Thursday 7 April 2022

Show me the paperwork! by Dawn McLachlan (aka Dawn Finch)

At the start of the Pandemic, I was the new chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee (CWIG) and much of my first few months in the role was spent trying to reassure children’s writers that one day things would be back to normal. The Society of Authors did its best to support members through medical and financial crises as work vanished and things looked increasingly bleak.

Two years on and we are finally starting to see things take a turn for the better. Despite many challenges in the world of publishing sales have risen over the last two years and this has meant authors are again seeing contracts. Schools are largely open again and are booking school visits. In fact, there has been an interesting new trend in schools booking and paying for digital and online visits and this has meant great accessibility and improved diversity and inclusion as well as more potential online opportunities.

However, it is my job to act as the creaking gate in the wind and to grumble about things that concern me. My current worries centre around the increasing number of cancellations I’m hearing about. Cancellations happen, and in this fragile Living With Covid world they are happening with monotonous regularity. Obviously, this is often not the fault of those making the original event booking, but it is also not the fault of the booked author – yet it is the author who is out of pocket.

As you know from my constant posts about matters like this – I’ll say it loud again – EXPECTING TO BE PAID AND TREATED FAIRLY IS NOT BEING GREEDY.

There, I said it. Anyone accepting a booking will find themselves out of pocket with the planning and the travelling and therefore you need protect yourself. You should expect to be paid.

I used to do events that were booked just by a casual email, but failure to reply and confusion over dates meant that I started issuing contracts for each booking. At first, I was worried people would think I was being too formal or that my expectations were too high, but what I actually found was that when I began treating myself like a professional, others treated me like one too. Schools and other organisations booking me did not balk at things like contracts and deposits because they were doing exactly that with every consultant or inset trainer. Some raised a virtual eyebrow at it, but still signed. One or two schools did not sign, and I did not accept the booking. All but one of these schools later returned to me and made official bookings.

Your booking paperwork or contract should always cover cancellation clauses.

The Society of Authors has a very useful booklet covering all aspects of school bookings and on the subject of cancellation clauses in contracts they are very clear.

They suggest that cancellation fees and timings must be made clear and if the booking is conditional then this must be clarified at the outset. They suggest wording along the lines of:

- The author must be paid in full if the event is cancelled within six weeks of the event date;

- The author must be paid 50% if the event is cancelled earlier;

- Any out of pocket expenses already incurred must be reimbursed whenever the event is


Of course you too should have a cancellation clause covering your need to cancel. If you need to cancel for any reason (other than reasons beyond your control such as transport cancellations or pandemic restrictions) the Society would recommend that neither fee nor expenses will be charged and that the organiser will be reimbursed for any pre-paid expenses. If you cannot reach the school due to, say the sudden cancellation of train services or closure of the school due to snow, the Society suggest that you do not charge a fee for the missed session, a new date is mutually agreed and that you are reimbursed for any prebooked expenses.

The Society of Authors has a basic sample contract that you can amend to suit your needs and it is best used in conjunction with the full leaflet about school visits and you can find links to both of these documents at the foot of this article.

Sadly, it is likely that cancellations will remain a concern for us, and therefore protecting yourself and your pocket is important. To my mind a booking contract with a solid set of cancellation clauses is also another form of protection as it is a form of protection against bigotry.

It is awful to have to raise the subject of cancellations for less legitimate reasons but recent cancellations of school visits for authors Simon James Green and Savita Kalhan have given serious cause for concern. If you are a member of the Society of Authors and have been cancelled for reasons that concern you, it is well worth getting in touch.

Get your contracts written, get them signed, and then relax and enjoy the visit and do what you do best – bring joy to your readers!

 Dawn McLachlan (aka Dawn Finch) is the current chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group at the Society of Authors.

For a Guide for Authors Visiting Schools by the Society of Authors - click here

For sample T&C's for Events in Schools by the Society of Authors - click here

For details of further help and support offered by the Society of Authors - click here

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

Hear, hear, hear! (With added foot-stamping and cheering.)

Whenever I get an email asking if I will visit a school, my reply always begins, 'I would be delighted to vist (_____) and my charges are...' I then state my charges for a whole day, a half-day, and my travelling expenses. These days, on-line charges too. The school either accepts them, or doesn't get back to me.

I've never gone down the contract with cancellation clause but I can see that it absolutely makes sense, especially these days.

Great and timely blog!