Like public speaking or bungee jumping, negotiation is something that gives most people at least a little anxiety. When you’re dealing with payment for your services, you don’t want to seem greedy and obnoxious, and you don’t want to be seen as a doormat, either. But whether you’re haggling at a yard sale or buying a car, a little self-confidence and some carefully chosen words can go a long way.
Freelance writing is no different. You want to sell that article idea you queried for a good price, but you have that nagging feeling that if you say “no” to an editor’s initial offer, he or she might tell you to forget it. As long as you’re not asking for something outrageous, the editor will probably try to make a compromise you can both be happy with. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know how much more you could be making.
When you get an offer from an editor, whether via email or telephone, remember the following five rules:
1. You’re the best person to do the job. It’s possible that an editor could take any freelancer’s query and just have a staffer write the story. So, not only do you have to convince him or her of the idea’s merit, but also that the only way the article will truly be great is if you write it.
2. You really want to work with this magazine or with this editor. Why did you query this publication in the first place? If it’s because another freelancer said the editor was great to write for, or if the magazine is one you’ve been reading for 20 years, say so! Try something like, “Sara Jones, one of your regular freelancers, said you were a savvy and careful editor and I hope that you and I can build a similar relationship. I don’t usually work for less than $650 per feature story of this length, but can come down slightly for the opportunity to work with you. Please let me know if $600 is a feasible compromise.”
3. Make them want more. Also known as “Next time, you better pay up.” If you just can’t pass up the opportunity to be published in that glossy magazine and you’re willing to take a pay cut, keep the upper hand by letting the editor know this is a one-time deal. For example, “While I don’t usually work for less than $800 for an article of this length, I am willing to accept your offer for this article. If we find the experience mutually advantageous and want to continue working together, I expect to renegotiate compensation at that time.”
4. Always shoot for the high end of the scale. Always read a publication’s contributor guidelines so when an editor gives you an offer, you’re not blown away. But if the guidelines read $250-$500 per article and you’re offered $300, you should always ask for that higher number. It may require a sidebar or additional sources and you can renegotiate, if necessary.
5. Be ready to walk away. This one is especially hard. Sometimes the rejections have piled up and we’re so happy to get an assignment that we might jump to accept even if the pay isn’t quite what it should be. Resist the urge! If the editor won’t budge even a little bit, he or she probably isn’t a good person (or publication) to work for. But cheer upóif this magazine saw the merit in your query, so will another one.
Negotiation is one of those things that we get better at with practice, and it also becomes less awkward over time. Just like following up on a query or turning in articles by their deadline, asking for more will soon become second nature. As writers, we often find it hard to put a price tag on our work. But remember, we have to value it first before anyone else will.
Victoria Groves teaches WritersWeekly University’s newest class, Negotiate Your Way to Higher Pay: How to Get the Freelance Assignments and Pay You Deserve!
Read more about Victoria’s class HERE: https://www.writersweekly.com/wwu/courses/negotiate.html.
Victoria Groves is a book editor and freelance writer living in Massachusetts. She has written for numerous publications including Baltimore Magazine, CommonWealth, New Mexico Woman and Scouting. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She teaches a variety of online and offline courses and has spoken at numerous writing workshops and conferences on newswriting, public relations, and newsletter writing.
Victoria’s classes at WritersWeekly University include:
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