Working as a freelance writer: Salary, rates & income

by Vanessa Plentinger

Thinking about starting a career as a freelance journalist? Great, we're here to support you! While there are many different things to consider, we all know  money makes the world – or in this case, your life :D – go round. Hence, we'll answer all you questions about freelance writers' salary, the common rates for contributors, and how you can even increase your overall income.

How much can I charge as a freelance journalist?

Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer to this difficult but essential question. It depends on various factors like your experience, the topics and story types you're covering, the length, if it's published in print, online or both, the publication and its reach and the effort you'll have to make to write the piece (e.g. research, interviews, editing). You should keep your ongoing costs and expenditure in mind and how much you'll have to make to at least cover them. Always calculate your own price (per 1000 words/characters) and prepare to negotiate it. And maybe even reach out to other freelance writers. If you have a valid argumentation for your price publishers will more likely accept it. But a lot of them do have set rates for their freelance journalists. Still, it's always worth trying to negotiate for a higher one as long as it's reasonable and done in a polite way. As a beginner we would recommend you to start with lower rates in order to build relationships with some publishers and earn your first money. Later you can increase your prices and most publications will agree to pay them as they know that you're reliable and will deliver high quality content.

Working as a freelance writer: Salary, rates & income

The New York Times, Forbes or Al Jazeera – What are the different publications paying their freelance journalists?

We clearly need more transparency regarding freelance writers' salaries and rates in order to stop the current negative trend where the outlets make more and more demands while steadily trying to lower the prices. This is why only a few writers earn very well because they have some older contracts or are highly respected whereas the majority of freelancers work extremely hard even to pay their bills. There are some platforms where journalists can anonymously reveal the rates they got paid by specific outlets. So here are some examples (mainly the US and UK) that will give you a good impression of the approximate current rates per 1000 words and a baseline for your own pricing:

  • The New York Times: 1000 - 1.400€
  • Financial Times: 400 - 450€
  • Independent: 100 -200€
  • Guardian: 350 - 400€
  • BBC: 300 -350€
  • Business Insider: 350 - 500€
  • Condé Nast Traveler: 250-450€ (especially for US-authors up to 4000$)
  • Forbes: Mostly has special ararngements with contributors, e.g. 7 monthly online posts for 200 - 600€
  • Cosmopolitan: 250 - 500€  (especially for US-authors up to 3000$)
  • Al Jazeera: 350 - 400€
  • Huffington Post: 100-250€
  • National Geographic: 200-250€ (sometimes also up to 1000€ or more)
  • Vice: 200-500€
  • Vogue: 250-400€
  • Die Zeit: 70€/1.000 characters
  • Stern: 130€/1.000 characters
  • Spiegel online: 50/1.000 characters

How high is a freelance writer's salary?

As you might already know, a freelance journalist doesn't get a "normal" salary like an employee. You're running your own small business which means you'll pay your own salary. With the money you'll get for every writing job you'll have to pay taxes, for your insurances, advanced training, equipment and more. To keep an overview, we recommend to have more than one bank account – for example one where you'll receive your payments from clients and one where you can transfer only the money that is left after e.g. the taxes has been deducted. How much freelance journalists make depends highly on where they live, how often they get hired by which outlets and the rates they can charge. For comparison a freelance writer's salary in the UK rests at £25.000 on average, US journalists make about 60.000$ and in Germany they earn around 4.000€ per month.

When will I be able to make a living from my writing?

It's no secret that freelancing in journalism isn't exactly the easiest thing to do. You'll need a good amount of talent, discipline and a great network to get hired continuously and earn enough money. Especially within your first two years you'll have to throw yourself into pitching a lot of articles to outlets you want to work with. Build strong connections with them and at the same time don't give up when being rejected or having a bad month with fewer assignments. Becoming a freelance journalist most certainly means you shouldn't be too proud to accept jobs that aren't exactly what you've dreamed of and maybe even consider a side job to ensure you'll be able to pay for everything and save some money. Even though you might have to overcome some obstacles, don't ever forget to enjoy what you're doing and remind yourself what you're doing it for. Make "the struggle" as comfortable as possible for example by setting up a nice working space. In the long run, the effort will pay off, we promise! :)

Are there grants for freelance journalists?

Yes, many countries provide governmental and non-governmental grants and other financial support for founders, small business owners and artists. You'll often have to fill out an application form and maybe write a letter about yourself and your work to get approved. Your chances to get in are higher than you might think, as many people don't apply because they just suppose they don't meet the requirements. But always make sure to check the terms and conditions that go with the grant. Some of them expect a lot of reporting on your progress, refunds or to even to become shareholders.  

How can I increase my income as a freelancer?

As we've already mentioned, don't be afraid to raise your rates and charge what you're worth as you gain more experience. Another great way to step up a freelance writer's salary is to resell the articles that you still got the rights to, to other publications. You'll find all the information on how to syndicate articles here. But let's make it easier for you: Why don't you become a member of The Story Market's growing community of freelance journalists, so we can do the work and sell your stories to international outlets in almost every language? We would love to have you on board!

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