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How To Negotiate and Set Your Prices

How To Negotiate and Set Your Prices

Eric Maisel

First, you want to access that part of you that is not afraid to lose the deal. In fact, you are not at very much risk, as you can always agree to the original price or the original arrangement. If a potential collector asks if she pay $1500 for the painting you have priced at $3000, you can take a hard line and say that it is $3000 and that is that; or you can negotiate without any particular risk of losing this sale, as you can always sink to $1500 and “give in.” So, first, do not fear losing the deal. Let pop out of your mouth a figure that you are comfortable with—in this case, for example, “I can tell how much you love this painting and I really want you to have it, so I am happy to offer it to you for $2500.”

Where do we think this negotiation will go? Our life experience tells us that the end point will probably be $2000. Next she will say $1750, you will say $2250, and the two of you will settle on $2000. So another aspect of negotiating is to hone your ability to quickly gauge where a negotiation is likely heading, so that you can consider in your own mind whether that end point will feel satisfactory to you or not. As soon as she says $1500, you might get in the habit of thinking, “If I counter with $2500 we will probably end up at $2000. Will that be a good outcome?” If that feels like a decent-enough outcome, you can allow your $2500 to “sound flexible,” but if you feel that you must stake out $2500 as your end point, then you make it “sound firm.”

I can’t begin to touch on all the possible wrinkles that you might need to take into account at such times, for instance any contractual arrangements you’ve entered into with galleries about holding to your price, the singular importance (or lack of importance) of this buyer to your art life, your sudden, even urgent need for money, and so on. In one situation you may feel it imperative to refuse to negotiate, in another situation you may find yourself negotiating in a friendly and equitable manner, in a third you may feel a lot of internal pressure to accept whatever is being offered. Each negotiation will have its unique psychological, cultural, and practical features.

If I am offered a book advance, I will ask (through my agent) for more and, by asking, almost always get a little extra. If I am asked to speak somewhere and the venue quotes a price lower than my usual speaking fee, I will always come back with a middle-ground figure (unless I actually don’t want to go, in which case I will stand behind my stated fee, which adamancy often prompts the venue to pay my full fee). When I get a book contract to examine, I will ask for six or seven changes—including, for instance, more author’s copies and a higher royalty rate than is being offered—and, as a rough rule, get two or three of them. I can’t recall ever being told, “How dare you negotiate!” It is expected; it is almost always better than just capitulating; and you ought not to fear it, even if you are holding every sale as precious.

If negotiating isn’t in your repertoire of behaviors, practice with a buddy. Have him play the role of a gallery owner offering you a contract or a collector asking for a significant discount. Have him play his role hard, medium, and soft. Try out different responses. See what buttons get pushed in you; get feedback on your negotiating skills; and get better with practice. Add the skill of negotiating to your professional repertoire.


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