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B&N Week 114: Negotiating

| February 26, 2013

BoltsNutsFeatured-negotiate

Can you believe that another week has passed us by, and that it’s Tuesday again already? Time flies, especially when you’re keeping busy.

This week, I want to talk about the fine art of negotiation. There are some things you should know when you’re making a go of comics, and without the tools, you’re going to overpay. That’s never fun.

Dictionary.com gives the definition of negotiation as mutual discussion and arrangement of terms of a transaction or agreement. Pretty simple and straightforward, no? Two parties want something that the other has, and they discuss to come to a conclusion so that they can both get what they want, or not.

Always remember this: someone is out to get the most money possible for their services, and the other person is trying to pay the least amount of money for the other party’s services. [Think of it like this: the government contracts generally go to the lowest bidder. That should frighten you.] Negotiation is where these two parties meet in the middle.

Before you go looking for a creative team, make yourself a budget. Research what it is that you need, and what it is that you’re willing to pay to get what you want. Once you’ve done that, figure out what else you’re willing to give up in order to get this person to work with you.

Speaking in general terms, writers, while the prime movers of the indies, are generally also the most broke. They’re the most needy, because they need the entire team in order to tell their story. Needy and broke, while they often go hand in hand, aren’t compatible. Never have been, although they’re always thrust together for some reason.

So writers have to learn the art of negotiation. What’s also important to understand is, while we’re often good with words, we’re often not good with communicating with people. Comes from living in your head too much. We’re awkward. [I’m talking generalities, folks.] The rest of the creative team? They need to be handled with care. Beyond regular human-to-human interactions, I mean.

For some reason, comics attracts creators who are something of egoists, or are “damaged” in some way. (HEY!) No, this isn’t about being politically correct. This is straight observation, mixed with personal experience. Just look around. They aren’t hard to find. Hell, I’m an egoist. I have an ego the size of Texas. I know it. It’s okay to admit it. I just want you to understand that you have a greater likelihood of meeting someone like yourself in doing comics, and they have to be handled accordingly.

Negotiation. Again, negotiation means that both parties want something for what one party can give or do for the other. We can use Hitchcock’s mcguffin here. You want Graeme McFreelancer’s mcguffin, and Graeme won’t part with it without getting something in recompense. You have to go in with a plan to get the mcguffin. If you don’t have a plan, you’ve already lost.

This brings us back to the budget. Have one. Do your research on the costs on everything, so that you can get a very good idea of what you can and cannot afford. Research the costs for everything, and plug in the numbers accordingly. Save your money, which is something you should have been doing for a while, anyway.

Think that you’re ready? Just going to throw cold cash at the artist and all will be well? Nope. It isn’t that easy. You need a backup plan. Sometimes, you’ll run into an artist who’s perfect for the story, but out of your price range. Then you’ll have to think of alternatives.

There are lots of ways this can go. You can give up part of the IP (Intellectual Property, right?) [Exactly.], you can give a mixture of money and the ever-elusive Back End Profits, you can do your best to guarantee publication, you can do all of the above. You can do none of the above and forge your own way. The beauty of negotiating is that you have find what the other person wants, and then try your best to match it.

My advice is simple, though: money first. If you offer money first, then you won’t be married to the creator forever if things go wrong. As soon as you give up part of the IP, you’re married, forever. Offering IP should be the ace in the hole. Keep that in mind.

When negotiating, keep in mind that you’re trying to get the best price for the mcguffin. Best price means cheapest price. As soon you start to negotiate, always keep in mind that you both parties have the power to walk away at any time. There’s nothing keeping you there. Thank the person politely, and continue your search. Simple.

But back to price. Again, you want the best price possible. How do you get that price? Well, the first thing you need to know is how much you’re willing to pay. The highest price you’re willing to go. Then you’re going to cut that roughly in half, and start there.

It then becomes a matter of offer and counteroffer. Don’t give in too easily. See how low that creator is willing to go. See if they’ll give you a number. See if that number is near or below your maximum. If the artist takes anything below your maximum price, you’ve won. You’ve got the mcguffin at a price you can live with, that won’t break your bank. What are you going to do with the “excess” money? You’re going to save it. It doesn’t become excess until everything is paid for.

Now, if the creator is perfect and just can’t come into a realm you’re comfortable in paying, that’s the time to start trying to throw other things into the mix. Seeing if they’re amenable to other things is part of the process.

Does it get easier? Sure it does. Once you’ve been published, or if you have publisher interest in a pitch you sent them, then you’ll have more bargaining power. Remember, the creative team isn’t just doing the work for the money. They’re doing the work because they want the work to be published. If you can honestly say that you have publisher interest, then they might be willing to come lower on their price, or might be willing to do it for back-end, or a combination of both.

If you have publishing credits under your belt, that means you have a relationship with at least one publisher, so you have that much more to offer. Use that to your advantage. The more books you have out, the better your chances will be to get the team of your choice onboard.

Once the terms have been agreed upon, clarify them. If you did negotiating over the phone, write a follow-up email to confirm what has been agreed upon. If there was an email chain, write a separate email that makes everything nice and clear, so there is no confusion on anyone’s part. Get a response on that email. For all intents and purposes, this is going to be the contract. If someone tries to change the deal, you can go back to this, saying it wasn’t what was agreed upon.

No one wants to sue, and no one wants to go to court. However, you’ll be in a bettor position by having the emails and the final one distilling the emails instead of only have a phone conversation. A phone conversation only resides in memory, unless it was recorded. Memories are fallible. Emails are much more permanent.

Do you always have to negotiate? Not at all. A lot of times, people are willing to pay exactly what you asked for. You quote them a price, and they see the value of what it is you bring to the table. They accept the price, and you move forward from there. Simple.  Or, you go to someone, they quote you a price, and it’s within your budgeted amount for that part of the process. You pay that price, and you continue to march. (Shouldn’t I try to get a better price anyway, Steven?)

Ah, that’s a sticky question. This is a personal choice. If you’re willing to pay $25/pg for letters, and the creator gives a quote for $15/pg, should you try for $10/pg? I’m not going to say yes, I’m not going to say no. Personal choice. What I would do is not necessarily what you would do. Personally, I wouldn’t try to get a better price. Keep in mind that the other creator is trying to make a living, too. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

And that’s all I have for this week. Homework: save your money, and think about what you’ll want to do for alternative means of payment. Also, think about your own rates and what you’d like to charge for your services.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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