Much as I’d like to write a post about my October holiday which kept me away from the blog last month, I think something more work-related might be in order. But let me just recommend South Africa as a great place to visit if you like food, drink, being outdoors and wildlife. I’ll settle for using a photo that might just look like it fits the topic and move swiftly on.
Repacking my suitcase, I headed to Munich last weekend with my ELT Teacher 2 Writer colleagues for the IATEFL BESIG conference (for teachers in the business English teaching community), where I met up with my co-committee members from MaWSIG (the IATEFL special interest group for materials writers). I’ve always got my White Ink hat on as well, of course. I love this kind of event where teachers, writers, editors and publishers come together and have an opportunity to learn from each other. This year MaWSIG was co-hosting the conference with BESIG for the first time, so there was a strand of talks with materials writing at their heart running throughout the weekend. Talks ranged from experienced authors offering practical tips for writers, whether they’re writing materials for their own class or for wider publication, to first-time writers sharing their experiences of the writing-editing-publication process.
I listened to all the talks in the MaWSIG strand and noticed a common theme emerging. Negotiation.
In their talk, Mandy Welfare and Dale Coulter offered a selection of tips for new writers, and participants were asked to stick stickers on the pieces of advice they agreed with most. At the end of the session, the advice with the most stickers was the one advising writers [working for a publisher] to negotiate on fees if they seem low. One participant voiced surprise about the fact that any negotiation was possible. The immediate response from the rest of the room was ‘you at least have to ask’.
Andy Johnson, who has worked as a teacher, materials writer and materials editor at The London School of English, offered insights into his experiences in both authoring and editing roles. Negotiating featured in several of his tips for both sides. Remember that the brief is dynamic and open to negotiation. In a context where materials are being written for a specific course at one school, there is likely to be more flexibility than if you are writing for a publisher. And, if elements of the brief are causing difficulty, the writer can ask the editor if anything can change – some things may be ‘must haves’, others might be ‘nice to haves’. Andy also talked about the importance of dates and fees being open to negotiation. An interesting way his school has worked with writers is by thinking more creatively than just in terms of fees or hourly rates. Negotiations have been done over teaching hours, shared copyright arrangements and royalties.
The BESIG conference took place shortly after I’d had a conversation with another freelance editor about a fixed fee job that was turning out to need a lot more work than the fee was reasonable for, and we discussed how to negotiate a fairer deal that all parties felt happy with.
As Andy Johnson said in his session in Munich, ELT editors and authors tend not to be experienced negotiators. Yet it’s a skill that is becoming increasingly important for us all – in-house staff as well as freelancers; authors, editors and publishers – so we can all feel we are being paid fairly for work done and time invested, whilst bearing the other party’s interests in mind.
Helen (Holwill, my friend and collaborator at ELT Freelancers) and I recognized this as we started to plan the 2017 ELT Freelancers’ Awayday. We’ll be aiming to address the issue head-on in our panel discussion on negotiation before Penny Hands talks about the author-editor relationship – I’m pretty sure that session will also feature the N-word.
So, if we all need to brush up our negotiating skills, where should we start? Here are three tips to bear in mind next time you have to discuss terms and conditions …
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Do this in an assertive manner rather than an aggressive one. If you think you will need 50 hours to meet a brief, rather than the 30 covered by a fee, say so. But do prepare your case and be able to say why you will need the extra time. Is a lot of background research needed? Is some rewriting needed rather than (or in addition to) a straightforward copy edit?
- Listen to what the other party wants. Do they need a job doing quickly, at short notice or over a weekend? Show them how you can meet their needs.
- Be willing to walk away. If you enter a negotiation without this option, you will be limiting yourself to the final decision of the other party, whether that’s satisfactory to you or not. Of course we don’t like to do this for fear of damaging our reputation or not being offered further work, but sometimes it is for the best.
Have you had to negotiate over a project recently? How did it go? Do you have any tips to share in a Comment?