Overcoming Negotiation Fears
I can’t remember the exact moment I realized that money was a taboo subject. While growing up in a single-parent household in Detroit and the nearby suburbs, my mother was fairly open about our money situation. My mom’s open money dialogue helped me to be more patient and it ultimately informed the way I personally managed my money. But, of course, we never really talked about salary or negotiating.
Somewhere along the way, I recognized that not talking about your annual earnings with coworkers, loved ones, and especially your boss, was the right way to go. In fact, asking for more money can be misconstrued as being greedy or ungrateful. You should be glad that this job feeds you and your family. Why ask for more? Now that I have to negotiate wages on a regular basis, my attitude towards haggling has changed.
As a woman of color and a journalist who’s written personal finance, I’m especially sensitive to the gender-racial wage gap. While conversing with other freelancers, I’ve heard from other women writers who feel particularly awkward when asking for money. And though I’ve written about negotiating rates in the past, it’s still an awkward process for me.
Case and point: Last week, I spoke with an editor of a major mainstream magazine about a feature I’ve been working on for a few months now. The story was originally supposed to be 1,200 words long—though I suggested a 2,000-ish word count in my pitch—the story has since ballooned to more than 4,000. I negotiated a rate that was slightly higher than the one my editor offered at first, but I felt even that number was too low. As the reporting and edits progressed I felt the worth of my story shrink more and more.
So, I asked for a modest increase and explained as gently as I could that I felt, given the increase in the amount of work put into the story, I would like to ask for an increase between X hundred and X hundred more than our original rate. As I typed up the email, I screamed out loud, thankfully alone in my apartment. Why do I have to do this? Why do I feel guilty asking for money for a story that I’m writing? Why is this so hard? I complained. I typed. I hit send. And I got the raise.
And then a wave of relief washed over me. Why had I been so apprehensive about asking for more when the scope of work changed? If I were a graphic designer or web developer, I wouldn’t have blinked at asking for more money when the client asked more work. This hesitance toward asking for what your work is worth, I think, serves as a way to exploit underpaid writers. I know all of this, and yet I still worried about coming off as greedy or insensitive to editors’ shrinking budgets.
Whenever I get skittish about asking for more money, here are some of the things I keep in mind:
Has the workload increased?
If you find yourself doing more interviews or doing rounds and rounds of edits, it might be time to ask for a bit more money. If the story was a bit longer than anticipated or required a bit more work than you thought, you probably should ask for more money.
Have they offered you less than other writers?
Before agreeing to a rate, check sites like Who Pays Writers or Contently for insights into how much other writers are getting paid. These sites may have some context stories (features, investigative stories, print or online, etc.) that will help you charge the right rate. If your editor lowballs you on the first offer, ask for a higher rate that will fall in line with other writers’ rates and the amount you’ll need to report your story.
Were there other reporting-related costs that you didn’t anticipate?
Maybe over the course of your reporting, you find out you’ll need to pay for access to peer-reviewed studies, access digital newspaper archives, cab rides to source’s homes, or print off mounds of documents obtained via a FOIA request. Shit happens. In many cases, publications have a clause in their contract stipulating reimbursement for reporting expenses. Most of the time these expenses must be pre-approved, so check in with your editor first or you’ll be stuck with the bill.
Do you think the publication can actually pay more?
A startup publication may not have as much money as larger, more established publications. But even with smaller publications, I’ve been able to negotiate a small increase in my per-story rate. In some cases, my clients will automatically increase my rate without my asking. When you’re asking for money, consider whether or not the publication can actually pay more.
In some cases, a “no” really means “no for now.” If the relationship is worth maintaining, you may be able to boost your per-piece rate in six months or a year. Remember, in a negotiation, the worst the editor can say is no. After that, you’re always free to stay or leave.
How do you overcome your negotiating fears? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.