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Is Everything In Writing Contracts Really Negotiable?

Writing contract editedWhen I wrote There Are No Standard Book Contracts, Susan G. Clark asked in comments:

Hi, Anne.

Do similar negotiation guidelines apply to payment offers for personal essays one might receive from a monthly magazine? Pay for my first accepted essay was embarrassingly low. Is negotiation on first, or additional submissions, accepted? expected?


The short form answer is “it never hurts to ask.” Although that’s true, its also a bit simplistic. In fact, there’s a tiny risk you may offend an editor, although it truly is a small risk and if that happened I wouldn’t want to work with them anyway. All publishers also have budgets to work with which is why market listings can be so valuable.

Publishers actually write the listings you find in Writer’s Market and on publisher’s websites. When they publish payment data they are usually talking about what the expect to pay new-to-them writers. Unless you’re a household or publishing-hold name you’re chances of getting them to increase the amount the offer either in the listing or in an acceptance letter are pretty small.

In this situation it doesn’t hurt to ask but it may not be the best way to build a relationship with that publication – if indeed you want one.

Part of building a profitable writing career is picking and choosing the publications you submit to carefully. This includes payment. I always suggest writers aim at the higher paying markets, even in the beginning. You may be pleasantly surprised.

But what should you do when no payment is stated? You have to decide if that’s really where you want to submit your work. If it is, and a low offer comes in, you have to decide if you want to accept it or not. It is an offer, after all, which means you don’t have to agree to the terms.

Susan indicates in her question that this was her “… first accepted essay…” It very well be that accepting low payment on a first article or other work is worth it because it get you a writing credit. And having some published credits is a good thing.

As you become published more widely you’re in a much better position to ask for more money. Learning to ask gently for a higher payment is more art than science. I usually say something like, “Thanks for the offer – any chance I can get more money?” Then I shut up and let them answer. I don’t apologize for asking or explain, I just ask. Another thing to try and again, you might be pleasantly surprised.

What’s been your experience in negotiating contracts?


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by ol slambert


{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Hi Anne,

    Interesting post!

    I totally agree that it never hurts to ask about a negotiation- if it works well and good, otherwise you don’t loose much. At least you remain satisfied that you did your best and asked!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Harleena Singh recently posted..How Freelance Writers can Use Google+My Profile

  • I just went through a negotiation and I kept it simple and to the point. They offered X and I wanted Y. We met in the middle. If the editor doesn’t budge then you have to decide if you can live with that rate or not. If it doesn’t feel right, walk away. The resentment will cloud the project and in my mind is not worth it.

    • I agree with Wade. In at least half of my negotiations I ask for more money than the initial offer, and usually the editor puts up more money. I always have the minimum fee I need in mind, so I’m ready to say no if it’s not reached or exceeded.
      John Soares recently posted..How to Capture, Save, and Review Your Freelance Writing IdeasMy Profile

      • Anne

        John, just noticed that it’s the two guys commenting that asked for more and got it… sigh… thanks for telling us all that it works. I always ask for more too. And I know what I charge and how much I will bend.

    • Anne

      Yes meeting in the middle is often the way and good for you Wade. And thanks for the story.

  • I agree Anne – it never hurts to ask about a negotiation – even if it’s just a case of establishing an increased rate for future publications with that company. The worst that could happen is that you’d gain some brownie points for yourself in assertiveness!
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Taste Buds #6My Profile

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