I negotiated every rate in 2022. So why didn’t I earn more money?

This essay is written by Vanessa Chiasson, a freelance writer based in Ottawa who specializes in travel and human interest stories. She challenged herself to negotiate her rate on every assignment in 2022. Here is part two of two on her results.

I negotiated every rate in 2022. So why didn't I earn more money?
In 1884, a young college student named Anne tried in vain to publish a short story. She pitched magazines, solicited feedback, made some edits, and pitched some more. Her story, Averil’s Atonement, may have never seen the light of day if it were not for her best friend who submitted it to the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company’s story competition and won $25.

Can-lit fans know that “Anne” is none other than Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. When Montgomery published Anne Of The Island, $25 was a handsome payday for a budding writer. (“It is perfectly amazing, the price they pay for such lies, that’s what,” said Anne’s neighbour, Mrs. Rachel Lynde.) Sadly, for many writers, $25 remains a familiar payday.

In weekly “call for pitches” newsletters, it’s striking how many outlets offer $25. Requests for highly personal or densely-reported stories go for $100 or less. As such, it feels like a real victory anytime I can sell a story for $300 and negotiate up to $325. But is that enough?

In 2022, I vowed to negotiate on every assignment and I was successful 68% of the time. Editors also offered alternative solutions to increase my price-per-word even if budgets were frozen. My first negotiation alone brought in an extra $50.

As such, it was something of a shock when I added up my haggling haul and it accounted for under $2,000.

While an extra $2,000 is always welcome, it didn’t exactly feel like a windfall after an entire year of bargaining. I soon realized that when the base rate is paltry, extra percentages don’t go very far. I was naive to think that the challenges of freelancing could be solved with a bit of fortitude and pluck in an industry that still offers $25 rates.

Freelance writer Kristin Luna shares my feelings about subpar rates. “When I started in journalism 20 years ago, standard rates across publications were $2/word… So it hurts my heart seeing journalists accept subpar rates, which continues this cycle of undervaluing writing as a craft, and not get paid what they’re worth.”

I thought I knew my worth but a series of $50 assignments proved otherwise. Another regular outlet topped out at $0.10 a word. I can’t help but wish I had used some of my negotiating moxie to pitch higher-paying outlets. I would have easily earned that extra $2,000—and then some.

It’s something writer Sucheta Rawal encourages, saying, “For 2022, I made a decision to turn down work that did not meet my minimum rate. This meant dropping a couple of publications I used to write for because they won’t increase. As a result, I not only got more work this year but almost doubled my income too.”

Montgomery herself was no stranger to the strains of freelancing. She regularly submitted stories, poems and essays when she was a student. In a 1939 piece for the Dalhousie Gazette, written when she was one of the world’s most celebrated authors, Montgomery urged would-be writers to “KEEP ON TRYING.” And that is precisely what I’m hoping to bring to my 2023 work, a mix of pragmatism and tenacity, with an occasional dash of Anne-like whimsy.


For more on negotiating rates, check out the Canadian Freelance Guild’s two-part series:

Posted on January 2, 2023 at 9:00 am by editor ·

Leave a Reply