Thursday, 21 May 2015

Being paid and a writer's confidence.

Many years ago, a friend of mine, an artist, got into a prestigious London Art College to do postgraduate work. One of the first things said to her was 'you are going to have to charge more for your paintings if you want to be taken seriously.' So she put up the price and demand increased. It made her feel rather odd. They were the same paintings, but people seemed to value them more just because they were more expensive. Was money so important?

I have found this whole subject very difficult. The only source of funding for my book 'Girl with a White Dog' published March 2014 was from my wonderful family and, in the last two years before my mother's death last May, my carer's allowance of £58.00. Just going up to London to the wonderful Wiener Library would, for example cost me over half what I earned as a carer.  I spent lots of money on research books. My husband believed in me and encouraged me to use our family money from his earnings to go to Germany for a weekend to visit Dachau. Then my book was published, and because I believed passionately in the issues it discussed, I did lots of free talks about them locally and accepted some invitations to travel up to London to discuss them (and hopefully sell the book), but none of the invitations involved offers of payment, and I was too embarrassed to ask. It seemed like I was exploiting the sufferings of the Holocaust to ask for payment.  I was asked to go to a particularly interesting event, but when I asked on what terms (too vaguely and without explicitly mentioning payment) they emailed back (I worried that the words showed that they were hurt),  'we just thought you'd be interested'. I was too embarrassed to say I couldn't afford it.

For some reason for which I am very grateful, my worries about my seemingly incessant spending of money I hadn't earned back came to a head at the Federation of Children's Books Groups Conference this year. I was feeling bad about spending yet more of our family money to go away to it and when talking to three friends from twitter, Zoe of @playingbythebook @minervamoan and @chaletfan I unexpectedly burst into tears. They were wonderful. I told them that I kept being asked to do free things by good people who had v little budgets, and I didn't know how to say 'no'.

They were wonderful. They made me practice saying 'yes, I would love to come. I charge the standard rates.'

Then, barely quarter of an hour later, whilst @chaletfan was standing nearby, a teacher approached me, asked me if I did school visits and I said 'yes, but I would have to be paid,' she said 'of course!"

I have very recently joined the Society of Authors. I think it will pay for itself over and over again just by going me the courage to refer to their rates.

This week I was asked at v short notice to go to talk to a local group of retired women for an hour about my books. I have done lots of similar ones for free. I said 'I am afraid I have no transport,' - they said 'we will pick you up and bring you home.' I said 'I have just decided to start charging' they said 'no problem, we have a budget - how much do you charge?' I said 'I am not sure if you could afford the Society of Authors' Rates' and they said 'we can pay up to £60.00' I said 'O.K.'

The night before I could not sleep. How could I dare to charge such a huge amount for an hour? If they normally paid speakers then they would see that I was not worth the payment. My confidence was at rock bottom. I wanted to ring them and say I would do it for free. My husband said 'Anne - you have no idea how interesting the writing process and business is for people who don't know about it, and  you are very good at talking about it.' He also reminded me that I HAD been paid before for speaking: my friend, a writer and Creative Writing lecturer at a local university, had invited me soon after 'Girl with a White Dog' was published last year, to speak to her students and had paid me as visiting speaker - Edinburgh Literary Festival had paid me last summer for being interviewed with Dawn McNiff about our debut books 'Girl with a White Dog' and 'Little Celeste'. Edinburgh Literary Festival had paid us for speaking, and had ALSO paid for accommodation and travel expenses. I had had lovely feedback, but  9 months between paid gigs is a long time.

So the day came and I packed 5 bags of books and manuscripts and proof copies and a box and a notice board  with pictures of Nazi children's books and white German shepherds and I spread them all out on  tables in front of about 30 women.

Then I spoke. It went so well. I found that my husband was right - just telling them about the process of getting published was interesting for them. They were so lovely. They thanked me over and over again for coming at such short notice and apologised for not being able to pay me more. I even sold some books! Then they drove me home and said it was a fascinating talk and they were so happy that I had come.

So what is the point of this post? I want to tell other writers not to be embarrassed to charge and urge them to apply to join The Society of Authors to give them confidence. I want to thank the Edinburgh Literary Festival and @Heidi_Colthup for inviting me to talk and for paying me last year, and  @playingbythebook, @chaletfan, @minervamoan for being so kind this year and telling me that I shouldn't be embarrassed to charge for talks. Thanks Joanne Harris (@joannechocolat on twitter) for that wonderful blog post, a link to which I will put at the end.

None of the ladies I spoke to yesterday are active on twitter or will be following my blog, but they have no idea how much they have helped my confidence. I have to honour a couple of re-arranged free events, but after that I will no longer feel arrogant or greedy for asking to be paid. I owe it to my family. I will try to charge the standard rates so as not to undercut other authors.

And please, if you are someone who invites speakers - please read Joanne's Harris blog on festivals. She is right.


Clare Zinkin said...

What a lovely blog, and tinkled pink to be mentioned. Public speaking is hard so well done you for achieving it and being bold. Of course you deserve to be paid - all authors/illustrators deserve payment and respect for their time. I have huge admiration for those who manage to have the grit, determination and perseverance to write that whole book in the first place, see it through to publication and then face real people *gasp* to talk about it. Hope this leads to more and more invitations for you. (especially as you raise such important issues in your books)

Anne Booth said...

Thank you so much!

Joan Lennon said...

Good for you (in both senses!)!

Zoe said...

Anne, I'm so heartened that our conversation helped and gave you courage. Although the conference was wonderful, with so many great speakers, in a funny way our conversation was a personal highlight because it was about people really connecting with each other and being kind and supportive. We all need more conversations like this! I'm delighted your talk went so well and that you feel more comfortable now about asking for fair payment.

Anne Cassidy said...

One of the first things we spoke about when we set up the SAS in 1998 (I think) was charging. An early member then, Denis Bond, said we should be 'reasurring expensive'. I always remembered that and have had no problem since.

Susan Price said...

Anne, I understand your shyness and don't want to be unkind, but FOR GOD'S SAKE! - I'm glad you're starting to ask for payment. You should. You earned it.

Every time someone asks or expects you to do something for free, or for expenses only, picture them asking their car mechanic, their butcher, their hairdresser to work for free.

You are being asked to give up work and social time, to spend hours/days preparing a talk and rehearsing it, to travel a distance from home, to stand up in front of people and entertain/inform them - for free?

Don't do it.

Your friends were great: 'I charge Society of Authors rates.' Brilliant!

Nicola Morgan said...

Good for you! There is masses of support for you on this matter. My own blog/website has lots of posts about how and why to charge and I was the person who wrote the new Soc of Authors guidelines.

By the way, they are not "SoA rates" - we don't set rates because a) we aren't allowed to and b) rates do (and should, imo) vary hugely depending on many factors. They are guidelines as to HOW TO DECIDE what you should charge and how to feel empowered to do so.

Hayley N. Jones said...

I'm so glad you have got over your fear of asking for payment. It's surprisingly difficult, considering the worst thing that can happen is you get told 'no'. A friend of mine, who is an archaeologIst, experiences the same problem. She does some talks for free, for a non profit organisation she has close links to, but can't afford to do more — and neither should she have to, since she is providing a service. Giving a talk involves travel expense and giving up half a way of paid work. If anyone has a problem with authors or other professionals charging for giving talks, I would ask them if they are prepared to give up half a day's wages, pay travel expenses and work for free. Payment is a reasonable request.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Well done, Anne! It is a tough decision and I totally understand where you are coming from BUT you have earned the right to be paid. We spend years learning the skills and gathering the experience to write and now is the time to reap the reward. Nicola Morgan made me understand this (plus many other things) and I made a decision to follow her advice a few years ago. I also blogged about it on ABBA yesterday.
So we'll done for valuing yourself, your time and commitment and the sacrifices you and your family made to get you to this point. Totally the right thing to do.