Almost a third of Americans have done at least some freelance work in the past year. While some begin freelancing by necessity, others actively choose this lifestyle for the freedom it offers. What kind of income can freelance writers expect to earn, and what factors determine their earning potential?
Average Salary for Freelance Writers
The latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which keeps track of median salaries and trends across all major occupations, tells us that writers and authors in the United States earn an annual median of $67,120. Fully half earn less, while the other 50 percent make more — and the gap between the highest-earning writers and the top-paid ones is a large one. Within the bottom 10 percent, writers and authors bring home an annual amount of less than $35,880. The highest-paid writers, on the other hand, make over $133,460 per year.
The salary writers and authors make depends on a broad spectrum of different factors. They include not just a writer’s educational background, number of years of experience in the field, and the state in which they’re based, but also the precise field within which a writer works. Technical writers tend to, for instance, earn a lot more than reporters.
Just what is the average salary for freelance writers, who work across all fields of industry?
First, we’d have to point out that freelancers, or self-employed professionals, do not technically earn a salary at all. Rather, they run their own businesses as solopreneurs, and as such, they charge rates and get paid.
Data from UpWork, a popular platform that connects freelancers with clients, estimates that freelance writers earn an average of $42,000 per year. This would suggest, when compared to the data offered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that freelance writers typically earn less than their employed counterparts.
Some of the most popular salary-tracking platforms also offer estimates regarding freelance writers’ average annual earnings:
- PayScale deduces, based on its available data, that freelance writers earn an average of $41,116, a figure that comes very close to UpWork’s estimate. They additionally report that most freelance writers earn between $20,000 and $81,000 per year.
- Indeed offers a much more optimistic estimate of $54,927 per year.
- ZipRecruiter has the rosiest view of the situation, suggesting that freelance writers earn, on average, $63,213 annually.
What Do Freelance Writers Make Per Hour?
Because freelance writers largely determine their own working hours, the annual income a freelance writer isn’t the only useful metric to investigate. How much do freelance writers tend to earn per hour? To answer this question, we can look at the same sources. PayScale believes that freelance writers make an average of $23.89 per hour, while Indeed places this figure at $23.57. ZipRecruiter, meanwhile, holds that the average hourly rate among freelance writers is $30.
In reality, most freelance writers will not charge their clients on an hourly basis — it is much more common to charge either per word or per project. Many freelance writers draw hard lines regarding the minimum rates they will accept, but it is still likely that they will not earn the same rates from all publications or clients they work with.
Based on Experience
There are no hard and fast rules here, but generally, experienced freelance writers can expect to earn more than those who have recently started their freelance careers.
PayScale estimates, for instance, that entry level freelance writers earn around $15.50 per hour on average. This presumes that the writer isn’t just new to freelance writing, but also to the job market in general — think recent college graduates. More experienced writers can earn between $24 and $30 per hour.
Keep in mind that, because freelance writers typically charge per word or per project, the speed at which they can complete their work also has a significant impact on their earning potential. Seasoned writers are often faster, and this is another reason for which they tend to earn more.
More experienced freelance writers will likewise know more about what it takes to run a successful freelance business — including how to pitch effectively, how to present their portfolios, and other factors that increase their ability to earn.
Based on Education
Education may play a significant role in determining a freelance writer’s earning potential, but that is not necessarily the case. Earnings also vary greatly from one sector to the next, and this doesn’t always bear any clear relation to formal qualifications.
As an example, journalists (who may hold Master’s degrees or even PhDs) generally earn less than technical writers with equivalent qualifications. Likewise, some high-earning fields — such as marketing — do not absolutely require a degree at all.
Still, the general trend is clear. On average, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows:
- Workers who have earned an Associate’s degree earn $141 more on a weekly basis than those who only have a high school diploma.
- Those who hold a Bachelor’s degree make $502 more per week than their peers with a high school diploma.
- With a Master’s degree, workers make an average of $751 more weekly compared to people who pursued no further formal education after high school.
As such, a freelance writer’s earnings are also likely to be higher if they have completed a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
Top Paying States for Freelance Writers
The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program, maintained by the BLS, clearly shows that writers and authors based in Washington, DC, California, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts have the highest incomes.
Freelance writers are in a unique position, however. As freelance writing increasingly moves into the digital realm, they can work with publications or clients in top-paying states while being based in lower-COL states themselves.
Job Outlook for Freelance Writers
Jobs for writers and authors are projected to grow by nine percent between the present and the year 2030. This is just a slightly higher growth rate than is seen across all occupations in the United States.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics warns that jobs within the traditional print sector are expected to continue disappearing over the next couple of years. As that happens, however, opportunities open up within the digital sector.
Skilled, qualified, and experienced freelance writers can therefore reasonably expect a positive outlook. What’s more, freelance writers who have diversified their client base enjoy, in a very real sense, a higher level of stability than traditionally employed professionals. As freelancers, writers can react to industry changes quickly and flexibly.
What Exactly Does a Freelance Writer Do?
Freelance writers run their own businesses as self-employed professionals, and will, as such, have two major responsibilities:
- Crafting texts, and all that that entails (researching, interviewing relevant people, fact-checking, writing, editing, revising, checking a publication’s style guide) is the more obvious part of a freelance writer’s job description.
- Maintaining and growing their business is the other side of a successful freelance writer’s job. This part may entail pitching to potential clients, engaging in professional development, working on a professional website to increase exposure, and book-keeping.
Freelance writers work in diverse sectors, and sometimes more than one. Freelance writers can be medical writers, technical writers, journalists, script writers, speech writers, curriculum writers, and SEO content writers, to name just a few examples.
The precise nature of the work they do depends on the field they work in. Some freelance writers work first, and subsequently pitch their writing to publications — by, for instance, covering news events or writing a movie script. Others accept assignments from clients and work to their specifications.
One characteristic is universal — freelance writers have more freedom than their employed peers to decide in which direction they would like their career to develop.
How to Become a Freelance Writer?
Freelance writers get started in all sorts of ways.
Some freelance writers may have decided to make the switch to being self-employed after previously being employed either as a staff writer, or in a field related to the work they end up performing as freelancers. Medical writers may, for instance, be doctors. Legal writers may have a paralegal AS.
Aspiring freelance writers are almost universally advised to make sure they have savings equivalent to three, six, or even 12 months of the salary they previously earned in order to start their freelance careers without financial worries.
Freelance writers can find new clients in a variety of ways:
- If they have connections in the industry, a freelance writer may be offered work opportunities as soon as they announce that they are going freelance.
- Most freelance writers will want to maintain a professional website with a well-designed portfolio.
- Freelance writers can pitch their story ideas directly to the publications they are interested in working with by contacting the editor at the relevant desk.
- Some freelance writers also choose to maintain a presence on platforms that connect freelancers and clients, such as UpWork.
As a freelance writer accumulates industry experience, it is likely that they will find it easier and easier to find new opportunities — and work may begin flowing in organically.
Qualifications to Be a Freelance Writer
Aspiring writers will generally want to pursue a degree in a related field, such as:
- English literature
- Creative writing
Far from all freelance writers have qualifications related to writing, however, and a degree or other professional qualification in a relevant area can also kick-start your freelance writing career. Architects, engineers, software developers, chefs, and military veterans might all, for instance, be able to find writing opportunities related to those professions.
Skills to Be a Freelance Writer
Freelance writers need to be versatile and resilient professionals who have not only excellent writing and research skills, but also:
- Strong interpersonal skills, generally required to collaborate with editors and other types of clients.
- A solid business sense, as being a freelance writer means essentially running a business alone.
- Up-to-date knowledge of the latest software innovations relevant to their sector.
- Good time-management skills, which will determine the writer’s work/life balance.
Can You Be a Freelance Writer Without a Degree?
Sometimes. A degree is not required for all types of freelance writing, but more technical sectors will certainly look for freelancers who have not only experience and expertise, but also relevant qualifications.