Freelance writing’s a tough gig, and very few make it to the top. Writing articles is piecework – writers are not employees of the publications they write for, nor do they typically receive insurance. Hence, the importance of their per-word rate.
Most successful freelancers earn $1/word. Writers who make it into the glossy magazines make $2 per word, but seldom do you hear of rates above that – except, one assumes, for superstars like Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short and a writer for Vanity Fair. But still, he’s not telling how much he’s paid.
That’s why media mavens and writers were in a tizzy this weekend after Cosmopolitan published its profile of freelancer and journalist extraordinaire Taffy Brodesser-Akner. In the profile, where Brodesser-Akner promoted her new novel and dished on her philosophy about writing about celebrities, she also revealed her jaw-dropping rate: $4 a word.
Brodesser-Akner has carved out a niche in the celebrity profile sector (although she does other types of features, as well), writing about everyone from actresses Melissa McCarthy and Gwyneth Paltrow to tidying-up queen Marie Kondo for The New York Times magazine (and formerly GQ). One could fairly say she has elevated the form of the celeb profile, as she did with hilarity (and virality) in a recent Times magazine article about Gwyneth Paltrow and the wellness industry:
“Goop’s ethic was this,” she paraphrased Paltrow explaining to a class of Harvard Business School students. “That having beautiful things sometimes costs money; finding beautiful things was sometimes a result of an immense privilege, but a lack of that privilege didn’t mean you shouldn’t have those things. Besides, just because some people cannot afford it doesn’t mean that no one can and that no one should want it. If this bothered anyone, well, the newsletter content was free, and so were the recipes for turkey ragù and banana-nut muffins.”
Starting your own club
However, plum assignments like this almost didn’t happen. Early in her career, a women’s magazine rejected Brodesser-Akner during an interview, saying, “You’re not the person we would hire for our story,” as she told Cosmopolitan. She sat alone in the building’s cafeteria, and then emailed the editor of GQ, a magazine she admired. Soon, she was working for the publication.
However, she soon found herself feeling left out in the boy’s club atmosphere, as the guys got the freedom to file their stories late and she realized she would never be the writer assigned to “sleep on tour buses with bands or camp in the desert with an actor or do ayahuasca with a politician.”
But as her profile at the magazine grew, she decided that she’d had enough. She knew her worth – and she had the chops to back it up.
“When I started doing the ‘I don’t get out of bed for less than $4 a word’ thing, people started paying me $4 a word,” she told Cosmo.