What Are The Current Freelance Writing Rates In The TTRPG Industry?

Results of a survey of over 1,000 freelance writers!

Several years ago in 2015 I gathered information on industry freelance rates. Recently, I put out another pair of surveys intended to update that information to current rates. I did not ask respondents to identify themselves or the companies they worked for, although I (optionally) asked them to categorize the type of publisher.

We had over a thousand respondents. Thank you to those who provided the data. Here are the results for freelance writing rates. Artists and other rates will be covered in a separate article.


Respondents

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Definitions: Single (one staff member/owner), Small (has 1 or 2 full-time staff), Medium (has multiple full-time staff, well known brands), Large (has offices, lots of staff, departments, etc.), Industry Leader (we're talking WotC or Paizo size here). Size was self-reported by respondents.

Screenshot 2023-08-25 at 1.02.48 PM.png

Note that time in industry was only reported by about 50% of respondents.​


Overall
  • The mean rate for writers was 8.5 cents per word. The mode is 10 cents per word.
  • In 2015 the mean rate was about 3 cents per word. However, that was a much smaller data set, based on published word rates for a couple of dozen companies.
  • The highest (with a single occurrence) is 40 cents per word, and the lowest (excluding unpaid work) is under 1 cent per word.
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Note that time in industry was only reported by about 50% of respondents.

Screenshot 2023-08-03 at 11.50.06 AM.png


Notes By Size

Industry Leader - we're talking WotC or Paizo size here
  • Mean rate 17 cents; mode 12 cents (21% of jobs)
  • 20% under 10 cents, 20% over 20 cents
  • All work for hire
  • 57% paid within one month, 29% within 6 months
  • 14% did not get contributor copy
Large - has offices, lots of staff, departments, etc.
  • Mean rate 9 cents; mode equal 6/10
  • 64% under 10 cents; none over 20 cents
  • 99% work for hire
  • Varied payments schedule -- fairly evenly spread
  • Less than 1% did not get contributor copy
  • 57% were full time, but only half of respondents answered that field
  • Average industry length was 12 years, but only half of respondents answered that field
Medium - has multiple full-time staff, well known brands
  • Mean rate 8 cents; mode 10 cents (22% of jobs)
  • 51% under 10 cents; 6% over 20 cents
  • 92% work for hire
  • 54% paid within 1 month; 24% immediate; 5% on publication
  • Average industry length 12 years but only 20% of respondents answered that field
Small - has 1 or 2 full-time staff
  • Mean rate 7 cents; mode 5 cents
  • 77% under 10 cents; under 2% over 20 cents
  • 80% work for hire
  • 58% paid within 1 month; 16% immediate; 6% on publication
  • Average industry length 9 years; 64% of respondents answered
Single - one staff member/owner
  • Mean rate 9 cents; mode 10 cents
  • 57% under 10 cents; 13% over 20 cents
  • Rights varied -- 24% licensed, 50% work for hire
  • 50% paid immediately, 30% within 1 month, 8% on publication
  • Average industry length 5 years; 54% of respondents answered
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Extremely minor nitpick here, but some of those colors are extremely difficult for me to differentiate, as a person with color blindness. In my case, the difference between the "large" and "leader" entries on the Company Size pie chart, the "1-5 years" and the "6-10 years" entries in the Time in Industry chart, and the "licensed 11%" and "work for hire 75%" entries in the Freelance writers chart are all borderline impossible for me to distinguish.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Extremely minor nitpick here, but some of those colors are extremely difficult for me to differentiate, as a person with color blindness. In my case, the difference between the "large" and "leader" entries on the Company Size pie chart, the "1-5 years" and the "6-10 years" entries in the Time in Industry chart, and the "licensed 11%" and "work for hire 75%" entries in the Freelance writers chart are all borderline impossible for me to distinguish.
I don't have color blindness and the blues for Large and Leader (and the same colors in the other pies) are very hard to differentiate at a glance - so it's not just you/those with color blindness
 

Abstruse

Legend
I think part of the problem is the industry itself hasn't really changed pricing in over a decade despite inflation and major shifts in the logistics side of things. For quite a few years there, printing in China and other parts of Asia plus new printing technology meant dirt cheap prices to get high quality products. So the B&W interior matte thin paper softcovers of the 1970s-1990s was long gone and since the 2000s-2010s the standard has been full-color glossy heavy stock hardcover. And the past several years, prices on printing went up between the paper shortages and supply chain issues from the pandemic. Then there was the shipping crisis where costs to get product from Asia back to North America or Europe went up between 400% to over 1000%. A couple of companies went out of business over this because they had Kickstarters to fulfill and their estimates in late 2019 and early 2020 were a fraction of what they were charged when they went to print in late 2020 and early 2021. Then there's inflation and the fluctuating exchange rates...

Meanwhile, prices have stayed stagnant until just this year when more companies started to move from $50 for a hardcover core rulebook to $60. So on top of increasing per-unit costs, the already razor thin margins of TTRPG books got even smaller because the prices weren't going up to keep up with inflation.

Looking at the D&D books, they announced a price increase starting with Glory of the Giants and affecting all future reprints, going from $49.95 to $59.95. The core rulebooks published in 2014 were $49.95 then, and adjusted for inflation that cost should be over $65. So even with that price increase, they're STILL not matching inflation alone not counting the other factors.

My guess is why there's such a dip between Wizards of the Coast and Paizo on one end of the graphs and the single-proprietor publishers on the other end. Paizo and WotC order print runs in a large enough size they can drive the per-unit costs far below what any other publisher can do (with rumors that Wizards physically can't print all three core rulebooks for 2024 at the same time because the print run is so large there's not enough capacity) plus they own their own warehouses. Meanwhile, the single proprietor publishers are typically the ones making a push for higher rates, with many companies offering pay raises for freelance writers and artists as stretch goals in crowdfunding campaigns. I couldn't imagine even just a few years ago someone running a Kickstarter and saying "At this stretch goal, you customers get nothing but all the people who worked on the game get a raise" and people applauding them for it when about a decade ago, several Kickstarters caught flack for disclosing budgets where the creators got paid at all because the mentality was all the Kickstarter funds should go into production and nothing else.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
My guess is why there's such a dip between Wizards of the Coast and Paizo on one end of the graphs and the single-proprietor publishers on the other end. Paizo and WotC order print runs in a large enough size they can drive the per-unit costs far below what any other publisher can do (with rumors that Wizards physically can't print all three core rulebooks for 2024 at the same time because the print run is so large there's not enough capacity) plus they own their own warehouses. Meanwhile, the single proprietor publishers are typically the ones making a push for higher rates, with many companies offering pay raises for freelance writers and artists as stretch goals in crowdfunding campaigns.
Basically correct. WotC has economies of scale and can price things in ways that smaller companies simply can't compete with. Single proprietors have near zero overheads, and can therefore plough all of that sweet Kickstarter money into the product itself.

several Kickstarters caught flack for disclosing budgets where the creators got paid at all because the mentality was all the Kickstarter funds should go into production and nothing else.

Yeah, that's just wrong. Everybody should get paid, including the people running the thing because admin and logistics are labour too.
 

Abstruse

Legend
Yeah, that's just wrong. Everybody should get paid, including the people running the thing because admin and logistics are labour too.
This was back around 2013-2014 when the concept of crowdfunding was still pretty new for a lot of people. There was an ideological debate at the time about whether already-established companies should be doing crowdfunding since it was, in their opinion, only for start-ups and small indie creators who didn't have access to the capital to make their products.

Thinking back, people making that argument also tended to be people who did not work in either the gaming or publishing industries...
 

EthanSental

Legend
Supporter
I am glad to see rates increase, though it may be of interest to folks what those word rates really translate to in terms of yearly salaries. Even the MCDM rate of .25/word, which is a fantastic rate for the industry, is a challenge in most parts of the US. I talk about why that is the case in this video, The Horrid Truth About Freelance Pay.
Great video and eye opening looking at the yearly income for even the 0.30/word rates in the spreadsheets. I liked the spreadsheet with how many 20k projects at 0.12 a word must i write for a certain income. 20 20k projects in a year and how you reference landing that many project and then completing them…that’s difficult to imagine actually happening.
 
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Alphastream

Adventurer
Great video and eye opening looking at the yearly income for even the 0.30/word rates in the spreadsheets. I liked the spreadsheet with how many 20k projects at 0.12 a word must i write for a certain income. 20 20k projects in a year and how you reference landing that many project and then completing them…that’s difficult to imagine actually happening.
Thanks. I wish the industry were different. For one, I would love to work in it full-time, but I can't afford to do so and cover costs like retirement, health care, kids' college, etc.
 

Fredrix

Villager
When I was a freelance copywriter/journalist with friends in the industry, two things stopped me from trying to get into game writing. One is obvious, even in my lean years, the pay AND the time to get paid made no sense (3 cents a word AND months to get the paycheck?)

But more of challenge was that my industry friends needed all the gigs they could get and writing is a catch 22. To get better at writing, you need to practice. But you can't get practice if you don't get the opportunities.

So when they saw an opening for some writing, they took it as compared to passing it the freelance writer they knew. I had no layout skills and the few tiny d20 things I made didn't stand out and faded away.

Lean years became the norm and I'm a nurse now and community content popped up. My portfolio of 5 star reviewed community content got me a few professional gigs but it's all a sideline. Community content-wise I've been more successful in non- 5e stuff. My 5e stuff has 5 stars but the DMs Guild's sheer amount of content drowns everything out.

It seems the best way to be creative in any industry, though, is to be your own boss and create your own gigs instead of trying to chase them down.

This article is great! Newbies are asking me all the time what the "standard" rate is and now I have a link to show them.
This is very interesting. On our podcast, I had a rant about rates being depressed by eager amateurs (like myself!) undervaluing our work just to see our name in print. And urged even dilitante TTRPG writers (including me) to charge properly. Your comment about Community content makes we wonder if, we community content creators should declare our per word earnings from what we put up for sale. I have long railed against people putting stuff up for free or PWYW as it undervalues the work, but I would be interested to see what have earned per word at the prices I have set...

if any one wants to listen to my rant, it’s about 40 minutes into this episode: Effekt | The Devil of Slaughterville
 

Yeah, that's just wrong. Everybody should get paid, including the people running the thing because admin and logistics are labour too.
I think the logic back then was that kickstarter was for kickstarting new products. The kickstarter would pay for the costs of finishing the product and putting it into production, and the creators would later get paid for the time and effort they have invested into the product with the income from sales in regular distribution. When you're running a business it's not unusual to not see any income from a product until it's done and in stores.

Since then kickstarter has evolved into becoming the primary sales channel for a lot of products, and both backers and creators understand that if the creators don't get paid out of the kickstarter money, they won't get paid at all.
 

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