3. “My agent should’ve gotten me more money!”

Money is important… so it’s not unusual to hear writers complain their agents didn’t get them enough cash… which may or may not be true.  What is also true, however, is there are many important things to look at in a negotiation — and because you can’t hit the dollar amount you want doesn’t mean you can’t find equal or greater value in other ways.

In every negotiation, there’s a tension between two concepts: “dividing” value (also called “claiming” value) and “creating” value.

“‘Dividing’ value,” explains Donny Ebenstein, a conflict resolution expert and consultant who has taught negotiation techniques for two decades, “is deciding who gets what slice of the pie.  ‘Creating’ value is making the pie bigger, so there’s more to go around.”

Most people are accustomed to think only in terms dividing value.  In other words: “I know there’s only limited pie to go around, but I want to make sure I get the biggest possible piece of that pie.  I want to divide it so I get the best value I can.”

In normal business transactions, this is straightforward.  If you want an apple, you go to a grocery store, and the store says, “We have a limited number of apples.  Therefore, we can give you an apple for one dollar.”

It’s less straightforward, however, when you’re selling not goods, but services.  How much does it cost to write a screenplay?  Or write on the staff of a medical drama?  Are great jokes worth as much as great stories?  Or flawless dialogue?  You might think your services are worth $20,000 per episode; a studio may think your services are worth only $15,000 per episode.

It’s easy, in these situations, to get bent out of shape, because we’re used to thinking in terms of “dividing” or “claiming” value, grabbing our “fair share” of the pie.  Thinking about “creating value,” works a bit differently.

Imagine your company needs certain computer software to process books.  The software costs $1,000 per year, so each year, you pay one twelfth ($83.33) every month.  But this year, you say to the software provider, “I usually spread my $1,000 out over the course of a year.  But what if I pay everything up front in one lump sum?…  You get your cash up front, and in exchange, I get a discount.”  This seems like a win-win; sellers love getting complete payment up front, you get a discount.  You’ve just “expanded the pie” — creating more value for both parties!

Thinking in terms of a writer’s deal — perhaps your quote is $20,000/episode ($440,000 for 22 episodes), but the studio wants to pay $15,000/episode ($330,000 for 22 episodes).  So you say, “I have an idea, studio.  I’ll do it for $15,000/episode… but I want a blind script deal for $100,000.  If you were to pay me my quote and buy a script from me, it would cost you almost $550,000.  Doing it this way, you get my services, plus a new pilot — all for less than $450,000!”

Thus, you’ve created value — for yourself and the buyer!

“Everyone thinks negotiations are zero-sum, but that’s not always the case,” explains Ebenstein.  Development deals, of course, aren’t the only way to expand the pie.  If you can’t get the actual dollar amount you want, maybe you can get guaranteed scripts or an episode to direct.  “It’s important for your agent to think about how to make the pie bigger.”

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February 20, 2014 · 10:59 pm

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