High-Paying Freelance Writing Gigs: Where to Find Them

This article is in partnership with Day Translations.

Getting paid handsomely for a freelance writing gig seems to be a thing of the past as budgets seem to be shrinking more each year. In the old days of publishing, authors received generous advance payments and journalists could charge a solid fee for their articles.

What is the situation now and how might it look like in the near future?

Let’s Get Some Stats

In 2022 the US Bureau of Labor published a report on writers’ wages and found that on average the hourly rate was $35 and the median annual salary was about $73k (or 68k euro). Of course this means that not everybody earns at these levels. In fact, the lowest 10% portion of this industry earns less than $40k a year (about 38k euro). The report acknowledged that many freelance writers have to hold down more than one job or work on a portfolio of different projects at any one time to survive.

The same report estimated that in the following 10 years the market for writing jobs would grow at a rate of 4% per year. It also noted how the market is changing for traditional print publishing (which has resulted in staff reductions), as well as the rise of digital printing and self-publishing (which reduces costs).

Are Writers Underpaid?

Looking back at the writers’ strike in 2023 to get better pay conditions in the entertainment industry as a reaction to the streaming services companies’ decision to cut down writers’ wages, we can see that the job of a writer is not being appreciated and valued enough. Actually, it does seem like writers are considered to be dispensable in the current market.

People want to pay for content (there are many popular paid subscription services out there like Netflix) so it’s a shame that this doesn’t trickle down to those who actually come up with the content themselves: the writers.

Screenwriters had to bear the brunt of this situation, with their wages remaining at the same level for years, while also getting requests to work for free. Alas, exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

Streaming services are paying a minimum wage to more writers now compared to a few years ago (from a third to half the writers for TV series are now paid low wages, including senior writers with plenty of experience). 98% of staff writers are paid minimum wage.

So, where can writers make decent money?

Show Me the Money

Tom Cruise’s character Jerry Maguire shouted “Show me the money!” down the phone to his client, sportsman Rod Tidwell, who had asked him to do so to check his dedication to the job, in the 1996 self-titled movie he starred in.

You can watch the scene here (caution – strong language):

CNBC has run a series of articles discussing where to find the most profitable opportunities (“show me the money”) for freelance writers and this is what they discovered.

1) Creative writing is here to stay: while AI is replacing many repetitive and mundane writing tasks, creative writing is still attracting good pay for freelancers. Of course, you can give AI a prompt to write some fiction or poetry from scratch, however the real money for freelancers is in editing and optimising for search. Also, demand for ghostwriting services is high. It has been estimated that accomplished writers can earn up to $250 an hour for creative writing.

2) Digital marketing: similarly to creative writing, creating marketing strategies and executing them can attract an hourly pay of up to $250.

Personally, I would also add that Public Relations is a sector that shows no signs of slowing down: just think about how many celebrities and companies of all sizes rely on “crisis management” offered by PR specialists to do damage limitation. While churning out simple press releases can be delegated to AI tools, crafting consistent messaging and instructing clients on how to deal with the media are value added services that only seasoned professionals can deliver.

What Can We Learn from This

As a freelance writer myself, I see a lot of “doom and gloom” in the news about the state of the market for writers and, I must admit, I do have the odd doubt about the future for us freelance writers as AI tools become more sophisticated.

Having said that, we can all draw some conclusions from the current state of affairs: there are generous budgets out there that are ready to be spent but if you are a writer you need to know where to look and how to ask for what you want. The creator economy has been valued at $14 billion a year so there’s money to be made in this sector.

The example of the writers’ strike made so many people realise that we get what we pay for: we can’t expect quality content from poorly written material that is not financed properly. Some commentators (see for example, Harvard Business Review) have hypothesised that in the future viewers of streaming content may choose from more entry-level entertainment that is cheaper and AI-generated, and higher quality/premium entertainment that is written and produced by humans.

However, bucking this trend, Variety published a survey among young audiences of streaming services that showed that Gen Z believes AI-generated content and other virtual content have the potential to be even better than human-created content because it would be more tailored to their unique taste and preferences.

There is no simple answer but so far it’s clear that the way forward is a hybrid working environment where human editing adds value to machine-generated writing.