thing is that I’m very sure there’s a lot of room for better writing.

        Ever since DMS tanked, I had time to think about these things and which direction my writing should be heading. It’s so sad for me to hear, though, that FWD isn’t open at the moment for new membership. I’d love to get in on the action, and have high hopes about its productivity. :)
        Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…How Computers Work – Part 11 – USB [Mega Series]My Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          IT! You should be able to earn very nice money as a freelancer. I think increasingly, many companies don’t care where you are. Have you considered connecting with previous IT employers here in the US to see if they need freelancers? So many companies have shed staff and are doing more freelance.

          I think you are in a big boat with a lot of people who counted on Demand…but I can only help so many people in the Den at a time! But if you’re on the list, you’ll be first in line back in the door.

          • Yeah I’m on the list, but I’m not as desperate as the others who left Demand. I didn’t even count on it much, towards the end. I currently have a couple of other clients, who are providing a base income and give me plenty of free time. This lets me invest in more leads and get my act together.

            The thing is that I’m not going to be hired to replace a motherboard more than 4000 miles away. That’s what I’m facing, and it could have done me well. For now, I just write in my blog, which I use to market myself to clients, write for my current clients, and then find even more clients.

            DMS is like a big red “DONT HIRE ME!” sign on my CV, so I’m trying to put bigger guns on my portfolio and show them what I’m made of 😉
            Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted…How Computers Work – Part 11 – USB [Mega Series]My Profile

  11. I’m not surprised that rates ultimately come down to what you can negotiate.

    Perhaps Carol, you could do a Webinar on the art of negotiating writing contracts? It is such a nuanced process – so many considerations play into the dynamic, but ultimately, there are certain fundamentals that you must have locked firmly in place if you want to emerge with a favourable contract.

    I’d love to learn more about the strategies that work best for you and how you take a prospective client through that process.
    Ruth – Freelance Writing Blog recently posted…Free Content Marketing & Social Media Resources to Grow Your BusinessMy Profile

  12. Lola T. says:

    I totally agree with you. The pay rate totally depends on various factors and not a single factor. Some of my friends had good experience but they could not earn much because of the client’s budget, while some of my friends were rookies in the writing field but they really managed to negotiate and could a bit more. Client’s budget is the most influencing factor I guess.
    Lola T. recently posted…Semilla de alpisteMy Profile

  13. Mac says:

    I am a freelancer writer from the last four years. I have never understood how a client judges the pay. Sometimes I feel that I am underpaid because the client’s claim the prevailing rates. A huge number of amateurs are entering this field of writing. In such cases, the entire market rates get affected as some of companies are ready to try fresh minds. The rates are ever fluctuating.
    Mac recently posted…Critical Points to Maintain the Roof of your HouseMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      The key is to find areas of specialty where amateurs can’t compete. I write a lot on business finance and rates haven’t changed, straight through the downturn. Major magazines don’t try out many amateurs, either, so if you have strong reporting skills that’s another plus. Most of the flood of would-be writers on the market have only written quickly researched, SEO-oriented stuff. They’ve never conducted an interview or woven three sources into a story…so there’s plenty of ways to stand out.

  14. Amanda Hughes says:

    I remember one year ago my office needed some articles for a clients website and they found out some philipine guy doing 500 words article for 0.50$… Incredible.. no words left to say lol !
    Amanda Hughes recently posted…JCP CouponsMy Profile

  15. Kris says:

    I hate to be critical here, but this article not only gives absolutely no advice, but then asks & relies on YOU the reader to do her work. I personally find this sort of journalism dishonest. You’d have been better off to simply pose the question than to tease the answer without one.

    • Carol Tice says:

      If you hang around here, Kris, you’ll discover that’s what freelancing successfully is about…getting off it and doing some legwork. Guess I think we have plenty of concrete resources too, but they’re no use unless you get up and do something with them.

    • The advice was pretty simple, Kris.

      Negotiate your rates.

      Also, Carol isn’t asking anyone to “do her work for her”… and from what I can tell, isn’t a dishonest person (aside from email exchanges, I don’t know her personally).

      Plus, a discussion such as this one usually attracts the “advice” from experienced freelancers as well, in fact, some of the comments in this very post have great advice. 😉

      Sometimes “teasing the answer” leads to the the better answer.

      On top of that, Carol provides some resources here on her site, like the “Den” when it is available.

      And… sometimes if you travel the websites of the people paying attention to this discussion, you’ll find some extraordinary resources. :)
      Joseph Ratliff recently posted…The Required Basics Of Online Marketing For WritersMy Profile

  16. CC says:

    Hello,

    Would it be okay if you can give me a quote on how much to charge rewriting technical articles?

    I’m from Asia, so the rate is a bit lower compared to those who come from the West.

    Any insight will be appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’d really have to know a whole lot more about the gig to comment, CC — as well as your expertise, the size of the company, your cost of living and hourly rate you need to make, and more. There is no “going rate” in freelancing. Rates are highly variable.

      We do have a lot of rate conversations inside my Freelance Writers Den community — consider getting on the waiting list and joining if you’d like to be able to bounce questions like that off 1200 other writers.

  17. Gayendri says:

    Hi Carol,

    Found your site really useful. I am a professional with over a decade experience in financial services. I am also into corporate writing and blog. ANy idea on reasonable quotes in Singapore and Hongkong freelance writing. Is SGD 250 per 500 word article generally ok (assuming that article scope vary)
    Thanks..

    • Carol Tice says:

      Afraid I don’t, sorry! Not based there. You’d need to ask around your own local writer network to find out about local going rates.

  18. Anna says:

    I consider myself a good writer, and still I can’t find a client who is willing to pay more than 2 cents per word. Most pay a penny per word, and I even got stuck with a client who was paying $1 for every 200 words, so that I was spending hours and hours a day and making about $25!

    Whenever I try to ask for at least 5 cents per word, the client says that is too high.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Anna, that means you’re asking the wrong sorts of clients. I’ll guess that you’re meeting them through Elance, Craigslist ads, or something similar.

      You might want to check out my How to Get Great Clients ebook, for a ton of tips on how to find better quality prospects. Hint: They sell a real product or service in the real world, and their business model isn’t about getting ad clicks.

  19. Natalie says:

    I’ve gotten stuck writing for content farms like Textbroker. Even their level 4 writers (second to top) they only pay 1.4 cents per word, so that in order to make enough money to actually live on, you have to churn out articles as quickly as possible and work to hit word limits rather than work for quality. Not to mention it is almost ALL ghostwriting, so that someone else’s name goes on your hard work. I am looking to break away from that, but I keep applying for jobs and have yet to find a client who is willing to pay decent rates. Most of them pay 1-2 cents per word and act as if this is such a high rate and writers should be so grateful to be working with them. And again, it is all ghostwriting, so I don’t even get credit for it or get to build a portfolio. They are also very demanding in terms of quality, when considering what they are paying they don’t really have the right to be.

    When I have tried to apply for better jobs, I have never gotten them because I don’t really have enough in my portfolio to demonstrate to them that I’m a good writer. I can’t use any of my writing for the content farms and Elance clients as samples, because that is no longer my property once I turn it in.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Natalie, I know a lot of writers in your boat — that’s why I created my Escape the Content Mills course with Linda Formichelli.

      You’re smart to realize you need to break this cycle to move forward. “Applying for jobs” on Craigslist or Elance doesn’t bring better pay either, as you’ve figured out.

      That class goes through how to find BETTER clients, and is designed especially to address the problems of writers in your exact situation who are hobbled by a lack of clips. We’re releasing the final version of the class in just a week or so, so stay tuned!

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  1. […] client against other clients and (b) comparing your existing rate against what you consider to be a fair market rate. This is not a particularly scientific process; I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about it. […]