Tuesday, 24 February 2009


OK, I'll calm down. In a minute. But first let me watch this video clip again.

Harlan Ellison on the subject of PAY THE AUTHOR

Sorry, but I am totally with this guy. I have had a moderate rant along the same lines on a number of occasions but he does it SOOOOOO much better.

There are times when authors can legitimately and sensibly do something for nothing, but never just because we've been asked to or because it's ignorantly expected. Nowadays, if I'm asked to write something for charity I ask the question: is everyone else in the project also giving up their wages? And if they're not, I ask why not, why only the author? I do a few free talks around a new publication, but only with guaranteed publicity, audience and books sales. And if I'm ever asked if I'd like to donate a fee back to charity, I always say, "No, but I will consider the charity when I do my next charitable donation." For a start, I already run a charity (The Child Literacy Centre) which I created myself, and I don't ask a penny from anyone, so I reckon I do my bit without being made to feel guilty. It's about choice. I prefer to separate giving from earning, and keep my work professional.

God, but I'm hard. Crabbit doesn't even come near it.

Anyway, sorry, bit of a rant there and not something that's going to help you be published. BUt do remember it when you are.

And thank you to the wonderful Society of Authors for pointing me in the direction of this uplifting and rabble-rousing clip.


DanielB said...

It's great, isn't it? It literally does not occur to some people that they are in effect asking you to do voluntary work.

The BBC are the cheekiest for this - if they can get away with a free "contribution", they will - and they say, "oh, but we'll mention the book!" Even if it is a book which came out 5 years ago and has only the most tenuous of connections with the subject which they are discussing, and for which they want you to give up an afternoon to come into the local radio station. I was paid for my contribution to a Christmas debate back in December, but I had to ask!

Of course, Mr Ellison can afford to be this cantankerous about it and not care who he narks off, because he's at the top of his game and no doubt gets lots of requests. Authors further down the tree have to weigh up the potential publicity benefit against the loss of time. It's usually not worth it for a non-current book. In fact, there are times when I think it's barely worth it for a current one...

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes, the BBC is weird - I find I sometimes get paid and sometimes don't, and there seems no rhyme or reason. If I do get paid it's usually £37.50. Luckily, though, the studio's just down the road and luckily I like talking, so I'm happy to do it.

Agree re Mr E being able to afford to be like that BUT I think it's worth us making sure that as many new / newish authors as possible realise that in principle if they call it work they should be paid for it. Solidarity!

Blogging, on the other hand, is pure pleasure ...

SueG said...

This is so right. I know it is, but I also know that as a newly published writer, I am always giving away my work for free. i don't demand money on the assumption that if I don't give it for free I won't work. But I know that is wrong for all the reasons Ellison said. Alas, I'm afraid it is also a woman's reaction, not to be demanding, not to make waves. It's infuriating and he, and you, are completely right. Thanks. I'm passing this on to my other new writer friends!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I do graphic design to pay the bills until I strike it rich as an author (LOL) and I get this a lot too, people wanting me to donate my design services. And usually the people who want the donation are the MOST difficult people to work with and I usually end up regretting ever getting involved with them in the first place. It's worth ranting about to save others the misery!

Nicola Morgan said...

SueG, I think you are so very right. I don't want to paint the picture that men are tough and women are wimps (obviously!) but there's definitely something about the way that many men feel able to ask for what is rightfully theirs. In a recent Soc of Authors survey of writer earnings, it was shown that men are more likely to complain and question their contracts, and that men earn more as writers. We should ALL stand up for what we are worth. Too many people try to make writers feel we're not worth paying for, and it seems that women are more likely to believe that.


And SS - yes!

Ebony McKenna. said...

This is a lovely rant.
He's right. But I don't think it's just writers who get asked to do things for free. Just about everyone I know gets asked to do things for free.

I know lots of television editors/writers/producers. Do you know what they get asked to do? Video someone's wedding for free! Fix someone's TV that's on the blink! Get someone's computer to work and the new low of "can you get me a good deal for the latest TiVo?" What the????

Everyone in the world lives in their own magic bubble. Everyone thinks they work much harder than the next person. Everyone thinks nobody else understands what their work is like or what it involves. And they perpetuate this by asking people to do things for free that may only be tenuously linked to their day job.

OMG! This ranting business is contagious!!!!!
(You do not have to pay me for this rant, I'm giving it away for free!!!!)

Vanessa said...

And in a bookshop, you wouldn't believe the number of requests we get for donations of books, vouchers etc for prizes, raffles and the like. Sometimes from schools or whatever which aren't even local so it isn't as though their parents are likely to be our customers. We're an independent bookshop and there's a recession on - it's somewhat insensitive to come and ask us for money at the moment!

Nicola Morgan said...

Good points, ebony. And we all like a good moan. But when authors are asked to write a story for nothing, the infuriating thing is that everyone else in the process is being paid.

And Vanessa - oh yes, I sympathise. Don't get me started on the free books thing! We're always being asked to donate "free" signed copies for tombolas and raffles, without the person making the request seeming to realise that actually we have to buy our own books, and then pay the postage too. I think we're all guilty of not thinking about other people's position. Which is why I think this video is so good.

I think it's also very much about how the request is made. If it's made ignorantly, it's much more annoying, although it does then give an opportunity to educate the ignorant ...

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

I appreciated how he kept referring to his interview as his "essay" and saying that he "doesn't piss for free."

My angle isn't so much about not being paid for writing (I-- theoretically-- know how to expect that) it's more the idea that all of my skills, when requested, have value and I shouldn't ignore that.

Nicola Morgan said...

yes, I thought not pissing for free was a bit excessive!

DanielB said...

Please, let's not head down the road of gender stereotyping! Some writers are confident, others are wallflowers, many are somewhere in between.

The idea of having be be "tough" with a publisher and play hardball over the terms of my contract fills me with horror - I'd be eaten alive.

My agent, thankfully, is good at this sort of thing. And she is a woman. A very pleasant woman. She's nice-as-cheesecake to me and a toothy Cerberus with the publishers - which is how it should be.

Nicola Morgan said...

Daniel - I think I've missed the gender-stereotyping. I was reporting the results of a survey into earnings. I also dislike stereotyping, but facts are always worth discussing, for lots of good reasons which benefit both genders. Your agent sounds like mine - also a woman, though that's irrelevant!