Last week I blogged about why festivals should pay authors, and touched on the regularity with which authors are asked to speak for free. What I didn’t touch on is why it is important to for authors to stick together when it comes to expecting payment.
Back when I was first published, I knew nothing about ASA Rates and wasn’t even sure whether I would get paid when I was asked to speak. Luckily I had some great mentors and gathered information as I went, so I soon learnt that there were industry rates I should be charging.
Still, I used to feel really awkward bringing up the subject of payment, and even worse when it came to quoting the actually amount. It seemed like such a lot to ask for, and I knew that budgets were usually very tight, especially in schools. Now, though, I always ask for ASA Rates, and I really believe that all authors and illustrators should do the same. Here’s why:
- It’s good value. The fee covers not just the author’s attendance and presentation, but their preparation time and the years of experience they have. In my case, I’ve been writing all my life, a qualified teacher for 25 years and a published author for 19 years. When we pay a doctor/lawyer/landscape gardener, we are paying both for their time and their expertise. It’s the same for an author.
- It’s fair to other authors. If some authors charge ASA Rates and others don’t, it sets up a system of undercutting and competition, albeit unintentionally. If I charge $300 for something that Author Z charges $600 for, the organisation that has booked me will be reluctant to book Author Z. But if Z and I charge the same, then the organisation will make choices based on the author rather than the cost. Australian authors are really supportive of each other, and this is one extra way of supporting your author peers.
- The people who book you value your visit more when they are paying for it. I’ll admit I have worked for free from time to time. Sometimes it’s for a charitable cause, or to give back to an organisation (for example, speaking for free at my own children’s school) . On a couple of occasions, though, I have said yes to something unpaid because I’ve seen it might have flow on effects, like further (paid) work, or publicity attached to it. Very often, these visits are the ones where no preparation has gone into my visit – staff at a school haven’t been informed I’m coming, or there are none of my books in the library for the audience to borrow afterwards (or, for that matter before).
- The idea of a free talk being good for promoting your work is questionable. If the audience can’t buy your book straight away (such as sales on the day), the number of sales resulting from your visit will be small. Some will leave planning to buy the book, but only a few will go on to actually buy it. If your audience is children, this likelihood increases – because the adult who makes purchasing decisions hasn’t seen your talk.
- You need to make a living. If you work for free, then somewhere along the line you are going to have to do other work to pay the bills. This takes time away from your ability to write more stories. If you are paid to speak about your work it buys you time to do more work. At the same time, because it’s inspiring to interact with readers, and they will often give you feedback on what they liked about your work, your writing improves.
Having said all this, if you are going to do paid gigs, you should do so professionally: prepare what you are going to say, arrive promptly, treat audience members with respect, thank your hosts and be generally gracious. Give them value for money so they’ll book you – or another writer – again. And, when you do send that bill, take the time to thank the organiser for inviting you.