What's a Freelance RPG Writer Worth?

Freelance writers (as opposed to those on salary) tend to be paid per word. The rate varies from publisher to publisher, and on how experienced the writer is. Ed Greenwood, for example, can command a much higher rate than a new writer can. Obviously only you, the freelancer, can decide what your labour is worth - and if you're an experienced freelancer you probably already have a pretty solid idea what that figure is. But if you're a new writer, you may be a little lost. In this article, which I'll continue to update with new information, I'll tell you what rate a new writer can expect from various publishers.

[Note - this article will continue to be updated and tweaked; folks are suggesting excellent advice to include, so it's worth checking back]. Using publisher submission information on their official websites, and publishers advertising for writers I have compiled the below list. In some cases, publishers have kindly volunteered the information; thank you! At the moment, it's a bit sparse; but I hope it will grow. New writers can use this page to help them determine their own value and check out publishers that interest them. I don't want to tell you what to charge for your writing services, or what to pay freelancers, but hopefully the information here will help - a little bit - in making an informed decision. You can click through to apply for opportunities that interest you.

Advice: Here are a few things to be wary of. They don't have to be dealbreakers, they aren't necessarily bad, and you may well be OK with them, but you should be aware of them. This applies to new writers (and artists, for that matter).

  • If you're doing work for somebody, and you're not being paid, you are being exploited. (Doing work for somebody is different to doing work with somebody). Volunteer work obviously falls outside this category, but volunteer work should clearly be volunteer work, not work paid in "exposure" (see below).
  • Never work for the promise of "exposure", or for "experience". You should work for money. This is a common tactic, and is often puffed up with nice language, but it is exploitation and you should look out for it.
  • Also be wary of jobs offering payment solely in royalties (or a percentage), unless the company has a verifiable track record of good sales - and they should be able to provide you with solid figures. Do not be afraid to ask for these figures; they're asking you to trust them and take a risk by working for royalties only, and if they refuse you those figures you should proceed with caution. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but do it carefully. Royalties on top of a fair rate is perfectly reasonable.
  • Be wary of contests which grant the copyright of your work to the company; that's often a way of getting people to work for free. Look for contests which allow you to keep the rights to your work, or which will pay you if they publish your work. There is a caveat to this -- it's reasonable for companies to protect themselves from future claims of similar development to past contest entries, but, as Paizo's Erik Mona says, even then "If we publish it, we pay for it. Period."
  • Look at what's being sold. "Work for hire" means the publisher owns the output completely. Other options include "first publication" (in which you retain ownership but the publisher gets to publish it first) and non-exclusive licenses. All of these are OK, but the last two are worth more to you than the former, and may make a lower per-word rate more palatable. If you're writing for an existing setting, keeping the rights to your work is far less valuable to you, because you're unlikely to be able to re-use it (you're not going to be able to re-use material about Drizzt or Yoda, for example). Be wary of work-for-hire combined with a low per-word rate.
  • Be wary of pay-on-publication work. That means a publisher can shelve your work and never pay you for it. Take pay-on-acceptance work. Some publishers will portray their policy of paying-on-acceptance as a beneficent act: it's not; it's the baseline you should expect. That said, it's OK if the payment doesn't come instantly, as most publishers do their payments en masse on a periodical basis - but make sure you know when to expect it.
  • Don't do "audition work" for free. You should be paid for that, too, although it is fair that that be at a lower rate. Game designer Ryan Macklin has a good article about this.
  • If you re-use Open Gaming Content, it is reasonable for the publisher not to pay you for those words.
  • If it's not in the contract, ask how stat blocks are paid.
  • Finally, don't work in exchange for product.
  • Remember, it's OK if a company can't afford you. There's things that all of us can't afford! And also remember that it's very, very difficult to make a living freelancing for RPGs. Some people manage it, but it's not easy!

Please feel free to send corrections or additional information.

The below list shows the rates I've been able to find published online for new writers.

This is just starting rates only. Experienced writers will already know what rates they usually get, and already have relationships with various companies, so they don't really need the information below. If there's an asterisk, then I've been able to confirm that the company in question pays experienced writers more, but it's generally safe to assume that these minimum rates are increased depending on the writer.

I've included links where I can so that you can apply to the companies that interest you.


PublisherRate/word for new writersNotes
Paizo Publishing$0.07*
Wizards of the Coast$0.06*Freelance articles for D&D Insider; other writers work on salary
Pinnacle Entertainment Group$0.06*"Higher for some folks, plus a % of any crowd funding we do if they're one of the principle creators."
Evil Hat Productions$0.05
Atlas Games$0.05
Steve Jackson Games (Pyramid / GURPs PDFs)$0.04 (Pyramid) or royalties (GURPs)After publication. "Pyramid pays 4 cents a word, shortly after the article appears in final form in our PDF"; "...our base royalty is 25% of the cover price (this can go up for authors with a strong reputation that helps sell books, and can go down for inexperienced authors or those requiring very heavy edits)."
Vorpal Games$0.04
Posthuman Studios$0.04
Pelgrane Press$0.03*
Goodman Games$0.03Link is to Level Up magazine submissions; other submission calls have the same figure
EN Publishing$0.03*
Drop Dead Studios$0.025
Fat Goblin Games$0.02
Dreamscarred Press$0.02
Purple Duck Games$0.01*
Frog God Games$0.01*
Kobold Press$0.01 - $0.06"...strict minimum of 1 cent per word... Our rates for established, proven freelancers vary from 2 to 6 cents/word."
Bards & Sages$0.0125% on acceptance, rest on publication
Rite Publishing$0.01*Rates go as high as $0.11.
Raging Swan Press$0.01
Open Gaming Monthly$0.01"If your submission IS selected, you will receive 1 cent per word for your first published work. If your work requires very little editing (fixing typos, fixing grammatical errors etc.) then that will likely be increased to 2 cents per word. If your work receives great reviews and we use your work in future issues or products, you'll receive 3 cents per word in those future products."
Obatron Productions<$0.01Savage Insider; Word Count: 2,000 – 5,600 | $15 – $35
LPJ Design$0.005* (half a cent)Up to $0.02 with experience
Rogue Genius Pressroyalties only
Ephemeric RPGroyalties only$1.00 for every PDF or e-book that is ordered

What the Publishers Said
Discussing this subject with numerous writers and publishers turned into a fairly lively debate. Some of the statements made clearly illustrated why it's important that writers make themselves informed. Louis J Porter of LPJ Design says that "You kind find was to save money at the beginning that pays off very well in the long run [sic]" and that "Do I think I could get to a point were I make $10K month doing this, Oh Hell Yes!"

The way LPJ Design finds ways to save money in order to make $10K a month is to pay writers half a cent per word. As he says "if you are a first time writer never have sold ANYTHING to ANYONE, sorry you bring no value to my company... You guys sound like the college grad who wants to get paid $50K for just showing up. LOL!" I found myself very uncomfortable with Porter's language; he later said to one writer "You can die from exposure. Just prove to me why I should pay you more? You do that, you get paid better." and to that writer he later said "And there is the problem, you think this is an equal relationship. It isn't."

That said, the same company's calls for freelancers on various RPG forums take a different tone: "So if you are interested and not sure you think you can be good at this, I will just say, don't miss out on your dreams because you are afraid to go after them...It is your job to loose."

I can't help but feel that "I can't afford writers" isn't an great reason to underpay writers. It's OK to not be able to afford something but the solution is to find some other way to afford it, or accept that you can't afford it. Many small publishers have addressed this issue by using services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and others, which are great alternative models, although not for everyone. Erik Mona asked about products with margins so low that $160 is too much (assuming a 10-page PDF at $0.02 per word) "Does it make sense to put effort into projects that garner so little interest from the paying public that they require shennanigans like that? Is $80 a fair wage for what amounts to 4 days of work?"

And, definitely, the majority of small publishers do not intend to consciously underpay anybody. It would be unfair to point at a bunch of publishers and chastise them for being exploitative, and many tiny publishers can really only afford $0.01 per word (although James Ward observed "At $.01 a word you get what you pay for.") As Raging Swan Press' Creighton Broadhurst (who is a very small publisher and pays $0.01 per word) said, "If I thought I was exploiting people, I would stop doing what I do. But I don't think I am as I'm forcing no one to work with me." And I myself know what it is to be a tiny publisher with incredibly low sales, so I can certainly empathize with that position -- most micro-publishers are run by decent people paying what they can afford.

I have no idea where the line lies, though personally I feel uncomfortable these days offering anybody less than $0.03 per word (I have in the past), and wouldn't consider paying $0.01 per word. But that's just what I choose to do. Most writers I've spoken to agree that 2,000 publishable words per day is a fairly reasonable rate. As game designer Rich Baker observed, "It's hard to knock down 2000 word days, day in, day out. That's an honest 8 hours of work. At $0.05 per word, you'd be making $12.50 an hour... I am frankly appalled at the idea that someone might pay (or take) $0.01 a word in the 21st century. That's saying a writer is worth $2.50 an hour." Paizo's Erik Mona feels that "1 cent a word is not 'bordering on exploitative'. It is exploitative FULL STOP."

[As a side note, using Rich Baker's estimate of 2,000 words per 8 hour day, that works out to $10 per day at half a cent per word, $20 per day at $0.01, $40 per day at $0.02, $60 per day at $0.03, $80 per day at $0.04, $100 per day at $0.05, $120 per day at $0.06, and $140 per day at $0.07.]

With luck, this article should give writers some of the the information they need to inform themselves when considering freelancing, and ensure that the relationship is an equal relationship. I'll keep the table above updated as best I can, and folks can make their own decisions. Please do feel free to correct inaccurate figures or provide additional information! Also, if you're a freelancer, feel free to share rates (don't break any NDAs, though!)


 

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J. L. Duncan

Villager
So, it hasn't changed since I was published in Rifter #1 in the '90s.
I'm fairly certain I could guess what happened :)

I'm certain you know (edit: or I should say understand). And even better than I.

Well, to be fair... I knew what I was getting into. Some of that was because of the mega-thread over at the other site-which you and Bill did partake.

What I didn't anticipate was how upset I became once things went badly.

I'm looking for better opportunities-:p
 

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ARMR

First Post
Paying .01 is the standard it seems. At least from all the jobs I've done that's what I've gotten.

I do understand that for most publishers it's too difficult to pay any more than that.

With that said, paying half a cent is ludicrous! And all publishers that offer as such should be ashamed of themselves.

Heck I did a job earlier this year for a Publisher who will not be named, and I'm still waiting for my payment, sure it was just $6... But it's my $6...

I offer all my products for free, but only because I write, design, proof read, AND edit. While my wife draws everything I need.
 

And all publishers that offer as such should be ashamed of themselves.
Why should they be?

If someone's willing to do the work and the publisher is happy with it, why should the publisher be ashamed? Are you able to access the finances behind publisher budgets to draw some conclusion about what's going back into future product versus the publishers' pockets the rest of us are not aware of?
 

ARMR

First Post
Why should they be?

If someone's willing to do the work and the publisher is happy with it, why should the publisher be ashamed? Are you able to access the finances behind publisher budgets to draw some conclusion about what's going back into future product versus the publishers' pockets the rest of us are not aware of?


It's simple, these writers are giving hours and hours of their time on a product they'll barely see any $ out of, while the publisher with time will see their spent money back and then some. Sure it'll take time, but they will break even and make a profit.

And things like classes take a lot of hours to complete, and days of proper playtesting before sending to a publisher. So paying half a cent to someone that's giving over 10 hours of their life to work on a good product is worth more than half a cent. Like i said, I understand that many small time publishers cannot afford more than 1 cent a word. But writers are definitely worth $30 for a base class of 3,000 words than just $15.

My recommendation would be, if you can't pay at least 1 cent a word, don't ask for writers. Because at the end of the day, these are humans you are working with, and asking to work for you, and none of them are worth half a cent a word. And while it's almost inconceivable to live of making TTRPGs for a living and much less freelance as a TTRPG writer, those $30, maybe even $10 for a monster here or there add up, and help us out.

But like someone mention before I believe, you get what you pay for, if you pay half a cent, don't expect the writer to give it his all, they'd be better off making a blog where they offer all their own personal TTRPG designs.

And if they are willing to do the work for that miserable pay, then they don't know any better, or they are just like artists that sell their drawings for mere pennies when other artists sell them for more. You are showing the publisher that it's ok to pay close to nothing, when it's not.

But that's just my opinion.
 

Fairman Rogers

First Post
I feel there are two parts to improving the situation:

1) Consumers need to be willing to pay more for quality work. It is not cheap to publish a book even digital-only, but there's still a pervading sense that PDFs have to be super cheap. As long as publishers are trying to shave their margins as tightly as possible, the pay and therefore quality will continue to suffer. I feel like this is gradually improving, but I still see some holdouts of this attitude.

2) Publishers need to pay more per word but commission fewer words. We've been seeing some serious page-bloat over the last couple years, and I definitely think quality is suffering. Unfortunately, this is fed by the problems mentioned in #1 - consumers have built up a perception that page count should be a determiner of price. We have got to break the page-inflation feedback loop.

The thing is, both of these need to change for the improvements to make economic sense. If I drop from 200,000 words to 80,000 words but I go up from .01 to .05 per word, that book is twice as expensive as it was before. That's not sustainable without consumer support for higher prices overall.

RPGs are still essentially a hobby industry. We're all expecting hobby industry prices, which can only come from hobby industry work. We can't get up to professional wages without treating the whole industry differently.
 

Ricochet

Explorer
I feel there are two parts to improving the situation:

1) Consumers need to be willing to pay more for quality work. It is not cheap to publish a book even digital-only, but there's still a pervading sense that PDFs have to be super cheap. As long as publishers are trying to shave their margins as tightly as possible, the pay and therefore quality will continue to suffer. I feel like this is gradually improving, but I still see some holdouts of this attitude.

2) Publishers need to pay more per word but commission fewer words. We've been seeing some serious page-bloat over the last couple years, and I definitely think quality is suffering. Unfortunately, this is fed by the problems mentioned in #1 - consumers have built up a perception that page count should be a determiner of price. We have got to break the page-inflation feedback loop.

The thing is, both of these need to change for the improvements to make economic sense. If I drop from 200,000 words to 80,000 words but I go up from .01 to .05 per word, that book is twice as expensive as it was before. That's not sustainable without consumer support for higher prices overall.

RPGs are still essentially a hobby industry. We're all expecting hobby industry prices, which can only come from hobby industry work. We can't get up to professional wages without treating the whole industry differently.

Both parts are true. However, this hobby in particular seems to have a notoriously thrifty consumer mindset once we delve out of the miniature gaming section. I hope things are slowly changing with all of the kickstarters etc. though, because the industry needs to increase the profits in order to remain eager to satisfy their consumers. I'm not saying triple the prices or anything, but scraping through isn't fun for anyone - publishers, writers, or ultimately the consumers.
 

It's simple, these writers are giving hours and hours of their time on a product they'll barely see any $ out of, while the publisher with time will see their spent money back and then some. Sure it'll take time, but they will break even and make a profit.
Again, you have access to information on everyone's budgets and profit margins ... how?

When you start saying things like publishers in the RPG industry will make back money spent "and then some" (emphasis mine), you illustrate a common misunderstanding of the industry's economics.

And things like classes take a lot of hours to complete, and days of proper playtesting before sending to a publisher.
Not that it really matters, but most playtesting is done by publishers, not writers.
So paying half a cent to someone that's giving over 10 hours of their life to work on a good product is worth more than half a cent. Like i said, I understand that many small time publishers cannot afford more than 1 cent a word. But writers are definitely worth $30 for a base class of 3,000 words than just $15.
Simple solution, then: don't work for those publishers. This is what you simply aren't getting.

It is up to writers and artists to define their minimum threshold of payment, not publishers. If a job isn't paying enough, don't apply for it. If you see a job posted for a specific rate, however, and you apply to do it, then why should you be bitching about it and why should the publisher feel ashamed? Now, if you find it difficult to get jobs that pay higher rates, consider the following: a) maybe there are good, objective reasons why so many publishers can't afford to pay higher rates (and, as a hint, consider that lining their pockets with inflated profit margins isn't one of them -- no publishers are getting rich putting out RPGs.) b) perhaps you (in the general sense, not YOU specifically) simply aren't as skilled a writer as you think and aren't worth the higher paying jobs.

My recommendation would be, if you can't pay at least 1 cent a word, don't ask for writers. Because at the end of the day, these are humans you are working with, and asking to work for you, and none of them are worth half a cent a word.
Who are you or I to insist on that? Again, if people say to themselves "I'm worth more than this!" then they won't apply for a job. You're (incorrectly) assuming there are no writers (or publishers, for that matter) out there who are primarily motivated by fun, and consider the payment to be secondary. Or that it's something they do in their spare time so a high payment rate is not a priority. Again, your point here shows a rather narrow understanding of the sorts of people who write content and why.

And while it's almost inconceivable to live of making TTRPGs for a living and much less freelance as a TTRPG writer, those $30, maybe even $10 for a monster here or there add up, and help us out.
Sure, undeniably getting paid more is better. And if you think you deserve more money for your work then only apply for those jobs. It really is that simple.

But like someone mention before I believe, you get what you pay for, if you pay half a cent, don't expect the writer to give it his all
Which is true of any industry that employs freelancers, to be certain. So, let me ask you this: if low pay rates seem to be so common in the RPG industry, yet it keeps trucking along without everything being total :):):):), why is that? Consider it's the cold, hard economics of the industry that drive those rates and not the demands of freelancers. You're talking about a dwindling market where the customers demand better at cheaper prices. Do you think that's an economic situation that presents opportunities for more money to be made by all involved, or less?

they'd be better off making a blog where they offer all their own personal TTRPG designs.
Perhaps, if all they want is people looking at their stuff, but not really if they want to make money. And if all they want is people looking at their stuff, why then are they concerned with low pay rates to begin with?

And if they are willing to do the work for that miserable pay, then they don't know any better, or they are just like artists that sell their drawings for mere pennies when other artists sell them for more. You are showing the publisher that it's ok to pay close to nothing, when it's not.
Again, you're assuming a lot about freelancer motives and desires. You also conveniently forget that anyone going into the RPG industry probably has a good idea that they won't be doing what they do with the expectation of a big pay day. Sure, everyone WANTS to make money hand over fist, but no one should expect it. If you want to be producing content in this industry at any level, hope, strive, and keep aiming for the best but expecting anything more than having fun doing what you're doing while earning a bit of cash along the way is not exactly accepting the reality of how much money flows into this industry from the customers at any point but the top.

But that's just my opinion.
Yes, but an opinion you're trying to qualify in general terms on everyone else's behalf while attributing motives and standards to publishers that ignore a lot of facts that are inconvenient to your opinion.

Most publishers pay what their particular section of the market can handle. If you want to earn more, start by convincing customers that getting quality RPG product into their hands is worth paying more.
 

ARMR

First Post
I feel there are two parts to improving the situation:

1) Consumers need to be willing to pay more for quality work. It is not cheap to publish a book even digital-only, but there's still a pervading sense that PDFs have to be super cheap. As long as publishers are trying to shave their margins as tightly as possible, the pay and therefore quality will continue to suffer. I feel like this is gradually improving, but I still see some holdouts of this attitude.

2) Publishers need to pay more per word but commission fewer words. We've been seeing some serious page-bloat over the last couple years, and I definitely think quality is suffering. Unfortunately, this is fed by the problems mentioned in #1 - consumers have built up a perception that page count should be a determiner of price. We have got to break the page-inflation feedback loop.

The thing is, both of these need to change for the improvements to make economic sense. If I drop from 200,000 words to 80,000 words but I go up from .01 to .05 per word, that book is twice as expensive as it was before. That's not sustainable without consumer support for higher prices overall.

RPGs are still essentially a hobby industry. We're all expecting hobby industry prices, which can only come from hobby industry work. We can't get up to professional wages without treating the whole industry differently.

I think that a fair way to improve on this, besides eliminating the need for a minimum word count (that makes it so sometimes you end up with run on sentences, and little cohesion, for the sake of a word count), there could be established rates for different things.

Making a monster is in no means the same as designing a class, or writing up an adventure, or even writing up a city.

The same way artists have standard rates, we writers should too have standard rates.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
You're (incorrectly) assuming there are no writers (or publishers, for that matter) out there who are primarily motivated by fun, and consider the payment to be secondary. Or that it's something they do in their spare time so a high payment rate is not a priority. Again, your point here shows a rather narrow understanding of the sorts of people who write content and why.

I'm one of these, and I'm writing for one of these too. And they pay isn't very good, but it is a creative outlet. By making this writing the best I possibly can, I'm hoping to qualify for better commissions later on.

For me, it is also part of rehabilitation - I've been ill a very long time, and by writing (keeping deadlines, and so on), I am slowly making myself employable again.

But yeah, I am also generating competition for the professional game-writers, those who try to live on this.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
Making a monster is in no means the same as designing a class, or writing up an adventure, or even writing up a city.

Just for fun, which of these would be the hardest to do? My answer would be the adventure writeup. I guess others' answers would be different. I don't try to get adventures published because I'm frankly not very good at them. I don't even play my own adventures. But writing up an archetype is a delight for me.

So I publish rules and purchase adventures. Works for me.
 

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