Sunday, May 8, 2011

How Much is an Author talk worth?

When your book is published, you quickly realise that there are few people better to promote it than yourself. Maybe a school has asked you to come speak to the children about your book and yourself, maybe a local group have invited you to talk on your writing process. Do you do it for free or should you charge? How do you bring up the potentially sensitive issue of payment? And what exactly should you be paid for your time? A recent brouhaha has arisen over the payment of $45,000US to wunderwriter Neil Gaiman for a four hour talk given at a Minnesota Public Library several years back. (You can start here if you want to read about it). As Neil Gaiman rightly pointed out he has made his public appearances so expensive in part to price himself out of the business to allow him the time to fulfil his writing wishes and obligations. The money he earned for this talk was given to charity. If the Minnesota public library system hadn’t used the money in this fashion it would not be spent at all and have been lost when the budget year ended. But Gaiman was criticised by a republican senator for stealing the money from the state coffers. What is the senator really trying to say?

Arts and Culture are not often seen as valuable recipients of ‘real’ money. Culture is a ‘luxury’ for the arty set and should not be supported by the government?

Artists and Writers time is not valuable enough to be reimbursed/recompensed.

On average writers are not well paid members of society. Advances are typically low in New Zealand and even if you sell well most authors are not paid the equivalent of a living wage through their royalties and the PLR. So not only must we take in to account the need to charge for school visits and workshops to value our craft and the hours/days/weeks we spent developing it without any payment, for many authors it is the only chance they have to supplement their income. But being paid for these events also values what we do and values art and culture for the wider community.

In order to set your fee you need to take several things in to account.

1) How much time you spend preparing

2) How much time you will be talking/visiting for

3) What related institutions/other writers charge?

4) How much can the school/community group afford?

5) How far do you have to travel?

Talk to your writer friends about what they charge. Where possible I charge a fee usually based on the fees paid by the New Zealand Book Council and this is what I start with when discussing doing a visit, workshop or talk with a school or group, but I am happy to negotiate and I will talk for free when the circumstances warrant it. There will always be times when charging is not appropriate or possible. Sometimes if a group cannot pay you, having your petrol costs reimbursed is a good way to go. Remember too that there are other ways to have talks and workshops funded – one half-day workshop I ran last year was funded by a grant from Creative New Zealand. A library talk I gave this March was funded by New Zealand Book Month. And charging a lower fee might pay off if you get repeat business. I used to hate bringing up the money side of things (one of the reasons that author talks organised by the NZ Book Councils Writers in Schools Programme are so nice as they manage the payment) but I can say from experience that it does become easier with practice. Remember this money can be used to enable you to keep writing in the future. And we want to encourage groups, institutions and the audience to value what we do and recognize that we work hard to produce our books. Be prepared to negotiate but don’t forget if you don’t value yourself and your writing time then those you come in contact with won’t value it either. Its not just about you (although you should never be thinking you are not worth being paid for your time and knowledge/expertise), its not even about just writers, its about how society views creative folks. We do matter.


Maureen Crisp said...

Well Said Melinda!

It is worthwhile pointing out that we get so little that any money we receive is a bonus!

Fifi Colston said...

I think when asked if one will speak about ones should put a lawyers hat on and say 'would I speak for no charge to a large group to inpsire them to become laywers or perhaps use legal services?'

I think the answer is right there. You can spend all your time entertaining the masses for free, but it won't necessarily make them go out and buy your books. You are better off writing heaps, getting a decent published list behind you and then the public will clamour- and pay to hear you speak. I get really annoyed when authors talk for a handmade card and a chocolate bar. It creates the expectation that our time is in no way valuable- or valued.