Freelance Writing Salary Caveats

Freelance writing salary
Here are some caveats when it comes to your freelance writing income. John Lund / Getty Images

One thing I've noted from my years as a freelance writer is that every time someone posts anything relating to freelance writing salary or income, they also post many qualifiers. I do it, too-- always noting that I work about half-time, or that in a certain year, I took a month off for travel or etc. And we do this because it's already hard to talk about what you make. I get that. No one wants to look like a "failure."

In addition, when I wrote all about the Freelance Writer's Salary here, I found that I had a whole list of caveats that I wanted to share with freelance writers. Some caveats are good and needed, and here are a just a few.

(One side note here: First, let's establish that freelance writers don't generally get a salary per se, as a salary is usually defined as a set amount of money from an employer. Writers most often have contracts with several different clients, and are considered self-employed.) 

Your Work Hours May Vary

Total hours vary. Not everyone wants to work 40 hours a week, and that's ok. Some freelance writers like to work 80 hours a week, whereas I'm quite happy with 20-30. Hey, it's a personal choice.

Overall, I can range from 10 hours to 60 hours per week, depending on time of year, tasks pending and financial need. For example, when I first set up my freelance writing business, I easily put in an average of 80-90 hours per week, due to the need to create my infrastructure (resume, website) and to find clients.

Cost of Living Is Important For Remote Workers

Everyone's cost of living (COL) counts when it comes to salary, but it counts even more for remote workers/telecommuters.

The COL is lower in some areas than others, meaning that a writer can thrive in some areas with low COL, whereas that same salary or rate would never fly in a higher COL region.

Here's why this is especially important for us remote freelance writers. Since I live in Michigan (which has a low COL) I could conceivably undercut a competing freelance writer living in NYC for the same job. Since our rates could be vastly different due to different COLs, I could potentially quote and work for a lower price with no skin off my nose.  

Your Client's COL Counts, Too

Your client's COL also counts. Here's why.

Three of my clients (as of this writing) are based locally in Michigan, too. These three clients would likely balk at the pay rate that many similar companies in other regions (or even other countries) pay me. A client that does the same thing, and needs the same work, but is based in Los Angeles may be accustomed to and able to pay a much higher rate than my Detroit-based colleagues. I benefit doubly from this, as the higher pay is coupled with my lower cost of living. 

Type of Freelance Writing Rates

How the rate is set matters, too. Freelance writing rates can be set by the hour, by the project, by the word or may even be paid as a weekly or monthly retainer.

Now, if I tell you I have a client who pays me $125 per hour, that sounds great, right? However, her projects tend to take me only about one or two hours per month.

That's all the work she has for me. Not such a great rate anymore, is it? 

Billable Hours Versus Administrative Hours

Not all hours are billable (that is, not all hours are paid). So, although I can tell people that my minimum rate is $55 per hour, that doesn't mean that I'm pulling in that much for every hour I work.

The hours that a freelance writer spends doing record-keeping, administrative work and marketing are unpaid hours. The hours a writer spends doing actual paid work for a client are called billable hours.

Writers should try to strike a balance in their paid versus non-paid work. For example, past editions of the Writer's Market have suggested that half unpaid and half billable hours is an ideal mix. However, this could vary. If the freelance writer has a solid cadre of clients, they won't be spending as much time on (unpaid) marketing tasks or applying for freelance writing jobs.

However, a beginning writer who is just setting up their business will likely need to log many administrative hours on their freelance writing business infrastructure (website, writer's resume, etc), and will need to spend time securing clients by responding to freelance writing job ads and attending networking activities and professional functions.

Income Versus Profit

Income and profit are two different things. Although the cost of setting up and running a freelance writing business isn't very high compared to other small businesses, you will still have expenses. Typical freelance writing expenses include a laptop, website costs and home office needs. You may perhaps pay a virtual assistant to help you with your recordkeeping or an accountant to do your taxes. When you deduct these expenses from your total income, the amount you're left with is your true profit. So, although a writer's income for the year may be $110,000, his profit might be significantly lower. (For more information on expenses, be sure to read my articles on freelance writing taxes and deductions.)

Final Thoughts On Freelance Writing Income Caveats 

So, from now on, you'll know to take all those freelance writing income reports and all that freelance writer's salary braggadocio with a grain of salt, right? In addition, you now have some clarity on the many factors that go into freelance writing business, pricing and cash flow, making it easier to apply that wisdom to your own freelance writing salary, right?

Now, go get some dough!