Rates and conditions vary very widely across books, magazines and national and regional newspapers: each has its own section in this Guide.
Many freelances produce copy and/or work shifts across all the print media - for books, magazines and newspapers. Rates and conditions vary very widely. The standard method of payment for books is by royalties: a percentage of the gross receipts from sale of the books. The standard for newspapers and magazines is a flat fee for a licence to publish the work in one edition.
All freelances who write should register with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society to receive payments from secondary uses such as photocopying, and provide the Society with updated lists of their published works. Book authors, illustrators and translators should also register for Public Lending Right. See Rights and why they are important.
Any freelance is the first owner of their work simply by virtue of having created it. Publishers frequently apply pressure on freelances to "assign" all rights in their work - either because they have actual hopes of re-selling it for a lot of money or because their advisers simply do not understand authors' rights.
The NUJ has made a landmark agreement with the Guardian dealing with these issues, and groups of freelances have achieved agreements with various magazine publishers. The union has numerous house agreements with other newspaper and magazine publishers, and is working to add terms setting out minimum rates and conditions for freelances to these, but this will take time. See the detailed advice sections for each sector, below.
Shifts and sub-editing
Some freelances specialise in sub-editing: checking copy and making it fit house style and the page. Many writers also do sub-editing shifts for backup income - and often as a useful source of contact with commissioning editors. Sodd's Law guarantees that work will conflict wherever it can; it is generally considered bad taste to spend half a sub-editing shift on the phone to an editor at a rival publication going over the details of an article.
The book industry is as ruthless as any other business. Some might say that it is more so, for exploiting its residual gentlepersonly image, as though no civilised person would actually expect to make a living by work.
Some publishers are particularly fond of engaging people to do editing and production work as though it were a civilised hobby, not a way to earn a living. Freelance editors should take at least as much care over the details of a commission as they would in any other part of the media.
The world of magazines is remarkably diverse, both in terms of what is published and how much is paid for it. It encompasses some of the best and some of the worst payers in the media industry. We divide the suggested rates into four bands - but note that publications like Vogue and almost all US magazines are off the top end of this scale and that Rabbit Breeder's Week may be off the bottom.
The rates paid for features in national newspapers vary hugely, depending on the titles concerned, the expertise/research required and how much the publication wants the article.
While some regional papers and a few provincials pay reasonably compared to the local economy, freelance rates in many papers (especially in provincials) have not risen in proportion to either the cost of living or to staff salaries.
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.
The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.
Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.