A common misperception among many new freelance medical writers is that because they lack a portfolio, they need to write for free. I disagree and here’s why.
If you’re a novice writer, I understand that you’re itching to get your feet wet. You want to create pieces that you can add to your portfolio to show potential clients that you know how to write well. Plus, seeing your name in print is exciting. Unfortunately, many groups (think content factories) take advantage of writers willing to write for pennies or less. And when you write for free or for ridiculously low compensation, you become part of the problem because you devalue the industry.
If you’re serious about being a freelance medical writer, you should treat your writing like a business, not a hobby. Recognize that good writing doesn’t come cheap. The latest salary survey completed by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) in 2007 shows that, on average, freelance medical writers earn $90 per hour. Please note that this does not mean that most medical writers charge by the hour. It means that when they divide the time spent on a project by the rate they received, the average hourly rate they earned was $90. As expected, those with more experience and education averaged higher rates than inexperienced or less educated writers. Still, the median gross income for full-time freelancers in the 2007 survey was $119,295 and the median net income was $93,306. You can’t make that kind of money when you write for free or for less than minimum wage. (FYI, you can access the full AMWA salary survey through the AMWA website, www.amwa.org, if you are an AMWA member.)
So is it NEVER a good idea to write for free? After all, lawyers work pro bono; doctors and nurses often donate their time to good causes. If you have a real passion for an idea or organization and want to help, by all means share your skills without expecting any payment. Just make sure your goodwill doesn’t eat up so much of your time that you don’t have hours left to work for paying clients. And don’t be fooled by companies that offer to let you “write for free exposure.” Translated, that means writing for free while the company makes money from your content. If you want exposure and portfolio clips, start your own blog and create well-crafted posts that you’re proud of. You can even earn a little money from your blog by monetizing it with your own Google AdSense account.