Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How Much Can I Earn Anyway?

You've mention in the past that you shouldn't expect to earn much when you write for newspapers. How much can I expect a magazine to pay? Do they pay by article, word, column?

The amount that magazines pay will vary wildly, contingent on the publisher, the circulation, the budget, etc. Most of the national magazines that I write for, however, pay from about $1-2 dollars a word...usually not less, occasionally (very occasionally), a little more. But don't believe the Carrie Bradshaw-hype...remember when she landed a column at Vogue for $4 a word? Reallly, reallly doesn't happen. (I think Reader's Digest might be the sole exception.) I mean, sure, maybe if you're, like, the most coveted author in America, and Vanity Fair is beating down your door (though God, let's hope they don't use that same sycophantic imbecile who interviewed Tom Cruise this month), then you'll garner that rate, but let's put it this way: I don't know anyone who has.

Regional and local publications, which have smaller budgets than the huge publishing companies, will probably pay less...who knows - anywhere from 25-50 cents a word. Ditto those mags that come from smaller or independent presses.

For the most part, nearly all magazine stories pay per word. What this means - at least most often - is that your editor will give you a word count for an assignment, say 1000 words, and even if you write 1150 words, she'll pay you for the $1000. It's unusual that they pay you for what they end up publishing, and in my opinion, you're better off getting paid for the agreed-upon word count anyway. Too often, a mag might slash your piece in half or thirds or quarters (happens ALL the time), and if they were only going to pay you for what they ran, you'd take a big financial hit.

One arena that often pays for a project fee, rather than a word count fee (at least in my experience) is the online market. Often times, an editor will just say, "$500 for this article," because websites aren't constricted by page layouts in the same way that magazines are. So you have the luxury of writing long (or short), as long as you satisfy the requirements that your editor requested.

But all of this per-word talk can really throw you off the larger picture, and that's really what you earn per hour on a project. Most writers I know use their per-hour rate as the barometer of whether or not a story is worth their time. For example, I used to do a lot of writing for a big online portal. They paid me, I think, something like $400-500 an article. Which means I'd have to write a gajillion of these articles to make a decent living.'s the catch. Those articles usually took me no more than two hours to write and almost never had any revisions. Thus, really, I was pocketing $200+ an hour. Not bad, right? The flip side of this might be a particularly gruesome consumer magazine article that requires lots of source interviews and several rounds of rewrites. Sure, I might be making $4k+ or whatever, but my hourly rate probably won't be nearly as high. So these bigger feature articles aren't always worth it, which is one reason that several writers I know, writers who have made very good livings working exclusively in the consumer magazine field, are eliminating their consumer magazine clients and taking on more custom publishing work or trade magazine work. It really comes down to the per-hour rate. And while it's a total thrill to see your byline in your favorite magazine, it's not necessarily the most lucrative gig out there.

Does that clarify any money questions? Or open up others? If you have 'em, ask 'em!

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