Sunday, 22 September 2013

So how much should an author

get paid for talking to a group, doing a school visit, reading their work at an event or some similar activity?
Nicola Morgan (yes, the Crabbit Old Bat again) got crabbit with me when I left a little message on one of her Facebook posts. I pointed out that many Australian authors are unlikely to get the sort of sums that were being quoted in replies to her post. She directed me to the Australian Society Authors website where there is a list of Public Appearance Rates.
Now, in all fairness to Nicola, she knows Australian authors who do get those sort of rates. They know they can charge for appearances. They have the confidence to charge for them. People also expect to pay these people to come and talk.
But I suggest that the situation is very different for many other writers. I was with a group of writers recently and this was actually under discussion. (We were there to discuss another charity issue so it was relevant.) There were five of them in the group. Now yes, I know that is not a large sample but they all know other writers as well and they were aware of what their fellow wordsmiths were or were not being paid.
All of them had done local events for nothing. They see it as part of the process of getting published. Usually it is an event for the local independent bookshop. In return the bookshop gives the writer some publicity and stocks the writer's book in a prominent position and encourage people to buy it.  Sometimes the writer will do an event at the local library as well. Again it is expected that they will, as a local author, do it for nothing unless they are already a "name", an author whose name is sufficiently well known that people will say, "Josephine Bloggs, the author?" Like the bookshop, the library will bear the cost of running the event but a local and not well known author is unlikely to be paid.
School events are even more difficult. There is the issue of when you can do it. All the writers who were at the meeting work full time. To do a school visit would mean taking time away from work. It rarely happens. One builds up "flexi-time" and does the occasional event. He does not get paid for the appearance (his work does not allow it) but he does ask for expenses at the same rate as he would for his work.  Another had taken the occasional half day of leave. Her boss likes the idea of having a writer on the staff and is prepared to be flexible about time off (but not, of course, to pay her while she is absent.)  She has been paid but the most has been one hundred dollars.
The others had arranged to take annual leave during Writers' Week (which their employers were variously interested in granting) and they had done their networking and school visits during that time.
Payment varied but it was never nearly as high as the ASA suggests it should be. They only knew of two authors who were able to charge those sort of sums.
I may be wrong but I suspect that the ASA guidelines are rarely adhered to and that most lesser known authors would be laughed at if they asked for that sort of appearance money. It seems it is a choice between "well if you don't want the publicity" and "obviously you aren't interested in your readers".
Of course it should not be like that. Authors should be paid more for their writing. They should be paid more for talking about their writing. They should be out talking too, especially in schools.
Bur what about the rates? Say an author is like a casual lecturer at university. The last time I delivered a lecture at a local university the rate of pay for a "basic" lecture was about $165. The rate for a "specialised" lecture was $278. Repeat lectures and you will get $111. Tutoring pays between $80 and $120 per contact hour. You don't get travel expenses.
If authors follow the ASA guidelines then they will ask for more than a casual university lecturer. Yes of course an author is worth it and, given the usually abysmal payment for their books, they should be able to get more.
The reality though is that they won't. It doesn't matter what the ASA guidelines are. Very few authors could ask for that and hope to get it.
So, the answer to the other question? If I was in the fortunate position of having a book published would I charge my local independent bookshop? That's a difficult one. I am friendly with the owner. I am well aware that local bookshops are on a knife edge. Local author events are one of the things that keep people coming to the shop. I know I should charge but I don't know if I could.


Maria Gill said...

The problem is if people continue to do free events then it continues that expectation that authors are free. This is a real dis-service to people who are trying to make a living from writing (and illustrating), as it is a crucial part of their income.When you're starting out - you do freebies until you feel confident giving author talks (they're practise sessions). And we all probably do freebies for our local school (once a year). The teachers, librarians and booksellers are getting paid - so why we would we not get paid? Whenever I've been manipulated (I use that word specifically) into doing a free visit - I get treated like I am not valued. So please don't justify why you do freebies - it is really just saying you do not know your worth - and writers are worthy of being paid.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Cat was trying to justify freebies - but she is right that we do expect them. There is no money to pay visiting speakers in our schools. We either have to charge the kids or pay for it out of our own pockets. If we are going to charge the kids then parents want a name they can recognise, not a newbie author. Like it or not local authors are expected to do it for nothing. That goes for the library as well. There's a very small budget for visiting speakers and we have to accommodate people other than authors as well. We sometimes subsidise the event and charge people less than they would otherwise have to pay but the sort of rates the ASA wants are just not within our capacity to pay. We would love to have more authors and pay them well but it isn't a priority for the government or the local councils (which run the libraries). If it is a choice between one night with a visiting speaker and more books/DVDs etc then the latter will win. Most of the time the budget is fixed and we have to work within that.
If Cat did publish a book then yes, quite frankly, we would expect her to do a session and so would the bookshop. Her payment would have to be the publicity it would give her and nothing else. If she didn't/wouldn't do it then she would miss out on other chances as well. It's a sort of blackmail I suppose but new authors can't expect to be paid ASA sort of sums. The money just isn't there even though it might be nice for all concerned. Ros

catdownunder said...

No, I was not trying to justify doing it for nothing Maria but I know I would certainly feel pressure to do something for the local indie for nothing. I would be a first time author. Am I worth the same amount as Nicola Morgan who is experienced and has a wide variety of books to offer? From a commercial point of view of course the answer is no. What is more Nicola knows that she could not expect what JK Rowling would be able to ask. There is, at very least, a sliding scale.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat, I wasn't Crabbit with you.

I also wasn't talking about bookshop events. I've blogged about why we don't expect to be paid for those before.

The guidelines are there to help. And I write about this as I do to empower writers to value themselves, otherwise no one else will.

Re your comment about JKR, actually, if she did an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival or any Scottish book trust funded event, the fee is the same for us all. (Not that any argument is proved by a JKR example!) I know very wealthy authors who take the same fee as everyone else and, if they choose (but they shouldn't be asked) donate it back or to charity.

It's about fairness and value and pride and mutual support. I agree with Maria.

JO said...

I'm joining in on the 'we should be paid, fairly' side of this. I have a pension - enough to live on - so it could be argued that I can 'afford' to work for free. That misses the point - I ask for the same respect as every other writer. If I agree to work for nothing, then that can only disadvantage the next writer who need that fee to feed her children.

Isolated school visits are different - of course there can be flexibility. But we need to hold onto the principle that we are professionals. We should be respected as such.

Anonymous said...

Nicola, if you are reading this, I think there is a perception that authors have already been paid by the publisher.
Most people have no idea how little authors get paid. They have no understanding that you can write excellent books that will never get published and that are, in the end, just wasted time.
We undervalue writing because words are something we all use. Words are easy to physically reproduce. They are not like one-off art works or the hours a musician is seen to put in. That a book is a one-off work of art and takes as much skill (or more) than playing a musical instrument is something people simply do not understand.
When you can get that message across people might be more willing to pay for your time. I am just glad I am reader rather than a writer. Chris

Nicola Morgan said...

Chris, many thanks. I agree. It's a message I and many other authors try to get over. I blogged today on The Awfully Big Blog Adventure about this. (If you have time, do leave a comment there.) Thing is, I don't really want to overplay the "poor us" card, as we aren't charity cases, so I don't want to make it too much about how little most of us earn but (and you are so right here) about the aspects of being self-employed that need to be considered by event organisers. For example, teachers will have sick pay and pensions, and will be paid for each day; whereas a s-p person is only paid for work done, and someone has to pay that. Moreover, authors aren't even paid for "work done", as you rightly point out. but, fear not: this is a message I constantly work to publicise! Cat's point that "many/most authors don't get paid this much for events" misses my whole point: that we should stand up for fair treatment and work to explain the truth to well-meaning people who simply don't understand. The fact that it (fair treatment) often doesn't happen just makes it more important that we say it.

Jo - I very agree! Thank you!

catdownunder said...

Thanks for the comments Nicola, Chris. I think we were actually saying the same thing, but in different ways.
Nicola I wasn't disagreeing with what you were saying - just pointing out that unless people recognise what is happening then nothing will change. But, like Chris, I am never likely to be in the position of being able to ask to be paid as an author so it is my problem in a quite different sort of way. I will at least be sure never to expect an author to do something without being properly paid for it.
But, as I point out in the next post, the problem is not confined to authors!