Medical Writers, Should You Write For Free?

2328829160_186d9a80bc_mWhether you’re new to freelance medical writing or an experienced writer trying to break into a new therapeutic area, a common misperception is that because you lack a portfolio that includes the types of deliverables you want to write, you need to write for free just to get your foot in the door. We disagree and here’s why.

If you’re a novice writer we understand you are eager to get your feet wet. You want to create pieces you can add to your portfolio to show potential clients you know how to write well. Plus seeing your name in print is elating. Unfortunately, many groups (think content mills) are out there preying on writers willing to write for pennies or less. Don’t do it. 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 seen as a professional who is a freelance medical writer, you need to 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 2011 shows that, on average, freelance medical writers earn $100 an hour. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean the majority of medical writers charge by the hour. It means that when they divide the time spent on a project by the fee they received, the average hourly rate they earned was $100. As you would expect, those with more experience and education averaged higher rates than inexperienced or less educated writers. Still, the mean gross income for full-time freelances in the 2011 survey was $116,000. You can’t earn that kind of money when you write for free or for a rate that’s lower than minimum wage. (Just an FYI, you can access the complete AMWA salary survey through the AMWA website,, if you are an AMWA member.)

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