Ask Wendy: How much do publications pay?

Wendy Burt

By Wendy Burt-Thomas
Q: I can’t always find writer’s guidelines. Is there a way to estimate how much a publication pays writers?

A: Although no advice is foolproof, I can tell you some tricks I’ve learned along the way from BOTH sides of the fence-as a freelance writer and as an editor of magazines and newspapers.

1. Look at the type of paper used. Generally, newsprint is going to pay less- maybe $.10/word. The thicker the paper, the more the publication will pay. You’ll also want to look at the finish; is it matte or glossy? (Think about when you process your family photos.) Glossy paper is more expensive so generally a glossy print magazine will pay more. Also, is the publication black and white or color? Color is much more expensive to produce, implying there’s a bigger budget to pay writers.

2. Look inside for the circulation. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the circulation, the more money they can pay writers. However, sometimes you’ll find niche publications with a smaller circulation (e.g. something mailed only to 5,000 plastic surgeons in the region) that will pay writers relatively well.

3. Look at the ads. If you see ads for cosmetic dentistry, Botox, boutique jewelry stores and high-end artwork, they probably have good pay rates. That’s because almost all publications (except nonprofit mags) are supported by advertising revenue. And the more disposable income the reader has, the more money the publication can make selling space to businesses that can afford to shell out big bucks to advertise. Writers usually get paid more with the trickle down effect.

The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-ThomasWendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as,, Family Circle and American Fitness. She is the author of three books: Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One (McGraw-Hill, 2001); Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick (McGraw-Hill, 2003); and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (Writer’s Digest, 2008). Visit her at or her blog,

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