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Making a living
A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism

> Home

> Introduction: The freelance side of life

Freelance journalism 101

> Vocabulary lesson

> Dollars and sense

> Contracts are essential

> Copyright 101

> Dressing for success as a freelancer

> Staying productive even when you’re not working

Business matters

> Five reasons to pay attention to business

> Contracts and copyright — beyond the basics

> Getting your business organized

> Separating yourself from your business

> Keeping track of business

> Taxing matters

> Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

Making a living

> Time and money

> Budgeting without a salary

> A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

> Retirement planning: Where to stash your cash?

Finding work

> Finding your way to work

> Trolling the web for work

> Inspiration for finding the story

> Brainstorming ideas you can sell

> Pitching your way to a full story calendar

> Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Marketing yourself

> Paying attention to business

> Making a home for your business on the web

> Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

> Business cards help make the best first impression

Tools of the trade

> Why journalism ethics matter

> Four tips for better self-editing

> Selected websites for finding freelance journalism assignments

> Journalism organizations

> Journalism reading list

A simple four-word phrase has helped many freelancers earn thousands of additional dollars: “Is that rate negotiable?”

That question may sound like a strange one, especially to newer freelancers. Some believe asking so bluntly will turn an editor off, or that a hungrier writer will underbid them. But, as many experienced freelancers have found, negotiating shows an editor you value your work — that you are someone to be taken seriously.

Use reason, of course. If it’s your first time out or you’re writing for a neighborhood weekly or hyper-local blog that pays $15 a shot, many editors will laugh you out of their offices if you suggest getting paid more. On the other hand, if you’ve been working for a while and have established a track record as a writer who produces clean copy and meets deadlines, it’s worth a try.

It isn’t easy to find the nerve, especially the first time, but here are answers some freelancers have heard after working up the courage to ask:

The first answer netted the freelancer an additional $50 — not much, but still, money he wouldn’t have had otherwise. The second was nearly a 10 percent increase — a pay raise most employees would be thrilled to receive. The next-year increase in the third example came through as advertised — from 75 cents a word to 80, a $40 raise on a 600-word story.

The key to the negotiation is knowing what you want going in. Have a figure in mind, but let the editor name the price. If you like it, you won’t quibble. In case you don’t, be prepared to make a counteroffer.

The counteroffer doesn’t always need to be a dollar amount. For example, look for ways to finish the assignment in less time than you planned.

Such solutions won’t work for every assignment, and they don’t put more money in your pocket, but at least you’re recognizing that your time has value and freeing up some of this precious resource for other activities.

Sometimes just thinking of an assignment in a different way changes your view of the compensation being offered. A 1,200-word article at 10 cents a word is only $120, which most freelancers would consider laughable — but the same assignment done in, say, two hours is $60 an hour, which is pretty good. If you can do an assignment quickly enough to generate a respectable hourly rate, it might be worthwhile. (Yes, that’s a rationale or justification, but it works with assignments that you really want to do or can do quickly and easily.)

The challenge comes when an editor says no. If there is no wiggle room, you’ll have to determine if the assignment is worth doing. If the subject is interesting, or it’s in a niche you have been trying to move toward and you don’t have any conflicting assignments, you might decide that you would rather have $300 than spend those hours looking for other assignments.

Then again — sometimes it’s best to just walk away. You can hope those occasions are rare. But if you do your job well and develop a reputation for delivering crisp, clean copy on deadline, editors who are worth their salt will be willing to work with you. You may not always get what you want, but you’ll never know until you ask.

Contributors: David Volk, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter


Last updated: February 2015

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