Sunday, 22 September 2013

What's an author event worth? by Nicola Morgan

Many authors have real difficulty deciding what to charge for events. I sympathise. This post is designed to help and to get you thinking. And to encourage us to value what we do.

Some people say they set their fees low so that they will get more events because they need the income. That's fine. I take a different view. I also very much need the income, believe me, but my strategy is to charge a higher fee (but still usually below professional, industry rates for public-speaking), to do fewer events but generate the same income overall. (And to leave time for writing.) So, this isn't necessarily about who can afford to do what - it's about what works for you. Let's not become divisive about this. I want to empower writers to work out what will be good for them, their writing and their careers. We are all individuals. ("Yes, we are all individuals...")

Anyway, setting a fee is tricky. There is one main reason why it's so tricky: if an event is an hour long and we charge £150, for example, that looks like a very generous rate for an hour's work. But let me say this three times:
It is not an hourly rate.
It is not an hourly rate.
It is not an hourly rate.
Any hour-long school event takes far more than the hour. In fact, I worked out that, on average, each individual event takes two days of my time, including the day one which the event happens. I have blogged in more detail about this and how I decide what to charge. Moreover, the events I'm choosing nowadays tend to take much more than two days, because I'm doing bespoke brain and teenage stress events.

And that's why £150 is not enough. And that's why I usually (but not always) charge more. What I charge depends on what the school asks me to do. Usually, I offer options, so that they can find one that suits their budget. For example, here's part of an email I sent a school recently. They had said they wanted "something during the day and an evening talk for adults". Note that this involves travel from Scotland to the south of England, so there's at least one day spent travelling but not earning. And please bear in mind that these prices include the preparation time etc, so even the daily total is not the income for that one day alone.
Option A: One normal author talk during day - £225. Plus an evening talk for teachers/parents - £225. Total £450.
Option B: Two normal author talks during the day - £350. Plus evening talk for teachers/parents - £225. Total £575.
Option C: One writing workshop (up to 2 hours) OR a workshop on the brain/teenage brain/or teenage stress OR a talk to a larger audience on the brain/teenage brain/stress - £350. Plus an evening talk for teachers - £225. Total £575. (By "talk" I mean more like a lecture with Q&A, but not workshop activities.)
Option D: One writing workshop OR one brain talk for large audience with Q&A OR one brain/stress workshop for a smaller group - £350. Plus one normal author talk OR a repetition of the first workshop/talk - £175. Plus an evening talk for teachers - £225. Total £750
Note that one talk during the day is relatively more expensive than two. That's because two talks don't take twice as much time as one. If I'm away doing events, I'd rather do more than one a day, so my fee structure works for that. 

Even if they take Option D, that £750 probably has to cover four days, as the preparation will be major. So, it may sound like a lot, but it isn't when you realise how many hours of work it is.

So, I'm still not quite being paid along the lines of a "Lead Practitioner" (see below), but I charge more for keynote speeches at conferences, and sometimes schools take more expensive options, so it averages out to a fee level I can manage. I wish I could afford to do cheap events, but I just can't - or I'd have to do so many that I'd have no time for writing and, I feel, the quality of my events would suffer.

Last time I did a free event, by the way, was for a charity - one I don't support. I discovered there was an audience of over a thousand, each paying £30-£40. I'd spent three days on that. Never again. Sorry.

Society of Authors rates? There is no such thing. Competition laws prevent the SoA from providing such guidelines any more. See here for the current wording. Any rates that people keep quoting as "SoA rates" were historical and are out-of-date. 

I think this quote from the SoA page is particularly useful: "Authors may wish to base their fee, for either single visits or longer residencies, pro rata, on the annual salary they would expect to earn. See Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows daily rates to equate with different salaries. Authors delivering schools events may be interested that the NASUWT 2013 salaries for Lead Practitioners (excluding London and the Fringe) are between £37,836 - £57,520."

Thus, supposing you equated your "value" with that of a "Lead Practitioner" in the teaching profession and imagined yourself on a (dream!) salary of £40k, which is to the lower end of that scale, you'd need to charge a daily rate of £427 - and, in theory, you should build in the preparation and travelling time, too, so you would need to charge more than £427 for the day of the school visits. Remember, too, that people on salaries have sick pay and pensions built in.

Alan Gibbons, in his Campaign for the Book, mentions £450 a day. Campaigning for books incorporates campaigning for libraries and for authors, because without authors there are no books. He told me that he believes we should all consider the following principles, and I agree:

1) "Authors need a sense of a minimum market fee." (You might note the fact that Scottish Book Trust have, since 2005, paid £150 per talk for their funded events, and this is widely used as a basic minimum in Scotland. So, three talks in one day = £450, plus all expenses. Many authors charge more.)
2) "They are providing a service that merits payment." (Yes, not just because of the time involved, which is far more than the hours in front of the audience, but also because a writer's expertise is built up over many years and is valuable.)
3) "More experienced writers owe it to those starting out to set a principle that an author visit is paid work." 
4) "They should be paid a fee, accommodation and travel if necessary." 
5) "They are free to do pro bono events for specific reasons but the previous four considerations should generally apply." (Of course, every author is entitled to do a free event, perhaps as a loss leader, or because of a personal connection with the school, but the organiser really ought to understand that you are in effect giving up your income, and will likely be the only unpaid adult there.)

And I would add a sixth: "A fee is not an hourly rate."

Yes, I worry very much about stretched school budgets, believe me, but funding an event shouldn't start by underpaying an author, who is almost certainly earning painfully little from writing. Everyone is stretched - schools, parents, but authors, too. Yes, I worry that some schools will feel they can't afford an author visit but that has always been the case, I'm afraid, and there are creative ways to fund things. The value of a good event by a talented author/illustrator/speaker is enormous and long-lasting, going way beyond what happens on the day. I worry about schools that don't recognise that, focusing only on that hour and thinking that the hour cost them £150 (or whatever).

But I worry more about us selling ourselves short, suffering because we are uncomfortable about charging what we are worth. I've done it myself - I know how hard it is not to, when we want to say yes, we need the work, we enjoy the events and we like the school which is inviting us. I worry when an author tells me that by the time she got home from a long distance event her fee had been consumed by the travel and subsistence costs because she didn't feel able to charge expenses. I worry about authors being the lowest paid adult at the event. I worry about festivals, such as Cheltenham, asking authors if they'd like to donate their fee back, when they haven't asked the electricians, sound engineers, publicity people, printers, booksellers etc to do the same. I worry about people thinking authors are not worth being paid fairly. I worry about authors not thinking authors are worth being paid fairly.

I worry that if we don't value ourselves, no one else will.


DanielB said...

Until we change the culture there will often still be this perception that we "get publicity out of it", which is why authors are often the lowest paid, or only unpaid, person there. To be fair I haven't had a school expect a "free service" for a good three years. Even my own kids' primary school paid me! I gave them a big discount though.

Lynne Garner said...

I've only ever managed to do one author event in a school. Whenever I am contacted and I tell them my charges (which are based on the info the SOA used to have on their website) I'm told they don't have the budget for it. I have had one librarian reply 'wish I was on that rate." I pointed out I don't get sick pay, I pay my own insurance, I pay into my own pension etc. etc. she replied, "Oh I thought your publisher would do all that."

I have stopped doing promo in book shops. They simply don't pay - I was always out of pocket and the audience you reach in a shop is never going to impact enough on sales.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Great post, Nicola. I think one of our biggest challenges in schools is convincing people that we are not swimming in dosh just because we are traditionally published, and that school visits are a vital income stream. I recently arrived at a school 40mins late because the cab driver got lost on the way from the station. They asked for a £40 discount to reflect that even though I worked through the morning break so the kids wouldn't miss out. I refused, of course, and was flabbergasted when I was told it was the lit co-ordinator who'd booked me who'd asked for the discount not the finance administrator. I think we live in sad times when teachers are out to nab a bargain even when it comes to literacy.

Linda Strachan said...

I think the problem is often that people look at the rate and automatically think we are paid this EVERY HOUR we work. Also that we are in schools all day every day!
The celebrity culture makes them think that we are all millionaires!!!

Most other people who work in the schools we visit have a salary coming in every month, their tax and national insurance etc etc comes off before they get it so they don't have to think about it. Pension plans are in place and their holidays are part of their work contract etc etc.

Where as we are self employed, have no pay when we take any time off, and have absolutely no assurance that we will get our next invitation to visit a school or do any kind of paid author event, so financial planning is virtually impossible.

And the assumption that we earn loads from booksales.... I like to tell teachers about one of my books which was £9.99 in hardback and when many copies were sold by the publisher to a bookclub I made the princely sum of 1p per copy!

I love doing author visits but as you say they require preparation and travel and we are sharing our expertise so, as any other professional, are entitled to be paid fairly.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Great post, as usual. You stiffen my resolve, Nicola, and I am getting better at saying no. However, a lot of my visit requests come from booksellers, who want to sell books to stay in business. I find it hard to say no to them. So it would be great if booksellers recognised that writers need to earn income from their visits. Publishers will cover costs (which isn't the same as a fee) if a visit is around publication but not always at other times.

I also feel it's unfair to the schools who do pay if I then go somewhere else and do events for free.

Rachel said...

I thought this was an excellent, well-argued blog and I am a big admirer of this site. I have one question regarding the points you made, and probably need to put it in context:
I used to be an English teacher and am now a soon-to-be published children's author. My book advance is almost exactly the same amount of money as the salary I received as a new teacher in a comprehensive school.
As a teacher, I worked way beyond 'school hours' for no extra pay to create lessons and extra-curricula sessions I hoped would inspire the kids to learn to love literature. As a blogger ( work without pay in the hope of introducing kids to great books and great authors.
As a writer, I'd have no problem with going into schools for free as school visits are something I'd enjoy and I've seen the positive effect they have on kids.
My question is, would you consider this a betrayal of other authors? Would I be doing 'bad' in an attempt to do good?

Nicola Morgan said...

Rachel, thanks for mentioning this. I hope you realise how VERY unusual an advance like that is in the children's writing world? My last advance was £5 (for a book that took a year and an advance which will be paid over two years). My one before that was zero. Yes, zero. The highest one I've had for a single book was £7.5k, paid over two years.

In answer to your question, I wouldn't use the emotive word "betrayal" but absolutely it is the case that authors doing free events undermines and harms other authors who do view and need this as part of their work. May I suggest that you take a standard fee and donate to a charity or to the school? But, if you donate to the school, please do so after the event, and please make sure they understand that most authors, like most adults, cannot afford to work for nothing and should not be made to feel they have to.

Consider this: supposing a teacher had independent income and didn't need to take a salary, what would her colleagues feel if she took a job and no pay?

I'm really glad to have had the chance to say this. Thank you!

Philip C James said...

A discount may be appropriate given the individual circumstances of the service procurer. But, to respect the points made by Nicola, the discount applied should be made explicit in the quotation, and the invoice so that it is not established as the normal going rate for that speaker.

Philip C James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz Kessler said...

Nicola, this is a brilliant blog. Extremely clear, concise, well-argued and sensible. I think that it is a great guide and a fantastic support for any children's author who is in the position of working out how to charge for events.

I just wanted to add, though, that I think Rachel has raised some reasonable points too, and I do believe that it is up to each of us to make our own decisions about the events we do, on the basis of their individual merits - and within the context of being careful not to undermine other authors.

So, for example, if we were advertising ourselves on a website with other authors and got contacted by a school and asked to visit, and we undercut the other authors to get the gig, this would of course be completely out of order - and yes a betrayal of our fellow authors too.

However, I don't think that any author should be made to feel bad in any way if they choose to pop into a local school for an afternoon, or visit their local writing group, or do an event with their local (and probably struggling) local bookshop.

My own personal rule is that I will visit a local school or do a local talk or do an event with a local bookshop without charging them. That's assuming it's not going to take more than half a day or an evening. If they want a full day, I would always charge a full day's cost.

I consider it worth my while in the long run to do these small local events and get my name and my books known more widely in my local area. I don't believe I'm doing any damage to other authors as none of these people are going out looking for an author and I'm undercutting others - they're asking ME, as their friendly neighbourhood author! And putting something back into my local community is part of my approach to my work and my life. It is certainly how the local community works where I live, and I feel a sense of responsibility to neighbours and local community groups etc here as much as I do to fellow authors.

Having said all of that, I'm really glad to have read this today because I was asked to attend a festival this week, and having realised that because of journey time, a day's event is going to keep me away from my desk for 3 days, I told them it would cost £500, including my travel. I've been feeling a bit guilty about this - but having read your blog I feel much better. In fact, I now think they're getting a bargain!!!


Nicola Morgan said...

Liz, I totally agree. That's why I wouldn't want to use the word "betrayal". My post was supposed to make people feel *better* about setting a fair fee, not bad if they choose to do a free/cheap event, for very good reasons such as a local, much-loved school eg. But too many authors suffer from low pay and still don't feel able to charge a fee, leaving them as the lowest paid or only unpaid adult at the event. That is just not acceptable.

Shelley Harris said...

Love the clarity of this post, which is very persuasive. Quite apart from the general principle, every author has horror stories about events where, turning up unpaid, they were treated with the scant regard you might expect from people who weren't prepared to pay for their services. This post - and the ensuing Twitter debate - has swayed me your way, Nicola.

Rachel said...

Hi Nicola.

I am very new to this, so no I didn't know that about advances and it's an eye opener!

Also before I give the impression my money bags are overflowing, I should point out that new teachers are paid very little and my deal is for 2 books, so I'm not going to get into the papers with my advance. Sadly.

I think yours is an important message as it doesn't immediately occur to someone like me in the excitement of a first book.

I'm still in 'isn't it amazing someone wants to pay for my book' mode, so I'd be happy to visit everyone and anyone and babble about books. But I'd like this to become a full time career, so I'll take your suggestions on board. The last thing I'd want is to spoil someone else's livelihood by being the 'cheap alternative'!

Thanks again for sharing.


ps. I'm not sure why my Google picture is Oscar the Grouch. I don't remember uploading him. Must have been a bad day.

Roz Morris aka NailYourNovel said...

This needed to be said. I especially love the point about the writer often being the only unpaid adult in the room! And the point about 'hourly rate'.

This problem of perception seems to apply in all forms of freelance life. People on salaries seem to forget that they have a rather comfortable safety net. They forget that what they pay us is not pocket money.
It's a pity that we have to be made to feel mean for asking, but the only way to change minds is to explain how much preparation and time is involved, and what else we could be doing to earn during that time.

If they saw a writer's actual hourly rate it would probably be in negative figures, but it's impossible to convince the public of this. As some of your other commenters have said, there's also the perception that if we write we're Rowling in dosh and living the dream. I've even had publishers demonstrate envy that I 'don't have to go to an office'. More than anyone, you'd think they'd understand what we do!

So hurrah for this post. There are a lot of misconceptions about how writers live and work. We're not asking to be treated like royalty. We're not unsympathetic to organisations that are juggling scarce finances. But because we're 'artists' we're often expected to be paid in love or publicity and that's not sustainable.

Nicola Morgan said...

Rachel, thank you. And you've nailed it with this: "I should point out that new teachers are paid very little and my deal is for 2 books, so I'm not going to get into the papers with my advance." Exactly! So, this is not a level of income (bearing in mind that it presumably took you a long time to write the book AND you won't get that full advance till publication date) which supports an "I don't need to be paid for an event" argument. You do need to be paid. It doesn't matter whether a writer has other income or isn't going to starve - what matters is that people are paid to work. Anything else is unfair.

Nicola Morgan said...

Roz, "We're not asking to be treated like royalty. We're not unsympathetic to organisations that are juggling scarce finances. But because we're 'artists' we're often expected to be paid in love or publicity and that's not sustainable." - Brilliant!

JO said...

Just in case you thought I'd changed my mind since commenting on Cat's post, I'm dropping by here to agree with you. We should respect each other as professionals, and ask the same respect from others.

Liz Kessler said...

Nicola, I hear ya! Totally on the same page as this blog, and if you'd read it out as a talk, I'd have been one of the first people up on my feet applauding! And I would especially have cheered at the line about empowering authors to work out what is good for them, their writing and their careers. I know that this is at the heart of everything you do.

I just felt the need to respond because of the line in the comments stating that authors harm and undermine others when they do free events, as I think that part of us working out what's good for us and our careers is making the occasional, well-judged decision to do exactly that.

None of which takes away from the fact that I think this is a brilliant brilliant blog, and any time I'm squirming in my seat wondering if I really can charge *that* much, I will come back and read it and feel much more confident to do so!

By the way, was it a typo, or was your last advance really £5 paid over two years?????


Nicola Morgan said...

Oops! Yes, £5k, not £5. But the previous one *was* zero. ;)

Liz Kessler said...

Phew! Well thank goodness for that at least! :)

C.J.Busby said...

Thanks, Nicola - this is brilliant. As an author struggling with this 'how much to charge' issue, and one who was beginning to come down on the 'maybe I should just lower my rates to get more gigs' side, it really helped to have the other side of the argument put so strongly and persuasively. Much to think on!


Helen said...

Brilliant blog post. I would add that expenses for a trip are critical too. I have had invitations to schools in different parts of the country withdrawn because I asked for travel expenses - even though I offered to stay overnight with friends to avoid hotel bills, travel at off peak times and book well in advance to get the minimum ticket price. I understand that schools have limited budgets BUT I am a private individual on a low income and I have 2 kids. If the school can't fund a train ticket, I certainly can't!

Nicola Morgan said...

Saviour, I am shocked at that story! If someone is late for work, especially through no fault of their own, they don't have their pay docked!

Richard said...

To put this in perspective, my charge-out rate as a professional engineer is around £90 per hour plus expenses, and that includes travel time, and 45p per mile if I use my own car.

An eight-hour day, with maybe four hours on-site, would be over £1000.

Matt Cartney said...

A very interesting read. As a 'newish' author (2 children's books published) I started doing the occasional free event simply because I found it almost impossible to get schools, libraries, bookshops etc interested in having me along unless I did a freebie.
I was painfully aware that if I didn't make money for my publisher, then he would have no option but to drop me (it is a business after all!). So, as a writer without a 'name', I thought that I must do whatever I could to promote my books. If that meant free events, so be it. I simply could not afford to turn down an opportunity for promotion.
What amazed me from the very beginning, was how little consideration I got as a writer. Just basic politeness seemed beyond many organisations. Last year I wrote to fifteen book festivals, politely asking if they would consider me for their programme. Only one even bothered email a reply.
I have turned up to do free events at schools, to discover the school had not even bothered to contact parents to let them know that my books will be available to buy on the day. And so my only source of revenue for the day disappeared.
I fast came to the conclusion that 'author events' are yesterday's promo method. No-one seems sufficiently interested in them to make them a worthwhile activity for authors. I can't help feeling I've wasted a lot of time and effort which would have been better spent on the internet - tweeting, updating my website, emailing bloggers and all that sort of stuff.
And this is a pity, because the kids clearly love author events, and I do too. There's no better feeling than seeing a 10 year old literally bouncing up and down because they are so excited to meet you and have you sign their book. And that's why I'll keep doing them - because me and the kids love 'em.
But as a revenue stream? I'll take some convincing...

Matt Cartney

Anonymous said...

I am copying this from my comment on Cadownunder's blog at the request of Nicola.
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 a reader rather than a writer. Chris

Jane Clarke said...

I found myself nodding in agreement as I read your post and all the comments, Nicola. School visits are an important part of my income and undercharging undervalues us all. I'll be referring people to this link when the opportunity arises.

For me, it's been a sliding scale. When I started, I was working part time in a school so it was easy to do a few free practice sessions to establish what talks/workshops worked for what ages and gain the confidence to charge a fee when writing became my full time job. On my first paid visit ten years ago, I was amazed to find myself in the same school on the same day as Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo and I didn't ask for (or receive) anything like their fee. I still offer a significant discount for local schools and Skype visits.

Nicola Morgan said...

Matt, interesting (and sad, but not surprising, I'm afraid.) But I urge you not to be demoralised. One thing you might take away from your experience is that, as most of us learn, school events are NOT promotional activities. And that's pretty much the underlying point of my post: they are part of our work, very valuable work, and when we are paid that indicates that the school values it, too. When we are not paid, as others have noted, the tendency is that our effort is not valued and the event has a great chance of being a poor one for all concerned. I urge you to continue to do them (if you enjoy them) but to charge for them. Obviously, if you don't they can't be an income stream! For me, they are not only an income stream but also very satisfying and enjoyable.

Anne Fine and Michael M (as well as Terry Pratchett and others) are good examples of writers who help reinforce the high value of events. of course, not everyone can charge the fees they do, but it's worth noting that they *do* charge high fees, despite earning very decently from their writing. Good for them.

Savita Kalhan said...

Thank you for this, Nicola. We all need reminding that we're worth it - as does everyone else! The problem remains that the world at large believes that all writers make an awful lot of money - even my friends are shocked at how much, or rather how little, I get on each copy of my book sold. I used to charge for school visits according to the old SofA guidleines, and will continue to do charge.

DanielB said...

I find myself in agreement both with Matt and with Nicola's response to him. School events as a "promotional activity" have limited value - or perhaps it is more accurate to say unpredictable value - but that isn't really the point of them. They are a valuable part of our work, and that's why we charge!

I've done 250+ school visits in the past 6 years and my book sales at them have varied wildly. My most ever at a one-day school event is 80+ - quite took me by surprise and I had to order more in. My worst - on a couple of occasions - is zero, and so I've had to lug an entire bag of books back on the train. So, good job I wasn't relying on a certain number of sales to pay my way.

I share Matt's frustration at schools which do not make enough of an "event" of the author visit, not informing parents, etc. And there is often paranoia in secondary schools about taking them "off timetable" and so my workshops have sometimes been presented to the kids as if they were just another lesson. Cue kids calling you "sir" and looking bored.

Almost without exception the best secondary school visits have been those where I've been booked by the librarian, and based in the library all day. Librarians are great for looking after you with tea and biscuits... The best primary schools for me have been where I've had one really keen teacher assigned to me all day (usually helps if they are a Doctor Who fan!), all the KS2 kids in the hall for my first talk, excited atmosphere, lots of oohing and aahing as I put my initial video compilation on, lots of questions, good writing in the workshops, kids keen to read out - and a good few book sales, because they've not only written to the parents but sent them a text reminder and the kids have come with the right money in named envelopes so I know how to spell their names... On average I sell 20 books on a primary school visit.

Jacey Bedford said...

I've recently secured my first three-book sale. My books aren't out yet, so I haven't been invited to speak anywhere (except to be on panels at SF cons which are not paid gigs), however I've been a professional folk musician negotiating gigs and school workshop days and in exactly the same position as authors faced with the what-to-charge dilemma. When anybody said £300 was a lot to pay for a 90 minute performance I would tell them that we loved the singing and always did it for free, but we had to cover the driving, rehearsing and administration costs, so the £300 was our call-out charge. Sometimes we got the gig, sometimes not, but on balance it was true and it banged the point home that the actual public appearance is only the tip of the iceberg.

Nicola Morgan said...

Jacey - very interesting! Thanks for adding your experience.

Dan - yes, which shows that being paid is only one part of the equation but that being paid AND the school valuing and putting effort into helping you make the event work often go together.

Lari Don said...

What an utterly fantastic, inspirational and vital post. I'm very lucky because I live in Scotland and can usually use the Scottish Book Trust rate as a guide for author visit fees. But I'm so glad you posted this well reasoned and respectful argument for authors' right to be paid, because I think there is a squeamishness amongst those in education and sometimes even those in the arts about paying authors for doing what we love. We have to get over that squeamishness and explain the economic realities of being an author, because when we do, in the positive way you've done here, people generally do see why we have a right to be paid. Now, could you do the same for authors' rights to sell books at the end of school visits? (Another common cause of squeamishness amongst teachers...) Thanks so much again!

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, Lari. Oh, yes, re being able to sell books... Because the ownership of a book is a wonderful thing and, in other news, the only thing that keeps the book world going! Yes, there is sometimes squeamishness "because some pupils will be disadvantaged" (so, let's disadvantage them all, then) and sometimes the more practical issue of kids+money=problems.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Nicola, this charity event, just asking: was it a fundraiser? If so, surely the whole point was to raise money for the charity and of course the attendees would have paid a lot. You would certainly want to know how much of the money raised was going to the charity and if those who arranged it were being pad. If it wasn't a charity you supported, why go in the first place?

It's certainly a troublesome question. I have done the occasional event - unlike some on this list I have a full time day job and believe it or not, I envy YOU for having the option of writing full time; if you were doing a full time day job, this wouldn't be an issue, because you couldn't take time off to do school visits, especially if you were working in a school. I remember my first invitation to speak. It was a club for exceptionally bright kids. They explained that if necessary they could scrape together a small fee; most guests, including some who were friends of mine, had donated their time. It was my first time and I was glad to have the practice. I went. I had a wonderful time with a small group of lovely children and they thanked me with a rose bush. I don't regret it.

There are ways and ways. A very successful writer I know asks a very small individual fee per child and a minimum number of kids. This way, she gets a decent fee and the school that maybe doesn't have much money, like mine, can pay her without problems. Win win.

No need to be stroppy and assume everyone is out to rip you off! :)

Nicola Morgan said...

Sue, we (most of us) *do* have a full-time job - as writers! It *is* a job. So, we are not "taking time off" to do school visits. Doing school visits is part of the job, which is *precisely* why we expect to be paid. And if some writers have another job, that's called having two jobs, both of which expect to be paid. I don't really do envy but if I did I might envy you for being able to afford to donate your time :) Let's not get into envy - we all make choices and there are pros and cons to all of them, I think. But I have chosen to be a full-time writer, with all the wonderful and difficult things that entails.

The idea of asking a small fee per child - that's up to the school to do, and is indeed one way they can raise the funds. The writer doesn't take the money from the children. I and many of the writers commenting on this post are very experienced at this and many of us have done hundreds of properly-paid school visits. We have great relationships with schools and very much understand the issues.

Re the charity I spoke for, no, of course it wasn't a fund-raiser - I hope you don't think I'd take a fee if a charity I supported was raising funds! It was a professional conference and I was speaking as a professional, about the brain. I travelled to London for it and was paid my travel. Why did I do it? Because I was naive and believed the "it will be good publicity for you" line.

Katherine Roberts said...

I've read this post and all the comments with interest. There is also the "school visit as part of a publisher's tour", for which the author is not paid apart from expenses (covered by the publisher). I assume the schools pay nothing for this, but are expected to organise book sales.

I've done a few of these, which usually mean up to a week away from home and three - sometimes four - talks every day. I find school visits quite stressful, so these tours are very draining for me, even if they do sell a decent number of books. I need about a week of preparation time beforehand, and another week afterwards to recover, since normally catch a bug and end up in bed!

I think the problem is most people who are not in the publishing business think all authors are rich, and therefore can afford to be charitable. A few authors can, of course - and I'd love to be one of them! - but so far that has not happened. Also, I currently claim working tax credits so am not supposed to undercharge for my work, which means donating back fees is not an option for me.

Anonymous said...

This has been VERY helpful for me. I'm trying to arrange a mini-book tour at the moment and have met with resistance, rejection and even radio slience when I mention my fees to schools - fees that are, I might add, a fraction of what you suggest. This is good validation for me that my fee structure is in fact EXTREMELY good value for money, and I'm not pricing myself out of the market.

Nicola Morgan said...

Anonymous, well done. Stand strong. You don't want to work for someone who doesn't believe you have value, do you? Luckily, trust me, most schools are wonderful and do understand and would no more want to treat anyone fairly than,than, than i don't know what, but you know what I mean.

Let no one think that I don't love my job and love the schools that invite me and love what school librarians do to foster reading. But it has to be fair.

And KAtherine, that's an interesting point (re the tax credits.) And the point about catching bugs!

DanielB said...

I wonder what teachers think of the fees we charge? And if they do, indeed, sit there mentally clocking our "hourly rate" (which it isn't) against theirs? I haven't really dared ask any (apart from the one I am married to, who of course thinks what I charge is reasonable!)...

Every so often I mail my details out to a clump of schools in a particular authority - especially if there is some connection I can mention, like another school in the area I visited recently or a local festival event I did/ am doing. I get a handful of interested parties for every hundred or so emails I send out. (It doesn't take that long to do a hundred if you do ten a day, which only takes five minutes. And I send them individually addressed to a relevant person in the school, not bulk spamming. If there's something interesting about literacy on their website, I mention that to show I've looked at it.) I get the very occasional terse "unsubscribe", and, on one memorable occasion, a shouty caps-lock rant from the head, along the lines of DO NOT EMAIL ME. Obviously hadn't had his coffee that day.

I am on Contact an Author and Authors Aloud and Start the Story too, and have the odd booking via them - but it's fair to say I get 95% of my work through my own promotional efforts.

I still wonder what happens to the 97 or so in every hundred which get absolutely no response. I can only assume they are plonked into a delete file by the secretary, or sighed over by a literacy co-ordinator who finds my bumph in her pigeon-hole, momentarily wishes she had the money and then bins it. It would be useful to know. The signal-to-noise ratio is getting a bit frustrating.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Nicola, I quite understand the need for a full time writer to be paid for everything. I said,"full time *day* job." Where I live, most writers have to do things outside of writing to pay the bills. Work in shops, teach - school, not writing and don't get me started on how school teaching drains your creativity, leaving you little left for writing - office work, etc. Our population is too small to sustain a lot of people who write or do art or music for a living. My nephew is a fine musician, singer and composer who plays regular gigs and whose songs are played on radio and TV, even, recently, a TV commercial, and he still has a day job, as a travel agent. The few people who do write full time here are invariably married or partnered so that they can make the choice to work from home while their beloved pays the bills for a while.
You made a choice, I didn't. Good luck to you for being able to do this as a full time job, but please understand how lucky you are.

Sue Bursztynski said...

..When I said "take time off" I meant time from your non-writing job which you, of course, don't have, lucky girl! You know, you might want to suggest to a client who gives you trouble that you're running a business, like a plumber or electrician and that they wouldn't ask a plumber to fix the school's pipes free for altruistic reasons. It certainly worked when our Society of Authors persuaded a conservative government to let us have education lending right, which the Labor government had promised us before being kicked out of government and which they were going to scrap. They wouldn't have understood the real reason, that some writers depended on lending rights to keep them going after a book is out of print, but,"Are you interfering with our small businesses?" Oh, yes, that they understood! As will schools that have the money to bring you out from Scotland to speak to their kids. If they want to bring you that far, they can afford to pay. If they can't, they should stick to local writers or do without, as mine does. And for the record,when we do occasionally get a guest, I make sure they get publicity, unlike that conference you attended. ;-)

Brian Clegg said...

I do a fair number of school talks and always paid - though I'm suspecting from your comments I'm under-charging. What I wasn't totally clear about was when you said 'one normal author talk £225' I assume that's plus travel expenses?

My wife works in a school and I have every sympathy with the fact that they have very little budget for author visits, though it doesn't change my opinion of what's acceptable.

Nicola Morgan said...

Brian, yes, plus expenses. Always plus expenses. Sorry it took me so long to answer - only just seen the comment!