Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Are we speaking for free, too?
I was reading a piece in the UK online paper The Guardian, always a good source of writing and author journalism, and came across a piece entitled "Talk is Cheap...for Festival Organizers." http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/24/talk-cheap-festivals-robert-mccrum Yes, it speaks about the UK, but it happens in the US as well.
From the above piece:
I detect a low grumble of discontent in the literary undergrowth. If as a writer you speak to, say, 500 people in a tent who have paid, perhaps, £7.50, and get none of the £3,750 gross, you feel cheated. (The sale of perhaps a dozen copies of your latest book is hardly an adequate compensation.) The figures can go a lot higher. I spoke to a well-known diarist recently who was scratching his head at the realisation that a sell-out audience of 1,500 had paid £12 apiece to hear him speak, with every last penny of the £18,000 gate going to the festival organisers.
Everyone tries to avoid paying writers. It's become inherent to the profession. We are known for giving our talents away. Speaking, hawking books, writing articles - push us hard enough and we do it for nothing - feeling guilty to stand fast for payment.
Oh, but it's publicity. It's promotion. We give you a platform. Sounds like a start-up magazine, baiting entries for a contest with the offer of exposure when it might have a mere 750 subscribers.Conferences seek writers, of which there is an abundant supply, to speak to other writers about how to get published and make money - and then don't pay the writers. Like with many non-paying literary magazines, they use writers because they can.
Oh, but you get to sell your book. You do know that we charge ten percent of each sale for handling the sales, right? Look at the royalty a writer receives from a book, and you realize taking ten percent is taking all potential profit from that book - even for many self-published authors. So, you don't pay the speaker, you take his profit off the top of the book, then make him travel to the event out of pocket. What a deal! Someone needs to be selling used cars and bridges in the desert because writers line up for these opportunities.
Book festivals advertise for months, asking writers to attend and speak, sell, and present an exhibit in the auditorium. And writers are charged so much for the booths that sales aren't enough to break even. I heard complaints this year from writers who attended a festival in my home state of South Carolina. The cost wasn't worth returning next year. Numbers were already down this year. Next year will be worse.
Is there any wonder that the Internet is exploding with ebook sales? Is there any surprise that social networking is becoming the conferencing environment of tomorrow?
We cannibalize our own.
Listen...my wish in this little rant is that the industry learn to respect itself. Writers fuss about editors. Agents fuss about publishers. Publishers take writers for granted. Festivals cherry pick writers and don't pay them. Everyone is afraid to think of anything other than his own bottom line. It's like we're in this for ourselves alone. We need each other, people.
Writing is solitary. That's a given. But somewhere along the way, we need to interact, support and respect each other, personally and financially. The old adage, "Do unto others..." comes to mind.
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." -Samuel Johnson
Makes us seem like a bunch of blockheads. (Sigh)
As writers, it's our sound obligation to be excellent wordsmiths. No short cuts. No fudging. No throwing out books in 60 days because we can. As entrepreneurs, it's also an obligation to work towards a profit. Provide a service and earn a living. When we give it all away we reduce writing to a hobby, because it sure as heck isn't a business for long if it loses money. Just ask IRS.