Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Festivals and Fair Pay for Authors - Lucy Coats

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.


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


Sue Bursztynski said...

Goodness, I would have thought a big, respectable-sounding festival like that would have been paying the authors - or that anyone who has been making a living from writing would say no thank you to the offer of "exposure". Anyone new enough to the trade to be sucked in would be of no interest to the organisers, surely? I mean, who,is going to pay to attend a panel with Fred Nerk, new author, when they can go see Philip Pullman?

As far as I know, the speakers at the Melbourne Writers Festival are paid(if anyone knows more than I do about this, feel free to say so)and if they're coming from interstate or overseas they're put up in one if the city's classier hotels.

John Dougherty said...

Thanks, Lucy - very interesting indeed! That works out at over £180 per author - and of course many publishers will be paying travel costs themselves...

C.J.Busby said...

This is a very interesting and important debate - and I think it needs to be contextualised with the issue of fair pay for authors work from publishers too. The fact is, who benefits most from the exposure of an author at a festival? The publishers - to the tune of many tens of times what authors will get out of it in royalty payments. The festival also makes money from the authors it books - and the argument that they are interchangeable if less well-known is spurious. You pay a children's entertainer to come to your event - if you book another one instead, the children may not care but YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY THEM. The children (parents) are relying on the festival providing a good, educational, interesting, funny hour with a real author, and that is what they get. Whichever author the festival chooses out of the many less well-known or newbie authors available, they are relying on them delivering exactly that, and should therefore pay them for it. If they can't, they will have to put on fewer events. But equally, if publishers want to keep the high number of authors and books exposed at festivals to the public, maybe they should chip in!

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