A little while back, I was contributing a piece to a publication that I was thrilled to be writing for: high prestige, high visibility, great roster of fellow contributors. I was honored to be asked. And when the editor mentioned my fee, I was initially eager to say yes. But something told me to hold back (for once—I am usually a very poor negotiator). I thought about who else was contributing, what demands they or their agents might have made, the fact that there’s probably always wiggle room … and I typed this into an e-mail: “I’ll do it for whatever you pay Sam Lipsyte.”
And the editor wrote back promptly to say that sure, yes, that was fine—and he doubled his offer.
The Lipsyte choice, you should know, was not entirely arbitrary on my part. He’s not a superstar in the Michael Lewis or Malcolm Gladwell sense; it would be arrogant for me to think I can demand what such best-selling authors, true celebrities, can demand. But he is high-prestige, a writer’s writer, the kind of person who adds luster to a table of contents (he also happens to be very good; I’m really enjoying his new book of short stories). He’s not the kind of writer a New York editor would want to lowball. What’s more, he has a full-time job teaching at Columbia, and probably is plenty busy, so he wouldn’t say yes to a trivial fee. I figured he commanded more than editors were offering me—but not stratospherically more. As it turned out, I was right.