Minimum Wage for Freelance Writers

"Coin in Hand" image courtesy of GreekGod at

Freelance writing fees are set by each individual writer.  We choose what we charge based on the amount of money we need to make, how good we are and what kind of value we're bringing to a client.

So why are some freelance writers working for less than the Federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour)?

Sure, I love what I do - but I have bills to pay.  I don't want to work 90 hours a week to make $400 after I pay my taxes, so I wouldn't dream of working for minimum wage.  If I were an independently wealthy writing hobbyist... I still wouldn't write for minimum wage.

Why am I writing this post?

Because I want to let you, as freelance writers, know that you shouldn't feel you've got to do what you love for pennies.  I've said this before in another medium where I was impolitely told that I didn't know what I was talking about - and that freelance writers have to be "starving artists" for years before they can start commanding decent rates (not good, but decent).

Au contraire.

If you are a good writer, choose your freelance writing rates and stick with them.  You are worth what you believe you are worth, provided you are looking at your skill set objectively and reasonably.

I don't believe in perpetuating nonsense (like the "fact" that you should starve before you deserve to earn a fair wage).  I see job postings all the time offering writers $2.50 for 500 words, SEO optimized and native English.  Seriously?!  Don't you dare do it.  It's bad for you, and I'll tell you why in a minute.

Think about these things before you bid on jobs like that:
  • It likely takes one hour to write 500 words of content - no research, no background - just right out of your head - so you'll be working for 1/3 of minimum wage.  (You can flip burgers on the midnight shift and make at least four times what you'd make writing at that rate - and you don't have to worry about paying your own taxes, overhead or scrounging up new clients.)
  • A client who is willing to only pay $2.50 for 500 words of content does not recognize the value of a freelance writer - so you can expect them to treat you like crap.
  • If you feel you're only worth $2.50 for 500 words, then you're either misinformed or you can't write any better than a fifth grader. 
Why is accepting crap jobs bad for you?
  • You're going to get burned out.  When you have to write ten hours a day to make ends meet, it becomes a chore; when you want to write eight hours a day and you're being fairly compensated - that feeling is why you became a freelance writer in the first place, right?!
  • You're going to get treated like crap.  Some of the sweatshop employers who post those ads are downright rude and condescending, and they don't believe writers are worth more than $2.50 an hour - why would you work for someone like that?
  • You are devaluing yourself, and eventually you're going to agree with those sweatshop employers - you won't feel like you're worth more, and you'll get stuck in a rut forever.
Should you start out with low rates while you're building a portfolio?

Sure - but $2.50 for 500 words isn't low - it's pretty much free.  That's $0.005 per word.  You've got to write a hundred words to make fifty cents.

$0.02 is low.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  You can start low to entice people to purchase your services - but don't underestimate your value.  I'm not saying you have to start out charging $10 for a 500 word piece; charge more if you know you can.  I am saying you shouldn't charge any less than that if you possess writing skill.

Know that people wouldn't be hiring writers if they could do it effectively themselves.  They either don't have time, writing skill or the inclination to write - and you do.  When I want a gourmet meal (my cooking skills are limited) I go out and buy one from someone who can prepare it.

Don't underestimate your worth.

I found this article by a colleague, Ruth Belena, "How Freelance Sites Underpay their Writers" - you may find it helpful if you're just starting out as a freelancer.

© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on or without my name as author, it's stolen.