Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

How Much Should A Writer Get Paid? A Conversation

In which editors and writers reveal many secrets!

Related: Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How To Make Vitamin Soup

Thumbnail photo by Tracy O.

17 Comments / Post A Comment

Mackle (#446)

$1.50 a word plus expenses.

Pierce (#3,939)

Look at all those names. This article must be costing The Awl LOADS.

Leon Tchotchke (#14,331)

I briefly freelanced (print, never web) at the start of my career, but as soon as I was able to find full-time writing work I bailed. It's less fun and you can't easily build a name for yourself like you can as a freelancer (and it's harder to make contacts in general, IMO), but getting a regular paycheck and not having to deal with the whole feast-or-famine unpredictability of freelancing was (and has remained) worth it.

For what it's worth, I got paid between $40 and $70/article writing for a small free weekly, then $100/article when I freelanced a little bit on the side mid-career. I also helped send out the contracts at a trade-mag I worked full-time for, and I know they paid between $200 and $480/article for their contract-freelance columnists (most of them only wrote like 2-4 articles a year, though).

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

Wait, why aren't writers for these progressive publishers UNIONIZED?

deepomega (#1,720)

@Lockheed Ventura The perfect solution!

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

I dunno man. This is why I have a dayjob and do freelance/write books (or try to, anyway) for the fun of it.

vanderlyn (#240,462)

@Claire Zulkey I'm on the same page as you. I've probably written 15-20 magazine pieces over the last year, and made around $5,000 all together. I write at nights and on the weekends. Were this my full-time job, I would be miserable. As it stands, when the checks come, the money is gravy, "mad money," whatever. The cherry on top. (And it takes forever for the checks to come – that's something this discussion should have covered, cash flow issues for freelancers.) My quality of life is MUCH better with a full-time job that is mercifully unrelated to journalism, and I presume that rubs off on my writing.

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

@vanderlyn zactly. I don't think I'd care to hustle up work I'm not interested in just for the mortgage money.

Jay Casey@facebook (#239,149)

Wait. Wait. Wait. HOLD THE PHONE! Paid? To WRITE?! I don't know what you're trying to sell me *looks at banner ads* but if people are making a living churning out this seo terms navel gazing drivel I might have to quit my jerb driving a truck full of egotism and park my butt in front of this 6-weeks-to-6-months-waiting-on-that-check writing opportunity.

I've been reading the discussion and following all the hand-wringing on the internets and it all seems a bit grandiose.

Journalism is a job. Like any job. Those with the money are doing the calculations of what they can get and how much it's going to cost them (in money, friends, reputation, self-respect) and those wanting the money are doing the calculations of what they can get and how much it's going to cost them (in time, quality of life, reputation, self-respect).

Some people can afford to do the work for no money but lots of potential payback in reputation and building up a brand – though they would likely never call it that – and then they can one day be in a place to wring their hands and fret about the state of journalism. But, other people can't afford that, so they either opt out of the system, do it for fun/as a hobby, or take the jobs that pay the money but not the fancy career-building reputation. It's really not that complicated?

Just wanted to say that after posting in this branch, Fast Company reached out and has said they will write a check for services rendered.

jfruh (#713)

@Hilary Sargent@twitter haha, the system works!

hockeymom (#143)

What's a *branch*?

Abe Sauer (#148)

I think it's interesting that some of the participants here talking about their freelance budgets edit at places that have risen in large part by heavily appropriating and/or summarizing writers' original work at other publications to the point of making the original not worth visiting and, thus, discouraging those original publications from taking a chance again on paying for original stuff. I work a lot in trade–an area that pays most of the time but usually requires original material and reporting and not summaries–and a personal, perfect recent example is how Gawker Media's Jalopnik repackaged my piece on Buick's PR woes in China. (Don't be fooled by the other BBC link, which is itself uses my piece w/o even linking, ugh) Keep this example in mind when editors at sites with a healthy foundation in this kind of thing are talking about freelancer rates.

macy01williams (#242,223)


grandpa27 (#804)

When I first commented on The Awl, one of the honcho's told me to get my own blog. I was annoyed at the free use of scatological words in print. I never stopped commenting and the editor seems OK with my stuff. I have a blog now, but no one but me can see at it thanks to Disqus.

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