It’s the biggest question many freelance writers have: What should I charge? More specifically, what are going freelance writing rates for the type of project I’m doing?
After all, we don’t want to leave money on the table… or price too high and lose the gig.
If you struggle with pricing your work, it’s no surprise. Freelance writing rates are all over the place, as there are so many variables that affect appropriate pay for a particular writing job. Those variables can include:
- Size, age and reputation of the client
- How important the writing is to client’s income
- The level of competition in their industry
- Complexity of the subject matter
- How well you know the subject matter
- Country and language used
- Volume of work on offer
- Usefulness of these clips in your portfolio
- How badly you need money right now
And more. See why the whole concept of ‘going rates’ is problematic? There’s also the question of your personal income goals, time available, living costs… all may factor into what you seek to charge.
What we can learn is what real writers are charging, for roughly similar work. I began investigating what writers earn last year, with the 2019 Writer Pay Survey.
It was a good start. But I only asked about freelance writing rates on a couple of types of writing in last year’s survey — articles and blog posts, mainly. Writers asked for more.
The 2020 Writer Pay Survey
So this year’s survey of nearly 600 writers asks more questions, about case studies, white papers, email marketing, and more. You can grab a downloadable version of all the data and my takeaways at the bottom of this post.
What are freelance writing rates these days? Are rates getting better or worse? Short answer: Some of each.
But I see lots of reasons for optimism in this year’s survey. In reviewing it, I decided it would be most useful to spotlight data from writers who earn primarily from freelancing — it represents 60%-100% of their income.
All the stats shown below are for writers in this more full-time freelancing category. Let’s dig into the data:
The road to writing freedom can be short
Let’s start with a piece of good news: Some freelance writers jump in and very quickly are able to earn more or all of their income from their craft. As you can see below, nearly 12% of writers reached 60-100% full-time income in their very first year as a freelancer. Another 18% got there in 2-3 years.
That’s 30% of writers, ramping to major freelance income fairly quickly. Nice!
It doesn’t have to be a long slog to earning a living as a freelance writer. But the most popular answer in terms of how long big earners have been freelancing was 6-10 years.
Notable, though, is that the success of early big earners was down about 1% compared with 2019. The percent saying they made it to major earning in 3-5 years declined 4%, too. Is it a little bit tougher out there to quickly ramp to good pay? Perhaps so.
Short blog-post pay rises
One of the most popular freelance-writing break-in gigs is writing short blog posts. Good news here — more writers are moving away from dirt-cheap pay and getting a bit better rates:
As you can see above, if you’re still taking $50 or less for short blog posts, you’re now in a serious minority.
Last survey, nearly one-quarter of writers got $50 or less for short posts. This year, that’s down to 21%. Hooray! Hope to see blogging at too-low rates continue to fade out.
And we’re nearing another exciting inflection point — now, close to half of all paid short blogging is over $100 a post (45%). That’s on par with last year. Note that the top rates stayed strong. The top-earning category — $300-$500+ for short posts — is steady at 15% year-over-year. Interestingly, nearly all respondents reported they do some short-blog post work.
Mixed pricing on longer posts
First, the good news: More writers are getting higher freelance writing rates for long blog posts.
Last year, 32% of full-time writers reported they earned $300-$500+ for posts over 1,000 words. This year, that ticked up to 34%. #yaaasss
But the news is mixed. There’s also a suspicious spike in writers creating longer posts in the $100 range. #justno.
I adjusted the price-range categories here a bit for 2020, so figures aren’t directly comparable to the prior year — but 15% now report earning $100-$199, and another 10% each said $20-$50 and $51-$99. That’s too many writers creating many words for a pittance.
The hourly rate on those is never going to feed your family. Remember that $300 is my recommended minimum for longer posts, writers!
Authority ghost blogging is a $$$ niche
If you haven’t yet been approached to ghostwrite thought-leadership pieces on Forbes, Medium, HuffPo, LinkedIn, and other popular platforms, it’s an emerging money-maker. Nearly one-quarter of full-time earners reported they’re doing some reputation-building ghost blogging for thought leaders.
So far, freelance writing rates for ghosted authority posts are all over the place, as you see below. But heartened to see the most popular response on rates here was $500+ (the rate many of my coaching students report they’re making), followed by $200-$300.
If you’re looking for better-paid blogging work, this is a niche to consider, in whatever industry you have expertise. My forecast is for more of this work coming down the pike.
CEOs don’t have time to write their own compelling content that positions them as an expert, even if they could. Which most can’t.
Pay is strong here because $500 for a fascinating post that could land them a speaking gig, their next job, more business for their startup, or a book deal… it’s pin money to six-figure earners.
Stronger pay for short articles
Here’s a ray of sunshine — the number of writers accepting under $100 for short, reported articles is down substantially (29%, vs. 38% in 2019). The survey doesn’t delve into why, but my guess would be writers migrating to better-paid opportunities.
More good news: A big jump in the top pay category, with 11% getting $500 or more. (Under 4% reported that rate last year.) Another 12.5% earned $350-$500. Midrange pay rates, from $100-$500, stayed fairly stable.
Next time, I plan to ask about whether writers are creating articles for publications or businesses — I suspect a shift to business clients is behind the rate rise.
Mixed rates for long articles
I think it’s notable that the vast majority — 83% — of our self-supporting writers said they write long articles. Bigger projects tend to pay better!
Nearly 11% got $1,000+ per piece, and another 10% earned $750-$1000. The other lump of pay, sadly, is at the bottom end, with 16% earning $100 or less.
Most popular answer here was $200-$350. Keep looking for markets that pay better and push back on lower rates, especially if these long articles require many interviews. Remember, more than one-quarter of writers are earning twice this rate and more.
Problems emerge in content marketing
Here’s a problem I’ve heard about anecdotally, but the data makes it impossible to ignore: There are a lot of content-mill level clients asking for sophisticated types of content marketing at freelance writing rates that are a crime.
I’d been hearing about this, so I broke out content marketing into several key categories in this year’s study, for the first time.
Responses make clear many freelance writers are unaware that $750-$1200 has been the going rate for 1-2 page case studies for ages, and that $300-$500 per page for white papers is pretty standard, too.
Reported rates in this survey paint a shocking picture of many writers giving away these high-value business marketing pieces for a song:
That’s right, the most common rate for case studies that writers reported is just $100-$300. This is particularly troubling because two-thirds of full-time writers say they write case studies. And under 14% reported rates in the historical ‘going rate’ range of $750-$1200 or more.
It’s similarly disturbing news in white papers, where 11% of writers reported they’re paid less than $300 per page:
On the plus side, 8% reported earning $500 a page or more. Another 7% earn $300-$500, which is still solid.
Word counts per page do vary in white papers, so that may account for some of the variation. But just sayin’… $100 a page for white papers is not OK. These are heavy-duty lead generators for businesses that help them book millions in new revenue.
They’re also often used for a long time. One factor that may be skewing prices is that many businesses ask for ‘white papers’ that are not really white papers. More like a 3-page quickie report you do from a stack of research, with no interviews..which bears little resemblance to an actual white paper.
But any way you name it, case studies and white papers should pay well.
Rates for web pages crash
Once upon a time, big web-page rewrite projects were a cash cow. Anecdotally, I often heard writers were getting $200 a page and up, to $1 a word. Apparently, they’re less of a bonanza today, as you see here:
Over half of full-timers report they do web-page work. But few earn well at it.
One-quarter of writers who create informational web pages say they’re earning $100 a page or less. Another 12% receive $101-$200 per page. Only 21% or so earn north of $200 a page.
These static pages help businesses earn, often for several years before the next revamp. Stop giving away this store, folks!
Long sales pages at short prices
The long sales page was long a bastion of big-ticket fees — you know the kind that goes on and on, benefits, features, bonuses, testimonials, removing objections, the works. I remember ages back, taking a training from Naomi Dunford of ittybiz, in which she said the going rate for pros with a track record writing sales pages that convert well was… $2,000.
Apparently many freelance writers don’t understand the vital need businesses have for long sales pages that can turn leads into money. Get a look at this:
Yes, three-quarters of writers have gotten out of the business of writing long sales pages, and no wonder — under 3% report they now earn $1500-$2000 for them.
Instead, 11% report they’re creating this high-powered sales tool for $200 or less. I’m stunned here. People.
Repeat after me: Hard-sell marketing pieces pay top dollar. Clearly, we have work to do educating newer writers and our prospects on appropriate freelance writing rates in this area.
Marketing emails: The new cash cow?
There’s a ton of work out there writing short marketing emails. Prices aren’t super-high, but many writers report they don’t take long to create. You write emails all the time, right?
More writers might want to look into this niche, as the hourly rate can be strong. Some 70% of respondents said they’d never written them. But earning $200-$350 for a short email message pencils out well, and an emerging elite of 8% now earn that rate for marketing emails:
Another 19% report they earn $100-$200 per email. Not too shabby, for crafting a short message.
Expect to see growth in the high-end on marketing emails — just 3% currently earn over $350 per email, but email marketing’s power remains strong. And some email marketers go longer on their emails, too, and pay more as a result.
That’s the rundown on specific writing types. Now, let’s see how all these project fees translate into our all-important hourly rate.
Strong hourly rates for full-time writers
Some of those reported rates seemed worrisome, no? But at the end of the day, our hourly rate is what really counts. And here, full-time writers turn out to be efficient in their work, as they report solid hourly rates:
The normative rate here is $50-$75 an hour (26%), a middling-to-solid rate that allows writers to cover their expenses and unbillable hours. Heartened to see another one-quarter of respondents earning above $75 an hour, an uptick from last year’s 21%.
That leaves roughly half of writers earning below $50 an hour. Remember, if you’re earning less than $50 per hour, half the pack is earning more. Ask for a raise!
High-earners get inbound leads
How do writers build a full-time business and bill better rates? Asking about how writers market, two main forms emerge as dominant:
Far and away, building a strong referral network enabled writers to pursue their craft full-time, with 35% saying referrals are their top source of writing jobs. If your network isn’t sending you good leads…it’s time to meet more people and grow who you know.
Possibly my biggest surprise of the whole survey is that nearly 20% of writers said inbound leads from their writer websites were their top source of writing jobs. More writers are taking a strong writer site seriously — that’s double the reported win rate seen last year for writer sites.
Proactive marketing comes in third with sending pitch letters or letters of introduction, with 16% winning the most business by pitching. Interesting, no? In the 21st Century, raising awareness about your skills through inbound means seems to be what works best to attract better-caliber clients.
Be sure to note how few full-time writers report they primarily get jobs from content mills or bid sites. Just a reminder that these are primarily set up to serve hobbyists, not those looking to writing jobs for a full-time income.
A new source for ‘going rates’
Now that I’ve unpacked the highlights from the new rate survey, I wouldn’t blame you if you were more confused than ever. Some writers earn low, some high. But what are typical rates for professional, full-time freelance writers?
This question has obsessed a coaching student of mine who’s now a coach of new freelance writers herself, through ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors).
Mandy Ellis has spent the past 5 years or so compiling information on rates from writers groups online, in the forums of my Freelance Writers Den community, inside my Freelance Writers Den 2X Income Accelerator coaching program (of which she’s an awesome grad!) and more.
Feel like it’s been ages since you’ve seen a fresh rate sheet you could use as a reference for what to charge? Well, Mandy has just released her Freelance Writer Pricing Guide, which boils down all she’s learned into price ranges for a variety of writing jobs.
It’s free if you want to grab it. (Not an affiliate link, just want to get the info out to you.)
Thoughts on freelance writing rates
So there you have it — the crazy world of what freelance writers are charging for their work in 2020. What’s it all mean? Here are my top takeaways:
- Knowing what others charge is key to pricing right.
- Asking questions to understand all job specs will help you make a case for higher rates.
- Just because something used to pay well, doesn’t mean it does now.
- Watch for emerging writing areas where pay is strong, as with ghost blogging for thought leaders.
- Look for things you can write that few writers could do. You’ll be able to command more.
- Journalism rates are a challenge, and writers who need a high income will look to diversify with business clients.
- If you’re writing sales materials, or content that directly generates leads or sales, it should pay well.
- Identify top-drawer clients you find yourself to earn more, instead of going through bid sites, agencies or content mills.
- Put up a snappy writer website, build your network, and ask for referrals! Inbound marketing rocks.
- Track your time, know what you’re earning hourly, and keep driving that figure up.
Finally, no matter what a rate guide says, or what others are charging, charge what you need to support your lifestyle. As you can see in this data, an elite sector of freelance writers are earning great rates.
Download the data
Would you like a handy copy of these charts, rate info and takeaways? You can download a copy of this post here.
What’s your hourly rate for freelance writing? Let’s discuss in the comments.