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.