If magazine publishing worked like any other business, writers would fix their rates, and magazines would run around trying to hire the best writer in the lowest possible cost. Sadly, thatís not the case. In this bizarre business, writers trying to compete with each other not only have to prove their worth once, but again and again, and each time they want an assignment. Youíve got clips. Youíve written the perfect query. Youíll even deliver the best assignment. But then again, youíll have to ask for more money and negotiate your way into getting what you deserve.
If youíre a writer whose only source of income is writing, then you have to negotiate. Itís the whole lifeblood of your business. Donít get paid less simply because you didnít ask. Donít worry. Youíre not going to sound greedy. You work hard, and you deserve to be paid for it.
When a magazine puts ďpays $50-$700Ē in their guidelines, what can you do to be the writer that is paid in the higher range? If youíre a beginner, you probably wonít even think of getting into the high-paying slot. Youíd think those places were reserved for the regular and the more experienced writers, right?
Admitted, regular writers are preferred, and their pay rates will usually be much higher than yours. But you donít fall into that lower category because youíre a beginner; you fall into it because you fail to negotiate.
If youíve got a sparkling query, an article proposal that the editor simply loves, and good writing skills that leave the editor craving for more, sheís not going to bail out on you simply because you asked for more money. In fact, sheíll be glad to arrange it for you. Not having a dozen clips on your resume does not entitle you to less pay. In fact, if you act like a professional, and give the editor what she wants, money wonít even be an issue.
Spot the Loopholes
Whenever you find a magazine that has a variable pay rate, be sure thereís room for negotiation. Why else would they have such a broad category? A very well known magazine mentions in their guidelines that they pay their writers anywhere from $50-$1000 based on experience and length of article. What I also noticed was that theyíve specified the length of pieces in their columns and departments. So, reading between the lines, Iím thinkingónegotiation!
What about all those magazines that pay fixed rates? Do you just settle for what they have to give or is there room for something more? If youíre looking to be paid more, thereís a very remote possibility. However, there are other things that you can ask for. For one, there are rights. If you could use one piece in more than one publication, it would get you more money, though indirectly. Even so, another publication means another name added to your list of growing credits. Wouldnít you much rather sell one piece to ten different magazines, than get paid only once? Other than increased pay, youíve also added to your list of credits. Thatís bound to bring in more money in the future.
Other than that, kill fees are a definite must. You donít want to spend hours on your research, only to have your article removed off the publication list. You deserve payment for the time you put in. Talk to the editor about this before youíve actually started the writing process. Normally, kill fees are around 20-50%. Itís very unlikely that youíll get more even if you have a working relationship with the editor.
Another issue is payment on acceptance versus payment on publication. Magazines have very long lead times. In simple words, this means that there you could have to wait as long as six to eight months after acceptance to see your article in print. If youíre an international writer, the delay is even longer, sometimes leading to getting payments months after youíve written the article. Do you really want to wait that long? Can you?
What else? Bios. Short blurbs after our names that could point to a website, have contact information or simply mark us as experts. A few magazines give them, but if they donít, you could ask for one. Or you could ask for a bigger bio or a photo alongside. This is much easier to do if your article is appearing online. If the editor is unwilling to pay you more, this is your best bet.
If your article required a lot of traveling, phone calls, lunches or other expenses, ask the publication to reimburse it. There will usually be a limit to how much a publication will pay, but it should cover your total expenditure on writing the article. Send in the bills, appropriately marked, and youíll be paid. If this clause isnít mentioned in your contract, be sure to bring it up.
Finally, you want copies of the magazines. As many as you can get, actually. Most publications will give you two-three copies of the magazine or publication in which your work appears. If possible, ask for more. This is especially important for international writers who canít buy copies of the magazine themselves.
Get it Right
If youíre like most writers, youíre a pro at writing emails with demands no editor dare refuse, but when it comes to negotiation in person or over the phone, you give in a little too soon. You know you could have got more, but you caved in before you could gather yourself to say, ďI was expecting more.Ē
Negotiating is a whole other job in itself. (Thatís why we have agents right?). But as a freelancer, an agent would do you more harm than good, so youíll have to take up this profession as well. (Youíre already a writer, marketer, promotion expert, website developer and accountant Öwhatís one more job?)
When an editor sends over a contract in which you can see the need for negotiation, donít hesitate to pick up the phone and talk to her. Itís easier than you think. Editors expect writers to negotiate. Professionals do it all the time. So, it doesnít come as a surprise to her when a writer asks for a bigger paycheck. Sheís probably even prepared for it. And this is the sole reason why sheíll give in more easily than you thought. Stand your ground, and be confident. If you believe you deserve to be paid more for your words, she will too.
So, letís imagine youíve got an acceptance letter (or phone call) from the editor. Yippee! Do the victory dance, run around and tell everyone you know and then come back to planet Earth for a reality check.
Before talking to the editor, you should have a fair idea of what youíre expecting from the publication. Donít keep your demands too high. At the same time, donít keep your expectations too low either. The publicationís guidelines should give a rough idea of the upper and lower limits and depending on your article length and research, you should be able to determine a rough amount.
A few pointers on the actual process of negotiating:
- Donít be the first to state the figure. Sometimes you just have to, but try to get the editor to propose the amount and you can work your way up from there.
- Use phrases such as ďI was expecting moreĒ and ďThat sounds a little lowĒ or even ďI was thinking more in the range of ÖĒ
- Donít argue with the editor. After all, you do want the assignment. Reach a figure that youíre both comfortable with.
- If the editor doesnít budge on the money front, ask for a better rights agreement or a bigger byline. Payment on acceptance is always a big plus.
- Finally, never be unprofessional. If you donít like the terms of the agreement and decide not to write for the publication after all, be polite. Demeaning the editor or the publication will get you nowhere but in the black list.
Get it in Writing
Nothing is final (or legal) until you get it on paper. If your old contract didnít state the terms correctly, ask for a new one. Check and recheck the terms and only then sign the contract.
Writers are often deprived of their hard-earned money simply because they were too nervous to ask. Looking back, I see many times when I knew I could have asked for more, but didnít. And there are many other writers who donít either, because they donít want to risk a relationship with an editor before itís even begun. Whether youíre a novice, or a seasoned pro, the truth is Ė you wonít get something unless you ask for it. So next time, give it a try and you might end up making more than you thought.
About The Author
Mridu Khullar is the editor-in-chief of www.WritersCrossing.com, a free online magazine for writers. Sign up for the free weekly newsletter to get a complimentary e-book with 400+ paying markets. Also check out her e-book, "Knock Their Socks Off! A Freelance Writer's Guide to Query Letters That Sell," available at http://www.writerscrossing.com/queries.html
This article was posted on January 22, 2005