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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.

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. And in 2019, Matt Coleville advertised for a writer and offered 25 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!

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 sometimes 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 self-publishing and Kickstarter, 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 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 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 4-5 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.
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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

Von Ether

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

Hence why the Adept program was born.

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M.T. Black

As a postscript, I should mention that Matt Colville recently shook up the industry by advertising for a freelance RPG writer and offering 25 cents per word!

He also specified the expected output from that writer - 6,000 words per week. That translates to a nominal income of about $75,000 per year.

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