After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:
Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.
From the Atlantic:
Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.
Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free.
I’ll quote from the email directly:
Your invoice got lost in accounting again.
And, no, I’m no longer working for this client. They did pay me the full amount they owed for all the work I’d done, and sent the check Fed Ex — which I insisted on — and they graciously actually did.
The great challenge of working freelance?
When do you stand up for yourself?
When do you accept crap without complaint ?
I started freelancing as a magazine and newspaper journalist when I was still a college undergraduate. I needed that income to pay my bills, for tuition and books and clothes and housing and food, with zero financial aid or any help from my parents. My writing was not some cute hobby or unpaid internship or spare change I planned to blow on shoes or partying. This was the cash I needed to support myself.
So I learned at a very early age to negotiate, to ask for what I thought was fair. I once overheard an editor begging a fellow freelancer, (a man, older than I), not to quit his weekly column, for which he was getting — in 1978 — $200/week. She was paying me $125. I was 19.
Lesson learned. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.
But you can’t ask for what you don’t know is possible.
Every woman working for income needs to read this great book, “Women Don’t Ask”, which teaches women to negotiate (better) and explains culturally why we often just don’t even try. Men usually do!
Here’s a long, smart and persuasive blog post about why women freelancers so often undervalue their skills and under-price them as a result.
Like many self-employed people, I work alone in a super-competitive field, one (journalism) that is shrinking and whose pay rates have been cut in recent years even as our living costs soar. That means being up to date on what’s happening out there with my colleagues.
Are they getting screwed, too? (Often, yes. When I posted the comment above on Facebook, I quickly got sympathetic replies from peers across the nation with similar stories.)
Standing up for yourself, all alone, is scary.
If freelancers, (some of whom just refuse to stand up for themselves), just keep on accepting the bullshit — “Oh the person in accounting who writes the checks is on vacation” –– you’re going to be a broke, angry, bitter doormat. The people feeding you this BS certainly got their paychecks! Their lights are on, their phone bills and rent paid.
But if you fight the bullshit and demand better treatment, even politely at first, people can dismiss you as a diva, never work with you again and tell everyone they know you’re a pain in the ass.
This one, on how to avoid burnout, is something I need to read more often.
If you work for yourself, how do you negotiate this crucial balance between assertiveness and deference?
Let’s say you’ve got the degrees and education and skills and smarts to land a job interview at Google.
Then you blow the interview because…you’re too modest to toot your own horn.
Meanwhile, there is the very Google-y approach of gathering data on precisely when the company loses women, then digging deeper to figure out what is happening and to try to fix it…
Google’s spreadsheets, for example, showed that some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished.
Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.
A result: More women are being hired.
Once hired, technical women were not being promoted at the same rate as men. At Google, employees nominate themselves for promotions, but the data revealed that women were less likely to do so. So senior women at Google now host workshops to encourage women to nominate themselves, and they are promoted proportionally to men, Mr. Bock said.
I find this fascinating, infuriating and sad.
But not surprising.
A book I recommend to every woman is “Women Don’t Ask”, which, even though it focused on an elite group, (MBA students), intelligently explores women’s ambivalence about asking for more at work, whether perks, money, power or responsibility.
From the authors’ website:
Women are much less likely than men to ask for what they want and to use negotiation as a tool to promote their own ambitions or desires. Sara interviewed nearly 100 people all over the country—both men and women—and found the same thing. Men use negotiation to get ahead and get what they want between two and nine times as often as women do.
(I’ve added the bold and italics.)
Why must women negotiate?
— We live longer than men and need more income in retirement to support us. The less we earn in our work-lives, the less we’ll have in old age.
— Women often take some time out to bear and raise children, lowering their lifetime earnings and reducing the amount they’ll receive from Social Security.
— Women who fail to ask for more — get less. No one’s going to offer you anything if you leave it on the table by not even asking for it.
Modesty is a charming quality. I prize it. But not at the literal expense of earning less or facing a shortened career with limited prospects.
Why do women fail to ask for more?
Fear of being disliked. Fear of others’ disapproval for being pushy. Fear we can’t actually do the job.
All of which, on some level, are bullshit.
I’ve been negotiating for more money and responsibility since I was a teenager writing for national publications and paying my own way through university on my earnings. This wasn’t money I was blowing on clothes and shoes and cool shit I didn’t need, but groceries, rent and utilities.
Oh, and tuition and books.
One day I was in the newsroom of the paper I wrote a weekly column for, earning $125 a week. I overheard my editor trying to dissuade a male columnist from dropping his column: “But you’ll lose $200 a week!”
That additional $300 a month, $3,600 a year, was serious coin in 1978, and just as valuable today.
Negotiating isn’t fun or easy, which is no excuse to avoid it.
If you feel you’ve got more to lose, or less to fall back on, you’re probably likely to take whatever they offer. When an editor recently called me to offer a magazine assignment, she initially offered me $1,500. I know the market and my skills and asked for more. She gave it. She could have refused.
So our ability to negotiate also relies on our level of self-confidence, our skills, our networks — and our comfort level knowing our market value and feeling at ease asking for the pay that reflects, and respects, it.
It’s easier, always, to grab the first (lowest) offer and run.
I grew up in a family of freelancers. No one had a paycheck or pension. Negotiation was normal, tough discussions typical, and we all knew that those hiring us would probably try to offer the least possible.
You can also out-source some of this. I’ve used agents and lawyers many times to negotiate on my behalf. Yes, it costs money. But well worth it.
You can’t get what you don’t ask for.
Do you negotiate?
How’s it working out?