The State of Freelance Writing: 2017 | Annual Survey | Freelance Writing

July 4, 2017
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What you need to know

  • Most freelance writers earn $10,000 or less annually
  • Most freelance writers work less than 20 hours a week
  • Those who earn 40K+ work full-time
  • Most writers gained specialized expertise in previous jobs. This expertise then allowed them to be better freelance writers.
  • Writers predict the industry will become more competitive
  • Writers also predict they will continue on in the field for the foreseeable future

Survey methods ran a survey on titled “The State of Freelance Writing, 2017.” The survey ran from April 10, 2017 to May 9. We created a link to the survey and sent it twice in our weekly newsletter, as well as to other industry influencers who asked readers to complete the survey through social media and their own newsletters. We received 680 responses over the course of the month.

The survey was composed of 24 questions in addition to one prompt asking for email addresses of participants for a contest meant to encourage completion (we awarded three participants with gift certificates to The Writer’s Store). The survey was split into three separate sections: lifestyle, earnings, and finding work / exposure. The “lifestyle” section included questions about what respondents felt was positive and what was frustrating about freelance writing, as well as experience and how often they work, while “earnings” questions were about how much writers earn and how they calculate rates. “Finding work / exposure” asked about things like bylines, personal sites and blogs, and how writers found new clients.

Why we conducted this survey

The most compelling reason for conducting the survey was to better grasp what life is like for freelance writers. We want to inform writers, both aspiring and experienced, as to what the industry looks like and where they might stand within it. This information can then be used to determine appropriate rates and to assist in negotiation, as well as help to lay a foundation for building a fruitful career or a sustainable side gig.

In accomplishing this end, our data has revealed two basic writer profiles. First, we analyzed what an “average” freelance writer might be like. We assessed what the majority of writers earn, how they work, and their reasons for choosing freelance writing as a source of income. Next, we selected top earners – those earning $40,000USD or more annually – and analyzed their experiences relative to average writers. These profiles work to inform freelance writers as to where they stand compared to their peers and what to expect. They also help clients determine what they are looking for in a writer, where to find them, and what kind of rates are fair.

The “Average” freelance writer

Key takeaways –

  • Work 20 hours or less weekly
  • Earn $10000 or less yearly
  • No other job
  • 3 years or less of experience

How we found this profile

To determine what an average freelance writer is like, we looked at what the majority of respondents answered on a given question. For example, we asked respondents to tell us how many more years they anticipated to write freelance. Over 83 percent of respondents reported they expect to continue to write for at least five years. With that strong of a majority, it is clear the “average” freelance writer expects to continue in this line of work for the foreseeable future.

how many years freelance writers expect to write
Freelance writers expect to continue in the field for the foreseeable future.

However, for questions without such clear-cut majorities, if two adjacent responses together formed a majority, we assumed the average writer was within the given range of those two answers. For instance, we found that 38 percent of freelance writers work 10 hours per week or less on projects, while 27 percent work between 10 and 20 hours per week. We combined these two responses to conclude that the majority of freelance writers work 20 hours per week or less.

Hours per week

how many hours to freelance writers work
Most freelance writers do so on a part-time basis.

So, the average freelance writer works part-time (specifically, less than 20 hours weekly). Additionally, the average freelance writer makes $10,000 or less annually. This means that our average writer is earning in the neighborhood of $15 per hour, but with relatively few hours.


freelance writer annual income
Most writers earn $10,000 or less annually.

Interestingly, the average writer also has no other job, part-time or full-time. This raises some important questions about how writers support themselves that could be answered through follow-up questioning or demographic information in future research. Are most freelance writers supported by a spouse? Are they students? Are they the definition of “starving artist,” living off fumes while writing the next “Great American Novel?” Whatever it is, the data shows that freelance writers are somehow living off low incomes at a low volume of work.

freelance writers other jobs
Most freelance writers do not have another job.

What they love and what they don’t

When we asked writers what their favorite thing was about freelancing, the largest portion (but not a majority) reported they appreciate the freedom to choose where they work, whether that be from home or a coffee shop, or wherever. The next two most popular reasons for enjoying the freelancing lifestyle were being able to set their own schedules, followed closely by the ability to choose projects they enjoy.

what freelance writers like best
The best part about freelance writing is working where you want.

In contrast, however, a large majority reported that their biggest difficulty is finding enough work – almost 70 percent of respondents cited this as their largest problem. This could help explain why so many freelance writers work only part-time – there simply is not enough work available. This is good news for clients – if you have a project, there is almost certainly someone out there who wants to write it.

freelance writers biggest problem
Far and away, the biggest problem for most writers is finding work.

Years of experience

Another important observation is that the “average” freelance writer has been working for a maximum of three years. Many writers have been writing for less than a year, with fewer having made it past that first year, then less at year two, and even fewer at year three. It appears there is something of a wall, however; the number of writers per year of experience decreases with each year, until the fifth year. After this, the number of writers spikes.

years as a freelance writer
Most freelance writers have been so for three years or less.

There are two reasons for this – first, we asked for anyone with five years or over to select a “5+” category, meaning that people under this category could have been writing for anywhere from five to 50 years (or more). Obviously such a large range is going to include more people. However, another explanation for an increase after the 5th year is likely due to that “wall” we mentioned – there seems to be a rate of attrition where a large percentage of freelance writers move on to other work, but another group that pushes through this wall and, once past it, seems to stick to freelance writing for the long term.

The “Top Tier” freelance writer

Key takeaways –

  • Work ~40 hours per week
  • Earn $40000 or more yearly
  • No other job
  • 5+ years or more of experience

In contrast to our “average” writer, we also developed a profile for the highest paid freelance writers; in other words, writers making $40,000 or more annually. Not even five percent of respondents are at this income level (4.84 percent), so it truly is an elite group.

Hours per week

Most significantly, top tier freelance writers work much more frequently than average writers. 88 percent reported they work “full-time,” but when calculating the number of hours worked, the average was slightly less than 40 hours per week. This number is not totally clear, as the highest bracket respondents could report was “40+,” but regardless of exact figures, top tier writers are working very close to 40 hours a week on freelance writing projects.

top tier writers hours per week
Top tier writers work either full-time or very close to it.

In many ways, however, top tier writers are similar to average freelance writers. In terms of what they find difficult, they are in agreement with the average writers. The most common problem, even for the highest earners, is finding a sufficient amount of work, with 38 percent of respondents reporting that issue. However, a higher percentage of top tier respondents claimed that their biggest problem was a lack of time or time management issues (28 percent). So while the highest volume of top tier writers had the same problem as the average writer, in the top tier more people are concerned with time issues than the average writer.

Years of experience

The contrasts between average and top tier writers are especially interesting. Almost 70 percent of top tier writers have been in the field for at least five years. As mentioned, they also spend significantly more time working on projects than average writers, with almost 90 percent reporting that they work “full-time.” This does not mean that we think writers should spend more time on projects; instead, it seems to indicate that for more experienced and higher paid writers, there is likely more work to be done.

How they find work

top tier writers find clients by word of mouth
Top Tier writers mostly find clients by networking or word of mouth.

Another important observation is how top tier writers go about finding new clients. While “average” writers report using online platforms as the main method for finding work and clients, top tier writers were much more likely to depend on either networking or word-of-mouth for landing projects. There are probably a few factors at work here.

First, with more experience, top tier writers are likely more accustomed to presenting themselves and their body of work to prospective clients, thus having more confidence in that process. Furthermore, having worked longer and done work that is relatively high-paying, they almost certainly have developed relationships with previous clients. These former clients have likely recommended the writer, or even returned to them with further work when necessary. As such, this does not mean new or aspiring writers should rely on networking or word-of-mouth more than online platforms. Rather, it indicates that as your experience as a freelance writer increases, so should your relationships and confidence.

Mistakes writers are making – and ways they can improve

While many of the differences between “average” and “top tier” writers are correlational, not causal, there is some room for self-evaluation in the data.

Not enough experience

At the risk of sounding obvious, one “mistake” writers are making is having a lack of experience. Obviously time is the critical factor here, but effort is an equal partner. Even if you’ve only been a freelance writer for a few years, more effort spent on finding projects will help you fill out your portfolio, making you stand out relative to other writers who’ve been working even longer.

Need a personal website or blog

personal site or blog info
Both Average and Top Tier writers could stand to put more energy into a personal site or blog.

One endemic mistake freelance writers make, even at the top tier, is neglecting to create and maintain a personal blog or website. Having a personal blog or site is routinely credited with better business outcomes, not just for writers, but for small businesses and mega corporations as well. More than just a social media profile, your site will allow you to showcase your skills, develop an audience, and create a visible place for your portfolio and means of contacting you. It can further be tied to social media to amplify that audience. Besides, if nothing else, a blog or website with regular content updates is a great way to practice and hone writing skills. So, if you don’t have one, start your blog today.

A cycle of mediocre work and low pay

Key Takeaways –

  • For most people, freelance writing is not a highly lucrative career
  • The reasons for this are based in:
  • A willingness to work for too little
  • A lack of information about good paying work
  • A lack of value placed in quality writing
  • Freelance writers should charge at least 10 cents per word for basic assignments
  • They should charge more for more specialized work as they become more experienced

Before we go any further, it’s important to address the elephant in the room. For most freelance writers, pay is low. Part of the problem lies in some less than helpful assumptions clients and other people have about freelance writers.

freelance writer pay and hours
Freelance writers are paid fairly low and seem to work short hours due to a lack of projects.

Assumption 1 – There simply aren’t good paying jobs

First, the idea that there aren’t paying jobs available is false. The fact that there are people making 30, 40, and even more than $50,000 a year shows that there are both clients who pay well and very good jobs available. Furthermore, there are a number of platforms like that host paid jobs and pay writers.

Assumption 2 – Pay is low because too many writers are willing to work for low rates

There is, however, some truth to the assumption that writers are working for too little, thus driving prices down. One problem here is that many writers lack confidence for a number of reasons – too little experience, previous rejection, etc. Writers are thus less likely to ask for solid pay – or any pay at all. Because so many clients are looking to save money and underestimate the value of solid content, they might turn to their English major niece who is willing to work just for “exposure.”

Besides the fact that clients who do this are taking advantage of writers, chances are the work will be significantly worse. Not that “Eleanor English-major” doesn’t have plenty of potential or skill, but professional-level writing really does stand out from unpolished content – just because a small business owner can’t tell the difference doesn’t mean that his clients are equally apathetic about quality and polish.

Assumption 3 – Quality doesn’t matter, only search engine rank does

Another underlying assumption is that quality content doesn’t really matter – as long as it winds up on the first Google Search page, who cares, right? This thinking comes from some very old and very wrong ideas about how web search works, and it leads to clients paying content mills and less-than-capable writers to crank out whatever and bet that it’ll work out. First of all, Google has gotten really good at judging content, and is getting better every day. Quality content is their top priority (you can read about Google’s “Panda” update, and how it prioritizes quality content here).

Next, not all freelance writing should be tailored to search engine results. Work like sales catalogues, magazine articles, speech writing, and test composition have very little to do with search results and all demand dynamic and professional-level writers and editors.

All of these assumptions, unfortunately, contribute to a race-to-the-bottom for writers and a hollowing out of the industry. This process is clear in our data, as 65 percent of respondents report earning less than 10K a year. This state of affairs encourages content mills and poor writing, and thus a lack of willingness to pay for solid writing. Then you get good writers who are asked to work “for fame, not fortune” and the internet becomes largely a wasteland of bad writing.

What to do

So what should writers do? Ask for fair pay. But how much? If you’re a first year freelance writer with only a few projects under your belt, you should really only charge enough to make it worth your time.

For example, the median salary for an entry-level journalist is just north of $35,000 annually. Breaking that down to an hourly figure reveals that they earn just under $17 an hour for full-time work. So, if you are a trained and strong writer, asking for $20-25 for an hour of work is not unreasonable.

However, most work is project-based, not hourly – but you can use the same reasoning to calculate how much you should charge for a project. If it’s a quick and easy blog post? Think around $50 for the neighborhood of 500 words – two hours of work is fair for a short blog.

Longer projects or those involving serious research should increase in cost. A good rule of thumb for new writers is about 10 cents per word, meaning 500 word projects will be $50 and 2000 word affairs will be $200.

But that’s just for entry-level freelance writers taking on straightforward projects. Things get a little tricky after the beginning stage, or with different kinds of projects. Say a client needs a 10,000 word white paper. $1000 might be high – for longer projects there is a diminishing value on words.

Or, a curriculum project where you write lesson plans might have fewer total words, but it requires research and coordination and likely someone with teaching experience, so writers should charge significantly higher. Another example is if you are ghostwriting a book and you have a degree in creative writing and years of journalism experience at a national publication, obviously you should charge a premium – up to $1 a word.

We’ve included a handy table to show a very conservative progression of earnings for writers over time. Obviously, circumstances will dictate how much more or less than what is projected, but if you find yourself writing 10,000 word projects for $50 bucks and exposure, you’re getting ripped off. Avoid selling yourself short.

We see two main aspects of this problem – a lack of information and a lack of representation. While representation for freelance writers – say, a union – would be a logistical nightmare and perhaps more trouble than it would be worth, arming writers with basic information and considerations about how to charge can have a stabilizing effect and help improve the market for everyone.

Our data supports the need for this; writers who charge per word are asking for very small rates, and over 30 percent of respondents ask for $20 an hour or less. Knowing where to start and what factors to consider can be helpful. This knowledge will help ensure writers are earning what they are worth and that clients are able to orient their needs in order to avoid taking advantage.

What the future looks like to freelance writers

Key takeaways –

  • Writers predict the industry will become more competitive
  • Writers also predict they will continue on in the field for the foreseeable future

For both our “average” and “top tier” freelance writer profiles, writers are convinced that the industry will become more competitive. This is an incisive observation. The “gig” economy – meaning sectors where workers are paid per contract or project, often through online platforms like Uber, AirBnB, and – is growing, as are the needs of workers and families to earn more than they currently are. The Pew Research Center reports that income earned by users of online platforms is “essential or important” to the majority of those using these platforms. As such, it’s hardly surprising that increasing numbers of skilled writers would try their hand at earning a living through that skill.

how many years freelance writers expect to write
Freelance writers expect to continue in the field for the foreseeable future.

What is perhaps most interesting in all of our research is that the vast majority of respondents see themselves freelance writing for the foreseeable future. Even with the relatively low pay and increasing competition, there are reasons for continuing. These could be rather grim – life circumstances dictate the need for setting one’s own schedule, or a need to be at home throughout the day rather than commute to and from a workplace. Or, they could be more hopeful – enjoying the freedom to work where you want and on the projects you enjoy may be more important to writers than a paycheck these days. Regardless of why, most freelance writers are going to be doing it for a long time.

Other takeaways

Key takeaways –

  • Most writers gained specialized expertise in previous jobs. This expertise then allowed them to be better freelance writers.
  • Bylines are important, but not most important
  • is the most useful platform for respondents
  • Previous work experience plays a role

One significant finding in our data was the fact that most writers, both average and top tier and everything in between, gained some degree of expertise in a previous job that allowed them to write about specialized topics. Obviously, writing projects that require specific or unique experience are going to pay more, so it makes sense that writers would take on projects where they can leverage previous experience.

specialist experience freelance writers
Most writers have experience that have enabled them to specialize as freelance writers.

Bylines are important, but not the most important

We also found that bylines are important to writers, but not necessarily their top priority. More than ⅔ of respondents said that the presence or promise of a byline had no impact on the quality of their work, but the other ⅓ reported that it made at least some difference in the quality of the work they do.

freelance writers bylines
Bylines don’t have a huge effect on work quality for most writers. is the most useful platform for writers

Fortunately for us, we also found that our platform is the most useful to writers at all income levels. The next most useful platform reported was Craigslist. This makes sense – unlike sites like Upwork and Freelancer, focuses exclusively on freelance writers, while Craigslist is a simple classifieds platform, leaving pay and negotiation and most other issues up to writer and client. top freelance writing platform
Unsurprisingly, is the most useful platform for freelance writers.

Survey limitations

Key points –

  • No questions about demographics
  • Large portion of respondents are newsletter subscribers
  • From the perspective of writers

While our survey was comprehensive and we received an impressive number of responses, there are certainly ways we hope to improve and expand upon it in coming years. First, we made the decision to not ask about demographic information, e.g., gender, age, and race. We may ask for this information in future iterations of our survey, as it might shed light on some important questions raised by the data. For example, we found that most freelance writers work part-time, but have no other job, and earn relatively small incomes. If we found that the majority of respondents were also 20 years old, it would explain a lot (namely that they are probably students). It also might reveal sample bias if, say, we found that a large majority of respondents were 20-something white men.

Speaking of sample bias, the main method for recruiting respondents was through our own newsletter email list. We simply asked our readers to complete the survey for the chance to win our contest, and many did. This isn’t to say that all respondents were our newsletter readers – we also asked other influencers in the freelance writing community to put it in their newsletters and on their social media channels. We also asked social media subscribers to engage as well. However, while we kept our sources as variant as possible, there is likely an overrepresentation of freelance writers who subscribe to our newsletter and want to win a gift to The Writer’s Store.


Our data shows that for freelance writers, the most significant dimensions are earnings, experience, and volume of work per week. The dimension that showed the greatest variation between “average” and “top tier” was earnings, with significant differences in responses based on income level. In other words, depending on how much a writer makes, their responses to our questions, and thus their circumstances, were significantly different.

We’d like to close with information about what writers are struggling with, and what keeps them going. Freelance writing is not easy work. In order to make a career of it, you must be your own advocate, comfortable striking out on your own, and capable of handling rejection. And, most importantly, you must be a highly skilled writer. It can be difficult to find projects, especially decent paying ones. The market is inundated with writers who are racing to the bottom and clients who want to pay in birdseed and blessings.

Still, the internet is similar – the vast majority of it is a spammy, clickbaity waste of time. However, it also has changed the world and is an important tool in our lives. The freelance writing industry is the same way. Yes, there is plenty to gripe about, and hopes to address it. But there are also strong writers ready to take on any and all projects – copywriting and editing, news articles, public relations copy and materials, educational and testing materials and resources, press releases, white papers, speeches, and creative writing projects. And there are clients who need important work done. We hope to cultivate both. Furthermore, freelance writing gives writers great freedom – freedom to choose their work and set their own schedule and live life on their own terms. Sounds pretty amazing to us, and explains why so many will be around for so long.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in getting your feet wet with freelance writing, apply at to become a paid writer. If you need a writer, we can help with that as well. For more updates about writing jobs and other freelance writing-related news and info, subscribe to our newsletter. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Best, Team

freelance writing infographic

This article was written by Adam Hatch.

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