Ask And Ye Shall Receive (Most of the time)

By Sable Jak

A few days ago I got an email from an editor asking me if I was available to take an interview with a well-known screenwriter. I made a couple of phone calls to rearrange my schedule and became available.

As I was interviewing the writer about his latest work, I touched on something else he’d done. The “something” was a favorite of mine and we talked about it briefly, within the context of the interview. That was the end of it.

But all day after the interview I kept thinking, “I really have so many other questions.” I had been given the opportunity to talk to someone whose work I admired. I now made a new opportunity and emailed him asking him if he would be interested in granting another interview, this time specifically about the piece of work on which we’d touched so lightly. I assured him it would be an email interview so he could answer the questions at his leisure. The tone of his reply had a distinct “delighted” feel to it as he agreed to the new interview.

I had turned one opportunity into a second one.

One of the zines I write for didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering a yearly event. I don’t think anyone’s ever covered the event for the zine. I wondered if I could, and decided to follow my daddy’s advice “You don’t ask; you don’t know.” I fired off an email asking if I could cover the event. The editor agreed. The event offers many more opportunities to people willing to grab them while attending.

As you can see, I’ve had one opportunity lead to another, which leads to another which—you get my drift. The funny thing is, when a writer I know asked me what I was doing, and I told him, he said, “Gee, how’d you get those gigs? Wish stuff like that would happen to me.”

Well, “stuff” didn’t happen to me. Months ago I submitted an article to an editor, then another. Next I proposed an idea for another article and another. When the ideas were accepted, I delivered. And, most importantly, I also made myself available for other gigs that might lead to more opportunities. I’m not saying that opportunities don’t just “happen,” because they do. More likely, however, they happen because the people who get them have been busy setting them up. If you don’t believe me, think about some of the “opportunities” you’ve been presented. Weren’t most of them the result of something else? Weren’t they, in some small way, the result of a prior set up that you may, or may not, have set up?

Just how is an opportunity set up? That’s easy, by asking. For instance:

Several of my latest articles in Scr(i)pt ezine are the result of me asking if I could write them. I had an idea for an interview with a tax attorney. After all, a writer’s taxes can get rather sticky and who better to ask about tax stickiness than a tax attorney? Also, a woman I know had organized a rather extensive advanced screenwriter’s retreat. I thought it might make a good story and I asked the editors at Scr(i)pt if I could do an interview with the organizer. They said yes.

And if they’d said no? So what?

So what if they would have said no! Would I be worse off than I was before I’d asked the question? Oh, there’s always the possibility my ego would have been wounded, but Billy Keen pretty well wounded that for all time when he refused to kiss me in the cloakroom back in second grade. The fact is, no, I wouldn’t be worse off than if I’d never asked. As a matter of fact, even if they’d said no, I might still be better off. Why? Because, by suggesting articles, I’m (hopefully) showing that I’m willing to take on more work.

It’s a fact: you don’t ask, you don’t know. What will anyone do to you if you do ask for something? Cut off your hands? Scream at you? Turn you over to some secret organization that puts a black mark on your permanent record? (Wait, that permanent record was used back in the second grade too, wasn’t it?) The worst thing that anyone can do is say, “no.” In which case, once you’ve been given a “no,” you simply ask another question, or put together a question that can’t be turned down.

Once you’ve got a few of your own opportunities finished, relax and let all sorts of new “stuff” happen to you.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity shared by many.

Sable Jak is a screenwriter who is still questing after the secrets of screenwriting. She loves Celtic art and finds a correlation between its mesmerizing intertwining lines to both the craft of screenwriting and the business of film making. You can find her at her Website, sablejak.com

By Melanie Bowden

Many writers are so afraid of rejection that they jump at whatever fee an editor offers. Don’t do it! Writers are notorious for not getting paid what they deserve, especially when they are first starting out. We need to think more like my therapist who advises, “Honor the work you do.” His weekly therapy bill also motivates me to ask for more for my writing work. Whatever your motivation, stand up for the work you do and make more money.

In over five years of freelancing, I’ve only had one editor not raise the pay when I asked. Yet I’m surprised how many writers have told me they never negotiate for more money. They are missing the gravy train.

Clues That They Will Pay You More

So how do you do it? The ideal situation is when the editor throws out a fee first. I typically counteroffer with a rate 20% higher. Watch for words or phrases in the following examples that tip you off that an editor can pay more than the offered $100:

“We usually pay $100. Is that OK?”

“Our fees are a little low. How about $100?”

“I can offer you $100. Does that work for you?”

“You are a writing goddess! We wish we could pay you a million dollars, but it’s not in our budget.”—OK, that one was just for fun.

How Can You Reply?

Here are some responses I’ve used to editor’s offers that have garnered bigger paychecks

“That fee is lower than I anticipated. How about $120?”

“Make it $120 and we’ve got a deal.”

“Could we work on the fee?”

“I typically charge $140 for this length of an article. How about we compromise at $120?”

When They Don’t Give A Price

What if the editor doesn’t offer a fee up front, but wants to know what you charge? To get them to state a figure, try:

“What is the range you usually pay for this size of an article?”

“What is your budget for this assignment?”

“I’m looking forward to working on this article, but I’m sure I can work within your budget.”

“What fee are you comfortable offering?”

If they really balk at quoting a fee, seriously consider what you would be happy getting paid for the article. Then put that fee at the lower end of a range in a response like:

“I usually charge between $120 and $200 for this type of assignment.”

Do More, Get Paid More

Whenever an editor asks you to do something beyond the original agreement, ask for more money. This just came up for me last week. An editor who had contracted with me for a 1,500 word reprint article asked if I could provide a second, shorter version of about 900 words in case there’s not space for the longer article. Five years ago I might have said OK and spent time editing down the article for no extra pay—which, incidentally, is really the editor’s job. Instead I told her I’d be happy to do it, but here’s the fee for my editing time. Guess what? She responded that she’d be glad to pay me an even higher fee than I had suggested, that it was “more than worth it.” Now I could kick myself that I didn’t ask for more money to begin with!

Melanie Bowden of Davis, California, fantasizes about never having to ask editors for more money because her book, Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me? Real Women’s Stories of New Motherhood, is a runaway bestseller. What might make this fantasy come true? Finishing the darn book proposal! You can find more from her at Melandie Bowden’s Website