Saturday, 2 October 2010

IN WHICH I GET CRABBIT ABOUT AUTHOR EVENTS

Today I'm blogging indirectly for writers, by offering advice to people who organise author events. The idea to blog about this came from Jane Smith's post at How Publishing Really Works, about why authors should be paid, and the discussion that followed it.

I have spoken at too many festivals, conferences and events to count. I have also been involved in organising a strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and have given free advice to two people setting up new book festivals. I have organised a major writers' conference myself and am planning to do the same around publication of Write To Be Published. I know what makes a good event for authors and readers. And I don't too much care about anyone else. As far as I'm concerned, writers and readers are the important people in this, granted that we also need supporting people. Including the event organiser.

So, here are my points, aimed at organisers and with huge respect for what the best of them do, including many school librarians.

MONEY
If you value your writers, you have to pay them. You might get their publishers to contribute to travel expenses, but don't assume that. Most writers do not earn much but, actually, that's beside the point. It's about value and respect. It's about your purpose in organising the event. If the writer is the only adult not being paid, that is intolerable, utterly unacceptable. If you think the writer is going to earn from book sales during the event, think of this:
  • Authors earn a very small percentage of the profit on a book sale, not a percentage of the cover price, but of the price after the publisher discount to the retailer, often 60% or more, is applied. They might earn 40p per book, if the supplier doesn't have a high discount, and sometimes less. (Depends on cover price and discount.) If you sell 30 copies of their book, which is optimistic, that's £12 for the author for the whole event, which they won't receive for around six months. So, sod book sales as a compensation for you offering no fee.
If you can only offer a small fee, offer it with an apology and make it up in other ways, by fantabulous book sales and great respect. Don't say things like, "Oh, you never know, you might get some more work out of it." or "It will look great on your CV, you know - increase your profile."  That's for me to decide. Say, "I'm so sorry we can't offer a proper fee and I will fully understand if you can't accept, but I'd love to look at other ways to make it beneficial for you." You cannot, however, expect a low-earning self-employed person to pay for coming to you, and pay is what they'll do if you're not offering FULL expenses, including incidentals.

Sometimes we might do an event for nothing but if you have to ask this, ask yourself why you have to. Are you charging the audience? Why can't you manage to pass some of that to the author, the person with the talent on which this event is based? I have also found that when events are free, more things go wrong - audiences cancel and people don't think they are getting something worth having. Having said that, we do do things for nothing and sometimes that's fine. But there has to be a good reason and it has to be our choice.
 
When the author is paid £150 for an event, which in the UK is the recommended fee - though not usually achievable by festivals, with Edinburgh being an honourable exception - that may seem like very decent earnings for an hour. And it would be if it was an hour's work. But it's not.

Here's what happens to me when I get an invitation which I accept:
  • You and I have an email conversation, which over the time leading up to the event may take 1-2 hours of my time, because you very properly want a biography, pictures, details about whether I eat prawns, details about my arrival, details about the contents of my event, a blurb for the programme, a photo, discussion about who is supplying the books and how. Actually, let's say three hours.In fact, the more and better questions you ask, the more time it will take - Catch 22. Or I pay my assistant to do this because I should be writing.
  • I spend some time - say another hour - organising to be away. I sort out dog-sitting, food for the house, family, book train tickets. Get stuck on the Trainline website...
  • I plan the actual content of the events. Planning can be anything from twenty minutes if it's a school event that I do hundreds of times, to ten hours or more if it's a new event which you've specifically asked for - such as for a conference talk on a particular topic with powerpoint.
  • I print out leaflets and order forms and handouts, as appropriate.
  • I pack, including several bits of equipment which are different for each event, and travel to the event and back again, which is never going to be less than a day. A day during which I can't write, or not meaningfully.
  • I have inevitable costs during the journeys, some of which I don't charge even if you're kindly offering expenses. 
If authors want to do things for nothing - and we often do - that's up to us. But don't expect it any more than I would expect any paid person to give up their earnings for a day. 

THE EVENT
OK, so, I've done countless events and never get nervous. But. I use up the most enormous amount of energy during the event. I'm entertaining and inspiring an unknown audience. Sometimes, I don't know in advance what the audience is going to consist of. Sometimes I do, in theory. Often my audience is teenagers who may not want me to be there because they think books are boring, or adults who think they know it all. I have to work to get them on side, I have to adapt what I planned to what I find, I have to think on my feet. I do this all without notes, so I'm driving my brain hard. People who try to speak to me afterwards may think I'm silent because I'm stuck-up - no, I'm silent because I'm exhausted. What is my point?

My point is, please:
  1. Every author is different, with different needs. So, read my Inviting Me To Speak page on my website and just ask me about anything you're not sure of. Ask, for example, what I need in terms of food. Or else provide it anyway. I totally love the school librarians who give me a plate of sandwiches, a kettle and a SILENT ROOM after an event. One even lent me an ipod. I could have married her. (Note to organisers: I now have an ipod, thank you!)
  2. Understand that I can't make scintillating conversation to you or your colleagues between events, or in your car between locations. I do not want you to take me to lunch between events instead of paying me, or even as well as paying me. I want you to let me eat my lunch with my eyes and my ears shut. Once - O. M. G. - I was taken unwillingly to lunch and then asked to PAY because their budget didn't stretch to it. Bloody hell. I could barely speak to them. (For clarity, being taken out at the end is lovely - quite different, because although I'll be tired I'll not have to focus again that day. And, again, every author is different. I just find my head spins and I don't talk well when that's happening.)
  3. If I am doing two events, please let me go and get some fresh air in between. Otherwise you will not like me.
  4. Don't ask me to deliver three events in one day. (Except in exceptional circumstances.) I will be crap. This is NOT like teaching three lessons in a row - I have done that, too. That's a doddle in comparison. No, this is like - no, is - performing on stage on your own for an hour, followed by an hour, followed by another hour. Humans can't do it and remain even vaguely pleasant.
  5. Note that I once fell asleep at the wheel of a car travelling at 70 miles an hour on a dual-carriageway because librarians had asked me to do too much. I nearly died and so did a load of other people.
  6. Never. Ever. Ever. Never tell me that it's ok not to pay me because I will be able to get some writing done and you won't ask for a cut of the "profits". PROFITS? Don't bloody make me laugh. (This happened to me recently. I said no.)
Not all authors would have the same needs. Many have different ones. Just ask. it's not difficult. We don't want expensive things.

Sometimes, school librarians in particular go to great lengths to provide lovely home-made cakes and things. This is incredibly sweet of them and much appreciated but it's actually not necessary. My point is just that I don't have demands for luxury or anything, just a bit of gentleness and the understanding that what I do is important to you and exhausting for me. I love it, but it's exhausting..
    BOOK SELLING
    This is not only a Very Good Thing: it is also how authors survive. Yes, I know you're going to pay me to talk to you but if I can't write any books there will be no books for me to talk about. And if I don't sell books, I won't be allowed to write any. Seriously, publishers drop authors who don't sell enough books. Especially nowadays. Trust me. I know.

    So, please sell books. That does not mean put them on a small table in the corner of a little-used cupboard where fire extinguishers used to be stored. It means display lots of them in all their glory, tell customers that they will be there, provide lots of time for people to buy them, TELL people to go and look at them and consider buying them and generally puff the idea of owning glorious books.

    MISCELLANEOUS
    • Always give the author an introduction. Say nice things about us even if you haven't read our books. I have had people forgetting my name, people saying I need no introduction and then not giving me one, and I've had fabulous introductions. I once arrived on the stage of a large theatre to cheers and whoops from the huge school audience - they probably hadn't read any of mny books but the librarians had got them excited. That's fabulous. It creates an energy about the event from the start.
    • Study the author website. It makes such a difference when you know a bit about us.
    • Let an author have a few minutes peace before the event starts to collect her thoughts. Get the head teacher out of the way - now is not the time for a marketing drive.
    • Provide a good space for speaking. I don't like people looking up my nostrils. I also don't like lunch trolleys being wheeled through when I'm telling a story.
    • DO NOT MARK BOOKS DURING THE EVENT.
    • Do not spring unexpected tasks on me. "Oh, I thought you'd like to come and say a few words to the remedial class on your way to lunch" is not a good idea. With all respect to the remedial class but they deserve more than a few words. 
    • Oh, and if you've got local press coming, which is a lovely idea, do NOT let them interrupt my talk to take photos. I once lost 10 minutes of my talk because local photographers couldn't wait till the end. Totally lost momentum.
    • Edited to add: do NOT steal  deduct tax from my invoice. An invoice is an invoice. I pay my own tax and the tax people do not need me to pay them twice. Universities and councils are the culprits here: I'm waiting for the refund of wrongly deducted tax from a certain University where I spoke in MARCH. Am livid.

    Got it?
    So, now you think I'm a stroppy cow? I'm not. Not at all. I am never a prima donna at events - I'm professional and committed to the audience. I do all my stroppiness at this stage, when we're deciding, you and I, whether we want to do this event and make it great. Once we've decided, you will find me very enthusiastic and determined to do everything to produce the absolute best event for the audience.

    But it's not just my event: it's yours, too. And part of its success comes down to your preparation, enthusiasm and understanding. So, let's do it. Let's make great events together. It's one of my favourite bits about being an author, which is why I say yes so often.

    EDITED TO ADD: to give you an example of perfect event organisation, next week I'm going to the High School of Dundee on Monday and Chesterfield library on Friday night, to chat to a group of teenagers and adults in a fab-sounding reading group. I am 100% confident that these will be exemplary. Just a few minutes ago, my assistant passed me an email from the Chesterfield organiser saying that they'd have sandwiches for me before the event and that they'd take me out for a bar meal afterwards, as the guest house has no catering facilities in the evening. That's very caring and wonderful of them. They've thought it through AND they've told me in advance. Both Dundee and Chesterfield are fully paid events and I am sure that many hoops were jumped through to sort out the considerable costs to school and library. I love you, organisers of both events and I am looking forward to giving your audiences the best experience I can.

    PS - I knew there was something I'd forgotten to tell you. (A draft of this post accidentally disappeared and I tried to remember what I'd lost.) Yes, I thought I'd tell you about the time when I rejected an invitation after reading the first two words:

    "Dear Sandra"

    I just kind of felt a bit unwanted, you know? :-(

    67 comments:

    D.J. Kirkby said...

    Thank you very much for writing this post. I have so much to learn but posts like this help me feel more confident about how to behave, should the oppourtunity arise,in situations like these.

    Jane Smith said...

    Nicola, this is a fabulous piece. I agree with every word you say (except for the bit about you being crap, and people not liking you, because you could never be crap and I will always like you).

    I can't really add to it, but I will be tweeting a link to this article from here until Christmas.

    Suzanne Collier said...

    Nicola, what a brilliant piece and as someone who comes from the publishing side, I hope publishers and event organisers take your points on board (especially when they are not paying you). Even when we were working on limited budgets we would always cover travel expenses and meals. We'd do it for a member of staff who was working, and an author was no different. In a sensible publisher it is all included in your marketing and promotion budget.

    Jan Jones said...

    Oh, Nicola FABULOUS post.

    Would also like to add that at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference, we try our very best to give author-speakers £150 for an hour's talk.

    We also organise a big bookstall for the whole conf.

    Tam said...

    Gosh, yes, this is gold dust. I've never actually considered it quite this way but you are so right. I have done this; prepped for a visit I am doing for free, entertained 20+ teenagers for 90 minutes (and then done it again. And again) and sold 5 books at the end of it, without so much as a cup of tea.

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    DJK - good to see you here and it reminds me that I wanted to buy your book!

    Thanks, Jane. Tweet away!

    Suzanne - hear, hear! Glad you agree. It's worth adding that a publisher wouldn't expect to contribute to events outside the publication time or if the invitation hadn't been set up by the publisher? Librarians can't just expect a publisher to pay expenses for every event.

    Jan - excellent RNA!

    Tam - except around publication, you really shouldn't expect to do events for nothing. You're a published author - a professional. Even if you only charge a bit, charge something.

    Anonymous said...

    Nicola, another fantastic post. For someone new to the game it's invaluable. To be honest I'd never given it much thought but I will in future. If a school/college had a specialist lecturer come in and give a talk they'd get paid, why not an author (who is also a specialist in their subject)?

    Joan Lennon said...

    SO needs saying! Thanks!

    dirtywhitecandy said...

    So many people seem to think that writers must do everything for free, that we just show up, talk, bask in the glory and go away. They have no idea how much work goes into making a good event and the simple matter of how much it costs to get there. Well said. I'm off to tweet.

    SUSAN HILL said...

    I do few events but the most shocking was last year in London. (I`ll spare their blushes). No fee. No expenses. Audience charged £10 a ticket. Room of about 250 very smart, well-heeled people. Delightful girl from a bookshop set up enticing table. I spoke along with a famous crime writer. We got on well, and ended by doing a bit of a double-act which made them laugh, as well as the serious stuff. Lots of intelligent, interesting questions.
    As a man/woman they then walked out without even looking at the books. Neither of us sold a single copy. I asked the bookstall girl what we had done wrong and she said 'It's been like this ever day, it's not you.'
    I was not saddened or upset - neither of us were. We were disgusted.
    Incidentally, big festivals sometimes pay - Edinburgh/Cheltenham AND sell a lot of books. Dartington I will never visit again as they do not pay and sell few books - and the organisers take a cut of those sales themselves.
    Organisation matters more than almost anything. Cheltenham is brilliantly well organised. Hay is a shambles. Some of the best I have been to have been small, first-time country town litfests which have got it spot on - thoughtfulness as well as careful forward planning
    SUSAN HILL

    Catherine Czerkawska said...

    Absolutely brilliant, Nicola, and so very true. I've had some wonderful experiences, but I've also been decanted into strange and remote towns at 10pm without so much as a cup of tea before starting on the long trek home (I now take a flask with me, just in case!) And it isn't only writers. My woodcarver husband was regularly invited to pay to do demanding demonstrations at various commercial events. 'Think of the publicity' they would say. But they never seemed to say that to the electrician or the company erecting the marquee.

    catdownunder said...

    Oh and I hate getting up and talking in public anyway...this will just make it a thousand times worse! If you go to an event like this then you should surely be prepared to buy the book.
    I am not sure if or how much the Adelaide Writers' Week people pay but they do have a nice little weekend retreat for writers before the week - if our state treasurer allows it to continue. It is a good opportunity for the writers to get together...but they work them hard after that with school visits etc as well as the tent talks.

    TOM J VOWLER said...

    Great article, and one that's got me thinking.

    Port Eliot are great and look after you in every sense.

    That's interesting about Dartington, as, being nearby, was on my list to approach.

    Ebony McKenna. said...

    *applauds*
    thank you.

    Elizabeth Baines said...

    I did a school visit recently where the initially agreed programme was quietly added to as the event drew nearer, and then the moment I arrived I was asked to squeeze in yet another session. It was paid, but I ended up working non-stop for full school day and I'd put in three days of prep for two long workshops, and there was no opportunity whatever to sell books - nada, it was just not expected. I think I was basically the supply teacher for the day and a chance for them to tick the 'cultural events' box. The worst thing is that, as a writer published by a small publisher without a big marketing budget, I ended up telling myself that at least it was exposure - though I was kidding myself, since half the kids were clearly sitting there wondering who the hell I was, and indeed the teachers of one class I was taking asked me at the start what sort of thing I wrote. Your post is a great corrective. Thanks!!

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Good post Nicola… though I do take issue with some things you say.

    I agree about the pay thing, though I am about to do a museum event for free as a favour to someone. I recently went to the Western Isles on a mini book tour. It was fun and I did a lot of preparation for the event and even when I was not putting pen to paper or planning, I was thinking about the event for many hours over many weeks before the event. And I could not have done it at all had not my travel and accommodation expenses been covered.

    On the tour I had days where I did two events with a long drive between them. I was well looked after by the event organisers, including being taken for lunch or tea (which I found delightful, and the conversation before and after was light and lovely), and the whole experience was a thrill and a joy. Doing the tour was a lot about thinking on the hoof, and being adaptable, not knowing what audience I would meet, and how I would deliver (one event had a lapel-microphone and one had no table so I had to improvise with a book case), and the times changing for my prepared talk (sometimes a full hour, and once the younger ones having to leave fifteen minutes before the end, so essentially having to do a meaningful talk for 45 minutes and then a meaningful other ‘thing’ for 15 minutes), and getting audience involvement when there were only 16 in the audience (small primary school) or when there were more than 200 in the audience (four schools sitting in comfortable chairs in an arts centre theatre). And it was performance and dynamic and inspiring and engaging and varied… I am a teacher and doing that is my bread and butter And here’s where I differ from what you say – I could do three or four of such events in a day… in teaching I have done six on a full day and I do as many as three every day of the week for the full school year… ok they are not all performance lessons, but many are (have to be) and I am always performing to keep the children on task. It is exhausting, the teaching, but I actually found five events of my book tour and the three and half days of travelling (getting up at stupidly early times to make planes and buses) a doddle compared to the day job.

    I was asked at two events if I wanted an introduction. I know that some teachers find these awkward and difficult so I said I’d manage on my own and I introduced myself. I think it is ok to do that. And I am also used to creating my own energy in a classroom and I am fine with doing that at an event. But then I have never had whoops and hollers, and maybe if I did my events would be even more fantab.

    The way I looked at it, this was a honour for me, that people wanted to hear me talk. And it was an opportunity, to make enough of an impression that I might get one or more kids reading my work who might never even have picked up my book without having been entertained by me. I agree about the pay thing… for some writers this may be how they put food on their table and being a full-time teacher I don’t have that. I agree the better the event is organised the better will be the event, but I also know that school events happen around the daily demands of six or more classes a day every day, and all the paper and recording and marking and pastoral care and teaching and parents and meeting and… all and more that is the job of working in a school… so I am much more forgiving of the cracks in the event organisation. My name is Bruton… it is not a common name and all my life people have corrected me saying it must be Burton or Brunton… so I am hardly going to get upset at my name being not right… it is actuaklly an opportunity for putting it right with a group and making them sit up and see me and know something about me, what my name is at least, and maybe also want to read me. And that’s it in a nutshell… an event is an opportunity and I do not easily pass these up.

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Good post Nicola… though I do take issue with some things you say.

    I agree about the pay thing, though I am about to do a museum event for free as a favour to someone. I recently went to the Western Isles on a mini book tour. It was fun and I did a lot of preparation for the event and even when I was not putting pen to paper or planning, I was thinking about the event for many hours over many weeks before the event. And I could not have done it at all had not my travel and accommodation expenses been covered.

    On the tour I had days where I did two events with a long drive between them. I was well looked after by the event organisers, including being taken for lunch or tea (which I found delightful, and the conversation before and after was light and lovely), and the whole experience was a thrill and a joy. Doing the tour was a lot about thinking on the hoof, and being adaptable, not knowing what audience I would meet, and how I would deliver (one event had a lapel-microphone and one had no table so I had to improvise with a book case), and the times changing for my prepared talk (sometimes a full hour, and once the younger ones having to leave fifteen minutes before the end, so essentially having to do a meaningful talk for 45 minutes and then a meaningful other ‘thing’ for 15 minutes), and getting audience involvement when there were only 16 in the audience (small primary school) or when there were more than 200 in the audience (four schools sitting in comfortable chairs in an arts centre theatre). And it was performance and dynamic and inspiring and engaging and varied… I am a teacher and doing that is my bread and butter And here’s where I differ from what you say – I could do three or four of such events in a day… in teaching I have done six on a full day and I do as many as three every day of the week for the full school year… ok they are not all performance lessons, but many are (have to be) and I am always performing to keep the children on task. It is exhausting, the teaching, but I actually found five events of my book tour and the three and half days of travelling (getting up at stupidly early times to make planes and buses) a doddle compared to the day job.

    (continued in next comment post)

    Douglas Bruton said...

    I was asked at two events if I wanted an introduction. I know that some teachers find these awkward and difficult so I said I’d manage on my own and I introduced myself. I think it is ok to do that. And I am also used to creating my own energy in a classroom and I am fine with doing that at an event. But then I have never had whoops and hollers, and maybe if I did my events would be even more fantab.

    The way I looked at it, this was a honour for me, that people wanted to hear me talk. And it was an opportunity, to make enough of an impression that I might get one or more kids reading my work who might never even have picked up my book without having been entertained by me. I agree about the pay thing… for some writers this may be how they put food on their table and being a full-time teacher I don’t have that. I agree the better the event is organised the better will be the event, but I also know that school events happen around the daily demands of six or more classes a day every day, and all the paper and recording and marking and pastoral care and teaching and parents and meeting and… all and more that is the job of working in a school… so I am much more forgiving of the cracks in the event organisation. My name is Bruton… it is not a common name and all my life people have corrected me saying it must be Burton or Brunton… so I am hardly going to get upset at my name being not right… it is actuaklly an opportunity for putting it right with a group and making them sit up and see me and know something about me, what my name is at least, and maybe also want to read me. And that’s it in a nutshell… an event is an opportunity and I do not easily pass these up.

    Michelle said...

    Thanks for a brilliant, informative post, Nicola. After reading about some of your experiences I think I've been quite lucky with the events I've done (so far). However, I have got an upcoming event which involves a lot of travel and I've allowed myself to get talked into doing double the amount of work that I'm comfortable with. This has really brought it home that knackering yourself out doesn't do you, or them, any favours. From now on I'm going to be much firmer about what I'm prepared to do.

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Opps, Nicola, I seem to have posted many times here. Please delete as appropriate.

    D

    Keren David said...

    I'm just glad to hear that I'm not the only one to find these events exhausting! I welcome the chance to meet readers, possibly sell books promote myself and my books practise public speaking (something I'd never done before I had a book published). But I am exhausted afterwards. I'd been wondering if it was just because I was new at it!

    Penny Dolan said...

    Oh, Nicola - how very, very true! I wish this could be a poster on the wall in every staff room.

    I really hope that the gold-dust people - the keen, helpful and well-organised teachers & librarians - know how much happier "their" authors feel when they are treated well, and how much better a performance/session we can then give their audiences. Because these brilliant, brilliant people do all the ground work, they probably don't know what it's like for us in the more desperate places, and that we don't usually gush with extreme thanks.

    Even though, for the sake of the kids, authors (and others) always try to do the best they can.

    Cat said...

    Great post Sandra !!! Really?
    Nicola, as a bookseller who helps organise events it never hurts to be reminded of such things now and again. Thank you!. Could I maybe add for school in particular... please schools, when we arrange an event with you,let the pupils know books will be available to buy and don't 'forget' to pass out pre-order forms when we send them to you. I've been to too many events now where authors have inspired pupils so much that they want to start reading the book but not had the money to buy one and get it signed because they haven't known they would be available.That is heartbreaking to witness.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Thanks, all, for your comments.

    Douglas - sorry, but I can't work out which comment to delete because I can't work out where you've repeated yourself.

    You have quite misunderstood my point about it being different from teaching. I was a teacher, too, an English teacher like you, and ran the department. So, I too taught for the full day, standing for hours and teaching. But it is NOT the same as delivering a talk or it's certainly not the same as delivering the talks I do. I do not, for example, stop regularly to give the audience exercises or practice tasks; I do not in fact ask them to do anything at all except listen, join in voluntarily when we have an interactive bit, and ask me questions at the end. You say you can do several talks in a row - well, I can't. As I said, it's no different from asking an actor to stand on stage for three hours, on his own, performing. Teaching may contain some performing and teaching is very difficult, very hard work, but those bits of it that require you to stand and deliver, without being able to give tasks to the class, could not be done for hours on end without some loss of performance.

    The fact that you like to introduce yourself is fine if that's what you want to do. But you said you were asked - that's my point: the organsier thought to ask you. This is all about understanding that authors are humans, often stressed and doing a highly professional job. They do a better job when properly treated.

    I didn't say they got my name wrong - I said they forgot it. Totally. I wasn't angry; I smiled; but inside it just took the edge off the energy I was summoning up. Of course in the end it made no difference to the performance - I hope I'm too professional for it to do that.

    I have no idea how much energy you use - you obviously have lots! All I know is that when I'm doing an event, I am using huge energy to deleiver, in any given minute, the best performance i possibly can. You can't do that too many times in one day. I regularly talk to other authors and I do know some who can do more than three in a day, but actually I can only think of two who can and neither of them talk to teenagers.

    So, my point is simple: the amount of effort I put in requires more energy than I can summon for more than three hours in close succession. You may well be different.

    Also, I know very well how difficult it is for schools to organise events. That's why I appreciate it so very much when they do a great job, as they most often do.

    On Monday I'm going to the High School of Dundee. I have no worries at all. I know it's going to be fantastic. I know that from the email conversations with the organiser. It will be exemplary.

    And I will still fall asleep on the train home and be fit for nothing in the evening.

    sheilamcperry said...

    Thanks - even as someone who does a lot of 'backstage' stuff in my life one way or another, I hadn't really thought about the huge effort that goes into that kind of event, and the fact that the professionalism of the writer/speaker has to be rewarded ie by being paid. Although I occasionally do presentations etc it is almost always as part of a full time (paid) job. So this is a very interesting insight into what it's like to be a writer.

    Gemma Noon said...

    Good post Nicola and I agree with you that writers should be paid and treated with professionalism, but as a former librarian I want to add a couple of things from my own experience.

    I know not everyone will have been in my position, but I know enough people in different authorities around the country to know this is far from unique.

    1) librarians have absolutely no say in how you get paid, this usually comes from the head of "culture" in the local council. There is a good chance there have been a lot of behind-the-scenes arguments about the event, and the home made cakes, etc, might just be because the librarian in question knows you're getting a shitty deal, and feels bad.

    2)I once had the opportunity for a top american crime author to visit our region as part of a publisher-paid book tour. It took me THREE WEEKS to get the boss to grant permission for me to have an author visit for free - by which time that boat had sailed. This was because of all the hidden costs to the library service - caretakers, staffing, etc - versus the potential gains to the service. (I am not saying I agree with this, btw)

    3)If the event is out of hours (and they usually were at my service) then the chances are the librarian or staff involved are not being paid, either. At one stage I was working 50 hour weeks and buying prizes for kids events out of my own money because there was no budget to cover these things. Yes, my choice and I am not complaining, but I'm trying to illustrate that often these events run at a finanical loss.

    4) Libraries are the first place to get their budgets squeezed in a recession. Many have staffing freezes and reduced book budgets. They are expected to provide more with a lot less. I'm not saying writers should not be paid, but appreciate that they might not actually be able to (although they should be up front about this).

    5) If you contact a Library and OFFER to do a talk, mention your fees there and then, please. Don't leave it until the actual event to bring up payment and then get stroppy about it (seen this done although thankfully not to me).

    6) Some authorities have a policy where the libraries are not allowed to charge for events.

    7) Whatever you do, don't cancel on the day of the event for dubious reasons. An author did this to me and to a colleague of mine after we had arranged - at his insistence - for a tour of schools and libraries in our areas (we're talking several events over several days, and not due to sickness, etc). Professionalism works both ways.


    Now none of this is to say that I disagree with you' to reiterate, I really do think that authors should be paid and that the people organising events should do so with professionalism and courtesy.

    The reason I've got a bit stroppy about the above is because libraries are being squeezed tighter and tighter, while those in charge of the purse strings do not see the benefits of author visits to the library service or to the council as a whole. In fact some don't see the point of libraries at all, because they do not make money for the council and are difficult to assess in terms of tangible benefits.

    Personally I think the expectation about writers to do things out of their own pocket where libraries are concerned is a symptom of a wider problem - that of the devaluation of libraries as part of the fabric and culture of a community.


    Gem

    PS - sorry that ended up really long.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Gemma - really excellent points. Including the one about authors needing to be professional too. I think we all appreciate the difficulties that librarians face these days and we are all in this together. I'm going to do a post about how authors should behave, very soon!

    Thank you!

    Tom - by the way, everyone's experience of individual festivals can be different. There can be a bad day, a bad incident, all sorts of unlucky things. I have a "thing" against one Scottish festival which other people rave about but where I had two bad experiences. Sometimes children's authors get a raw deal; sometimes it's just that you get assigned to a dippy minder. So, don't be put off.

    Becky said...

    This is such a great post, thank you so much! I agree with all the praise posted above.

    However, I simply must point out one thing. You write, "Note that I once fell asleep at the wheel of a car travelling at 70 miles an hour on a dual-carriageway because librarians had asked me to do too much. I nearly died and so did a load of other people."

    No - you nearly killed yourself and a load of other people BECAUSE YOU CHOSE TO DRIVE WHEN YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE.

    There is always the choice not to drive when you're drunk, tired or otherwise unfit.

    Thank you!

    Lucy Coats said...

    Wow! Thank you. This actually made me (nearly) cry with relief. I too shall be RTing this many times between now and Christmas. Everything you say is true. Unlike you, I do sometimes get nervous still, but less and less. Whether I am nervous or not, the 'performance energy' the actual event takes out of me is high and I still have to have the 'crutch' of notes (which I don't speak from, but find a comfort to have there).

    I usually do 3 sessions of an hour for a school--2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon. That used to be 4, till I put my foot down. I do charge the Soc of Authors' day rate for that, plus expenses such as travel, and if it's more than a 3 hour drive I insist on being put up for the night. It took me a long time to realise that I give good value, and that I don't need to feel guilty about being paid.

    I've done Edinburgh and Bath this year, both of which I loved, and for which I was paid as well as being supported by my publishers. However, I did another (shall remain nameless) 'festival' earlier in the year. Let us say that I will never go there again because it was so disorganised--the poor librarian (who actually DID have some of my books) was not even told that I was in school that day.

    The thing I struggle with most is getting schools to see how important book sales are. That never seems to sink in--and I have almost given up now, because it is such a major effort and time-taker. Perhaps I should try harder. And the thing I find most annoying is the school which emails me a week before an event (usually in early October or late February) asking me to do something for them. An author visit is not a spur of the moment thing, for God's sake!

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Becky - fair point about not driving when unfit but I need to give you some detail. First, I didn't have a choice and second I felt fine before getting int the car. What happened was that at the end of a week of different venues (for part of a roving schools festival), on the Friday I'd done two events in the morning and was to drive my car in convoy behind the librarian a few miles down the road to the next place. Because the booksigning for the second event had taken so long (yay!), we didn't have time for lunch and had to get in our cars and go. I had NO idea that I wasn't fit to drive. Actually, i wonder if I fainted rather than falling asleep. I'll never know. All I know is that i woke up because i'd swerved into the other lane and the car behind hooted at me. Yes, I learnt from that: I now NEVER drive to events if it's more than an hour away, and I always eat and rest before getting into the car.

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Nicola, I think we agree more than we don't. Mostly I am saying that it is different for different people and I see from your response to my earlier comment that you are saying the same.

    When I was younger I used to put in a full day of teaching, run an after-school drama club and then in the evening take leading roles in an a local drama group that performed in a professional theatre to paying audiences. There is a tiredness that is welcome and actually adds to the energy you have. I don't have as much energy as I used to but I am a performer and love performing; that's why I know I could easily deliver three book events a day, and some days four.

    Teaching sometimes does involve a 'break' as you say, where you give pupils tasks pertinent to what you have just taught. There are some teachers whose style is less energetic than others, but my style is to be going round the class at these 'break' times and to be still engaging energetically with what pupils are doing and enthusiastically, reading, thinking all, the time, reading out loud, directing, crowd controlling etc... there aren't many days where the class just sit quietly with their heads down... those days are behind us now and teaching is a much more demanding and draining job than it was when i first started. But again it depends on the individual...

    I enjoy the adrenalin rush of performing and it is something I can do with ease and something I love to do, so for me while it is tiring it is that good tiredness I feel, and so it is a tiredness I can spring back from with renewed energy... and go on to deliver 2 or 3 events without being knocked completely sideways.

    I once saw a famous actor on The Edinburgh Fringe doing an energetic one man show... 2 and a half hours. He was doing a matinee each day and an evening slot and then flying down to London for some early morning tv work and then back up at lunchtime next day to get ready for an afternoon matinee again... did this for the three weeks of the festival... yes exhausting, but he was passionate about what he did and loved it and so could do it. I am not sure I could do that... but the point is it is different for different people.

    And the point is that I could do the writer's tour and not be as drained as I am as a teacher... at least from my limited experience of what that involves. They employ different energies, and three draining hours is different from the six-plus draining hours that is my normal teaching day.

    Good luck on Monday.

    DanielB said...

    Just this week I had a school event which I was reminded of here. The morning, with Y6, was led by the very inspiring and respected headteacher, who encouraged the kids to ask questions, asked some himself, got involved, thanked me properly, etc. The afternoon, with Y5 - very different. Teacher sat at the back and marked ALL THE WAY THROUGH. She didn't look up once. The only person involved with encouraging the children, apart from me, was a TA in her early 20s. And she sat at the front with one particular group all the time, and permanently wore an expression which suggested a wasp had defecated in her mouth. At the end I asked Miss Important-Marking how she felt it had gone from her point of view. I just got "Ohhh, yeeeah, greeeeat." I doubt she had a clue what I'd been doing.

    DanielB said...

    Oh, and I've had Elizabeth's "feeling like a supply teacher" experience too - I make sure that doesn't happen any more. And having the day's requirements added to by stealth is a common practice.

    And I was introduced at one junior school - where I was doing my Doctor Who talk four times over, once for each year group - by the Y6 teacher who clearly had been dragged out of the classroom at 9am without the slightest idea who I was or why I was there. I was given the immortal introduction, "I'd like to welcome our special guest... I'm sorry, I don't know your name." As for the number of times I have been referred to as "David Blythe", I sometimes feel I may as well give up correcting them...

    Mary said...

    Is this in your book? It should be. It is great information for both authors and organizers.
    Food and rest are hardly the requests of a Prima Dona.

    Karen Schwabach said...

    Heh-- your last line reminded me of when I bought a house and the selling realtor kept addressing me as "Barbara".

    Barbara was the name of the street.

    Catherine Hughes said...

    It's somewhat west of the actual point, but can I just mention something about the driving thing?

    As Nicola's knows, I deal with a clutch of medical problems that make driving sometimes a very complex issue for me. I tend to avoid long journeys and, if I must undertake them, I will stop at a motel (and stuff the expense) rather than continue if I become aware that my driving performance is at all impaired.

    I have become very adept at judging my fitness to drive and I take no risks. Ever. If I am in the slightest doubt, I don't drive, no matter the inconvenience.

    Yet, a couple of days ago, I stopped at a red light and then pulled away, for some reason not realising that the light hadn't changed. I stopped pretty sharpish as a BMW shot past, and the lights did change a few seconds later. I have no idea what happened. I felt fine - it was some sort of mental glitch.

    No matter how careful you are, no matter how responsible, the human body is susceptible to any number of things that we cannot always identify - even if we are the carefullest (yes, I know it's not a real word!) of the careful.

    Low blood sugar, for example, can strike at any time and cause an instant blackout, which is what sounds like happened to you, Nicola.

    Cat x

    Anthony1956 said...

    After reading this my prices shall be increased to cover your cut.

    Becky said...

    Thank you for clarifying, Nicola!

    Linda Grant said...

    The four most frequent reasons I receive for the minimal attendance at events which the organisers have implored me to do because there are 'many many of your fans who would love to hear you speak' are:

    - well you see it's the school holidays are everyone is busy/the children are back at school and everyone is busy

    - the weather is fine so a lot of people are busy/it's raining so a lot of people won't come out.

    Saviour Pirotta said...

    Bravo, Nicola! This is the best post [in fact best anything} I have ever read about school visits. My hackles rise at the memories of some teachers/festival organisers I've had to deal with, but when a gig works, it is the best feeling in the world.

    Spider Griffin said...

    Now look here, Sandra, this is all well and good, but do you or don't you eat prawns?

    Seriously Nicola, wow, what a terrific post. I'd like to think that if/when I'm a published author, I'll be invited to speak at events. Your comprehensive post will be of great benefit if that happens, thank you.

    :-)

    Dan Holloway said...

    Nicola, i love your "what to expect of me" bit - I so agree - expect me to excel for your audiene, but afterwards I'm most likely to want to sleep.

    I'm not going to rehash the (admittedly fascinating) comments from Jane's post, but I do want to ask a question (and make a plug if I may). I'm appearing (this is the plug) at two events not of my own making (I'll get to those - it IS all related, and there's a serious question) this Autumn. On December 3rd I'm performing at Grit Lit in Brighton, and on October 13th I'm contending at Literaryt Death Match in London. LDM is, I believe, the literary event equivalent of the Edinburgh festival, and charges ticket prices to match. Plus it's sponsored by Picador. It's made its impresario Todd Zuniga a tidy packet. Authors - and judges - get a free ticket and a drink (for which we're made to feel grateful). Grit Lit is an award-winning but much smaller event that grew out of a one-off at the Brighton Fringe. I was sent a very apologetic invitation explaining that owing to the size of the event there was no fee or travel, but we'd be taken out for dinner beforehand - same offer, but we were made to feel very different.

    As you may be aware, I've just started a new project, eight cuts gallery, which combines a press with an online gallery and real life shows. We've been given (free) a night once a month at Oxford's O3 Gallery as part of a push on their behalf to get a younger clientele. We get to set and keep the ticket price. I can only pay what I take, but I want to make sure I get the balance right. My intention had been to keep 20% of the gate as the company's cut, and split the rest equally between readers, our in-house musician, and the writers & artists who have contributed to the exhibition to which this is connected. Does that sound fair?

    So, my main question. You are talking about author events. But you seemto be focusing on festivals and readings. But increasingly, part of the author's circuit will take the form of "literary events" and salons - even someone with my low profile and full-time job has done The Literature Lounge at Covent Garden Poetry Cafe and Book Club Boutique, as well as the above. To what extent do you see the etiquette rules from festivals and readings applying here as well? Do both sets of authors deserve to be treated the same and if so why, if not why not? I guess I ask because the world of the reading and event is changing, with more and more of these literary nights/music style festivals growing out of the poetry slam scene, so they will play a bigger and bigger part in the author's portfolio.

    Here's another question that's sort of related to ourt conversation on Jane's post. I've also been invited to perform at Schnellkritik, an event held at Modern Art Oxford in which local artists and "celebs" (I'm well and truly the former!) each give a four minute response to a piece of art. Also on the response are Roger Bannister (see the way the organisers' minds are working?) and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. We are all on the same programme, giving the same time. Yet some are "draw"s in the way others aren't. How do you think this should be reflected in fees?

    JP - The Mistress of Corgi Manor said...

    Yes, yes, yes! This was all true and valuable. I can add nothing to this except I will make sure to do all I can to treat authors with such respect and consideration when I'm in a position to make a difference. Actually, everything you've said is applicable to musicians as well. "Oh, we can't pay but I'll bet you'll get more gigs and sell CDs." Oh, really? Or, "that's a lot of money for 2 or 3 hours of playing - something you love!" Sure, getting in 5 hours early to load in,set up, work around the caterer's schedule, rest, change clothes, gig, break down, load out, and that' not count all the preplanning NM discussed, lessons, practice, and expensive equipment.
    Sorry, did not mean to highjack your platform, just putting it a different way.

    Vanessa said...

    Firstly, typing this on my phone so apologies if consequent brevity makes me seem curt.

    Douglas - I've had the pleasure of working with Nicola on a number of schools events and I'm also a qualified teacher and I can assure you that for the Crabbit Old Bat to do 3 events in a day would be too much as she outs a huge amount of prep and effort into each one.

    Also, I'd like to reiterate Cat's point re schools not telling parents that books will be for sale at an event we (the bookshop) have organised. It's how we make money at events and it really hacks us off when schools can't even be bothered to say that books will be on sale. We don't expect a certain level of sales but we do expect that the info is at least passed on to pupils and parents.

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Vanessa

    I have not had the pleasure of attending an event by Nicola, but I have no doubt that she puts a great deal of prep into each one and a greater deal of effort on the day... the prep, though, can always be done in advance. Yes, at the event things may have to be changed, and sometimes quite radically, but that is something that former teachers you and Nicola will be skilled at doing.

    I am not saying that Nicola or anyone else should do three or more events in a day. I am taking issue with the idea that doing an event is, compared to teaching, a bigger graft and that teaching is a 'doddle'.

    I have also allowed that different people will be able to handle different demands. And that is all ok. I think the actor example that i gave amply demonstrates what I was saying... I could not do as that actor did... but I could do more than 2 events in a day... people are different and I did not mean to imply that one was better than the other.... just that teaching is never a 'doddle'.

    I stand by the first thing I said and that was that this is a good post.

    Best to all

    D

    catdownunder said...

    Nicola I took this along to a meeting yesterday and read it out because it was so appropriate to an event for which the group is currently preparing. When I had finished and the President asked for volunteers there were actually enough. Normally people have to be cajoled into helping!
    Many thanks - and much purring! Cat

    Whirlochre said...

    Dentists, plumbers, hairdressers, electricians, truck drivers, bank clerks, armadillo trainers etc — all these people get paid for their expertise so I have no idea why writers should be any different.

    That said, the going rate for armadillo trainers isn't what it was.

    Stephanella said...

    No point in repeating the obvious here, as I find that you've covered it all and other readers have given us different angles on the problem as well.

    My reason for dropping you a line is to say that, yes, we're expected to work for nothing. Not long ago I visited a writers' group who suggested I judge their annual short story competition on the basis that there were only 12 of them and the stories were only 800-1,000 words long. But... doesn't that make over 10,000 words to read and think about anyway at a time when I was running my own short story competition at my own online digs?

    When I brought this to their attention, they weren't that interested in my expertise and opinions any longer, as the paltry entry fee of £ 5 per story was deemed *unreasonable*. I knew them, so how could I possibly charge five quid per story? Was I mad?! Please note that the £ 5 bought not just the entry to the compo but a brief critique as well.

    I have a frigging PhD in critical theory and cultural studies and quite some lovely publishing experience acquired on and off the academia, is that supposed to be discounted when I am asked to do something? Yes.

    adele said...

    This is a terrific post, Nicola and I agree with all you say. Fantastic - should be printed out and framed above the desk of every single teacher and librarian and Literature Development OFficer (if such a thing still exists) in the land.

    JaneF said...

    I'm shocked! For years I have been happily paying my money to hear authors talk, without even considering the possibility that the authors themselves might not be getting a fair cut - or indeed any cut at all.

    Festivals that don't pay their authors should be 'outed'. I would certainly not want to attend a festival where authors were being exploited like this. Well, who would? If audiences knew how their money was spent, I'm sure they would react accordingly, and market forces would encourage a fairer distribition of the takings.

    Anonymous said...

    A lot of these complaints would be solved if authors clearly articulated exactly what their terms are and what they expect and what they will and will not do.

    Secondly the issue of payment pre-supposes that schools, libraries and festivals actually have enough money in the budget to pay you. Which leads back to point one. If money is so important you should stop fannying around and be very clear about your rates. Blunty ask how much they will be paying you and what expenses you can expect to be covered on top of that.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Anonymous - you are right, and I do have a page on my website that sets everything out, including fees. Many organisers read it but many don't. Yes, we do, if we're professional, state our fees, but we also sometimes need to negotiate. For example, a festival should pay everyone equally, so we may need to take a cut on our normal fee.

    I will be doing a blog post soon aimed at authors regarding events, and I will certainly make the point about being clear from the start.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    I just had to delete this comment and then re-post it with the addition of a crucial word, "not"! The relevant dentence is the last one... ;-(

    Douglas - if you read what I said you will see I did not say that teaching is a doddle. That would be a stupid thing to say. I said that it is a doddle "by comparison", and you know how language works quite well enough to get the proper and clear meaning of that. I am not saying something about teaching, but something about public-speaking and stage performance. I also once did SIX separate hour-long school events in one day, so i'm not a wimp and of course I can do more than three events in one day if called to, but they will NOT be as good after three. Therefore I would be wrong to do them.

    If you can do more events than me without loss of energy and performance, either you have more energy than I do or I use more energy in my talks than you do. I don't see another conclusion!

    And I did once do six hour-long talks in separate schools in one day, as part of a record-setting event. So I can do it! BUT I did not charge for that - I knew I would not be doing a good job by the end!

    Douglas Bruton said...

    Nicola,

    Of course I know the subtle nuances of the language you used (and you ARE saying something about teaching when you say what you said, whether that was what you intended or not), but whatever you meant I still cannot accept that teaching is a doddle compared to doing a public event as a writer, not per se. My very limited experience of doing the latter against my years of experience doing the former lead me to a more incomplete view of the comparison perhaps, but the experience I do have is that a day's teaching takes far more energy than doing a few public book events.

    Teaching may very well be a doddle compared to something like fighting in a war, but I can't accept that it is a doddle compared to a couple of hours of public performance.

    I am not casting aspersions against your energy levels or anyone else's. Nor am I bragging about my own - I admit that I am absolutely knackered at the end of an academic year and in need of that long summer holiday to recharge my batteries. Here, I am just presenting another view as a balance to what you said: some people find public 'performances' more than they can bear, others find no obvious discomfort in doing such events. That much I think we can allow and it is not a sign of wimpish-ness to be one and not the other, but it will determine your assessment of doing such events.

    I do hope I am not coming across as hostile or 'crabbit' here, it's just that I absolutely loved my book tour experience of the Western Isles and felt that it was a joy and a 'holiday' compared to teaching - and I love my teaching job!

    Best

    D

    Modern day Molly Brown said...

    This made me laugh and made my heart ache a little for my friends I have in the UK. Stroppy cow. Peeing with rain. Hoovering. Hey, I appreciate a person who can tell it like it is. Lovely post! :)

    Nicola Morgan said...

    I love public-speaking. I thrive on it. I also find it exhausting, which is actually partly why I like it.

    Douglas - I disagree with you, for logical and empirical reasons, but I'm not getting anywhere so I'll save my energy because this is way off the point of the post.

    Whether a writer thrives on such events or finds them an ordeal, the organiser should be equally sensitive and respectful.

    Everyone - thanks so much for your comments. It's sparked great conversations on Facebook and Twitter, too. I will soon be writing a document written in acalmer style for writers and organsiers to use to prevent problems.

    Vanessa Gebbie said...

    Hello Nicola

    and thank you for such a valuable post. And most of the comments are marvellous as well, showing how much the writing community needs a guiding hand here.
    I particularly appreciate the guideline suggested by anon, viz:

    "A lot of these complaints would be solved if authors clearly articulated exactly what their terms are and what they expect and what they will and will not do."

    It is an important point. I think many writer reach that moment where they need to think of themselves as professionals, as opposed to hobbyists. And part of that is knowing one's worth.

    That is not to say that one should not do some readings, visits and so forth for nothing - but those visits should probably be few and far between and carefully chosen.

    I remember well the stage I went through when I was pathetically grateful that anyone wanted me to visit them and talk about writing, which I love dearly...but that stage passed, thankfully. (!)

    I think too I would make a distinction between spoken word events, for example, in which it is the writer's own choice to submit, to share their work in performance, and festivals/workshop requests.
    The former is the equivalent of submitting to a publication, really - and it is still an important thing to do. At least, I think it is - its up for debate, obviously.

    Nice to visit. Havent been around much for months - my loss!

    Dan Holloway said...

    Sorry to butt in again, Nicola, but may I just clarify that your position is that all thsoe on the same slate at an event should get the same fee, regardless of their status (rather like the "union rates" that apply in some media fields)?

    Thx, Dan :)

    KarenG said...

    You really touched one of my many raw nerves on this "author event" thing. I especially like the part where you tell the librarians, teachers or whoever to do their utmost to sell books. I've experienced the free library author events, and outside of posting some info and providing cookies, the librarians, altho quite nice and gracious, definitely are not sales people. They do a lot to get people to the event, but once there don't care about book sales, like bookstore owners do. So basically it was up to the authors to try and sell their own books. It's difficult if you're there to speak and get on that wavelength then you have to turn around and promote too. That's libraries, and I'm sure schools would be much the same. Bookstore signings are another thing altogether, which I gave up even before the other events.

    It's highly uncomfortable and personally I'm not doing any more events. The phrase "desperate authors for desperate times" comes to mind, and personally I'm tired of the desperation. I simply want to write. And blog. Yes, I know promotion is important and all that, but how much are we willing to lay ourselves on the sacrificial altar for the occasional book sale? Your post confirmed my decision, I will be happy with the little bits I make, and I'll do what I'm comfortable with, which is NOT public appearances or speaking. Unlike you, I am NOT good at it. So what's the point? Unless of course, I WERE offered a fee, which is highly unlikely :)

    Emma Darwin said...

    Great, great post, Nicola. It all needs saying loudly and long and often, and particularly on behalf of authors with small publishers who can't pick up, for example, the bill for expenses. Non-authors are astonished when I say that I'm not paid for a gig which they may have paid £10 to get into. Is there any other profession where the performer isn't paid in some form or another? And yes, lunch is nice, but it's not the same.

    What particularly hurts about ticketed gigs, is that when they've paid for a ticket, they're less inclined to buy a book as well. You can understand why, but it means that at a ticketed event, not only is it ethically wrong that all the money goes to the organisers, but I make less money in sales and the the word-of-mouth that only happens when people read my work or give it to someone else who reads it.

    I have found that if you ask, you do get, really quite often. Maybe not much - you have to be realistic about how much money a writers' circle has to spend - but the point is made, and every little helps.

    The Society of Authors has an excellent leaflet about appearing at schools, libraries and festivals, including a sample letter which covers everything that should be agreed, sample invoice and forms of words for, for instance, pointing out that tax mustn't be deducted... Also suggested rates - so much easier to say, 'The Society of Authors' rate is'...

    M Louise Kelly said...

    Great post! And I have a question.

    I was wondering - as someone still hoping to be published and looking forward to the day I'll be fighting off author event invitations - whether you think the issue of payment should be even across the board (this might have been Dan Holloway's most recent point)? Is there a perception that as a newly published person you should/can do 'lost leaders' as it were, or is this seen as undercutting your colleagues or even just setting a bad precedent for yourself? How about talks to your local school? A group that helped you through the dark days or waiting to get published? A charity event?

    I can really imagine myself being so excited at having been published that I'll be keen to just get out there and agree to all sorts of 'free' things . . . but then, after the event, wonder if it was wise altogether!

    Any thoughts?

    bookwitch said...

    Good blog, Sandra.

    From the point of view of 'us in the audience' it'd be useful to know where to go and where to avoid for events. Or would a blacklist be tasteless?

    Dan Holloway said...

    yes, M Louise, that was my question exactly - it's a very fine balance between saying equal pay for equal work and acknowledging that some people will draw more punters, and take more enticing owing to greater demand on them.

    Emma, that's an excellent point about people being disinclined to buy books at ticketed events. As someone with little disposable income I can certainly see why. I've read at a few events where discounts have been offered against production of a ticket, whcih can reincentivise.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Dan and others - sorry for dealy. Been away doing school talks, which, as you know, I find peculiarly exhausting!

    Re equal pay for all - I wouldn't be categorical about it. In general, I think it's a good policy. In practice, if a highlight author wants to demand more, he/she is entitled to, but it's up to the organiser whether to agree and the author whether to agree to accept less. I know authors who generally charge a lot but who want to come to a big festival at which they know they must be paid the same as others, so they have to tow the line. There's a natural power struggle and I don't argue with that. If I was organsing something - as i have - I would absolutely pay all authors/self-employed the same. I'd only not pay salaried people, as I'd regard it (usually) as part of their job. The decent festivals do - in fact, I don't know a festival that doesn't. Conferences are a law unto themsleves.

    So, I am not making a rule, but i would offer it as a good principle.

    I don't thnk it's right to value people according to ticket sales. That would be like saying a high-selling author was better than aliterary one. NOOOOO!

    Catherine Czerkawska said...

    The question of different rates of pay for the same kind of session was one of the bones of contention in the recent Literature Working Party's report, here in Scotland. One of their suggestions seems to have been that Writers in Schools/Public scheme pay 'young writers' considerably less, thus leaving more money for the audience-pulling celebrities. Personally, I disagree with that very strongly, and said so! Celebrity authors DO pull in the crowds and commercial organisations have every right to pay some more than others - but for a publicly funded scheme to be advised to subscribe to this seems iniquitous. Arguably, they should be supporting the young and/or upcoming writers at the same rate as every other writer, however commercially successful. If organisations want to invite celebrities, let them promote the event properly, charge a reasonable ticket price and use a good chunk of the 'box office' to pay the fee.

    Elizabeth West said...

    Thank you, Nicola, for this. It's something I hadn't thought of about regarding events. Now when I get published and have to do them, I'll know better what to expect and where to put my foot down on certain things.

    Kristin Pedroja said...

    Thanks for this post. As an event organiser I'm gobsmacked by the unprofessional examples you give. I appreciate this perspective and look forward to any document you put together that will help event organisers ensure happy authors and happy audiences.