A Good Raise Is Hard to Find: Negotiation Lessons From Flannery O'Connor

When we want business advice, we don't generally think to ask a writer. But when the writer is Flannery O'Connor, maybe we should.

flannery o'connor 

(Photo Credit: 50 Watts/Flickr)

It turns out, the author of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" was a hard-nosed businesswoman, as well as a leader in American literature.

At The Billfold, Brooke Hatfield writes:

"American novelist Flannery O'Connor was real about getting paid. In 'The Habit of Being,' a book of her letters, she writes about theology, literary theory, and life on her family's farm, but she also talks about money. The transactional language that punctuates these epistolary glimpses into her remarkable career reveal that the uncompromising mind behind some of the last century's finest writing believed firmly in that mind’s financial worth."

There's a lot we can learn from O'Connor's letters when it comes to getting our minds' financial worth, including:

1. Find out what you're really worth, and ask for it.

"I am writing you in my vague and slack season and mainly because I am being impressed just now with the money I am not making by having stories in such places as American Letters," 25-year-old O'Connor wrote to her brand-new agent.

Sound like a lot of brass for a young writer? Consider who O'Connor turned out to be. Figuring out your worth on the market and then asking for it is in your best interests.

2. Be realistic about what you can deliver.

O'Connor once estimated that it would take her a year to complete a book, and then told her agent that she'd need an advance for that time.

Of course, we all want to promise employers that the fates of the company will improve remarkably the instant we hang our office-cardigans on the backs of our new chairs, but over-promising and under-delivering won't get you (or your new employers) very far.

3. Be frugal.

O'Connor once won an $8000 prize -- "just $8,000 more than I was expecting," she wrote to a friend, and explained that she planned to live on that money for the next ten years.

Obviously, $800 a year isn't going to go very far these days, especially if your family doesn't own a dairy-and-peafowl-farm for you to use as your base of operations. However, living below your means whenever you're able will make it easier for you to choose jobs that matter to you. And that's worth (almost) as much as money.

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