Freelance Writing Rates: How Much Can You Charge?

Tips to Determining How Pricing Your Freelance Writing

Freelance Writer at Desk Setting Rates
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Setting your freelance writing rates and fees can be tough, especially if you're new in the industry. There are many factors to pricing freelance writing, and you'll want to consider them all as you pull out your calculator and freelancing writing income goals to run the numbers.

Types of Freelance Writing Rates

The first step to deciding what to charge is to know the different types of rates you can set. There are basically five types of freelance writing rates:

  • By the project, or flat rate
  • By the hour
  • By the word
  • By the page
  • Retainer fee, for ongoing work

Most businesses hiring freelance writers will prefer to pay by the project or by retainer, if they're going to want regular ongoing work. Consumer magazines, online and off, generally pay per word for articles. Trade magazines can be either per-word or a flat fee. Business, technical, and marketing writing work is likely to be priced at a per-hour rate or by the project. Payment by page is more often used in long projects, such as books or manuals, or editing.

Types of Freelance Writing Work

Next, you'll need to understand that different types of writing have vastly different earning potentials.

Online writing, such as web content, blogging, SEO writing, and content mill work, generally pays the least. Feature writing online can pay more than general online writing as listed above, but usually still less than print.

In the middle of the payment spectrum is newspaper writing and associated functions (copyediting, etc.) and some social media work (posting, campaigns, planning, and production). Note that newspapers are struggling these days, which is partly why they hire freelance writers.

Marketing-related writing pays higher than general content creation. This includes copywriting, sales pages, press releases, ads (pay-per-click ads or advertorials), and email content. Other business writing, such as white papers, brochures, and position statements, generally pays better than than articles and other online writing. Working on pieces that are typical for non-profits may also fall in this better-than-average area.

Ghostwriting books can pay very well, although there are some ghostwriting jobs that pay as low as $15 per 1,000 words, which isn't a lot.

Writing that requires you to have specific knowledge or a skill set pays better than general writing. This includes technical writing, medical and scientific writing, health and wellness writing, and financial writing.

Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates

When you have an idea of how writing is billed and typical rates for different types of writing, you need to personalize your rates to include your goals, skills, and experience. Here are three factors to consider:

1. How much do you want to make in your freelance writing business?

While you may end up billing by project, it doesn't hurt to figure out what you want to earn and how much you want to work to calculate a per-hour rate. If you want to work 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, and earn $30,000, you need to take work that pays you $30 per hour ($30,000 ÷ 50 weeks = $600 per week. $600 ÷ 20 hours = $30 per hour). If you find a job that pays you $50 per article, and you can write that article in less than 2 hours, that would meet your goal of an average of $30 per hour.

Don't forget to include the time and expense to manage your freelance writing business, such as marketing and invoicing. Self-employment tax and health care are two other items to remember you need to pay for.

If $30,000 per year is what you want to net, you need to add your indirect work time (time spent that isn't doing client work) and overhead to your per-hour rate. For example, if you spend 5 hours from your 20 hours a week on billing and marketing, those aren't tasks that make money. So you either need to add 5 more direct service hours that make money, or increase your per-hour rate.

Using the above example, if you want to net $30,000 per year working 20 hours per week, 50 weeks a year, and you have 5 hours a week of administrative work, and $2,000 a year in expenses, you need to:

  • Earn $32,000 per year ($30,000 net income goal + $2,000 business overhead)
  • Make $640 a week ($32,000 ÷ 50 weeks)
  • Set a rate of $42.67 per hour ($640 ÷ 15 hours of direct service) (20 hours working - 5 hours indirect work = 15 direct service hours)

If that math is making your head hurt, another way to calculate your per-hour rate is to take your base hourly rate, and add 30% to 35% for your indirect time and additional expenses, including self-employment tax and overhead. In the above example, you'd multiply $30 per hour by 35%, and add that to $30 ($30 x 35% = $10.50, $30 + $10.50 = $40.50 per hour).

This is your base rate. From there, you will take into account the type of billing and writing mentioned above, combined with the considerations below, to calculate your rates.

2. How much time does it take to do the writing you want to do?

As you're setting your rates, you'll want to think about the kinds of projects you'll be asked to take on and estimate how many hours it will take from start to finish. What kind of writing will you be churning out? Web articles? Newsletters? Website content? Estimate the amount of time each will take.

Don't forget to include non-writing time. Many beginning freelance writers only consider the time to write the piece, and not the research, revision, or editing, which can add hours to the amount of time you're working on a project. For example, if you're paid $50 per article, and can write it in an hour, you'd earn $50 per hour. But if you have to research, and it takes an additional hour, now you're earning half, or $25 per hour.

This is where an hourly rate, as opposed to a per-project rate, would help. For example, if the fee was $50 per hour, then two hours on an article would garner $100.

One caveat on charging per-hour rates applies here: If you're potentially looking at a long-term or repeat client, you may want to avoid charging by the hour.

The other side of that is that charging per hour can lead to your earning less for doing more because you become faster and more efficient the more you work. Once you've got the repeat client's voice, tone, and preferences down, you'll be spending less and less time on the same kinds of projects. An article that once took you an hour, at $25 per hour to do, eventually may only take 30 minutes. Now, you'd need to write two articles an hour to make $25. If you charged by the article, at $25 per article, you'd double your per hour rate by writing two articles ($50), instead of one in the hour.

When calculating a project rate for a freelance writing proposal, you need to know how much time it will take not just to write, but any research, back-and-forth contact with the client, and revision. If you determine it will take 5 hours to do the project, you'd multiply the time by your base rate to give the client as the project cost. For example, $42.67 per hour by 5 hours is $213.35 for the project.

Note, that depending the project, $213.25 may be too much, or you might be able to charge more. For example, you might have a hard time getting $200 for a highly researched long-form article, but you can probably charge twice as much, if not more for a sales letter.

3. What do you have to offer a client?

Not all freelance writers are the same, even in the beginning. If you have experience in paid writing, a degree or certification, knowledge, or a skill set clients require for their writing needs, you can charge more. With that said, if you have no experience and no clips, you might have to charge less starting out.

Content mills pay the least because that writing requires the least amount of experience and knowledge. Writing for a health and wellness publication may require a medical degree or other certification, which is more valuable and therefore can lead to higher pay.

Having a niche topic area you specialize in can boost your appeal to clients. Many clients want to know that their writer is knowledgeable of their industry or business.

Other Pricing Considerations

There are a variety of other factors to consider before you quote a project, write a project proposal, or set your rates, including:

  • Consider the cost of living in both your area and in your client's area. Your client may be accustomed to paying higher rates, and it's OK to take that into consideration. 
  • Consider the type of client. For example, some writers give a discount to nonprofit clients, which usually do good in the community, but don't have a lot of money.
  • Will you get a byline? Having a byline can boost your credibility and exposure, allowing you to charge more.
  • For marketing writers, can you negotiate royalties? Many successful copywriters earn a percentage of the sales their letters and ads generate.
  • Do you get to keep the rights to the work? Keeping the rights to what you write means that you could potentially resell it later.
  • Is it a one-off gig or ongoing work? If a client is proposing an ongoing, high-volume relationship, you may offer slightly lower rates for setting up a retainer. For example, instead of 40 hours per month of writing work at $25 per hour for $1000, if the client is planning to have you work month after month indefinitely, you might take 10% or 15% off and charge only $900 or $850 per month.

Freelance Writing Rates List for Those Starting From Scratch

If you have no past paid writing experience, or simply cannot find current rates, you'll have to start from scratch. Here is a list of resources to help you in pricing freelance writing:

If you're a beginner, you may need to charge less initially, but don't be afraid to raise your rates if you're delivering work your clients like. Re-evaluate your rates every six months to make sure you're charging what you're worth.