No matter if you are a freelance magazine article writer or a short story writer, at some point you will need to negotiate a deal. If you’re a freelance article writer you will need to turn your query into an article that will be bought and paid for in a reasonable time. The problem is that most writers are not business savvy. At some point negotiating will mean talking about money, which many of us have been taught is rude. It’s a very fine line one must walk to appear assertive and willing to protect your own interests, as opposed to being too hard and rigid. You must keep in mind at all times- this is a business arrangement. The editor has the parameters that she must work inside of, but so do you. Here are some tips to help make the process less painful.
1. Assist a busy editor
You’ve sent your query for an article to the magazine and the editor is interested. She sends an email asking for more details about how you will approach the article’s topic. You could email back with ideas but you and she might take a few emails to get to a point where the offer to write the article is on the table. Sometimes you need to make money to earn money. At that point, I would pick up the phone and call the editor, even one in a foreign country (keep track of time zones though, no one wants to wake up an editor at 4 am). This way you can hear what she is looking for and you can assure her that is exactly what she will get. It’s a good way to establish a relationship with the editor as well.
2. Always ask for more than you will accept
Once you have agreed to write an article or story, now it’s time to negotiate the terms. In every instance when I’m offered a writing job or a book deal, I ask for a bit more than they offer. Not crazy over the top, just a bit more. They can say yes or no. Then you must know in your mind what you will accept. If they offer you 25 thebe per word to write a 2000 word article and you know you will spend more than P500 on travel and phone charges to get your interviews, then what’s the point? Don’t say exposure- exposure does not feed your kids. And don’t say to get your foot in the door. All that you’re showing this editor is that you are willing to write for 25 thebe per word and that is all they will ever offer you.
3. Look at the total package
I am not saying money is the only factor to consider when accepting a writing job. I’ve had instances where a publication wants to pay me P500 to use a short story and they want to take all of the rights to that story. What that means is I cannot sell that story again, they own it. What I would do in that instance is offer them the choice: they can either pay me significantly more or they can pay me P500 for one time rights. Or alternatively, let’s say a publication wants you to write an article for a fee below your normal rate. You might agree, but then ask them to pay all phone and travel expenses for you to go and interview people for the article. In most instances, you can find areas where the deal can be improved even if the budget is very tight.
4. When are you being paid?
One thing to always look out for is when payment will be made. When writing articles, there is wide discrepancy regarding this. Being paid when the final article is submitted can be very different from being paid when the article is published. I write for one publication that often uses my stories even a year or more after they’ve been accepted. Imagine if you must wait for your pay for more than a year? Or what if they assign you the article, you write it, the editor accepts it, but for some reason they end up not using it? Shouldn’t you still be paid since you did the work? Always push for payment at final acceptance of the article. This is another place where you can occasionally take a lesser fee if they agree to pay at acceptance.
Negotiating fees when you’re a writer can be difficult and something you’re likely uncomfortable with. It’s best you see writing as a business and approach the money side in a professional and businesslike manner.
(This appeared first in my column in The Voice newspaper, It's All Write, 7 November 2014)