Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Should Freelance Writers Have a Minimum Wage?

With election season here, raising the minimum wage is a hot topic. This got me to thinking about freelance writers – severely underpaid professionals, in my humble opinion.

Freelance writing is a profession where competition is fierce – so much so that many of us work for far below the minimum wage. So, I want to propose a minimum pay scale for web writing, as this is one of the most severely underpaid niches in freelancing.

While I recognize that we live in a free market society, as professionals, I think we should at least have MINIMUM guidelines in place to begin to raise the pay standard across the board.

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Proposed Pay Scale for Web Writers

Following are minimums that I think web writers should accept for assignments. My hope is that a standard will begin to be developed for this field (and all freelance writing).

E-ZINE CONTENT: What is this? Content for online newsletters/e-zines. In the last 6-7 years, this form of marketing has really taken off. Some organizations have internal staff to handle this; many more outsource this job to freelance writers.

Many times you will find assignments like this posted on freelance bid sites. I’m astounded at how little some freelancers are willing to accept. I’ve seen bids as low as $2.50 for 500 words. Hence, I propose the following:

Proposed MINIMUM Pay Scale -- Up to 500 words: $10; 500-1,000 words: $17.50; 1,000-2,000 words: $25; $3,000+ words: $40.

SEO ARTICLES: What is this? SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEO articles are written to drive traffic to a website. How? By using certain key words and phrases to attract search engine spiders.

When a website is “spidered,” it picks up on those key words and phrases so that when a web surfer is looking for something, that website will show up in the searched results.

As an example, say you wanted to search the web for copyediting jobs and you used Google as your search engine of choice (does anyone use any other search engine?). So, you go and type in “copyediting jobs.”

In the list of results, InkwellEditorial.com is second out of over 1,100 sites.

The reason content is king on the Internet is that it drives visitors to a site – it gets you in front of potential customers. SEO articles are usually 250-400 words, and are “keyword rich.”
I’ve seen rates as low as $1.50 offered for these types of articles, which can be some obscure topic that you know nothing about and therefore have to research.

Even the best writer is going to spend at least 30 minutes on the simplest of articles that require no research. Doing two per hour is only $3.00. The minimum wage in this country is $5.15.

Taking this into account, why isn’t there more of an outcry against the wages offered freelance writers?

Proposed MINIMUM Pay Scale -- $8.00 (If you’re going to do an article, why not receive at least the newly proposed minimum wage ($8.00/hour)).

FORUM & BLOG POSTING: Now that blogs and interactive forums are so popular, many sites hire freelancers to monitor them and/or post content to keep it fresh. Fresh content is what drives traffic.

The word length of these postings is usually not stated. Most pay by the post. Eg, at least 5 posts a week.

Proposed MINIMUM Pay Scale -- $10/assignment (as this doesn’t go on word count, why accept an assignment like this if they’re not going to give you enough work that you can at least expect $10).

REVIEWS: Reviews come in many types, eg, restaurants, websites, movies, products, etc.. The pay can range from as little as 5 cents on up to $10 or $15. Most usually top out at a few dollars ($2-$3/per review). They are usually only a few paragraphs long.

However, you have to do the research (ie, eat at the restaurant, read the book, etc.) before you can write the review. This is time. Again, even if you only spend an hour between the writing and the research, how many do you have to do to make it worth your while?

Proposed MINIMUM Pay Scale -- $8.00/reviw (same argument as above).

Freelance Writers: The Education & Wage Gap

Consider this: According to the article, “Freelancers UNITE! Can writers get it together?”, (Clamor Magazine, Author: Nick Mamatas), “The average member of the Authors Guild earns less than $25,000 [annually] and one has to sell work pretty regularly to top markets to even qualify for Guild membership.”

The Author’s Guild is a “Society of published authors, an advocate for fair compensation, free speech and copyright protection.”

According to careeroverview.com, “most writing and editor jobs require one to have received a bachelor’s degree . . .” And, according to The U.S. Census Bureau, workers 18 and over with bachelors degrees earn an average of $51,206 a year.

While I couldn’t find stats that state exactly what percentage of freelance writers hold at least a 4-year degree, I know that when I ran my editorial staffing agency in New York, we REQUIRED that candidates hold at least a Bachelor’s degree. Most employers wouldn’t even consider candidates who didn’t have a degree.

So, if we consider even the possibility that many freelancers tend to be educated beyond the high school level – why are so many of us willing to accept such low pay?

Chasing the Freelance Dream & Bracing for Change

How do we turn this around? I think that many of us have to stop chasing the dream of “maybe.”

Maybe if I can get my foot in the door with this one assignment, then it will lead to others that will pay better; or

Maybe they won’t go that high; or

Maybe because competition is so stiff, I shouldn’t ask for that much; etc.

While there are circumstances under which all of these maybes can be justified, it should not be your norm. I discuss this in a past article entitled, Writing for Free: When & When Not to Do It.

We, the writers, are the only ones who can raise our pay standard. And, like voting, that means that we are individually responsible for casting our ballots; for just saying no to assignments that don’t pay enough.

This starts with adhering to a minimum pay scale.

Author note: The figures mentioned are nowhere near what I think freelancer writers should be paid. I stress that these are minimums I think we should begin to adhere to.
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Brooke said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to set a standard. I have been working as a freelance writer for a little over three years. The pricing fluctuation is TERRIBLE! I am using the prices that you mentioned, and everyone thinks I am way too high, while I know that I am too low. I loose jobs all of the time because someone is always willing to do the work for close to free.
I believe it's going to take a large amount of freelance writers to stop being proud to just be writing, and instead to look at what they do as a business. Until then, it is close to impossible to be a freelance writer as a full-time, professional and respectable job.

Inkwell Editorial said...


I feel your frustration when it comes to trying to find the "right" pricing that will win jobs.

Right is in quotation marks because there is no such thing as "right pricing." What's right for you may be wrong for someone else -- that's why there's such a pricing fluctuation in freelance copywriting

FYI, if you are using bid-for-jobs sites, I find that in the great majority of cases, they are not the best way for experienced writers to find jobs.

One thing I always advise freelancers to do if they feel they are losing the pricing war is to look at the types of customers they are dealing with. Many times this is the culprit -- not the pricing. That's why I like to focus on small- to mid-size businesses who already advertise. Why? Because if they already spending money on advertising/marketing, then you don't have to sell them on paying for this type of service, you just have to sell them on the idea of using you -- and what you bring to the table.

Keep at it. Freelancing is a wonderful career -- once you learn how to focus your marketing efforts in the right direction.

Y. Black, Publisher