Tell Your Editors What You Want — Here are 4 Things to Start With
Here’s the scene: Big Scary Editor from Gigantic Magazine finally calls Little Ol’ Me in response to a pitch. At first I’m filled with excitement… until I read the details of their offer. Exhilaration turns to disappointment and incredulity. I ask myself: how can I make a living on this?
Here’s the more important question: what do I do about it?
Many freelancers are afraid to advocate for themselves in their dealings with editors. I know the feeling: in a business where rejections (or, just as often, no response, period) are part of the game, we don’t want to rock the boat and blow it when the opportunity finally arises.
I am here to sound the rallying call. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want!
Although you may think (and you’re right) that there are thousands of other writers out there waiting in the wings for their chances, this editor called you in response to your carefully crafted pitch — the pitch for which you brainstormed the perfect idea, researched the right market, and determined the appropriate editor to whom to reach out.
A few carefully worded and tactful questions — even the dreaded “Can I have more money?” bombshell — aren’t going to break your deal. In fact, ironing out all the details on the front end is smart and professional.
Advocating for yourself can be intimidating. But if a deal doesn’t sound right, ask. Or if there is something that might make your job easier, the deadline more reasonable, or yourself better able to complete the assignment, bring it up! Sometimes your editor will take up your cause and advocate on your behalf with his or her superiors. (Nice — an ally!).
I like to get a dialogue going from the start. And I don’t like working while wishing there was something I should have asked. It’s better to work feeling satisfied that 1) I got the best deal I could and 2) there was nothing I should have asked for but didn’t.
Here are a few examples of things you can ask your editor for:
1. More money.
I don’t always get everything I want, but editors often give me something. Bear in mind that asking for more money is delicate; be careful not to phrase your request as an ultimatum. As long as you’re nice, the worst that will happen is they’ll stick to their original offer. Then it’s up to you to decide whether you can work under those terms.
2. A subscription.
A few times, after getting denied when I asked for more compensation, I countered with, “Well, can I have a subscription to your magazine?” After all, if I’m going to become a regular contributor, this could help me research ideas that fit the mag. Some say yes, some say no. One editor, apparently thinking a subscription was too much trouble, accepted my original request for more money!
3. A PDF of the article.
After the article is completed, I like to have a PDF of the piece as it appeared in the magazine for a clip or for my website. This usually requires following up after publication.
4. More time.
When an editor doesn’t take the bait when I ask for more money, I may be forced to re-prioritize. Maybe I still want the byline despite the low pay. But maybe I can’t afford to put off another, higher-paying project. Maybe I know I’m slow at a later date on my calendar. Looking ahead and letting an editor know your availability in advance gives the impression that you are both organized and sought after. Not bad images to portray!
It sometimes amazes me to realize that I have never met 85 percent of my editors face-to-face. Advocating for ourselves does more than garner a few extra dollars, a few more days, or a subscription; it identifies us as more than just story-producing email addresses in editor inboxes. We are living, breathing humans who stand up for ourselves when we feel we deserve a better deal.
How about you…have you ever asked an editor or client for more time, more money, a subscription, or anything else? How did it go?
Professional ski instructor by day and professional writer by night, Mark Aiken lives in Richmond, Vermont with his wife and son.