Monday, January 14, 2013

The money hurdle...

There are two major hurdles to jump to being an author. One is getting your work published. The other is earning sufficient money to enable you to remain devoted to your writing. Never assume if you have jumped either of these hurdles, that you will not have to jump them again. This is a hurdle race that goes on for the entirety of your writing career. Some writers seem to get a tail wind as they leap. Sometimes the hurdle is pushed closer as you jump and a crash is inevitable. And there are many other things that you must consider and include in your training as a long distance hurdler. Keep working on your technique. Maintain a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest. Stay hopeful.

Earning sufficient money is still a mystery to me. Income for writers generally comes from two key sources; one is the sale of books, and rights (including the public lending right which currently does not include school libraries), and the other is from secondary sources associated with writing such as workshops, author visits, speaking engagements, and maybe editing or mentoring or assessing the work of others. Many writers also have other employment in unrelated fields in order to pay their bills. Some receive government grants but these are not perpetual or to be expected or relied upon. I had a busy year last year. I have seven books published so far (of which only 1 is now out of print). I visited, work-shopped, spoke and mentored last year and had a heavy schedule. My year's earnings will be less than $10,000 inc. GST (so less than $4.81/hr for a forty hour week for a year before tax). Yet this has been a good year. Mostly I want to write but I like having the additional skills for speaking, workshopping and mentoring etc... but it is a juggling act to make sure I spend enough time on my key task (writing) and don't accidentally become something else. Few of us are bestsellers in New Zealand.

If you are considering inviting an author (or illustrator) to workshop or visit, or speak to your group of adults/students/insert your demographic here, it is important to remember most do not earn a regular salary or wage. In fact if they can visit during daytime hours it is because they do not have a paying job. It is good to know that any book sales generated through their visit are likely to be in the single or double figures at most. On average they may get $1/book for a picture book and $2/novel for each copy sold in their next royalty cheque (usually paid twice yearly). If they sell 25 books (a red letter day for any author/illustrator) following their 3 hour visit they might expect $25-$50. This is $8.33 to $16.67/hour and does not cover preparation, travel time or the cost of getting to or from the event.  And the money may not turn up in the bank balance for another six months. Or they may still be paying off their advance, which was already spent long before the book came out. The book may be discounted so it could be less than $1 per book. And many times visits and workshops do not include the opportunity for book sales.

Many authors and illustrators have specific skill sets based on education, experience and practice. They can tell you a lot about patience, perseverance, motivation and hope. They can teach creative and general writing or illustration and sometimes design skills. They can foster a love of books and generate discussion on a host of other topics related to the content of their work (themes, historical aspects, other cultures and countries etc...).The benefits to your students/group may go on for days, weeks, months or even years. For some the visit could be life changing.

Ideally I would like to get paid a meaningful salary via some other means (a stipend, bursary or gummint support?) for the hours I spend crafting stories and doing the secondary associated work. Asking for a fee can be awkward. I have been asked by some about visiting and never heard back when I raised the topic of payment (although this is not true of all those making enquiries). My fee structure is modest. I have done a number of visits, talks and workshops for free in the past by choice and for a variety of reasons. But there are reasons why it is good to be paid. If I do these things for free then either it is assumed I can afford to do them for free, or that there is no value in what I do. Neither is true. As much as I love sharing my passion and my writing with others, I really, really want to keep writing and paying my bills. And being valued for my skills and efforts makes a huge difference to me.

Please note - this is not a complaint but more an attempt to explain why authors and illustrators request a fee for visits,workshops and talks

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