Some of you may know that I achieved a milestone recently. Seven and a half years after I first resolved to 'take this writing business seriously', I handed in my notice at both my part-time jobs to concentrate solely on writing. From 1st July 2015, I will be a full-time writer. Hurrah!
Almost immediately after I'd done the deed (told my bosses I was leaving), The Fear set in. How was I going to pay the bills and feed my children with no monthly salary? What if it all went wrong? What if I had made a terrible TERRIBLE mistake?
My husband tried to reassure me. "Don't worry, you can just do some more school events if we start to struggle." And he's right - children's authors are lucky in that we have an additional stream of income to tap into: school visits.
I like to think that I give good value to the schools who book me. My events are funny, interactive and designed to get kids talking about books long after I've left. And obviously while I'm off performing, I cannot be writing so I charge a reasonable amount for an event. I don't mean for the short run of promotional visits I might do for my publisher, to promote a new book or series - I mean an everyday school visit. Two assemblies and a signing, perhaps, or a workshop and an assembly. And it occurred to me that not all children's authors charge for these standard events. Some do free events ALL the time, to help boost their books sales. They never charge. At a time when schools' budgets are being squeezed, I can understand the appeal of a free visit too - author visits are a great way to boost reading for pleasure, which has all kinds of quantifiable benefits. But here's the problem: when authors do an event for free, they are devaluing the work all of us writers do. Look at it this way - imagine a plumber offered to come to your house and fit your new bathroom for nothing. Word gets around and soon that plumber is crazy busy. People decide that they don't want a plumber who charges a lot of money when they can get the same job done for free. Lots of plumbers who made their living out of plumbing now can't get any work. And worst of all, the people who need their bathrooms installed don't see why they should pay anyone to do that work. Pretty soon, not paying is the norm, even though the work done is of a very high standard. Do you see what I'm getting at?
If you are an author who routinely does school visits for free all the time (and again, I don't mean a book tour or the occasional freebie you might do at your own discretion) then you are stepping on your fellow writers to build your own success. I urge you to stop and consider what is a fair charge - the Society of Authors has done some excellent work on this area recently, guided by the extremely wise Nicola Morgan.
Take a look. Value yourself and understand that constantly offering free events is undermining the rest of us. And help me sleep better at night now that I don't have the cushion of a monthly salary to snuggle up against.