Don’t pay? Won’t come!

Whereas I quite like the idea of Philip Pullman perusing his daily Bookwitch and taking my New Year’s post to heart, if I’m to be realistic, he probably came up with his new stance without my help.

But I’m glad that someone like Philip has decided enough’s enough, and that he is speaking out against festivals who don’t pay. Then there was Amanda Craig’s letter in the Bookseller, which collected a good number of signatures. It’s not enough for someone in the kind of income bracket who really needs to be paid to say they’d like money instead of ‘exposure,’ as no one much listens to ‘unknowns’ with not a lot of money behind them.

It’s a shame that the Oxford Literary Festival and Philip are having to part ways over this, but it sounds as if he tried discussing it with them. And I do understand that money might be short. But if none of the other categories of people who work for the festival do so unpaid, the question is why authors should give their time for free. They wrote the books. Yes, they will – hopefully – sell a good number after their event, but what do they get? 50p per paperback sold?

There are reasons for appearing somewhere for free, but it should be by choice, and after some serious thinking about why. (I ought to declare myself here. I once bribed an author to come for train fare only, but the bribe I offered has yet to be taken. I suspect it won’t, but it was all I had. I have also asked two authors to come to my house for a private event. I offered to pay on both occasions. One, the author was happy to come for free, if the indie bookshop was allowed to sell books. The second didn’t happen as the author was unavailable.)

Some time in the past I suggested that authors need to belong to a union, but that it would most likely be a difficult and awkward thing to arrange. But perhaps the time has come. ‘Don’t just agree, organise!’ as Joe Hill never said.

5 responses to “Don’t pay? Won’t come!

  1. I’m new to promoting my books. I’m an unknown author and yes, it is difficult to market your books but I would have to agree it takes sweating blood to write, rewrite, fo finally get published.
    That was the easy part, now you’re expected to be a social media, marketing engineer when you’re not writing and spending gas money to festivals all on your dime.
    How did it come to this? We’re professionals in an industry that for the most part the middleman makes the money.

  2. The trouble is that if and when you get offered an unpaid appearance somewhere, you might be so pleased/relieved/flattered that you say yes.

  3. To me this debate has echoes of the one about whether new journalists should write for free in order to get experience. Many do, and then find themselves unable to start asking that editors now pay for their work. At what point are new writers important enough to demand payment for the work they put in? Not after a debut novel, clearly. Also, quite aside from the fact they’ve put the time in writing the book, surely most writers will do at least some prep for a public speaking engagement – decide what they’re reading, practice it a bit and so on. It’s entirely possible a new writer will put more time and effort into that than an established with lots of experience, because they’ll feel they have more to prove, and yet they end up working for free. Maddening!

  4. Yes, I’d take an absolute age to get ready for an event, what with nervous breakdowns and everything. The experienced author, who doesn’t suffer stage fright, can presumably just stand up and do their thing. But they are still giving up their time, both for the event and travelling there and back. As someone pointed out to me, that could be three days of writing that doesn’t happen.

  5. I find your stance contradictory. Giving talks and attending events is optional for an author yet in the past you did your utmost to defend an action with reduced an authors project and promotional effort to free raw material for the taking / hijacking. Knowingly hijacking another authors work is indeed optional, that option is the choice of the predator / hijacker. Might I suggest you defending the principal that an author ( even a self publishing author) has the right to earn an income from work done?

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