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

I’ve 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.


View attachment 105341
Picture courtesy of Pixabay.​

Where available, I’ve provided mainstream rates for each activity, as these give interesting context. I then share the actual rates I’ve seen in the tabletop RPG industry. Where I can, I’ve 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 I’ve ever seen is from Harper’s 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. It’s worth noting that the Science Fiction Writers Association considers 6 cents and above to be a “professional” 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, I’ve had credible (but unconfirmed) reports that a top-tier publisher has paid up to 17 cents per word.

For your interest, the most I’ve ever been offered is 20 cents per word (from a generous fan). The least I’ve 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 Fox’s 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 can’t.

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.
 
M.T. Black

Comments

Von Ether

Explorer
... OTOH if another member of the family is taking half the burden, you only need to make 6.4¢/word, which is the "professional" rate, and smack dab in the middle of M. T. Black's 3-to-10¢/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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Dr. Bull

Explorer
Can I make a request of all of the freelance writers out there? Can you please make sure that you have studied how to write BEFORE you publish? Take a few composition classes at the local community college, for goodness sake!

Grammar is important. Clarity is important.

I've seen some amazing work from new writers (especially on GM's Guild), but I have also seen some terrible writing. Many products need a professional editor. I've also seen products that are ridiculously repetitive or overly verbose. Some writers use 2-3 pages of disorganized text to describe something that could be summarized by a single, well-written paragraph.

I haven't purchased anything from the DM's Guild for a long time because the quality is inconsistent.

- Dr. Bull
 
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Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
Can I make a request of all of the freelance writers out there? Can you please make sure that you have studied how to write BEFORE you publish? Take a few composition classes at the local community college, for goodness sake!

Grammar is important. Clarity is important.

I've seen some amazing work from new writers (especially on GM's Guild), but I have also seen some terrible writing. Many products need a professional editor. I've also seen products that are ridiculously repetitive or overly verbose. Some writers use 2-3 pages of disorganized text to describe something that could be summarized by a single paragraph.

I haven't purchased anything from the DM's Guild for a long time because the quality is inconsistent.

- Dr. Bull
You’re talking about self-publishers, not freelance writers. The latter write under a contract for a company and their manuscript is commissioned, edited, and published by that company. Self-publishers doesn’t get paid a word rate .
 

Dr. Bull

Explorer
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)
"Your worth it. "

... Seriously?

"You're worth it."

I apologize for the snark. I'm a jerk. It won't happen again.
 
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Dr. Bull

Explorer
You’re talking about self-publishers, not freelance writers. The latter write under a contract for a company and their manuscript is commissioned, edited, and published by that company. Self-publishers doesn’t get paid a word rate .
Yup. You're correct. I used to edit for Troll Lord Games, but I could not keep up with all the freelance writers who didn't know how to write. DM's Guild is a different venue.

I'm honored to have received a directly reply from you. I've really enjoyed reading WOIN!
 
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ParanoydStyle

Villager
This article is pretty legit.

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.
Note that if you go from "talented beginner" to "seasoned writer" while working mainly for the same company, they are VERY unlikely to improve your rate above 0.03 per word (and absolutely guaranteed not to if you don't ask, preferably repeatedly, after you've been writing for them for a few years) unless that "strong reputation" is so strong you probably don't need to work for them anymore at all. It is also very possible that if you are part of a "Freelancer" "Pool" that you are going to get paid the same as everyone else in that pool for the sake of fairness (really equitability but whatever) regardless of differences experience. If xyz is what a company pays, then xyz is what a company pays.

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


Most of us (or maybe I shouldn't speak for other RPG Industry writers? I can) jack it up to 10,000 or even close to 20,000 words in a day if a deadline is suddenly right around the corner. When I'm really into a project, it's not unusual for me to pump out 5,000 to 8,000 words of 1st draft material in five or six hours, although of course I have days where writing even 2,000 words seems like an impossibility. But yes, 2,000 words a day is a good benchmark for how much aspiring professional writers should be writing every day to stay in practice (source--Stephen King, On Writing).


 
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M.T. Black

Registered User
When I'm really into a project, it's not unusual for me to pump out 5,000 to 8,000 words of 1st draft material
Multiple draftings (which I assume most people do) certainly complicate the "average words per day" scenario.

I'm curious about your experience, if you don't mind sharing. Let's say you wrote 6,000 words of "first draft" quality material. How many more hours, on average, would you spend on it to get it to "submission quality".
 

ParanoydStyle

Villager
Well since you asked, I'd say it takes me probably around two hours, tops, to get 10,000 words of a first draft to submission quality. But I think my process is very atypical and I would certainly not recommend any writer use it as the base for any kind of organizational routine or a guideline to...anything. Back in grade school I was that kid who would ignore a project that was assigned months ago and then try to finish it on the day it was due by cutting other classes before that one and using my free periods. My success rate wasn't awesome (neither were my grades), but I managed to graduate both high school and college. I think that kind of stuck with me, that "the last minute is the best minute!" approach. When I first started getting paid for writing though, I tried (as I do now) to always send in ms well before deadline and generally trying to do everything I would want a writer working for me to do if I was the editor. I think in my five years with CGL I only missed one deadline.

With the exception of typos and sentences I apparently got too excited to remember to finish, my first drafts are generally very close to my first submission. I spend maybe 75% of my time on the first draft and 25% on revisions, and if the proportions are different, it's even more time spent on first draft and even less on revisions: I've never done a survey but my gut tells me that is not the case for most writers. Over the years, I have heard several say their ratios are closer to 20% first draft, 80% revisions.

Of course then you get corrections back and know what further changes (if any) you need to make from your editor, and then post-sub revision is usually much more straightforward for anyone. This is probably a good argument for not putting as much effort into your first drafts as I do.
 

M.T. Black

Registered User
I think a lot of folk work like you do, with a day or two of downtime leading up to a huge writing burst. For myself, I tend to be a bit more slow and steady, even though I am a fairly fast typist.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
With self publishing I do not care as much if there are errors. But then, I don't usually buy anything anymore unless I have seen it somewhere, not counting big publishers. Which is why I love the "pay what you want" options. If I'm going to use it for anything, I can pay what I think it's worth.

That said, there are so many errors in books even from larger publishers, I wonder if they ever had someone check. Castles and Crusades Free City of Eskadia for example, some of my players still make fun of the errors we found in there. It didn't really matter to us, the book was still great, but yeah... I just expect a lot less nowadays.

I'm too slow to edit anymore,but I used to do an hour or two work and then as much of a break to stop me from getting headaches or overlook stuff. For me, the longer I work on something, the more the routine makes me screw up.
 

Reynard

Adventurer
Multiple draftings (which I assume most people do) certainly complicate the "average words per day" scenario.

I'm curious about your experience, if you don't mind sharing. Let's say you wrote 6,000 words of "first draft" quality material. How many more hours, on average, would you spend on it to get it to "submission quality".
I don't know too many game writers that go through multiple full drafts. In my experience there is a lot of prep and planning, plus in brain percolation, such that the first real draft is a mostly there draft. There's editing and revisions to be done for sure, but it's rare to see people completely write through on this kind of work. Especially when you are making 3 cents a word.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
Just gonna chime in here to say that Paizo's in-house quotas are about 3,000 words per day so if you're freelancing as a full-time thing you have to at least hit that for a good day, and hopefully push further than that. It helps immensely if you work weekends and longer than 8 hours a day because unfortunately not every day is great, and also you're probably doing promotion of your work and trying to negotiate a social media presence, and you are likely doing more than just writing/design/editing too so forget free time. I managed to squeeze in two longer D&D sessions yesterday and feel like a god. :p
 

Cergorach

The Laughing One
For example, Daniel Fox’s first RPG, Zweihander, was 275,200 words in length and he made 18 cents per word after all costs.
Well... Do you have a source for that information? Because:

Kickstarter raised $61,743
275,000 words at $0.18/word is $49,500, that leaves $12,243
KS fees and payment fees between 8% and 10% of KS fees, is between $5000-$6000
5 steel two handed swords as backer rewards
1020+ printed physical books @674 pages each, shipped to US/UK/EU backers for free.
Editor
Artists for a ton of illustrations
Layout

Either those books were printed on recycled toilet-paper or someone is forgetting some costs...
OR some income from outside of the Kickstarter itself (sales through DTRPG for example, the KS is almost three years old).
 

M.T. Black

Registered User
I got those figures from Daniel himself. I suspect he must be including dtrpg sales as well - ZWEIHÄNDER is an adamantine best-seller, which means it has sold at least 5,000 copies.

Daniel might be willing to clarify further, but that is up to him.
 

Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
I got those figures from Daniel himself. I suspect he must be including dtrpg sales as well - ZWEIHÄNDER is an adamantine best-seller, which means it has sold at least 5,000 copies.

Daniel might be willing to clarify further, but that is up to him.
Has he factored in the time he spends doing things other than writing? He does a lot of promotion, and presumably other tasks (I don’t know how involved he is on layout, art direction, editing, dealing with printers, al that stuff). Those come out of the profits too, not just the writing part of his job.

I dare say for my own books, I’ve spent more hours doing adjacent work than actual writing.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Remember the 3 m's as a writer. Mumbling, Marketing, Maintenance.
Mumbling this the mumbles you put on paper, the research you do for the mumbles, the editing of mumbles.
Marketing. This include promotion, social media posts, and cons.
Maintenance. Downtime. Taxes. Fixing broken stuff.
 

Morrus

Administrator
Staff member
Remember the 3 m's as a writer. Mumbling, Marketing, Maintenance.
Mumbling this the mumbles you put on paper, the research you do for the mumbles, the editing of mumbles.
Marketing. This include promotion, social media posts, and cons.
Maintenance. Downtime. Taxes. Fixing broken stuff.
Those are the things you do as a publisher, not a writer. They’re two very different things.

Being a self-publisher can involve doing two or more peoples’ jobs, but publishing is a very different job to writing.
 

M.T. Black

Registered User
Either those books were printed on recycled toilet-paper or someone is forgetting some costs...
OR some income from outside of the Kickstarter itself (sales through DTRPG for example, the KS is almost three years old).
Ok, I spoke to Daniel, and he gave me the following information and permission to share it here:

Those are rates coming out of Kickstarter + Backerkit + retail sales up front. Are you looking for clarity across the lifetime of Zweihander? Those numbers are dramatically higher than .18 based on sales. As an example, there have been 39k physical sales and 65,400 digital sales. These are sales generated on my own prior to my relationship with my new publisher Andrews McMeel, which is now at scale.
However you slice it, he has done incredibly well.
 

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