It’s one of the most-asked questions I get: “Can you tell me how much I can expect to make as a freelance writer?”
Let’s face it — we’ve all got mouths to feed. So it’s important to get a sense of whether freelance writing can yield you a real, bill-paying level of income. It’s a good question to ask.
There are two steps to figuring out the answer to this question.
The first is to find survey data on what freelancers make. That gives you a sense of what’s possible, and what’s typical.
The second step is a bit harder, so let’s start with data.
Resources on freelance pay
There isn’t a ton of information out there on what freelance writers earn, but there is some.
Four resources I often refer writers to are:
- Ed Gandia’s 2012 Freelance Industry Report covers more types of freelancing than just writing, but about 40 percent of responders were writers and editors. Three-quarters of respondents have been freelancing more than three years. The results will be eye-opening for many writers. To call out just one stat: About one-third of respondents reported they earned $70 an hour or more, and another 23 percent earned $50-$70 an hour.
- Chris Marlow surveys copywriters on what they earn (Note: that link is a PDF download), and her study is the most comprehensive and detailed one I know. Not helpful if you’re writing for magazines, but if you write for businesses, this is highly useful info.
- The Writer’s Market surveys writers and publishes a What to Charge guide in the front of each annual edition of their voluminous guide to writing markets. They offer rates for a wide variety of writing assignments.
- It doesn’t have statistics, but a good book for helping you think about how to price your writing services is What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants, by Laurie Lewis.
I recommend writers give those a browse and get a sense of market rates and of good strategies for pricing (hint: by the project, not by the hour).
Now, back to our question — how much can you earn?
You now have a sense of what writers typically earn, and what top earners bring in. But like the car companies say about gas consumption, your mileage may vary.
Where you will fall on that freelance earning scale is going to depend a lot on you. Here are a couple of important questions to ask yourself:
1. How bad do you want this?
Many writers dream about having the freedom to be their own boss, set their own schedule, and make a living doing what they love.
But when it comes to getting off their cans and marketing the heck out of their services to find clients…many can’t seem to bring themselves to do it.
If it requires learning new skills — like, say, how to use WordPress — they balk.
When an editor tells them they need to improve their article, they’re resentful.
That’s when it begins to dawn: Freelance writing is a hard life.
You need tremendous self-discipline. And you have to hustle for gigs all the time, deal with rejection, and rewrite things to suit other people.
There are many factors that play into how much you will earn, and how long it will take you to reach the income level you want.
For instance, are you willing to write about difficult topics that tend to pay better, or do you only want to write from your own muse? Writing tough stuff is a great route to higher pay.
How much work are you willing to put into marketing? For instance, if you don’t put up a writer website, it’s pretty hard to impress prospects these days.
One other factor: Many writers prefer to kick back and enjoy life more now that they’re out of the cubicle, rather than working super-hard at building a top-earning business. Spend more time mountain-climbing or home-schooling the kids.
Go at it fewer hours, and that will reduce your income. Which brings us to…
2. What is your earning goal?
I discovered in my own freelancing that you rarely earn more than you imagine you can make.
When I started freelancing in 2005, my dream was to replace my $60,000-a-year staff writing job. Within a couple years, I did.
Then I had a big light bulb explode in my head.
I suddenly had this flash of insight that as a freelance writer, my earning potential wasn’t limited to what I used to make in a day job.
My earning potential wasn’t limited to $100,000.
My earning potential was unlimited.
After realizing I could earn much more, I upped my marketing and aimed higher. I stopped looking at Craigslist ads and proactively went after bigger clients — major corporations and national magazines. I wrote more on big projects and ongoing contracts, rather than having to prospect constantly for smaller gigs.
Expand your vision for your freelance writing business, and it will change how you pursue this career. And that’s how you change how much you make as a freelance writer.
How much do you aim to earn as a freelance writer? Leave a comment — share your goals and what you’re doing to get there.