Bread and Butter – Negotiating the price of a show

Unknown-25So, you are ready to take on the big bad world of selling your art to consumers who are desperate to hire you and bring fortune to your door!

Congratulations!  How do you begin?
Figuring out how much to charge, haggle, and get what you are worth is a struggle for independent artists.  We are not usually the money types.  Often we are not the most organized of people, and let’s face it, pimping yourself out is uncomfortable even if the exchange is storytelling for money instead of sex.

I cannot claim to be the expert on this, but what I can do is share some of the things Dave and I have done over the years.
1)  Come up with a fee schedule that makes you happy.  i.e.  One forty-five minute show will cost 300.00.  Two 45 minute shows at the same school back to back will cost 475.00.  Three shows at the same school in the same day will cost 750.00.  If the shows have a break between them of an hour or more, there is an extra 50.00 charge.  If two schools go in together, there will be a 50.00 discount for both schools. (You get the idea, make a fee schedule)


2)  Come up with a bottom line.  This is not something you plan to share with clients, but you have to know what the bottom is, or you’ll end up taking shows you don’t want that pay what you feel is not right, in situations that make you furious.  What is the least amount you will accept….determine what it is and DO NOT GO BELOW IT!


3) Now that you have a strong bottom line, come up with a pie in the sky top line…got it?  If you have anything under five zeroes, you are not dreaming big enough.  Okay, now, come up with a reasonable top line.  It should be within at least two hundred dollars of your bottom line, but three to five doesn’t hurt.  Always start at the reasonable top of your fee schedule when you can, and go down only if you have to.  Take no prisoners and give ground only when absolutely necessary.

4)  If a customer asks for something that is not standard, i.e. ‘Could you design a show around this great Mask that is on our website?’ then do not offer to do this for the standard fee.  Anytime they start asking for something special, decide what kind of work that is and what you would be happy charging.  START with the standard fee and then go up from there.

5  Make sure you have different pricing systems for different venues.  What you charge the local church might be different than what you charge a small library which might be different from what you might charge the University of Southern California.

5)  Be flexible.  Never give your potential client your bottom line.  Build in a healthy cushion so that if they cannot match your best price, they might be able to find some common ground with you somewhere.  Just as you do not wish to go below your bottom price, they are hoping not to have to pay their top price.  Negotiations are important.  Swallow your embarrassment and pride and just go for it.

6)   If clients attempt to tell you that one hundred dollars is more than plenty, then they are clearly not looking for a professional storyteller.  There are far too many people in our business who do not charge a reasonable fee schedule.  They make it hard for some folks to work because the buyers believe they should be paying less because that is what they are used to.  Make sure clients know that they get what they pay for.  Stick to your guns and press for both the recognition and compensation you deserve.

Storytellers, like other artists, have financial responsibilities.  We need to pay mortgages, car notes, dental bills, you name it.  We have to be compensated for what we do.  Negotiating the fee is not the most fun thing in the world, but it is a necessary one.  Sit down, figure out what you want to charge.  Figure out what you feel is your strongest bottom line and start negotiations with your top price.  Instead of the fear of approaching the money, consider the fact that you are worth every penny and more.  In fact, consider that you are worth your pie in the sky number, after that, if they are paying less than that, they are getting an uber bargain!


Money is a touchy subject in our society unless you’ve got gobs of it.  Few of us have gobs of it.  Let’s do what we can to make sure that we have enough to continue doing what we love.

Good Luck
Happy Telling.

One comment on “Bread and Butter – Negotiating the price of a show

  1. nabstalking says:

    Thanks to Donna Washington for sharing her approach to a subject many of us have sort guidance on. This was written several years ago for NABS and sat in drafts for that time. So if she were asked today the numbers might look a bit different. But the process is still worthy of a careful read. My apologies for the delay of the past year, somehow I thought it had posted already. Further apologies to Donna for not thinking before hand to refer it back to her for any adjustments she might have made.

    We certainly appreciate all of the posts Donna has contributed to this site even as she posts regularly on her own, Language, Literacy and Storytelling site. Check it out!
    Amy J

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