Thursday, February 17, 2011

Negotiating Tips for Writers

While being an editor pays the bills around here, I always see a writer when I look in the mirror. And just to show you how much I care about my fellow writers, I'm going to make my life as an editor potentially more difficult by sharing my negotiating tips for writers. Different editors surely approach negotiation in their own unique ways, but these are my tips for handling editors like myself.
  1. Always try to negotiate. I loathe negotiating. Judging by the lack of negotiation from most of my freelancers, I've concluded that most of them loathe negotiating too. But I think it's important for writers to at least try to negotiate from the beginning, because I take those writers a little more seriously, especially if they...
  2. Deliver the goods on your first assignment. Write an amazing article with great sources and examples, and I'm more likely to offer you a better contract the next time around. If I don't, I may be trying to maintain the status quo, but you should try to nudge me again. And I emphasize nudging.
  3. Don't make your demands a "my way or the highway" situation. That is, don't make it that kind of situation unless you're willing to take the highway. There have been situations, especially when I'm working with a new freelancer, in which I'm not able or willing to go over my initial offer. There have been very good pitches that I let walk, because I couldn't (or wouldn't) go higher. Believe me, I always wish I could offer more, but I have to fill my pages with great content (not squander it all on a handful of articles). That said...
  4. Pitch me with an idea that is unique and truly helpful for my audience. If you pitch me on an interview or list of query tips, I'm less likely to get excited than if you pitch me on an article that tells writers how to make a living off Twitter in 30 days (and actually have the track record to back up that claim). For instance, the freelancer who puts together our "How Much Should I Charge?" piece in the Writer's Market book is far and away my top paid freelancer, because she has to survey professionals in several different fields of writing. It's a unique piece that is truly helpful for my audience. As such, she has greater negotiating power. Still...
  5. Choose your battles. I advise negotiating each time you get a new assignment. Maybe I'll give a little, maybe I won't. But please pick your battles about what you want to negotiate. Don't pick apart every single clause in your contract. That gets annoying on my end, and I'm just too busy to enjoy being annoyed. Related to that...
  6. Don't be a pest. I'm more willing to negotiate with writers who complete their assignments on time and don't contact me every couple days with a revision of an already turned in piece or who try to re-negotiate the fee on an article after we've already assigned the piece. I like it when writers ask questions and want to make sure they understand an assignment, but I don't like to have to constantly haggle over things after we've come to an agreement. That's a good way to not receive any more assignments in the future.
  7. Think of creative ways to negotiate. Offer to write a sidebar for an extra fee--or a series of blog posts. If the editor is unable to offer more money, ask for more complimentary copies. Or some other related comp that the editor may be able to send your way. Editors like to make writers happy (especially if they do a great job), so help them help you get more out of your relationship.
By the way, if you haven't checked it out yet, you may be interested in my post on How to Deal With Problem Editors. Also, after my initial post, I found some great tips from the writer's perspective by Carol Tice in her post 10 Negotiation Tips for Writers.

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Here are some great resources for more negotiation strategies and tactics:

12 comments:

Jennifer Jackson said...

I think many writers are hesitant to broach the subject of negotiation because they are afraid an editor will think them difficult or egotistical. If you are one writer who wants to negotiate, there are many others to replace you that won't.

At the end of the day, it comes down to confidence and compassion. Writers, if your work is good enough to ask for something, ask. But just remember it is ASKING and not demanding. An excellent writer with a horrible attitude is more often passed over than a good writer with an excellent attitude.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Exactly, Jennifer. That's why I think writers should always ask for better terms, because it doesn't hurt to ask. Just don't get upset if the editor can't accommodate your request. However, most writers I work with don't even ask, which I think is a missed opportunity.

Lisa M. Russell said...

Robert I need to subscribe to your blog..sorry I missed it for so long. We have a great speaker coming tomorrow to KSU. IT is a free workshop with a NY book guy David Groff. He might be of interest to your readers. I cannot add a link to the Examiner.com interview but you can see it on the Georgia Writers Association homepage if you search Georgia Writers and Groff.
We need to get your great content to our members..any ideas?

Lisa M. Russell

Carol Tice said...

Hi RLB --

I was going to leave a comment and give you a link to my 10 Negotiating Tips for Writers post...but hey, you already did that! Now I am so excited about getting a mention I'm going to retweet this...even though you're STILL making us do it manually. May I come to your home and install Sexy Bookmarks, or at the very least a Tweetmeme? Really, you deserve a broader audience for your reliably useful posts.

Anyway...I loved your tip about negotiating on every assignment. Even I don't usually do that...so now I will!

I have done it once in a while, though. One story: I used to have one magazine client who was a very slow payer. After I picked up on that, I renegotiated to get 50% when I turned in the first draft, so that only half the payment waited on their normal schedule, which I fondly dubbed the "we pay when the messiah comes" program.

Often, if you say, "This story will need a sort of unusual amount of research," an editor will throw in $50 more. If you write for that outlet monthly, that's a cool extra $600 a year just for asking. Do that with all your markets and it really makes a difference in your annual income.

Like Eeyore says, "Thanks for noticin' me!"

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Lisa, send me an e-mail at robertleebrewer [at] gmail [dot] com. Maybe we can figure something out.

Thanks for sharing your negotiation story, Carol. I think many writers don't know how to (or if they even should) initiate that conversation. As you say, every little bit adds up. As far as the buttons, you are so right. I know, I know. If you have some simple instructions, could you send those my way (using the e-mail above) or point me in the right direction? I should be making things easier for my readers.

aquafortis said...

Great suggestions--thanks! I think it is tough for a lot of writers (including me) to want to negotiate. Especially early on, when you feel like you're not in a position to ask for much of anything.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I think writers naturally want to just focus on the writing, which is great, but there's nothing wrong with trying to improve your terms. And like I said, even if the editor doesn't budge the first time around, it plants the seed for the next assignment (after you've done an excellent job on the first one).

JOCH said...

I'm chipping in PURELY because you have a lot of girls ... ahem, ladies, following you and no guys. This proves my rule that ladies always want rules to follow. Jeezus preest. I will ask you a question. It is a guy-question. So it requires shattering the puppy at your feet mode. What audience can be "helped" best by truth? (i.e. accuracy and comprehensiveness?) And if you could address the comfort profile or issue - perhaps in a story that might "help" the real-guys in your audience? (If there are any?)

Rev. Sherry said...

Regarding the "How Much Should I Charge?' piece that you mentioned in this blog post... I have spent the last three years trying to define who I am, and how to charge for my Wedding Ministry services.

After reading that post, I discovered exactly who I am. I am a Professional Writer who specializes in Creating Ceremony. Finally, I discovered how to clearly define what sets me apart from the average hum-drum officiant. What happened next? My rates went way up AND I have couples lining up at the door to book their weddings with us.

This single article made by entire business better! Please keep giving this writer work, even if it does require a bit more negotiating. I'll keep reading...

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I'm not sure how to address your questions, Joch, because I don't know what you're asking. Plus, you seem to be insinuating that there are different answers based off gender.

Rev. Sherry, thank you for sharing your story about specializing to drive up the rates. That really is a top secret to success: Finding a niche in which to specialize.

clara27 said...

time and again the internet elves seem to bring me back to your blog. And every time, i am pleasantly surprised! In a world full of innecessary blogs, I really appreciate finding one where I can spend hours learning new things.

prankingtelemarketers87ways said...

Hi Not-bob
Jimmy here, thanks for putting this stuff in the public arena as, "Ignorance is bliss, but to remain ignorant is a remiss [sic]."
Etiquette may seem old fashioned to some, but it's sure nice to be on the receiving end.

Cheers