Can one make a living as a freelance writer in the Philippines?
Parents have often said that if we want to strike it rich, don’t be a writer. In reply, their idealistic children would then rattle off names like JK Rowling, Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, and other high-profile names to defend their choice. After college, many of these wide-eyed writers would find themselves working in magazine or newspaper publishing, advertising, in the communication department of some company or NGO, or, God forbid, working as freelance writers.
Freelance, free lunch
There is a stigma attached to freelance writing and it has been present, nurtured by some of the writers themselves, for many years. Looking at it as a way to earn a quick buck is tantamount to disrespect for the profession, and it is this attitude that has been giving the industry a painful and slow death.
Freelancers who sell out and accept pennies for their work not only don’t give value to themselves (which is fine, as far as everyone else is concerned), but they also drag everyone else with them into the free-lunch pit. This is the place where writers slosh about in the company of clients who give low pay and treat writers like some cook in a panciteria.
These writers don’t realize that every time they sign a P0.50 per word contract, for instance, they are making sure that their children will get paid the same rate when it’s their turn to go freelance. You’ll get the cash for the electric bill this month, but is it really worth the trade-off?
Horror stories
If you’re a freelance writer in the Philippines, there would be times (and they would be often) that you’d probably grow a beard first, even if you’re not a man, before you receive your check. Other publications would require several interviews with expert resource persons for a 2,000-word article, but pay a fee that barely covers for the expenses related to producing the feature. Take a look at what some freelance writers are paid:

  • As low as P22 per hour (online writing)
  • P45 to P90 per 400-500-word article (online writing)
  • P100 per 250-word article (academic writing and research)
  • P300 per 400-word article (online writing)
  • P0.50 to P2 per word (some local magazines, newspapers and news websites)

(These are actual figures cited by some members of the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines, based on their individual experiences working with local and international clients.)
Also, racism is alive and well in the online writing business. Many Filipino freelancers don’t get the good deals offered by high-paying clients in the international market (P22.50 to P45 per word), possibly because “you can pay (Filipinos) literally pennies for a story… because they are not native (English) speakers.” This is a comment made by an American and cited by another Filipino freelance writer.
If you work in the advertising industry or if you are able to get corporate clients, then you can make more because these markets pay better than most outsourcing websites and online/print magazines or newspapers. But, you may have to set aside some of your principles when you’re asked to write copy to sell, say, liquor or tobacco. To put it bluntly, there is no room for the idealistic writer in the commercial writing industry.
The need to organize
Despite the economically grim picture, there is still an abundance of freelance writers locally, probably because there are moms or dads, some of them single parents, needing more time to raise their children as they work for a living. There are others who enjoy the freedom that freelancing offers. Some are working on their degrees, others do it to supplement a regular salary, and still there are those who think that writing is simple and that anyone with a pen can write!
To assure the healthy future of the freelance writing profession, if you can even call it such, there is a need to organize these disunited writers. The fact is, writers’ fees in the Philippines have stagnated at a more or less 20- year old level. This, plus a host of other challenges that plague the freelance writing community have encouraged a bunch of freelance writers to organize themselves into the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines (FWGP). The guild aims to protect the welfare of Filipino freelance scribes working in the country, as it tries to help members improve the quality of their work.
Presently, the Guild is trying to come up with a standard payscale to serve as a guide for freelance writers so that fees nationwide can become more or less consistent. FWGP also offers lectures and workshops on important topics like copyright, SEO writing and blogging, and, for the future, screenwriting, writing for children, and many more. Each month, OpenBook events are held to bridge the distance between authors and their readers. Successful authors are invited to share tips and advice on how to write, market/sell the work, how to get motivated or inspired, and even build discipline.
Its more important work, however, is to educate the writers on their rights and responsibilities so that the problems that plague freelance writers can be eradicated one by one: low fees, unreasonable waiting time for payments, low-quality work output, one-sided contracts and unjust policies by clients—these are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed.
Freelance writing could become a respected and high-paying profession, but it can only happen if there are enough good writers who will work to make the changes happen. Presently, we are far from this goal. And for as long as there are more writers who are willing to accept low fees just to get projects, and freelance writers who care more about quantity over quality, then the profession will continue to languish in this rut where it has been  for decades.