Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Self-defence for authors

This disgraceful and sad situation in which a children's author found herself recently could easily have been avoided. I don't blame her at all for not realising how she could have avoided the situation; she acted out of goodness and trust, and seemed isolated from the support networks of other writers who could have helped her set the ground rules before the event. She has now, I think, felt the strength of that support network and I'm sure she won't let herself be abused like this again!

There is one very simple prophylactic against such abuse: set out your ground rules clearly in advance. There are two ways of doing this and the links here will take you to mine, as examples:
  1. Have a website page on which you explain what sort of things you do (and don't do) and what sort of recompense you expect.
  2. Have an event terms and conditions document which you can send to any school which contacts you. (Or which can be downloaded from your website.)
I keep hearing sad and angrifying stories of authors finding themselves in similar situations to "Fiona". I fully appreciate that some event organisers don't realise what it's like to be un(der)paid and self-employed but all we need to do is explain it. I find that people understand as soon as I point out that my event fee is not an hourly rate but goes to cover the preparation time and time away from my desk to deliver the event. And if they then say they can't afford my time, that's fine. I accept that. I stay at home and get some writing done. Yes, I need the money, but the money needs to be enough for me to feel happy about doing the work.

For more details of the arguments for being paid, see my post here.

Please, if you know a newish author who is considering doing school events, get them to read this post and follow the links in it. It will save a great deal of upset and uncertainty.

Forewarned is forearmed. I am now never invited to do an event by someone who hasn't read my website page. If the website page deters any invitations for which there would be no fee, that's great because it saves me having to explain that I'm not a slave. I'm a professional. Trying to earn a living. 


DanielB said...

I've been lucky enough to be treated well by all the schools I've been to. But I don't do any freebies apart from the very, very occasional return of a favour these days. I mean, they vary in terms of how attentive they are with tea & coffee, showing you where the loo is, etc., and there is always the tedious one who wants to give you the dreaded "tour of the school"... And I've had one or two cheeky, "I know we said Y4 and Y5 but could you just pop into Y3 as well" moments, but that's about it. (Worst thing to happen to me - a one-off - was the teacher who flogged the pre-delivered - and pre-paid-for by me - books off at half-price to the kids, without realising this would leave me in the red. The school did rectify that mistake as soon as I pointed it out.)

Katherine Hetzel said...

I'm not published in any big way at all, (4 short stories and a competition winning limerick to date!)but I am beginning to get recognised as 'a writer' by friends. I have been asked by two of them who work in schools whether I'd consider going in to talk to the kids about writing.
I feel awful asking for any costs, as I don't feel I have a reputation that justifies being paid yet - but neither do I want to undermine the fabulous author visits from kosher published authors like yourself.
Suggestions, please?

Nicola Morgan said...

Katherine, I really appreciate you asking this. I do understand your position. The thing is, you *are* a writer and if you are going to offer professional sessions with children then you have every right (and possibly a duty) to charge. Otherwise, you're saying you're an amateur. Do they want an amateur? You can certainly pass them to any of my posts on the subject. You can say (because it's true) that you are a professional writer and that you have an obligation to charge. You can charge less than me if you wish, on the basis that you are just starting out, but if you believe you offer something as good as I do (which you may do!) you ought to charge a fair fee, as I do. See Andrew Bibby's "reckoner" for an idea about the rates.

Nicola Morgan said...

Dan - from my wide experience of talking to authors about this, men seem much better at stating their terms than women. Apols for the gender-based statement but it's how it seems to me... We can learn from you!

DanielB said...

Nicola - nooo, I've learned from you!

Seriously, I am the most self-effacing person and I try not to upset people. Because of this, I can be a pushover when they want to squeeze in an extra session. I don't like kids to miss out.

I don't think this situation is especially 'gendered', but other people's experiences would be interesting to hear.

Katherine Hetzel said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Nicola - I'll drop both my friends a line and see exactly what they have in mind, I think. If it's a general Q&A session with a few bits of reading, then we'll see about charging anything - I've done that as a parent volunteer for many years! But if they want something more structured - a workshoppy type event - then I will look up the info and come up with a price, even if it's nominal.
Thanks again.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I can't believe how badly that author was treated.

I've done one school visit so far, it was to my old school to give a reading and speak to some students about writing. We didn't hash out a formal agreement or contract for payment, but I was given lunch, and a gift voucher for slightly less than what would be equal to a day's wages (I'm paid monthly in my day-job, but I've worked out what each working day's pay amounts to). The school librarian also ordered three copies of my first book from a local bookstore. In all, it was a good first experience, and I'm glad I didn't have to learn anything the hard way.

For future visits like that, though, I want to have formal rates put in place. While I feel I was treated well by the school in my case, it's worth my while to remove uncertainty as much as possible.

Kara Lee said...

This is eye-opening, thank you for the post.

I'm so sorry this happened to Fiona. Wishing her the best.