Why You’re Worth More Than a Penny Per Word

I was recently on a writer’s forum where a writer posted that he was writing articles for a penny a word and wondering if that was wise. The other posters shared that they also write for a penny a word, and boast that they can bang out the articles quickly so it’s worth it for them on a per-hour basis.

I decided to run some numbers. Keep in mind that these are all estimates and based on my own sketchy knowledge of how much my expenses are, how many weeks people work per year, etc. Also, keep in mind that freelance writers typically aren’t working on paying work 40 hours per week, so the income I figured for freelancers would be even lower.

The minimum wage here in New Hampshire is $7.25 per hour. If you work 40 hours per week at minimum wage for 49 weeks (leaving some time for vacation and sick days), that’s $14,210 per year.

If you could research and write, say, a 1,000-word article in an hour, that would earn you $10 per hour. If you work as a writer for $10 per hour for 49 weeks, that’s $19,600 per year. But wait…being a freelancer, I pay $1,800 per year for my own (crappy) health insurance, and let’s give a conservative guess of $5,000 annually for expenses, including computer equipment, office supplies, mortgage and utilities just for my office space, etc. If I subtract that from the yearly freelance pay, that’s $12,800 per year — less than minimum wage!

Now, I realize that some people do freelance writing as a supplement to their full-time jobs, or they’re supported by a spouse and their freelancing income is fun money. For me, though, working at a penny a word is simply not sustainable.

Also, why write for a penny a word when, with some thought, you can easily earn 10 times as much: 10 cents per word, which you would earn at some small trade magazines? Then you’d be making $100 per hour.

Writing is undervalued by many. But if businesses that use writing value the work, skill, and knowledge that goes into a 1,000-word article at a measly $10, it’s partly because there are hordes of writers willing to write for that much!

However, I don’t believe that if people weren’t working for these bottom-feeders, wages for writers would rise. There’s no way that someone currently paying a penny a word would raise rates to a much more reasonable $1 per word (or even 10 cents per word!) because writers refuse to work for a penny a word — he would simply disappear.

If you’re a good writer, persistent, and professional, you can earn $50,000, $100,000, $200,000 per year and more. And yes, I do know someone who earns $200,000 per year writing magazine articles and corporate communications.

You also don’t need to start at a penny a word and “work your way up.” My first assignment, back in 1996, paid $500. No, that was not a fluke, and no, I was not just lucky. I pitched magazines that paid a reasonable amount because it never occurred to me that the effort and skill I put into an article would be worth mere pennies. I wrote a query that sold, and I deserved to be paid a decent sum for my idea, skills, time, effort, and knowledge.

Of course, I’m not at the top of the pay scale by any means, though I make a very comfortable living as the main breadwinner for our family. My minimum rate for articles is 50 cents per word, and those articles have to be fairly straightforward and easy. My top rate so far is about $2.50 per word for national magazines. But there are probably people out there earning $6 per word wondering why I put up with such low wages! So the bottom line is that you need to figure out what your work is worth and what’s economically sustainable for you. Just don’t sell yourself short!

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71 comments… add one
  • Insightful post. I keep wondering why anyone would consider paying per any kind of quantity.

    It seems to overlook the importance over quality/relevance vs. the more words the better.

    Just my initial reaction. Any thoughts?

  • Heiddi

    Hiya Linda,

    Great post. I think that some new writers simply don’t do enough research about magazine writing. When I wanted to start writing in 2005, I went online to find writer networks, information, etc. I DID get caught up in one website that paid a penny a click! Haven’t written for them in a year, but my articles are still there. Lesson learned: I KNOW I’m worth much more than that. 🙂

  • Steph

    This is great, Linda. I once saw a post that broke down the overhead freelancers must carry for themselves, and the math came out very similar. I think that article mentioned $35 an hour as a minimum sustainable living for a freelancer. (For me, that came to about 50 cents a word.) Ever since I read that, I don’t work for less. The overhead I carry (mostly the computer and software and the internet connection) prices me out of it.

  • Don’t sell yourself short is exactly it. Because if you tell people you’ll write for a penny a word, then you start to believe that a penny is all you really deserve for your words.

    It’s hard to buck up and tell yourself you’re worth it, especially when there is so much “work” available for those low wages. But if this is something you love doing, then it’s also something you value and working for those low wages sure does make you hate the work fast.

  • Thanks for writing this; it’s very inspiring =D I love your point that you don’t have to “work your way up” to better-paying jobs. I keep finding myself second-guessing whether I’m worth the minimum price I set, but I’ve decided I’m not going to work for $15 an article any more. My time and skill is worth more than that.
    Thank you =D

  • In my experience, a lot of the writers who settle for so little are the ones who want the work handed to them instead of going out and hunting it down. You can get a ton of work without a lot of effort if you accept a penny a word. Like Linda, I prefer to do a little more hustling and get paid a lot better.

    My problem with this approach isn’t that you’re getting paid so badly, it’s that you’re practicing writing quickly instead of learning how to write well. It doesn’t matter how many articles you write quickly, if they’re all crap, you’re never going to get anywhere.


  • Star

    This bottomfeeder stuff is our current nemesis. It has trickled up to big name pubs cutting rates and budgets. Blah blah. This is all I EVER post about (except editors expecting me to do all their work, LOL). Anyhow, I have no idea where all this is going. We must be strong. I keep thinking this will peter out or morph…how could anyone live on this ridiculous, insulting, and stupid pay? Would you take medical advice from someone who makes less than my kid does handing out clothes at the dry cleaner? Guess people do.

  • Star

    PS It was bad enough that we were chasing the same buck a word Gore Vidal was in the 1960s–and for more work, coming up with the ideas in the first place, chasing art, all the personal info on the sources, multiple revision cycles, etc. Then they decided what the heck, why even pay? People will do this just because they love to write, bless their hearts. And the PEOPLE did!

  • Lori Murray

    Writers who settle for low rates do nothing more than cheapen the profession for the rest of us.

  • Thanks for all your comments! Jennifer, I agree…I often hear these penny-per-word writers asking where they can go to find freelance gig listings. The ones that pay well are rarely listed on a website somewhere…you have to put in the work to find them.

  • I’m currently charging $0.02/word to build up a customer base. My plan is to rise my rate about 3 cents/6 months or so.

    I’m writing for small businesses, individuals, and the like though. I don’t write for magazines. I’ve looked into it, and even the regional magazines are offering $0.10/word. This has actually prompted me to start looking into writing query letters, but that’s still in the works.

  • It’s my gut feeling that content sites will keep going full speed until they blow up. Much like real estate. Prices go up, up, up! Then, SPLAT, they hit the ceiling and the economy crumples and everybody’s wondering, “Hey, what happened?” It simply isn’t supportable, and I do genuinely feel for those who are currently relying on content sites for full-time income.

  • Amen! I dislike what these content mills do to the industry. I wrote for one for a short time for clips and a little extra cash (emphasis on little). I did learn a few things – how to write a bit faster and some basic SEO. Drawbacks, aside from the pay, were lousy editors who butchered some of my articles and offered misguided writing advice. It is also bothersome that much of the content for these places is not that great, further dumbing down our image.

    My theory is that if I am going to make the time to write, I want to do it for a better paying market, or for a worthy non-paying cause. Stepping down from the soapbox now…thanks for letting me vent. Good post, appreciate you sharing and encouraging us.

  • I’ve preached for years that nobody should start off writing for free or for a penny or two per word. Why not start pitching to the better paying mags from the git-go? If you aren’t ready, then bone-up and practice, but don’t give yourself away for free or pennies. Hard to look at yourself in the morning when you do that, you know?

    Right on, Linda. Write for pay…reasonable pay…or not at all.

  • I have given up trying to disuade fellow writers from not writing for a pittance. I have tried and been ‘shouted down’ and told that it’s regular work / I can write fast / it pays the bills etc. etc.
    But at what mental and physical price?

    A friend is suffering from total exhaustion trying to pay the bills like this.
    I would rather get a regular ( non writing) job to pay the bills and write in my spare time at no less than 10 cents a word.

    But everyone has to make their own decisions based on their particular circumstances. For some the ability to work at home when they have little children outweighs all other practical considerations.

  • Star

    I have tried and been “shouted down” and told that it’s regular work / I can write fast / it pays the bills etc. etc.
    But at what mental and physical price?

    I hear all the same things. Sure, knock youself out so your kids have a raddled, broke Mom. WhatEVER. If you can write 100 articles about linoleum, well, you deserve a lot of money, not a little!

  • Thanks, all, for your comments! It seems this post has struck a chord. I sometimes want to say, “Sure, write for a penny a word — that leaves more high-paying work for me.” But I just can’t do that — it riles me to hear about writers earning so little!

    • Speaking of getting riled up… I just had a travel trade magazine reach out to me about writing 12, 500 word articles for them. Great, I thought! Come to find out, they would only pay $150 for 6,000 words (or $0.02/word)… I told him “Good luck! Paying less than a nickel a word is going to be very tough to find talented writers. If your budget improves, please keep me in mind.” His response: “Really”…I have hundreds that can do it for that cost.” Ughhh… fists clenched, teeth gritted…

      I will never understand why a writer would be willing to make less than minimum wage! We’re worth so much more 🙂

  • It has nothing to do with what you are worth. But rather what the market is willing to pay.

    If you are currently being paid well it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along willing to do it for less. And these days all businesses are looking to save money.

    It’s no longer a good time to be a freelance writer. Far better to write and sell your own books, info products, etc than dealing with clients who are accustomed to paying peanuts because of the glut of writers.

    Same thing happened in the music industry. Whenever you have a creative art form, that you can make money at, there will be much higher supply, than demand. That, combined with hoards of people willing to work for almost nothing equals bad economics.

    • Lori Murray

      Ken, part of what you say may be true. But there have always been writers who are willing to work for less. That is nothing new. And you are forgetting one important thing: while there may be more writers, there is also a greater need. Every business in this country, profit and nonprofit, big and small, needs Web content, and many struggle to populate sites that they maintain as a repository of information for their customers. That simply did not exist even a decade ago. Add to that the enormous amount of e-newsletters, blogs and social media content that companies must now maintain to stay competitive. They need good writers, and yes, they are willing to pay. But these are only a few examples. The Internet has ushered in countless opportunities, and I believe the outlook for freelance writers has never been better.

  • That’s what everyone keeps saying, but I’m not seeing it. When a job is posted on a linked in group, it’s like a feeding frenzy. There definitely is higher demand, but it is not decent sized companies with a decent size budget. It’s one person companies that don’t have any money to spend, especially when there are tons of people willing to work for pennies. Show me evidence to the contrary. I was able to charge more 10 years ago for the same project today. Simple economics.

    • Lori Murray

      Well for starters, you can’t wait for the business to come to you. Something that appears on a LinkedIn group is too easy, and that’s why everyone goes after it. It takes hard work to get the good stuff. Freelance writing is 80% marketing and 20% writing.

  • That’s just one example. It’s indicative of the overall problem. I’ve seen a huge drop in the overal quality of my leads from personal promotion. I believe it is because today everyone knows what a copywriter is. Ten years ago only people in the industry and their clients knew. When you have a large number of people writing for peanuts, the fees tend to get driven down for everyone. Unless you happen to be in some isolated, highly specialized market.

  • Thanks for the interesting back-and-forth, Lori and Ken! Changes are definitely afoot. I’ve found it helpful to diversify and to use several different marketing tactics, whereas in years past I relied mostly on magazine clients and mostly on query letters. But in all cases, I go out and find the clients myself…I don’t land magazine and copywriting gigs by competing with thousands of other writers on job boards, etc.

    I’ve also found that with magazine writing, the pay has remained the same but the articles have gotten shorter. Gone are the days when I would write 2,500-word pieces for Family Circle that would bring in $3,750. Now I work more in volume, but thankfully I’m a fast and organized writer.

  • When I started a couple years ago, I had a freelance friend who said Yahoo and the like were great ways to earn cash. I questioned the penny per hit theory, but she was earning $10 per short article and as a newbie, I thought, well let’s give it a shot. I did well on a couple articles, but overall, I wrote and wrote without earning much (and you have to earn a minimum to cash out). I began to feel burned out and skepetical that I could even earn money as a writer.

    Thankfully, I found Linda and her e-course which are putting me on the path to my dream, but wow, under-selling yourself is bad business. I’m currently in the process, after much legwork on my part, of writing for several local businesses. Pricing myself has been hard as I am still relatively new and I don’t know what others charge for this type of work, but I met with the owners and we discussed what they felt was fair, what I needed, and how my writing for them could increase their bottom line.

    In the end, this leaves me writing more, earning more, and stressing less about who “hits” my page each day. Greta blog, Linda!

  • I agree that change is happening. I write sales copy only. I see that both of you do corporate communications and articles. What I’m seeing is the pay-per-word thing crossover into sales copywriting. So many prospects equate a content writer with what I do. Even when educating them about the ROI. BTW, is this blog primarily for article writers, or does it also include direct response writers like myself?

  • Oops, and as a p.s. These new opportunities are at the detriment of both my blog sites. I think that’s good, perhaps! Ha.

  • Thanks for your comment, Kristin! Good for you for valuing what you do.

    Ken, the blog is mainly for magazine and online article writers, but I also do copywriting and that will inform my posts. For example, I do write about diversifying. (I’ve also written on copywriting for Copyblogger.)

    I still think that quality will win out. Sure, you can get someone to write an article or a brochure for ten bucks, but how good will it be? Professionals value their time and skills, and the clients WE want value them as well. The rest are bottom feeders — let the feeding frenzy go on, and we can concentrate on the markets that pay well.

  • Hi Linda,

    For a very long time I wrote blog posts for “clients” for a penny a word- sometimes less. I knew I deserved more but I was afraid if I raised my rates my “clients” would drop me and use other writers who were willing to work for less.

    During that period I struggled to pay my bills and constantly felt tired and burnt out from having to write several articles a day just to meet my daily minimum earnings.

    A few weeks ago I decided enough was enough. I told my “clients” I was raising my rates to 4 cents a word. At that point I didn’t care if they dropped me or not. I wanted to be able to work remotely and still have time for other activities as well.

    All of them cut ties with me.

    I wasn’t surprised.

    Luckily I had amassed a substantial sum of money to sustain me for at least 3 months.

    I used the money I earned to start a blog and through the blog I’ve been able to land one new blogging gig, after one month of unemployment and living off my savings, that pays 5 cents a word. I accomplished this with only one blog post published on my blog!

    My objective this year is to land many clients that pay at least 10 cents a word through my blog. I’m convinced now more than ever that these clients exist.

    Just goes to show what can happen when you decide to take that leap of faith and refuse to settle for peanuts.

    Great blog Linda. Your posts always inspire and motivate me.

    • Good for you for moving up — and up — and up! Whenever you raise your rates, there will be a new class of clients who are willing and able to pay it.

  • Michael Loyd

    I understand the need for writers to make money, but I do feel that writers, like most other creative arts professionals severely over value their work. It’s no disrespect, I was a struggling artist for years, the fact does stand that if people don’t VALUE what you create, then its worthless.I pay writers low numbers to generate basic content for my website, this stuff is thoughtless material that I could do with out any research, all they are doing is saving me time. How is that worth more than 1 cent/word.

    When I need engaging articles, I write them myself.

    • Separating the value question from the talent question is important. Content mills operate under a business model that requires them to fill up space fast and cheap. Quality doesn’t matter. That’s nothing personal, and no amount of writing talent changes that basic equation.

      A corporation pay more for brochures for their salespeople because they use those brochures to generate revenue themselves.

  • Ken

    Unfortunately, many people think that way. Writers will always be a commodity/vendor type service provider. The reason people like Michael can think this way is because the supply greatly outweighs the demand. If you are going to write content, (as opposed to something more valuable or specialized like sales copy) then you absolutely must find a way to differentiate yourself from everyone else. However, I do believe there is always a chunk of any given market willing to pay various price points. Not everyone thinks the way Michael does. AND you do get what you pay for. You certainly aren’t going to get the best writing or highest quality articles of content written for a cent a word. I think anyone with any sense to value or business already knows that though.

  • William

    Very interesting article, thank you.

    I am not a writer I hold other certifications and skills for employment, however, what I know is that you will be compensated if you demand a better wage and you value your product/service that you are selling.

    Hockey players in Canada and US make millions, but during a strike they play for peanuts. After the strike they are welcomed back to an inflated ego and paycheck, so demand is there in all commodities.

    So why not demand and stick to your demands, value and service.

  • In my experience, you must always convert your price per word into per hour dollars to make a true comparison. My 10 cents per word magazine articles require a lot of up front time in research and interviews, before I write them. On my copywriting side, I generally make 4 to 5 cents a word, but the research and writing time is at least half, sometimes one-third of what I spend on the same count of words for a magazine article. I make much more per hour from my copywriting than I do my magazine writing. I hope to move out of the regional magazine market and increase those rates, but for now, my copywriting is much more lucrative. Always compare with time spent and not just a per word rate.

  • Thank you for this article! I have been wondering for awhile now if I’ve been under-pricing myself, and now I realize I have been!! I just took on a new project at the rate of 10 cents a word. That felt OK to me, but 50 cents a word feels A LOT better!!

    So as of now, my new minimum rate is 50 cents a word … and as of January 1, I will be raising my price with my current freelance project clients. It’s time for me to own my value and know my worth. I really appreciate your guidance in this area.

    • Wow, let me know how it goes! 10 cents per word is okay to start, but you definitely want to keep moving up!

    • Rae

      Seriously, how’s the 50 cents per word going? I got offered a technical writing gig for 5 cents a word and balked. I’m curious what an acceptable rate is for “fluff” vs technical writing. I believe fluff is a subject matter anyone can tackle but that still requires a skilled writer to convey, such as how to plan a cheap vacation. Whereas, writing about applied physics requires a certain level of comprehension and underlying knowledge base.

      Any ideas out there?

      I’m a budding technical writer and unclear where my prices should start. The range is vast. Bloggers rail that you should “charge what you’re worth” but it’s trying to figure out what the market even looks like.

      • I certainly wouldn’t call non-technical articles “fluff”! I did a lot of health and nutrition writing, for example, and needed to be skilled at translating studies, etc. Every writing field has its own requirements, and none of them are easy. Even when I wrote about, say, organizing your home, it took a knowledge of who to approach for an interview, what to ask them, how to research it, and how to convey it to readers. “Fluff” has a negative connotation.

        That said, 5 cents per word for technical writing is unacceptably low! I don’t know what the going rates are, but i do know it’s a lucrative field. Writer’s Market has a list of average rate ranges for various types of writing, and I believe Chris Marlow and Ed Gandia did rate surveys of freelancers that may help you.

        Hope that helps!

        • Casey

          Hi Rae,

          I worked for 3 years as a technical writer (started with very little experience) for a company full-time, and then moved to freelance. The (Australian) company paid $30/hr. I raised my rates when I began freelancing to $50/hr and they were happy to pay it.

          It’s not about the words, etc, it’s about paying you to solve a problem they have. Also, a glowing reference / testimonial will open many doors.

          Hope that is a little helpful.

          • “It’s not about the words, etc, it’s about paying you to solve a problem they have.” Love that!

  • My freelance writing career has been interesting to say the least, like many others I guess. I have always wanted to write but never took the time to really get into it. Roughly four years ago I took the plunge. I began with content mills (which are the pits I might add)and now I am looking to extend myself. I’m currently working on my ebook and hopefully I will find higher paying clients. I admire those who have managed to break free from the content mill nightmare. I’m certainly worth more than what I have been paid and I blame it all on myself. If you think you are worth less, you receive less. Now, I’m thinking bigger and better!

    • Exciting to hear you’re thinking bigger! Check out the archives here for posts on how to write a killer query, market to editors, etc.!

  • Keith Baird

    Hey everyone,

    Not sure how active this thread is but I would like to post anyways. If there are writers willing to work for 10c/word or less, who are you as a fellow writer to criticize them and the company they work for? There are obvious benefits to this form of writing; consistent, stable work. If you’re looking for a stable job as a copywriter and you get paid 10c a word…you can make 2-3 500 word articles per hour. Even at 1000 words an hour, you’re making a $100/hour.

    If you’re a writer making $1-$5 per word and looking for stable online work…good luck. Economy of scale in the copywriting industry is what sets other firms ahead of others. Quantity is just as serious an indicator of talent as quality, and as a content marketer myself, I realize that. I know excellent writers who get paid a penny a word for consistent, small writing gigs, on top of their 25c- $1/word articles that aren’t so often.

  • Ken

    I like your comment because the more people that believe that kind of stupidity, the less competition I have.

    However, professionals charge by the PROJECT NOT by the word.

    You are also mistakenly using the word “copywriter” to describe content writing.

    Stable work is a factor of consistent marketing, NOT lowering your prices. Lowering your prices only lowers your credibility, which further damages your ability to get good clients that pay higher rates.

    If you want to be treated like a hooker charge by the word.

    Quality and time are in direct proportion.

    There is no way possible that the quality is as good, when writing 3 articles per hour, as someone spending 2 hours on ONE article. They have SIX times the time to create, edit, and polish.

    • Keith

      Of course you like my comment because each one of your responses is quite opinionated/biased because of the work you’ve done. After managing dozens of writers that vary in skill, dependability, and job situations, I’ve come to realize that it IS possible to write three well-written articles an hour that are of equal quality to someone who spent two hours on one article. If you’re not able to produce 1500 words of quality work in an hour, and you’d rather spend two hours on writing 1,000 words, high-volume production is not your skill set.

      I repeat, if a writer is comfortable producing work at 10cents an hour, then why not do it? Do not put yourself upon such a high pedestal that you struggle to pay your bills. There will always be someone of equal talent and in need of the money to produce the same article for cheaper. This is how the marketplace works.

  • Ken

    I understand how the marketplace works Keith. That’s exactly why I advocate what I do. Your point of view comes from a person who exploits labor. The quality of work suffers, the pay for the writer suffers, and the perception of the profession suffers.

    I’m not a writer. I’m a marketing instructor, consultant, and copywriter. So yes, I may have a different viewpoint than a writer would.

    However, you are completely wrong saying that there is no relation between time and quality. This is one of the most basic business premise there is.

    Higher price equals a smaller number of people willing to pay the price, which equates to higher quality.

    Gary Bencivenga is arguably one of the best copywriters in the world. He has repeatedly stated that other’s could do better work than him, if he was restricted in the time he put in on a project.

    It is ignorant to say that quality is not affected by time.

    If you were having brain surgery and one surgeon was being paid by the amount of cuts, and the other was being paid by the whole job (project) which would you choose? I sure wouldn’t want the one being paid by the number of cuts, because he would be rushing through to get to the next surgery, rather than taking his time to do quality work.

    It’s NOT an issue of being ABLE to produce copy more quickly, it’s an issue of quality suffering when time is limited for some reason. In this case because prices are so ridiculously low. ANY professional copywriter worth his salt will tell you that.

    Finally, nothing I said was meant to put myself on a pedestal. And struggling to pay one’s bills or not, has nothing to do with the value created or with the perception of value in the market place.

    Nothing will stop exploitation of writers because there will always be someone willing to work for less, thus driving the prices rock bottom. HOWEVER, the smart copywriter positions them self and their value to attract GOOD clients, who value QUALITY over PRICE.

    If you still don’t understand this, then go study Dan Kennedy’s Price Elasticity course.

  • Mark Gunther

    Fine article but for me it comes down to the arguments we in the culinary arts field have been debating for years. Is it worth the time to innovate and market to the clients who are willing to pay for the experience and the “ride”” Or is it more profitable to concentrate on those who want the cheapest, fastest? Food costs are fungible and moving, much as the costs of human intelligence are.

    As a beginner wanting to learn both copywriting and article writing as parts of an overall writing skills base, I wonder if charging for quality level of skills limits ones ability to develop the skills to sharpen and polish the mechanics. Do you need to write free articles and/or technical papers just for skill building purposes and then use those as a way to market your skills in a portfolio capable of bring high fees from the get go?

  • Marie

    I currently work as a copywriter and I get paid a measly 22,000 per month. I’m from the Philippines, so I guess $1.00 = Php 42.00. Anyway, I’m still happy they can pay me that much, given that most companies in the Philippines would pay about 13,000/month but they also expect us to write two high quality articles every day. I’m frustrated because they expect us to write an article with minimal research, then submit a wonderfully-written one. Pfft.
    I also want to talk about the penny per word rate… I’m sad that companies in the US who are looking for expert writers would usually note “NATIVE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WRITERS ONLY”. caps lock. No matter how great my pitch is, they always end up with this reply, “We’re sorry but we’re looking for writers who are based in the United States.” Do I have reason to feel bad?
    I usually end up writing for $5.00-$10.00 per 500-word article and I hope I can put a stop to that. My confidence in my skills = zilch, nada, nothing. 🙁

    • I think part of the problem is that it sounds like you’re searching for gigs on the job boards, bidding sites, etc. What well-paid writers do is seek out clients and pitch them even if they have no job ads up. The clients that pay well aren’t out there putting up ads, I guarantee it. You need to do the legwork to figure out who your best prospects are, and then go after them with a query, sales letter, etc. THOSE clients won’t care where you are if you can turn out great copy. I just had a guest post that can help you on Copyblogger: http://www.copyblogger.com/earn-more-freelancing/

      • Thanks, Linda! I just read your copyblogger post and whoooo, I really need to step up. 😉 I had a light bulb moment after reading your post and comment here, so cheers to higher rates and yes, I am worth more than a penny!

        • Glad to help! It’s not nearly as easy as using content mills and bidding sites, but the pay is so much better when you do your own legwork — and the clients are better to work with!

  • Ken Hoffman

    So there’s pretty simple solution to that problem Marie.

    Work at making your writing as good as someone who is a native English speaking person, so that your potential clients can’t tell the difference.

    Then don’t mention that you are from the Philippines because there will always be a stigma and low pay for writers from their.

    It’s pretty easy to pick a different location as your “office” so that clients have the perception.

    Unless you need to speak to them on the telephone, they will never know the difference…assuming of course that your writing is top notch.

  • Ken Hoffman

    I think you are wrong about that Linda.

    THOSE clients absolutely do want good writers, but they also use screening processes…and one of the things that will get you screened out is for them to find out that you are a NON Native English speaker. Too many people have had too many problems with subpar writing. So best, to just avoid that possiblity and the stigma associated with it, and just do what I suggested above.

  • Ken Hoffman

    Also, I just read your post and I think it’s VERY misleading. There are almost no CONTENT writers earning $250 per hour. Especially when you factor in all the time spent to run a business. Stating such grossly over exaggerated claims is a big part of the problem. Just the same as AWAI claiming people can work from the beach and making 6 figures.

    • Content writers, as in content mills? No, there certainly aren’t. I would never tell a content mill writer that they can earn $250 per hour because they just can’t. You need to go out and find the work that pays good money, and THEN write fast and well.

      And, to your other point…I know many, MANY non-native English speakers who write for big-name pubs like the Washington Post, Saveur, and Vogue. And just as many who do copywriting for large businesses. I’ve written for around 200 clients and have never, ever had to go through a screening process to make sure I was a native English speaker.

      I think we’re talking about two totally different kinds of markets. I’m talking about those gigs you go out and get — article assignments for consumer and trade magazines, copywriting gigs with companies with at least $5 million in profits, blogging contracts for large businesses. I guarantee you that I earn $250- per hour consistently with these types of clients — and if I can do it, anyone else can too.

  • Sarah Rigstad


    Great post! You really broke all the information down into an easy and understandable read.

    Thanks for the insight.

  • Chad

    There will always be people whining you can’t charge X amount, because it’s not what the market will bear. You’re targeting the wrong market segment! What, you’re going to start whining next that you can’t sell a quality product at a fair price to someone who buys everything at Walmart? Of course you can’t! That doesn’t mean you can’t get the price.

  • Gemma Two Scots Abroad

    This is a great article at putting my mind at rest. I am now looking into freelance work and was surprised at how low the cents per word rate is. I think because I am coming from a professional background with a decent wage into the industry (whilst travelling) it’s hard to accept but this has shown me I shouldn’t accept it. Thanks

  • Brijit

    I agree with you 100% and feel really insulted by people who basically want writers to work for pennies– especially when they’re picky about qualifications and expectations. I know I’m a strong writer and very confident in my skills and believe that I deserve to be paid well for my time and hard work (at least a live-able wage!). However, I have a really difficult time finding work because I don’t know how to find people who believe in fair compensation– and I refuse to accept jobs from those that don’t. Freelance sites are FULL of low-paying gigs. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Brijit,

      Although freelance sites are filled with lowball offers, there are still a few that pay well. I sort through pages of jobs to find one I will bid on, but there are usually enough to keep me busy when I need the work. For me, the key is using the job search to locate offers of decent pay that suit my particular talents and abilities, then promoting my services well to get the job. It takes time but you’ll land a few, and many of them turn into multiple projects.

      Hang in there!

  • You all must be made of money? Writing companies that pay people more than 50 bucks an article rarely employ freelance writers. Who has the time and energy to keep going on?

    Both content mills and online sites that employ writers are trash. One does not want to pay you the money while the other pays very little.

    If I can get 5 bucks out of a content mill, I see this as progress. It is better than getting a reject notice from one of those name brand places that will never buy your article at all.

  • Totally agree. When I started using Elance and Freelancer to contract some writing projects, I was amazed at the lowball offers that came down the pike. I soon set my standards high and refused to budge. I had to turn down 20 offers to get one I liked, but it was worth it to be able to earn enough money to survive.

    Crafting words takes time. I can’t write 1000 words an hour, not even poorly. My average production is about 2000 words a day. That’s the only way I can create a piece with quality, relevance and passion. Our craft deserves nothing less, and the industry needs to know and accept this as fact. If all writers would uphold their standards, for both production and compensation, the industry would become a more professional and profitable marketplace for everyone.

    Good article.
    Kevin Ingram

  • jigs

    Not sure when this post was written (no visible dates anywhere), but curious if recent or written 10 years ago 🙂 I am currently getting about 10 cents a word for online trade magazines, whereas my first article for PC Magazine back in 1985 was 3 cents a word. While a tech writer at IBM, also in the ’80s, I practiced the 10,000 word-a-day rule (was it Asimov who said that to become a writer, that’s all you had to do?), and that made my average about 3 cents a word as well. Pretty much slave labor if ya ask me.

    • Yep, this was written less than 10 years ago, and even today I’m still earning from 30-50+ cents per word for print trades and $1+ per word for consumer pubs. It was maybe 5 years ago that I wrote a rush article for Health Magazine for $2.50 per word, which has been my top rate. Also recently earned $1/word writing ten 350-word blog posts for a custom content company for their university client. (That blog rate IS unusual! Most blogs pay maybe $75 per post tops.) Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places? For example, online markets tend to pay less than print.

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