A Guide to Careers in Science Writing
- Who Are Science Writers?
- What Do Science Writers Do?
- How Do Science Writers Get Their Stories?
- How Do I Know If I Should Become a Science Writer and If I Have What It Takes?
- How Much Money Do Science Writers Make?
- How Do I Get Started in Science Writing?
The salary range for science writers is very wide, given that it includes entry-level general assignment jobs in local newspapers, and senior-level positions in national media requiring decades of experience. Similarly, the range for PIOs is large, because it includes entry-level science writing jobs in small universities and research institutions as well as management-level jobs in large research universities and national laboratories.
Journalists with training in science writing may be able to enter the profession as general-assignment reporters at small newspapers, with a salary around $40,000/year. As they gain experience and move to science writing jobs at large newspapers, their salary will increase, perhaps reaching above $80,000/year. However, those positions have been rapidly disappearing and are likely to continue to do so.
Radio and TV stations and networks employ very few science writers, and entry-level correspondents who do work in such media are usually general assignment reporters making about $40,000/year. The few science correspondents at national radio and TV networks may make $100,000/year and more.
Entry-level jobs for science writers at science magazines start at around $40,000/year at small specialty magazines, up to $70,000/year at large-circulation commercial or association science magazines. Magazine science writers with decades of experience at large science magazines may make up to $100,000/year. However, many of these writers also have an extensive science background, including a Ph.D. in science. Entry-level science writers for smaller web sites may make from $30,000 up to $50,000/year, while experienced writers with scientific expertise who work for large science-and medicine-oriented web sites may make up to $90,000/year.
Freelance science journalists—who receive assignments on an individual basis, rather than working as staff writers—are undoubtedly the most poorly paid science writers. They usually earn between $1.00 and $2.00 per word for magazine articles—with $3.00 per word at top outlets. However, rates for newspaper articles may run as low as 50 cents per word. A 3,000-word magazine article may take a month to produce, and one such article per month at the average rate translates into a $54,000 annual income for an experienced freelancer. While this might seem like a comfortable income, freelancers do not receive benefits such as retirement plans or health insurance coverage. To make ends meet, freelancers usually need to juggle a great many assignments besides writing articles, including preparing annual reports, speeches or other contract writing. Many work as freelancers only part time while holding down jobs as educators or PIOs. Freelancers may also have a supporting spouse or partner. Freelance income can fluctuate wildly from month to month and year to year, given the fluctuation in assignments and delayed payments. Despite these drawbacks, many freelancers find the freedom they enjoy to be a significant attractant.
Similarly, authors of science books usually must supplement book income with other jobs, although science books are perennial bestsellers. Book income is mainly in the form of royalties based on sales. Most publishers pay an advance on royalties on signing a contract with an author. Rarely, these advances run to six figures for major books. However, an average advances is between $5,000 and $25,000. Science writers committed to writing many books, actively marketing them and establishing a reputation can earn a living at it—especially if they parlay the reputation from their books into paid speaking engagements, workshops and consulting.
Among PIOs, entry-level university science writers usually make from $40,000 to $50,000/year, with salaries ranging above $60,000/year with experience. Because PIOs often work for large research organizations such as universities and government or corporate laboratories, benefits tend to be excellent. Entry-level writers with science backgrounds at federal agencies and laboratories may make in the $60,000 to $70,000/year range. Experienced PIOs who head news offices at large research universities or corporations may make $100,000/year or more.