How to ask for more money — and actually get it
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When you take on a freelance assignment, do you accept the first rate you’re offered?
If so, let the most recent time you did that be the last. You won’t get more money every time you ask, but you’ll never get more money if you don’t ask.
First, let’s look at why you should always ask for more on (almost) every assignment.
If you’ve been to a FWT panel, you’ve surely heard me give this spiel, but let’s just get it on the record here: I think you should always ask for more on (almost) every assignment because there are literally only three outcomes: 1. You ask for more money, and you get it. Hooray! That money was on the table and you got it. Great job! 2. You ask for more money, and you don’t get it. Not ideal, but hey, at least you asked (and you got some practice asking!). 3. The editor responds coldly, dismissively, or rudely. This is rare, but it occasionally happens. Yes, it feels terrible in the moment. But now you know that that editor is not an editor you want to work with, and you can tell all your freelance friends what happened so they can avoid him, too. Good editors want to pay you more and will do what they can to maximize the money you get for your work.
So when should I ask?
In my experience, both as a commissioning editor at NYT for five years and now as a freelancer, there are two points that are perfect for asking: 1. When you’re working with an editor for the first time (note that I’m saying editor and not publication, because different editors can pay different rates at the same pub). 2. Every two or three assignments you take with an editor you regularly work with.
Let’s look at the first scenario: You’re working with this editor for the first time.
In the past two weeks, I’ve taken on three assignments from three different publications I’ve never freelanced with before. All three times I have used the following phrase when the conversation heads to a rate, and all three times it has gotten me more money:
“As a matter of personal philosophy, I think everyone should always ask for more, so here is me asking: Is there any wiggle room in the budget to increase the rate?”
The first time I did this I got 20% more money, the second time I got 50% more money, and the third time I got 10% more money. Of course, this won’t work every time, and YMMV. But I love this phrasing because it makes the negotiation feel less personal and more like a business transaction — which is exactly what it is. Editors don’t commission you because they think you’re cool or they want to be your friend; they commission you because you have a good idea that furthers their goals for their publication.
Now, the second scenario: You’ve been working with an editor for a while, and you want to revisit your rate.
Every two or three assignments, I suggest sending along some variation of this language, which I have suggested before:
“Thanks again for this assignment! I just wanted to ask: We’ve done X, Y, and Z stories together, and I’m wondering if with this new assignment we could revisit my rate? I’d love to be at around [rate]. Thanks!”
There are still spots available in this coming Sunday’s Zoom panels! At 3 p.m. Eastern time is a discussion on travel writing during a pandemic — click here to register for it. And at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time we’ve got a panel on everything you need to know to sell and write a book — click here to register for that one. See you there!
It really is that simple. No need to apologize for asking, no need to couch it in soft language. It’s an editor’s job to deal with budget issues, and this is a budget issue. So just ask!
(Here’s where I’ll say that asking for more money is never easy, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll feel doing it. This is a great story by my good friend A.C. Shilton to read if the idea of asking for more money is already giving you anxiety.)
Is that really it?
Yep, that’s really it. And we journalists should share what we make because it’s good for the industry! We would all be better off if we did. Journalism is not a calling, a “dream job,” or any of the other terms that rich people have brainwashed us to believe in so we can make them richer. We can love what we do, love the things we’re able to write, and love the coverage we’re able to provide to people. I absolutely do! But journalism is still a job that we do to make money so we can pay rent and buy food. We should treat it as such and aggressively go after every single dollar we can.
Good luck, and go get fucking paid!!!
Oh, a few other things …
• This week for paid subscribers: The full archive of recorded Zoom panels and workshops is now published! There are tons of 90-minute Zooms on writing better personal essays, perfecting your pitches, negotiating rates, writing better service journalism, developing relationships with editors, and so much more. Click here to watch them all.
• I am now offering one-on-one coaching! This can include anything you need help with: pitch feedback, writing and/or editing coaching, story development, story editing, social strategy, and anything else. Book a timeslot here.
• This month I am offering two limited-space workshops:
Personalized pitch feedback roundtable with Tim: Bring a pitch or two you want feedback on to this 15-person roundtable, which will be structured as a grad-school-level class in which everyone is expected to participate. I’ll lead a discussion focused on best practices for pitching, followed by a roundtable during which I and your fellow attendees will offer you feedback on your pitch(es).
The art of structuring a longform feature: Join me as I lead a deconstruction exercise of a longform narrative story + tips on how to use those tools in your writing. This workshop will also be structured like a grad-school-level class, but participation is optional. We will analyze a published longform story as a jumping-off point and go into detail about what it takes to go long on a story. Bring any and all questions you have about building longform features, and be ready for a deep dive!
(Founding Members to the Substack get a $5 discount on every workshop, email me at email@example.com if that’s you.)
•Follow FWT on Instagram here! There’s gonna be sooooo much great video stuff there very soon! (Come for the events, stay for screenshots of my grumpy kitty Strudel.)
• As always, send questions, comments, thoughts, cute pet photos, or anything else to firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the week.
Okay bye ily!