Freelance Does Not Mean Free!

WillWriteForFoodLG With Budget Cuts Across the Board, Can We Afford to Write for a Living?

There's been big discussion on a few of my writers' groups this week about major magazines and other publications recently chopping their freelance rates due to budget cuts. What's worse, some media outlets are eliminating their freelance budgets all together.

Now, before you go thinking all of us freelance writers were raking in the big bucks before the economic downturn, know that standard per-word rates have stagnated at a buck (or, if you're really lucky, two) a word for several decades. That may sound like a decent living (especially to newbie writers who might give their words away anyways), but when you break your fee down into hours spent on each story, often that flush feeling fades fast. But freelance veterans say the old business caveat still works here — if you don't ask for what you want — whether that's a bump up in your rate, or maintaining the rate you've become accustomed to you — you're not going to get it.

In my class (which starts again next week, if you're interested!), one of the things my students are always most interested in is finding out how the pay for online writing compares to print. And you'd think that with all the money major publishing houses are (or should we say were) pouring into new media, it would be better. But sadly, print pay still beats online by nearly 100 percent. The web abounds with bloggers who work for free or for pennies per thousand clicks. But for the seasoned and/or enterprising writer, all is not lost. There is money to be made on the web — companies like AOL, MSN and Jupiter all employ freelance bloggers, and print publications are hiring bloggers and freelance contributors for their web counterparts as they continue to expand. Plus, web-only publications, like The Daily Beast,, and even in-house pubs for online dating sites like all use freelancers to feed the constant content machine.

For the enterprising writer, there is still work out there. In this economy, just like everyone else, we have to market ourselves effectively, diversity or specialize smartly, and really work all the angles. But with layoffs rampant, working for multiple employers and having the option to create (ideally) more work for yourself (by pitching, pitching, pitching) bodes better than losing that dayjob. So while the freelance life may have its stressors, now's the best time to be your own boss. Especially when you get to work in your pajamas.

(Image courtesy Becky Ink.)

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