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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This is a fantastic source of otherwise very hard to come by information. I just published my first RPG supplement a few months ago and have plans for several more, so this is a great point of comparison.

Thank you very much, Morrus, as well as all the people who provided the intel. Much appreciated.
 

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I didn't say that, either.. Please stop making up things I didn't say.
Well, having read what was being said on FB before you closed it, and in your Twitter feed, let's just say I disagree with what you have and have not been saying on the matter, as well as what others have been saying that constitutes a "tantrum." After all, when one looks at what you've said elsewhere, your article tends to take on a different light than just looking at it here without that additional context.
 

Janx

Hero
Well, having read what was being said on FB before you closed it, and in your Twitter feed, let's just say I disagree with what you have and have not been saying on the matter, as well as what others have been saying that constitutes a "tantrum." After all, when one looks at what you've said elsewhere, your article tends to take on a different light than just looking at it here without that additional context.

what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Please don't bring in drama from other sites (Twitter and FB are other sites), into a discussion on this site about what was said on this site.

All I've read is the original post, which seems reasonable and educational to a writer or publisher so they know where the market is.

There is of course some disagreement on whether the lowest rates of pay are OK. Ultimately, economics kicks in, and you'll note the more successful companies pay more.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Well, having read what was being said on FB before you closed it, and in your Twitter feed, let's just say I disagree with what you have and have not been saying on the matter, as well as what others have been saying that constitutes a "tantrum." After all, when one looks at what you've said elsewhere, your article tends to take on a different light than just looking at it here without that additional context.

Third and final time before I ask you to leave. I've asked twice politely.. This is unacceptable. Please stop inventing things. I have informed twice now you that your claims as to my viewpoint are incorrect.
 

what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Please don't bring in drama from other sites (Twitter and FB are other sites), into a discussion on this site about what was said on this site.
I'm not talking about drama. I'm taking about Morris presenting this article here as "just giving you some things to think about" perspective, but commenting on it elsewhere where's linked back to it with things like "Scary number of $0.01 per word rates out there. Don't work for $0.01 per word, guys!"

Add to that the fact that his facts ended up getting a number of corrections out of the gate and, well ... it's not what I'd call a carefully researched, fully realized article that comes from a position that actually looks at the whole picture. Especially when one considers some of the writers who are coming out to disagree with it, especially with regards to writers looking to get started.
 

Third and final time before I ask you to leave. I've asked twice politely.. This is unacceptable. Please stop inventing things. I have informed twice now you that your claims as to my viewpoint are incorrect.
Understood. I've quoted you directly in the previous post to indicate my meaning and illustrate it's disingenuous to say I'm inventing things. There's also the tweet to illustrate my meaning: "Just saw an artist advertise full-colour illos for $15 on ENW. Told him he was undervaluing himself (and, by extension, his fellow artists)."
 
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lynnfredricks

First Post
Your labour is a product and your labour is worth what someone will pay for it. That's why salaries and wages differ across society.

And, yes, a product is more than just the writing. It combines the product of writing with the product of editing with the product of layout with the product of art etc.... Effectively it's just an assembly line of different components.

I think you are clearly identifying a philosophical difference in society that goes beyond this tiny market - between these perspectives of value of product and value of labor.

The value of a product is determined by what people are willing to pay (yes, its more complicated than that when you look at values of IP); availability of data and experience help to set our expectations of what the market will produce. From that, you establish a budget.

If the labor is available, and the workers are willing to work for it even if its very little money, you have a metric that works, just not to the satisfaction of everyone involved. That satisfaction can often be increased by moving your labor to a market where the money is more attractive. I don't see satisfaction going anywhere if the only solution is not to have a project at all.

If you have a notion that everyone must work based on a rate of earning a living wage because they intrinsically deserve it, then you are espousing a philosophy. That's something that is not specific to this little niche market.
 

lmpjr007

Explorer
Third and final time before I ask you to leave. I've asked twice politely.. This is unacceptable. Please stop inventing things. I have informed twice now you that your claims as to my viewpoint are incorrect.

WOW! Russ Morrissey edits my quote down to fit his narrative and then he tells Steven to " Please stop inventing things." Here is what he said:
"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."

Here is the full quote of what I said: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2rxfh?ThirdParty-Publishers-Freelancer-Open-Call#32

Everything I, Louis Porter Jr., said I stand behind. You might not like how I said it but it IS the truth and I didn't edit it or move the thread to private.
 

Janx

Hero
WOW! Russ Morrissey edits my quote down to fit his narrative and then he tells Steven to " Please stop inventing things." Here is what he said:
"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."

Here is the full quote of what I said: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2rxfh?ThirdParty-Publishers-Freelancer-Open-Call#32

Everything I, Louis Porter Jr., said I stand behind. You might not like how I said it but it IS the truth and I didn't edit it or move the thread to private.

From this site, I don't think that's the alleged quote from you that raised hairs. But I'm also not keen on anybody here grabbing quotes from somewhere else and posting them up as "so and so said this!"

I think the unfortunate thing is that you folks in the business all need to be a bit more circumspect about what you say about each other, how you say it on any of these sites. It's a small world. No need to cheese each other off because you didn't like what the other said on some other site.
 

lynnfredricks

First Post
Differences of opinion aside, I also want to thank Morrus and the vendors / publishers who provided data and feedback. Even if we disagree on some things, knowing is far better than not knowing - even for folks who are just end users and have no idea what costs are to produce even a modest project.
 

I do not believe that work--writing or otherwise--lacks intrinsic value. The market may determine worth in a practical sense, but not (IMO) necessarily an ethical one.

People say this is a niche market, so most publishers can't afford to pay a living wage. I might respond by saying that a lot of publishers need to drop out, leaving only the ones who can support a living wage.

Note I said "might." I don't pretend it's that simple. But it's not that simple in the other direction, either.

(And if this is me espousing a philosophy, I'm okay with that. There's a reason the concept of minimum wage exists.)
 

DaveMage

Slumbering in Tsar
It's pretty much already been said, but if you are a writer of RPGs and you don't like what a publisher is paying/offering - don't write for them.

If there's no market (or room) for your product with the publishers that are paying more, then publish it yourself.

Don't like either of these options? Go into another line of work besides RPG writing.
 

PCIHenry

Explorer
Hello,

People say this is a niche market, so most publishers can't afford to pay a living wage. I might respond by saying that a lot of publishers need to drop out, leaving only the ones who can support a living wage.

With all due respect, I just don't understand what that would achieve.

Whether the publishers who can't afford to pay X rate vanish or not, those who you identify as the ones who can pay X rate are neither hindered or incentivized to pay a lower rate. So what does it matter if they remain or not? For example, I think it's doubtful that Paizo or WotC (the two highest paying publishers on the list) would care whether any other publisher is paying 0.1/word or would change their price structure because of it.

I'm an attorney by trade and I see this as they taught us Contracts class - a "meeting of the minds" between the parties. Publisher A can offer X payment to which Writer B can either accept, counteroffer or reject. No one is holding a gun to anyone's head to accept a particular fee. AFAIAC - that is not exploitative - that's just how business (and contacts) work.

For the record: Paradigm Concepts (www.paradigmconcepts.com) pays a range of 0.01 to 0.05/word based on experience, length and subject matter.

In the 14 years I've been publishing, I've had writers agree, negotiate and/or reject writing for us. Everyone is paid per the contact (30 days after acceptance, though I usually pay earlier than that) and I haven't heard anyone tell me they were being mistreated or exploited, (plus they usually come back for future projects).

Bottom line - as long as the terms of the agreement are fully disclosed and both parties agree and perform their duties, I don't see how having more venues to write for is a bad thing.
 
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I do not believe that work--writing or otherwise--lacks intrinsic value. The market may determine worth in a practical sense, but not (IMO) necessarily an ethical one.

People say this is a niche market, so most publishers can't afford to pay a living wage. I might respond by saying that a lot of publishers need to drop out, leaving only the ones who can support a living wage.
Well, you've just reduced the industry to, likely, 10 or so companies (and I'm probably being generous.) You've also entirely done away with the previously put forth solution of writers self-publishing. What's more, some of the companies closing up shop will likely be most of your favourites.

That not only means fewer options for the customer, but fewer employment opportunities for freelancers. The latter isn't exactly going to drive up pay rates, either -- simple economics shows us that when there is a great supply of available workers but a reduced opportunity for work, the price the writers can demand of the publishers will drop dramatically.

Note I said "might." I don't pretend it's that simple. But it's not that simple in the other direction, either.
No, it IS that simple. It's a simple matter of mathematics and economics.

The fact that the math is unfortunate and not favourable does not make the situation any more complex. How much money people can afford to pay other people is not reliant upon the whims of philosophy or opinions. There's an actual point that's crossed where one goes from "okay, my expenses are low enough that I'm making money" and becomes "well, my expenses are high enough that I'm not making money or am actually losing it." No freelancer's opinion about their worth will change that absolute.

(And if this is me espousing a philosophy, I'm okay with that. There's a reason the concept of minimum wage exists.)
You may want to consider that there are very practical reasons why minimum wage doesn't apply to work-for-hire employment scenarios like freelance writing.
 

hunter1828

Adventurer
I've been a publisher (co-founded 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, which I sold to Purple Duck Games two years ago) and a freelance writer/editor (worked or working for Purple Duck, Xpeditious Press, Green Ronin, Third Eye Games, EN Publishing, John Brazer Enterprises, and artist Larry Elmore). As a freelancer, I've worked for product (editing work for Mr. Elmore netted me some sweet limited edition, low numbered prints) and I've worked for pay (everywhere from .01/word to .05/word) and never felt exploited by any of them (the prints I got from the work for Larry Elmore are worth more than what I would have been paid as an editor, and had I been paid in cash I most likely would have turned around and bought some prints...). As a publisher, I paid out anywhere from .03 to .05 in general, sometimes lower for unknowns and sometimes higher for known names. I don't feel I ever exploited anyone.

The assumptions that anyone can self-publish because it's easy have been argued to death and I'm not going to beat that dead horse any further than to say that I am much, much happier as a freelancer than I ever was as a publisher. As a freelancer, I write and edit. That's it. I don't have any other concerns. And I'm fine with that. I'm also not trying to make this my sole source of income, just some extra money that usually gets spent on other game products.
 

I've tried rewriting my response several times, and I simply can't make it without violating EN World's "no politics" rule, so I'm probably going to have to refrain.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
One thing that's interesting, is that you're more likely to have your work SEEN as a writer if you give it away for free, than as part of a very cheap, but non-free, PDF.

http://danariely.com/tag/free/

I'm not so sure. My feeling is that people see free stuff as being worth what they paid for it. Giving things away free is a sure way to obscurity. I don't have much experience in this, but I wrote a backround and talents article for 4E that was well received on ENworld, but when I had it published in a free fanzine, I got no reaction whatsoever. Maybe it was just that I didn't track it.
 

If the fanzine isn't searchable from Google, that's part of the problem. Not saying that's what happened, but I'm not talking about having it published in a free fanzine. I'm talking about what you did on ENWorld.

In my case, I started blogging. Got noticed by some people, interacted on Twitter, got invited to write for a blog. Kept writing there, had friendly relationships with multiple people in the industry, and eventually lucked out (and absolutely luck is involved) and got onto the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying team.

My point is though that I had quite a bit of my writing out there, for free.

Writing for a publication that sells so few copies that they can only afford a pittance for a writer means that your writing isn't going to be seen by very many people. Writing for free on the 'net gives you exposure to anyone who might Google for what you're looking for.
 

lynnfredricks

First Post
I do not believe that work--writing or otherwise--lacks intrinsic value. The market may determine worth in a practical sense, but not (IMO) necessarily an ethical one.

People say this is a niche market, so most publishers can't afford to pay a living wage. I might respond by saying that a lot of publishers need to drop out, leaving only the ones who can support a living wage.

Note I said "might." I don't pretend it's that simple. But it's not that simple in the other direction, either.

(And if this is me espousing a philosophy, I'm okay with that. There's a reason the concept of minimum wage exists.)

That was a nice little bait on a hook there by mentioning minimum wage and living wage together. But I positively agree... that is your philosophy ;-)

Not all niche markets pay poorly, but for the most part this one does, and seemingly for very good reasons.

If you have a very vertical market that's mature (and therefore flooded with competition and big fish above), your hope is either to: 1) dominate it or a piece of territory with something truly innovative; 2) be able to charge a lot of money per unit; 3)have more irons in the fire in that market for upsell; 4) all of the above.

Writing for a living, especially when you are not a full time employee someplace is not the easiest way to earn. I've done it, and done other things at the same time. I guess I still do since most of what I earn is through coming up with plans and getting other people to implement (much of, but not all of) them. If I were to try to live on my writing skills without being a journalist (what sad sacks they are now...), Id be a technical writer. Even that's not what it was 10-20 years ago, but it can pay well.
 

lynnfredricks

First Post
I'm not so sure. My feeling is that people see free stuff as being worth what they paid for it. Giving things away free is a sure way to obscurity. I don't have much experience in this, but I wrote a backround and talents article for 4E that was well received on ENworld, but when I had it published in a free fanzine, I got no reaction whatsoever. Maybe it was just that I didn't track it.

You are right, at least for free things that have no effect on someone's bottom line.

What I have always found interesting is how some people think if they got something for free, they can automatically redistribute it however they want.
 

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