Journal: News & Comment

Monday, October 21, 2002
# 2:01:00 PM:

Q & A: How much can a writer and editor make?

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Phil, a freelance writer from Toronto, visited my site today, and asked:

I was wondering if you could give me an idea of the kind of income you can make doing writing/editing independently. Are you able to make the equivalent of what someone making $40,000 at a regular job does?

I answered:

I'm not sure if I'm the best person to answer your question, since I work only part-time (I'm also a stay-at-home dad) and make a good chunk of my income as a drummer in a wacked-out retro band.

That said, let's try running the numbers for full-time work.

  • Take a straight $40K annual income as your starting point.

  • Add another $10K for expenses, including portions of rent, utilities, and transport, plus actual straight business expenditures, childcare, insurance, accounting fees, and so on. (That's off the top of my head -- the expenses are probably higher for many people.)

  • Divide that by 50 weeks in the year (taking two weeks for holidays and other days off), five working days a week, six hours a day (leaving two for administration and other unpaid time), and you'd have to charge a bare minimum of $33 an hour.

  • If you want more vacation, have higher expenses, or guess you'll charge fewer bookable hours per day (and I'd expect so), you'll need to charge more.

  • If you want to work like a dog, take no vacation, and think you can rustle up enough work to fill all your available time (unlikely, especially in mid-summer and the end of December, when all your clients are on vacation), you could conceivably charge less, but I wouldn't bet my car payments on it.

Last year I made about 25% of my income from music and other miscellaneous work, and 75% from writing and (mostly) editing. This year it's more like 40% and 60%, respectively, but my overall income is down about 25% because, while the band is making more, I had a big juicy editing contract for three months in the summer of 2001, and nothing equivalent this year.

Luckily, my wife is a teacher, with a spectacularly predictable (but not huge) income, so we can pay the rent and eat.

My income comes on a very part-time schedule (one day a week when the kids are with the grandparents, plus evenings and weekends for both words and music, and more time when needed), so it should be possible to net what a $40K job would, i.e. about $27K after taxes, on a full-time schedule. On average -- just don't expect it to be consistent from month to month or year to year.

I doubt anyone wanting to make a living at it could do it for much less than $40 per hour, honestly. I generally charge $50 Canadian per hour, plus GST. Potential clients who find that too much are usually not worth my time, for reasons of simple math.


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