“Money’s such a sensitive issue to broach with an editor,” a rather talented student told me today.
No, it is not.
Publishing is a business. Writing articles is work. People get paid for their work.
The typical exchange goes like this:
Student: “Hi Alex! Just got an acceptance from an editor!”
Me: “Great! What fee have they offered?”
Student: “Er, haven’t asked.”
Student: “How? I don’t know how to phrase it!”
And it’s always the good writers too, who fret about how to word their query! It makes me smile. Try:
“Thanks very much. Delighted you like the piece. What’s the fee you’re offering for it, please?”
And sign off.
a/ Ask “Is there a fee?” – which merely tells an editor you’re a new writer who may be prepared to receive nothing but a published clipping, and invites an easy “No”;
b/ Say “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…” – which is pussyfooting around an editor; he will not bite; he deals with money issues daily;
c/ Say “Please can you pay me something because I worked really hard on this?” – which is amateurish and begging.
Be polite, firm, unapologetic, brief and professional.
He may say no, there’s no budget, I’m sorry, take it or leave it, albeit politely. You may like to refer to Mistake No. 7 in that case.
He may make an offer which is a bit crap. You could negotiate. (Some would argue that you should always try to enter negotiations, but for new writers, I tend to advise accepting a reasonable offer at first.) Again, use a similar straightforward approach.
“Thanks, but that seems a little low. How about £x?”
“Could you make it £y? The interviews took a lot of work.”
He may agree, or meet you half-way, or he may go “I really can’t, sorry”. I would probably advise to accept it, in that case, unless you really feel you can get a stronger offer elsewhere. (I have known a few to venture “I’ll get back to you in a few days” to give the impression to the editor that they’re going to try for more at a competing title. This bluff could work, once at most, but tread carefully as you could get a reputation for slightly dodgy dealing.)
He may make you a decent offer up front. All good.
What he will not – ever – say is this: “How dare you ask about fees, you mercenary swine! Never darken my door again, you greedy money-grabber! And you can keep your rotten article too!”
You have nothing to lose.