Five Magic Phrases: Tips for Negotiating Like a Pro
By Jenna Glatzer
Writers who are new to freelancing are often too afraid to ask for more than
an editor offers. Thrilled to be making any money at all, new writers typically
agree to whatever figure is proposed. I was no exception to this rule, but once
I’d built up my credits, I realized editors weren’t about to offer me a
raise if I continued to play the role of doormat writer.
Once a writer has some experience, the bottom line becomes more important.
Especially if one aspires to write full-time, "trivial issues" like
prompt and appropriate payment start to matter when you depend on your writing
income to pay the bills.
Until you’ve tried negotiating, you may not realize how much you’ve been
undercut. An editor’s first offer is rarely the maximum amount he or she can
actually afford to pay you; as is human nature, most editors will try to get
good writing at the lowest possible cost. Your job is to convince those editors
that paying you a little extra for your piece will be worth it. How?
The answer may be simpler than you ever imagined: you just have to ask. In
over four years as a full-time writer, I’ve gotten exactly what I asked for in
every case except one—and even in that case, I was able to get the editor to
spring for a 10% increase. In other words, every single time I got up the nerve
to negotiate, I wound up with a bigger paycheck.
Remember that everything within a contract is fair grounds for negotiation;
your goal should be to sell the fewest rights for the highest fee, payable
quickly after submission. You can also strike better deals for the inclusion of
a bio-note or advertisement for your business, extra payment for extra services
(like photos and sidebars), and a high kill fee if such terms are necessary.
It’s always slightly uncomfortable for a writer to ask for more than an
editor wishes to spend. But, with a few key phrases under your belt, you, too,
can significantly increase your income.
The Magic Phrases
- "That sounds a little low."
A timeless classic. This follows a golden rule of writing: keep it simple.
No matter what figure is proposed, just state those five words and then shut
your mouth. Since no one can stand uncomfortable silences, your tight lips
will force the editor to say something in response. Either he or she will make
a new offer, ask you what you need, or tell you that’s the best they can do.
If it’s the latter, employ one of the next phrases.
- "To make it worth my time, I would need…"
This one lets you take control of the situation. If you’ve already
figured out approximately how much time and effort this piece will require,
you should be able to determine how much you expect to be paid for it. Make
sure that you’ve done some research and that your figure is in the realm of
what that particular market typically pays. (Asking for a figure that’s 20%
more than their average payment for an article of your word count and scope is
reasonable; asking for 200% more is not.) Don’t bother mincing your words;
just state your figure and let the editor decide whether or not to meet your
- "Considering the amount of research required, can we agree to…"
You can end this open-ended statement with a higher fee, less rights, or
other "barters." Heavily researched pieces often have potential
reprint markets. If an editor has asked for all rights, or exclusivity in any
way, use this as a bartering chip. Mention that you can only give them
exclusivity if they’ll raise the fee; otherwise, you’ll accept the fee for
one-time rights (or whatever rights you find suitable) only. You may also
barter for free advertising space, links to your website, etc.
- "I’m expecting more for this piece."
Another simple statement that forces the ball back to the editor’s
proverbial court. Again, follow this one with silence, and allow the editor to
come up with a new figure. This statement introduces the possibility that you
could decide to sell the piece elsewhere if the editor doesn’t meet your
- "Can we work on that?"
For pop psychology fans, this one brings the editor onto your
"team." By using the word "we," you’ve asked the editor to
partner with you in coming up with more acceptable terms. This question opens
the door to a variety of improvements; you may choose to talk about fees,
rights, word count, sidebars, kill fees, etc.
Whichever phrases you use, keep in mind that your tone and professionalism
will matter. You must convey the impression that you are self-confident and
aware of the value of your work. And, with a few successful negotiations to your
credit, you may be able to stop acting and start believing.
Originally published by Writer's Digest Magazine, 2001.
Reprinted with permission.
Jenna Glatzer is a full-time writer and ghostwriter. You can learn more details at: http://jennaglatzer.com/