A Guide to RPG Freelance Rates: Part 1 (Writing and Editing)
  • A Guide to RPG Freelance Rates: Part 1 (Writing and Editing)


    Iíve created this guide to help RPG creators understand the current market rates for freelancers across a range of activities. I recall how hard it was to find this information when I was starting out, so I think there is clearly a need for this sort of a guide. In this installment, I include rate information for writing and editing.



    Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

    Where available, Iíve provided mainstream rates for each activity, as these give interesting context. I then share the actual rates Iíve seen in the tabletop RPG industry. Where I can, Iíve included my sources, but a lot of this information is simply gleaned through experience and word of mouth. We'll cover layout, art, and cartography in Part 2.

    Writing Rates

    The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) suggests that fiction writers should be paid between 20 and 25 cents per word. Let me tell you, there are very few markets paying 20 cents per word or more for fiction, and certainly not for genre stuff! The best fiction rate Iíve ever seen is from Harperís Bazaar, which pays 50 cents to 1 dollar per word. A handful of other publications are in the same ballpark, but they are very much the exception.

    A better benchmark might be the top science fiction and fantasy short story magazines, which pay from 8 cents to 12 cents per word. Itís worth noting that the Science Fiction Writers Association considers 6 cents and above to be a ďprofessionalĒ rate.

    So, what do RPG freelance writers make? In my experience, the rate varies from 3 cents per word up to about 10 cents per word. At 3 cents you are probably only going to hire a talented beginner, whereas at 10 cents you can hire a seasoned writer with a strong reputation and many credits to their name. Beyond 10 cents per word, you can probably hire a well-known professional with credits on top tier games.

    Some folk have queried whether any publisher is actually paying 10 cents per word. I know of several. I know that Schwalb Entertainment pays 10 cents per word while Raging Swan pays 11 cents. At the higher end, Iíve had credible (but unconfirmed) reports that a top-tier publisher has paid up to 17 cents per word.

    For your interest, the most Iíve ever been offered is 20 cents per word (from a generous fan). The least Iíve ever been offered is 1 cent per word. I declined both offers, though for different reasons!

    Profit Sharing

    Some small publishers work on a profit-sharing model. This can be great for the writer, but only if the publisher has an established market. Melsonia Games splits profits 50/50 after costs have been recovered. The writers on their recent D&D adventures have made 23 cents per word so far, and that increases as sales increase.

    Kickstarter and Self-Publishing

    Some writers can make very good money self-publishing and using Kickstarter. For example, Daniel Foxís first RPG, Zweihander, was 275,200 words in length and he made 18 cents per word after all costs. In fact, I often make more than 20 cents per word on my self-published titles on the DMs Guild. So yes, there is money to be made in self-publishing, but you need to develop an audience first.

    Given this, some creators have queried whether they should still write for an established publisher? I can think of several good reasons for doing so:

    1. It can help you build your audience.
    2. It can help you network with industry people.
    3. It allows you to just focus on the writing, rather than doing everything else required to make a publishable product.
    4. You will very likely learn things.
    5. You will work on properties that you otherwise canít.

    Daily Word Count

    Now, you might be wondering how many words the average designer writes in a day. This varies enormously, of course. Veteran designer Rich Baker says that 2,000 words/day is a good rate, and that matches with my experience too.

    Editing Rates

    There are a couple of different types of editing, and they are charged at different rates.

    Copyediting

    Copyediting corrects spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation, as well as checking cross-references. A good copyeditor will also prepare a style sheet for your document. According to the EFA, mainstream copyeditors charge anywhere from 2 cents per word to 10 cents per word. The variation is driven by both the experience of the editor and the amount of work the manuscript requires to make it publishable.

    Developmental Editing

    Developmental editing usually encompasses copyediting, but also could involve rewriting and reorganizing the text to improve it. In the RPG world, a development editor may also provide feedback on mechanics. EFA says that mainstream developmental editors charge from about 3 cents per word up to around 20 cents per word! This extremely high rate is certainly for special technical or business projects rather than fiction.

    My own experience has been that editors in the RPG industry charge between 1 cent per word and 4 cents per word. As an example, Ray Vallese is a highly experienced professional RPG editor, and he charges 3 cents per word for copyediting, and 4 cents per word for developmental editing (rates sourced from his website).

    This article was contributed by M.T. Black as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on Twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up to his mailing list.
    Comments 40 Comments
    1. Reynard -
      Very interesting article. Thanks! The most I have made is $.07/word ffrom one of the big companies, and am currently receiving royalties from a smaller company that hopefully will amount to about $.04 -- the rate I made when I started 20 years ago.
    1. jasper's Avatar
      jasper -
      The Mad Genius club talks a lot about publishing, self-publishing, choosing covers, etc. They are more geared to scific and fantasy, or I only pay attention to those articles.
      https://madgeniusclub.com/
      But after decades of listening to writers/creators. Here are the three rules
      1. Don't work for free. (Charity stuff you building your audience).
      2. Read the freaking contract and do your best to keep all the rights to your original work. (the op is more about writing on spec/piecework).
      3. Write. Even if would the result would fertilizer, Jasper's north forty.
      PS.
      If you got paid for the work, screw the reviewers.
    1. Dioltach's Avatar
      Dioltach -
      As a professional editor and translator, I charge EUR 0.04 plus VAT for copy editing, which generally works out at about EUR 60/hour. Most other professionals I know charge in the region of EUR 80-100/hour.

      My clients are generally in the professional services, though: law firms, banks, investment companies and the like.
    1. Inchoroi's Avatar
      Inchoroi -
      For the book I'm working on, I will be absolutely thrilled to get even 1 cent a word. Its a huge book, though.
    1. jagerfury's Avatar
      jagerfury -
      Fight for higher rates, your worth it! Game writers should be collectively stand for .15 minimum with .25 for proven writers.

      We should start with Game-writers Union (GU). I'll begin. Vanishing Tower Press, as a matter of policy, pays writers .15 minimum with .25 for proven artists. Unless it is my own product, I won't work for less than .15 word rate. (Not that anyone is hiring me)
    1. 77IM's Avatar
      77IM -
      If I'm doing the math right,

      2,000 words per day * 1 day per 8 hours * $.03 per word= $7.50 per hour

      So, at the introductory rate (3Ę/word), that's a minimum wage job, and I'm guessing it doesn't pay benefits. After a cursory Internet search, it looks like the average cost of living for single person in the US is about $15,000/year before taxes, so you could get by on this rate. (But it's cutting it close, and the "cost of living" varies wildly depending on how you define it.)

      At the other end, if you manage to get 20Ę/word, that looks like about $50/hour (or $100,000/year if you work 50 five-day weeks). That's pretty good, especially if you're doing something you love and being your own boss and working from home and so forth.

      The average cost of living for a family of four is about $48,000/year. Let's say you're in a 25% tax bracket so before taxes this family would need to make $64,000/year. (Taxes are complicated but 25% should be "close enough" for this sort of estimate.) So if you are a writer and the sole provider of a family, you would want to make around 12.8Ę/word. OTOH if another member of the family is taking half the burden, you only need to make 6.4Ę/word, which is the "professional" rate, and smack dab in the middle of M. T. Black's 3-to-10Ę/word guideline. That's not too bad, especially if you love your job etc.
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      An interesting calculation: according to what I've read, pulp writers (who wrote in VOLUME) in the thirties made 1 to 2 cents a word. But with inflation of 2453.3% since 1935, 1.5 cents a word becomes 25.5 cents. (Inflation Calculator).

      Yet several years ago, freelancers I talked with said 5 cents a word was very good, 2 cents a word typical for starters. It seems the rates are going up. Of course, that's often work for hire. Most mainstream authors won't do work for hire; I quit writing for White Dwarf and Dragon back in the 80s when they started requiring all rights (work for hire).
    1. Ath-kethin's Avatar
      Ath-kethin -
      I am a nobody. The most I've been paid per word is 4 cents, but the figures get murky in some cases. For example, I worked on editing/conversion projects where I was paid 1.5 cents per word, but because of the product's length I ended up making more like $12-13 per hour on it.

      I'm not gonna quit my day job in that, but it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
    1. Ath-kethin's Avatar
      Ath-kethin -
      The real tricky part for freelancing in my (admittedly limited) experience is consistency. Getting 7 cents a word is awesome, but if you get one 10,000 word project per month or two it doesn't do a whole lot for you.

      And it's easy to load up with a whole bunch of low-paying work. That's great for experience (which is necessary!) but is quite dispiriting overall once the novelty wears off.
    1. Dioltach's Avatar
      Dioltach -
      Quote Originally Posted by 77IM View Post
      At the other end, if you manage to get 20Ę/word, that looks like about $50/hour (or $100,000/year if you work 50 five-day weeks). That's pretty good, especially if you're doing something you love and being your own boss and working from home and so forth.

      The average cost of living for a family of four is about $48,000/year. Let's say you're in a 25% tax bracket so before taxes this family would need to make $64,000/year. (Taxes are complicated but 25% should be "close enough" for this sort of estimate.) So if you are a writer and the sole provider of a family, you would want to make around 12.8Ę/word. OTOH if another member of the family is taking half the burden, you only need to make 6.4Ę/word, which is the "professional" rate, and smack dab in the middle of M. T. Black's 3-to-10Ę/word guideline. That's not too bad, especially if you love your job etc.
      That's assuming that you have enough paying work to fill 50 five-day working weeks every year. Part of the reason why freelancers earn (or at least *should* earn) a higher per-hour wage than salaried employees is to compensate for all the times when you're not earning any money. That includes days when you don't have any paying projects, but also the time you spend on admin and networking, holidays and days when you're unable to work for whatever reason (family, health, power cuts, or your pillow makes a more compelling case than your computer screen).
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      As the editor for EN5ider I should mention that we pay 3 cents a word plus rights reversion after a year (and I loooove me that rights reversion <3). Message me or email me (mike.myler.adventures|at|gmail.com) to get onto the call list!
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      As the editor for EN5ider I should mention that we pay 3 cents a word plus rights reversion after a year (and I loooove me that rights reversion <3).
      Yes, rights is a big thing to take into account. Virtually all of the work I've seen is "work for hire". However, if you can get the rights back and there is a market for what you've written, you can take "two bites of the cherry" and self-publish, and you need to take that into account.
      @mike, how does your rights reversion work when someone has worked on an EN World property? I'm think specifically about your ZEITGEIST campaign setting?
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      Yes, rights is a big thing to take into account. Virtually all of the work I've seen is "work for hire". However, if you can get the rights back and there is a market for what you've written, you can take "two bites of the cherry" and self-publish, and you need to take that into account.
      @mike, how does your rights reversion work when someone has worked on an EN World property? I'm think specifically about your ZEITGEIST campaign setting?
      I can only speak from my experience (N.O.W., Tip of the Tongue, To Stake A Vampire) but my pre-EN5ider work was all work for hire--they (and I suspect the whole of ZEITGEIST, which is something gradually getting converted over to 5E over on the Patreon) are EN Publishing's intellectual property.

      To be clear ZEITGEIST is not one of my campaign settings, and I didn't actually write any of the original content (I think that's mostly Ryan Nock and Thursty Hillman)
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Hi Mike,

      Sorry if I wasn't clear. I know you that ZEITGEIST is EN World IP. What I'm asking is this - say I was to write a ZEITGEIST adventure for EN5ider, what would happen to the right to that adventure after a year, given it includes EN World IP?
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      Hi Mike,

      Sorry if I wasn't clear. I know you that ZEITGEIST is EN World IP. What I'm asking is this - say I was to write a ZEITGEIST adventure for EN5ider, what would happen to the right to that adventure after a year, given it includes EN World IP?
      Oh golly I'm not sure. You'd have to check with Morrus but I think that all stays in-house, so to speak. At this point ZEITGEIST is in three different editions though so it's probably not going anywhere (any part of it, new additions or old bits). Maybe though! It's not my place to say.
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      All good, I was just curious. I guessed that was an exception. But stuff like archetypes etc., you revert all rights after a year?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      Hi Mike,

      Sorry if I wasn't clear. I know you that ZEITGEIST is EN World IP. What I'm asking is this - say I was to write a ZEITGEIST adventure for EN5ider, what would happen to the right to that adventure after a year, given it includes EN World IP?
      A ZEITGEIST adventure is like writing a Forgotten Realms adventure for WotC, or a Star Wars novel -- obviously, we're not going to give you the setting IP (but then we're not commissioning new ZEITGEIST material from freelancers - there's just the core AP which we produced in-house). But a non-ZEITGEIST adventure for something like EN5ider, you retain the rights. It's not even a reversion really - you keep them from the start, but in exchange for being paid, you license us to have a year to make our money back. Then you can do what you want with it.
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Also EN5ider juuuuuuuuuust recently started doing new adventure content again in addition to the monthly ZEITGEIST piece, albeit smaller in scope
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Makes perfect sense - thanks @Morrus!
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      Quote Originally Posted by 77IM View Post
      ... OTOH if another member of the family is taking half the burden, you only need to make 6.4Ę/word, which is the "professional" rate, and smack dab in the middle of M. T. Black's 3-to-10Ę/word guideline. That's not too bad, especially if you love your job etc.
      Which is why most long-term writers of any kind after the late nineties come packaged with a loving spouse.
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