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20 Negotiation Tips for Freelance Writers – Earn the Income You Deserve

negotiation tips for freelance writers

Does the idea of negotiating the rate you’ll be paid for a writing project scare you half to death? Can you feel the fear build in your stomach and chest? Would you almost rather than do anything than talk to a potential writing client about your fees?

You’re not alone! I’ve been there and so has every other freelance writer I’ve every talked with – yes, every one!

I remember the fear of rejection, or fear that I’d be laughed at or thought I was stupid. I’m not sure exactly what I was afraid of, lot’s of things probably.

On the other hand, you know that if you’re going to be successful in the business of freelance writing you’ve got to learn how to negotiate. You will find it very difficult to make a real living with your freelance writing business if you accept whatever the client will pay – with rare exceptions, they won’t pay you anything like your true worth.

These tips will not only get you started negotiating well, but will help sustain you during your freelance writing career.

1 – Don’t take yourself so seriously!

I suspect a lot of our fear about negotiating a writing contract has more to do with how we think we should be than what’s really true. We worry about sounding professional, or charging what others charge or having the perfect website or knowing all the answers to every writing problem that may come our way.

Lighten up. Negotiating a writing contract is about coming into agreement with the potential client about costs and methods. The world will not come to an end if no agreement is reached, I promise. Nor will peace suddenly descend on the planet if you come to agreement.

Relax. Know that the potential client is not the source of your well being.

2 – Your goal is to be of service by solving a problem

The only reason the client will hire you is if they believe they can solve their writing problem. Your real job is to be of service. That’s everyone’s real job in my opinion.

Being of service doesn’t mean you let anyone walk all over you or pay you to little. Not at all. But when you come from a genuine place of service the negotiations will go better.

3 – Know your worth as a writer

For reasons that aren’t at all clear, many writers simply don’t know how valuable their are. They don’t really recognize that writing is not something everyone can do and that they’ve been blessed with a talent that is worth quite a bit.

Every May, Lori Widmer, a highly successful freelance writers, gathers posts about the worth of writers in the month of May. Here, on AllIndieWriters, is a list of topics. You could do worse than read a post a day until you get it… you really are worth a lot as a writer.

4 – Know your rates

Before you enter any negotiation you need to know your rates – which may mean some homework. You’ll find a whole series on how to set your fees here.

5 – Charge per project rather than per hour

When you charge for the whole project rather than by hour both you and the client win. The client wins because she knows exactly how much the project will cost.

You win because you won’t get penalized for getting better at your job. You know what I mean. When you begin a writing project it usually takes way more time than it does toward the end.  As you get faster you’re actually getting more valuable.

There are exceptions, of course, and you have to know how long it takes you to do that kind of writing. That’s one reason time tracking can be such a help.

6 – Quote a per word price

Quote $x per word. Again the client knows exactly how much he will pay, you know how much you’ll get paid. Quoting per word can be great for both of you.

7 – Ask about the budget

Ask them what their budget is for this project. If they don’t have a budget, you can rephrase the question to something like “how much did you expect to spend?”

Some clients will tell you, others won’t. If they do you can be pretty certain it’s a low figure for them.

8 – Name a million dollars a day plus expenses

There’s a myth floating around that says the first person to name a figure loses. When a client asks me what I charge I’ll often say something outrageous like “I promise never to charge you more than a million a day… plus expenses.”

Generally folks laugh. One countered, “Great. The check is in the mail.”

I think what happens when I name a fee that’s obviously way out of line is that the ice on naming a figure is broken. We’ve subtly acknowledged that this is a tricky area. Laughing together is always good.

I’m told by some writers this doesn’t work for them – they can’t pull it off. Okay, then do the straight forward approach. Try something like this:

  • “I charge a dollar a word.”
  • “I charge $200 and hour.”
  • “I like to charge a flat fee; I base that on my hourly rate which is $225.”

The trick, however you do it, is to shut up once you name your fee. Don’t rush to fill that silence. You’re giving the client time to think about what you said – rushing in just shows you’re nervous which isn’t a good negotiating position.

9 – Be vague about the cost

Another approach is, when asked what you charge, to be vague. It’s totally fair to ask for more information before you speak your price. The answer or lack of it will tell you something about the client it’s nice to know.

10 – Don’t jump at the first price offered

When the client offers a price, you don’t need to accept or reject right away. Treat it as the offer it is, and assume it’s low and the client expects you to counter with something higher.

11 – Ask about their time frame

You need to know what sort of time frame you’ll be working with. Rush jobs should probably double in cost or close. Always remember that their panic isn’t your problem unless you make it so.

12 – Ask about the competition

I almost always ask how many other writers they’re talking with about this project. If they indicate they’ve talked with a bunch that tells me either they won’t come up in price or they don’t know what they need. I’ll sometimes ask how close they’ve gotten to hiring someone. I’m trying to ferret out how committed they are.

If I’m the only one they’ve talked with I proceed with caution and even suggest they might want to talk to one or two others. I want them to be sure they want to  hire me for the gig.

13 – Take ownership before you’re hired

If it’s a project I want to do and know I can do well I find myself actually beginning to take ownership of the project before I’m hired. I’ll hear myself say things like, “yes, we can begin submitting after a single chapter…” or “It will be fun when we see it in print.” I suspect this helps the client start to feel comfortable about working with me.

14 – Offer a paid sample

Offering to do a paid sample of the work, does a couple of things. It lets you know if you really want the job becasue you’re actually done a bit of it. It also let’s the client actually see your work. Getting paid is simply the professional thing to do.

15 – Break up the project

Paying $40,000 for a book sounds like a lot, and it is. Proposing that it be paid at $3,334 per month for a year doesn’t sound so overwhelming.  Billed out at a dollar a word nets you the same amount, but may be a number the client is happier about hearing.

The same is true for a series of articles or almost any fairly large writing project. Chunk it down when your pricing.

16 – Explain the project

Many people have no idea what actually goes into creating a decent piece of writing. Talking to the client about your process, including things like research, rough drafts, editing, and inspirations in the shower can help them understand why you deserve the fee you’re asking for. Give them the information they need to recognize your value.

17 – Be willing to walk away

To be a successful negotiator, you’ve simply got to be willing to walk away from any possible project. You want to talk away if the pay isn’t high enough, or if for some reason the project is distasteful for you, or if your intuition tells you this is not a good project for you. Being willing to walk away is one of your strongest negotiating tools.

18 – Be willing to compromise

Successful negotiations usually mean compromise of some sort, ideally on both sides. But that compromise doesn’t always have to be the price you charge. It might, for example, be the timing – if you can take longer that means the payments can be spread out more and/or that you’ll have time to do other projects. Having someone else provide the research is another option that may work.

And sometimes you’ll decide to come down in price a bit for any number of good reasons. You just don’t want to make price lowering your default position.

19 – Stand up for yourself

It’s totally okay to push back when a client suggests something that doesn’t work in a negotiation. Stand up for yourself in a calm, reasonable fashion. Insisting on extra pay for rush work is a classic example.

20 – Tell them you want the gig

Don’t be afraid to indicate you’d like to have the writing project they are proposing, as long as it’s true. Genuine enthusiasm can help close the deal for you. A question like “do you want me to get started this week?” can often get the client to commit.

You often won’t have time to plan a negotiation. You’ll be working on a blog and you’ll pick up the phone and a stranger asks you what you’d charge to write a weekly blog post for him. It happens. If you bookmark this page you’ll be able to bring it up quickly while you’re talking to him. Sometimes all you need is a reminder. Remembering most or reading all of these tips will make your negotiations go more smoothly.

This is part of a special series on business solutions for freelance writers. Just sign for this special solutions series and you’ll get email about the rest of the series – at no charge to you at all.

What’s been your experience with negotiation?

Help yourself win with the business side of freelance writing. Join the About Writing Squared Freelance Writers Forum

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer




{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Lucky Mukhabela

    Thanks for your amazing tips, it has unleashed the fear deep inside me. since I have never negotiated a deal, I have just entered a competition with a 3000 word short story.

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