The Average Salary of a Freelance Writer

by Gail Cohen; Updated September 26, 2017

Ask freelance writers in Chicago and Charlotte, N.C., to compare salaries and the only commonality you’ll find is the letter “C.” Lifestyle, cost-of-living, client access and competition from salaried writers and other freelancers impact the salaries of writers in both cities. Additionally, the Internet has become the great wage equalizer, matching freelancer salaries in Cleveland, Ohio, to those of writers in Chattanooga, Tenn. Regardless of where you live, it's possible to make a comfortable living on your own and few careers are as portable as that of the freelance writer.

Where Freelancers Work

Around 70 percent of all writers are self-employed or freelancers, according to the 2009 “Occupational Outlook Handbook” published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The largest number of freelance jobs are located in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., each of which has a higher-than-average cost of living. Five regions with the most freelance writers are New York/New Jersey, Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland, Madison, Wis., Los Angeles metro and San Francisco.

Freelancer Salary Differences

When Indeed.com, an employment website dedicated to matching freelance writers with potential clients, conducted its 2010 salary survey, gross earnings for independent writers ranged from $95,000 to $285,000 a year, based on 250 responses, or an average of $110,000 per annum. Compare those numbers to the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor statistics findings and you’ll find a huge wage gap: the OOH reported a range of between $28,070 and $105,710 per year for freelance writers in 2009.

Regional Salary Differences

Freelance salaries computed by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2009 were highest in California, $42.11 per hour or $87,600 per year; New York, $40.48 an hour and $84,200 per year; District of Columbia, $37.42 an hour and $77,820 per year, Alaska, $33.59 per hour and $69,860 per year; and Connecticut, $33.38 per hour and $69,440 per year. Area-specific jobs are expected to continue to reflect regional differences, as the growth of global communications creates a wider pool of talent. Web-content farms are the fastest-growing employer of freelance writers, offering wages of approximately 3 cents a word for research, writing and editing short articles.

Considerations

Contemporary fluctuations in freelancer salaries are subject to myriad circumstances, including saturated metro markets where competition can depress wages in spite of other differences. The 2008 recession shifted employment numbers as salaried writers were downsized or fired, at which point some went freelance rather than returning to one job. From the perspective of the employer, cost savings realized by hiring freelancers rather than full-time writers include not having to pay benefits plus the ability to hire creative talent as needed.

Future Salary Determinants

The need for experienced freelance writers to handle copy writing, textbook authoring, public relations, advertising and marketing is expected to show average growth between 2008 and 2018, according to the Department of Labor. Competition is expected to remain heavy because of the allure of the profession and the desire of a larger-than-average number of creative people to be their own bosses. Downsizing and reorganizing efforts will continue to encourage employers to use freelance talent to avoid paying for benefits. The heaviest influences on the salaries of freelance writers will continue to be the economy and the influence of Internet writing wages.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.