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November 29, 2001
Report Shows Pay For Freelancers In Steady Decline
by Sherril Steele-Carlin

The news has hit the streets, and it isn't good news for freelancers. The National Writer's Union (NWU) recently released a "Report on Pay Rates for Freelance Journalists." It studied freelance writing rates since the 1960s, and found, "In real dollars, freelance rates have declined by more than 50 percent since the 1960s."

They point out specific examples, such as "Good Housekeeping reported offering $1 a word in 1966 and the same $1 a word in 1998 - a full 80% decline in real pay." The NWU is advocating at least $1.00 per word as a base pay for freelance writers. They back up their rates with these facts - "...for most full-time freelance writers, selling and writing 3,000 or 4,000 words a month is about the best that they can expect to do -- two feature articles or the equivalent in smaller pieces. (This is more than most magazine staff writers write -- which is about 2,500 words a month.)

"At this level of output, a rate of a dollar a word means a gross income of $36,000 to $48,000 a year, out of which has to be taken expenses, insurance, and other benefits." On the other hand, staff writers for many of the same publications received wages and benefits that averaged out to over $2.00 per word. The NWU reports continues, "The average wage for staff positions ranges from $35,270 for news reporters to $45,500 for staff writers, plus benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Freelancers aren't taking this news lightly. In her article, "Can You Afford To Freelance?" author Ursula Vogt interviews Meg Weaver of Wooden Horse Publishing, and author of Twelve New Things Writers Must Do Today To Make Money. Weaver says, "First we allow our customers to set the rates we will be paid. Then, we don't complain when the rates can't even feed a gerbil. It's time to put our proverbial foot down and stop accepting the pay and the rights publishers allow us to receive. Magazines are in the business to make money," she says, "It stands to reason that they won't voluntarily pay writers more. We have to 'convince' them. That means we can't undercut each other but to agree what reasonable rates are and to stand firm, even if we have to give up jobs in the short run."

Kimberly Hill says in her article, "Rates Reality Check," "Unfortunately, the freedom of self-employment has a price in today's market, and freelancers frequently have to choose between having less money or less time than their counterparts in corporate jobs."

There are some things that freelancers can do to create better markets for their writing. Many writers advocate "specializing" in one particular field, thus becoming an expert, and commanding higher rates. Kimberly Hill says, " opinion has always been that corporate writing in general is an area overlooked by many freelancers. As publications lose advertising revenue and begin to pass those losses on to freelancers in the form of fewer assignments and lower rates, we need to be even better at marketing ourselves and negotiating for the highest rates possible."

The report also shows that freelancing doesn't really pay all that much for most freelancers. 50 per cent of writers make $10,000 or less per year from their writing. This is another reason to specialize and earn higher rates.

Freelancing can be a difficult lifestyle, yet thousands of freelancers are making it work every day. Rates, whether low or high, are part of a freelancer's life. Each freelancer needs to make their own decision about what is the right rate for them, and when it pays to negotiate for a higher rate. Until more publishers embrace the $1.00 per word minimum, freelancers may still have to work harder and longer to make a decent living.

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book
"How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park."
"How to Break Into Casino Jobs."
Visit her web site at

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