Imagine this: you buy a ticket to hear an author speak at a book festival. It costs you anything from a fiver to twenty quid. There are many other people in the audience. You enjoy the author's talk, or reading or performance (if it's a children's author, most likely the latter). You assume the author has been paid some kind of fee for their time (and their travel)...and then you hear that they weren't paid at all. The organisers offered them a thing called 'exposure', but nothing else.
Everyone else has been paid. The caterers, the electricians who set up the lighting, the people who provide the toilets and so on. But not the author. The one people have paid to see.
Would you be shocked? I hope you would, because that failure to pay their speakers is why Philip Pullman has just resigned as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival. Is it any wonder that many authors (including myself) have signed an open letter to The Bookseller, threatening to boycott festivals that won't remunerate us fairly?
There is a common misconception that writers all earn pots of money. In fact, the majority of writers earn below minimum wage (the average earnings of a writer, according to a report commissioned by ALCS are just £11,000), so for book festivals which charge for tickets not to pay us for our time and effort is iniquitous. Most children's writers have to take on other jobs (like school visits, creative writing teaching, festival appearances and more) in order to make ends meet and pay the bills.
Of course, there are many, many brilliant festivals which DO pay - and if small ones like Shrewsbury Bookfest, Manx Litfest, and Marlborough Litfest and the big festivals like Edinburgh, Bath, AyeWrite, Northern Bookfest and Cheltenham manage to cough up (and pay promptly), why can't Oxford?
In its response to Pullman’s resignation, the festival said that as a charity with no government or public funding, and with around 500 speakers each year, it wouldn’t be able to stage a festival if it had to pay all its authors. (from The Guardian, 15 Jan 2016)Given the quote above, I find it strange that OxLitFest's public 2014 accounts (see below) seem to indicate payment of £96,246 for 'Speakers' fees and travel' - and even more in 2013. That's quite a lot of dosh. The key is in that little phrase above: 'if it had to pay all its authors'. So that indicates that some of the 500 authors at Oxford Literary Festival are second class citizens, not worth paying? That makes me very angry indeed. Dying of exposure, even!
The million dollar question (or the fair fee one, if you like) is this: should there be fair pay for ALL authors at festivals (not just the celebs). Is that such a big thing to ask? The Society of Authors has done a survey of festivals, and they don't think so. I don't think so. How about you? What do you think? We need to stand together on this and boycott festivals who won't pay us. We ARE worth it. And we deserve it just as much as the caterers, the plumbers and the lighting people.
NO PAY - STAY AWAY!
Coming on 10th March 2016 from Orchard, CHOSEN, the sequel to CLEO (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out now: new Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review