The Freelance Writer's Salary

Freelance Writer Salary
The freelance writers salary question, finally answered. Truthfully. Patrick George / Getty Images

What is a typical freelance writer's salary, truthfully? Surely you want to see real numbers, right?

Questions about the potential salary and income of a freelance writer are some of the most common questions I get as a mentor of writers. And, of course, that's perfectly logical, right? The amount of money you can make is definitely one of the most important factors influencing your freelance writing career decision. So, I'm going to tell you straight out what I made/make, because I believe you should have some real data from an actual person. But first . . .

Factors in Figuring Freelance Writing Salary

First, let's establish that freelance writers don't generally get a salary per se, as a salary is usually defined as a set amount of money from an employer. Writers most often have contracts with several different clients and are considered self-employed. They receive payments from different sources or clients that (all together) add up to a total income.

Along these same lines, there are so very many variables that go into a freelance writer's salary; things like income versus profit, billable hours, type of rates, education level, experience level and so on. In fact, the list feels never ending, as I'm still uncovering new variables even after I've been in this career for over 10 years. 

Therefore, I must absolutely urge you to read this article on Freelance Writing Salary Caveats. You can do it now, or later, but you really should make an effort to understand these factors. Me giving you a raw income number unassociated with these factors is not going to be of much use to you.

But, I'll give you that number anyway, as I know it's what you're here for!

Personally, I Make

I am comfortable telling you some of my past years' final numbers, as long as you've got some of those caveats in mind. In addition, I generally have no problem publishing my rates, which are listed at my freelance writer's website. 

In 2005, when I first began moonlighting as a freelance editor and writer, I made about $10,000(USD). I completed simple side jobs that I worked on in between raising my two toddlers, completing my degree and working in editorial for two local colleges.

The first year in which freelance writing was my sole income was 2007. My goal was to replace my full-time income from my traditional job. That first year, I made about $30,000.

My best year as a freelance writer was a year in which I pulled in $110,000, the bulk of which was from one specific client. That was also the year in which I logged the most hours; I definitely worked more than full time on that project.

As of this writing, I currently work an average of 20 hours a week, and profit about $40,000 per year. These two numbers have remained pretty steady over the last couple years as I've hit a rhythm with a list of five steady clients, and spend much of my time caring for my two teenagers. In addition, I've lately begun to choose projects that enable me to write in pursuit of social justice and pro-social causes. I'm at a place in my life now where profit isn't as much motive as is working on topics that matter. 

Beginning Freelance Writer's Salary

But what about you? Can you do it? Can you swing this career and leave the office behind? 

First, keep in mind the several factors and caveats that go into a freelance writer's salary. Then, know that most freelance writers in their first year can make at least $35,000. And, that's a minimum for full-time work. Those with applicable education, experience or specialized genre knowledge (such as a copywriter or technical writer) can make much more. 

Advanced Freelance Writer's Salary

As we advance, we tend to follow our interests in many different directions, right? That seems to make the "advanced" category a little harder to pinpoint when it comes to freelance income. As we expand into different genres and topics, our incomes tend to diverge. If we become more specialized as freelance writers, our income increases. For example, remember the year I described above in which I made $110,000? Well, that project leaned heavily on my knowledge of the Spanish language and Latino culture, combined with my editorial abilities.

However, for perspective, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pinpoints the 10 percent of highest earners among general authors and writers at about $114,000. For technical writers, that figure is $108,000, and it sits at $109,000 for editors. Keep in mind, the BLS generally reflects full-time, employed workers, meaning career freelance writers should understand how to do their own research on freelance writing salaries.

Finding Information on Freelance Writing Income

As usual, my first and foremost resource recommendation are the Writers Market. Rate information and earning potential is always a well-written, well-researched section in this annual book. 

Lately, another one of my favorite websites for pay rate resources is PayScale. They use crowdsourcing and big data technologies to create the "world's largest database of 54 million individual salary profiles." They also brag on their page that the information is updated in real time. Very convenient. 

Improve Your Salary

What if you're not happy with your freelance writing income? Well, there are a lot of roads to go down to improve your prospects. Experience and education alone will help the most, but research, discipline and other strategies can also buoy your income. If you're ready to start making more money ASAP, read this article for the Top X Ways to Improve Your Freelance Writer Salary.