Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are we speaking for free, too?

Writers, for the most part, can't afford to write full-time. At least not without a backup income to pay the bills. So why is it that book fairs, conferences and conventions manage to talk writers into speaking . . . wait for it . . . for free.

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.


Kristine said...

This is excellent,Hope. Keep reminding writers this... it's become my rallying cry! I want to see writers respected when they are professional, experienced, and have worked towards a good product and service. By the way, when they offer "exposure" instead of money, I say, "I guess I'll just write "exposure" on my kid's orthodontist bill, mail it in, and then see how that works." ;-)

Sioux Roslawski said...

And the three word sentence at the end is a perfect finale.

We are so passionate about our "mission" as writers, we continue the missionary work, and speak for free.

Unknown said...

What a relevant rant, C. You brought this shushed issue to the forefront...we've all been wanting to say it, but we either lacked the guts or the platform. Thanks for being our voice!

Unknown said...

I totally agree with you about the unfairness of not paying people for their honest work.
It's about time writer's join up to organize their paid appearances,and get half of the take and build a fund with the other haalf to keep the show going.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

A friend of mine recently gave a talk at a festival that not only didn't pay anything, but expected writer/speakers to pay their own transportation costs across country to be there. I don't care how many books I sell, that's a really bad deal for authors.

Hope Clark said...

I recently spoke to a conference that not only wanted me to provide my own transportation, but also wanted to charge me for attending the conference. Believe me, I'm keeping a list. It's like being raped by your uncle, IMO.

J.M. Lacey said...

The reason organizers keep asking writers to speak for free is because these said writers keep saying "yes." No wonder people think writing is cheap.

I refuse to speak for free and that mentality has "paid" off. In fact, I've spoken at conferences (not just writers' conferences) where I was the only one who received any monetary compensation. I'm a professional, they need my services, people are paying THEM to hear me speak and learn stuff, so there's no way I'm going to offer my "services" for free, and I don't. And the line about "exposure" is a sham--especially because I'm already a marketing and pr professional and they can't do anything for me that I don't already do for myself and my paying corporate clients.

As you can see, Hope, you've touched a nerve. I set the bar by simply telling the organizer that I am available on the date they need me, and my fee(s) are...and then I give them the speaker's fee, as well as additional fees for travel when that is necessary. Have I been passed by? Sure! But the ones who recognize and appreciate that I'm a professional take me seriously, and pay me.

Besides, it takes time to put together an outline for the class, preparation, travel, etc. You should be compensated for your professional services. Bottom line.

Thanks for another great post!

Wren Andre said...

Awesome post, I went through this for years as a struggling musician - it's called "pay for play". You had to buy 100-500 of your OWN tickets to your show to get a decent gig at a club where you MIGHT get exposure.
The answer? Like the previous poster "Just say no" to these extortion tactics. I began only doing paid gigs at colleges and festivals, sold more CDs, and made money too.
Excellent subject to bring out in the open Hope!

D.G. Hudson said...

Bravo Hope, for pointing out that
not all writing conferences are created equal.

One writing conference I researched tries to keep its costs down so they can offer appointments as part of the registration fee for workshops. No additional costs are charged for these appointments with authors or agents. (pitch or crit appts.)
That conference is exceptional, I have to admit that.

When writing conferences become more of a business event, then the support and idea of bringing writers together to improve and learn gets lost in the calculations of who made what profit. It's a trade show then. Not a place to learn as much as a place to sell.

For some writers, all those extra charges just make the conferences unaffordable. Where is the balance?

I've posted on my blog about deciding whether to attend a writing conference. One of the considerations is the total cost.


Lane Diamond said...

And can I have an, "Amen!" Plumbers don't work for nothing. Sales clerks don't work for nothing. Whay on Earth do so many writers insist on working for nothing?

This article reminds me of one I wrote a couple years ago. Might be time to dust it off and re-post, because the more writers decide NOT to work for free, the more those who hire writers will realize that they have to pay SOMETHING.

Thanks for a great article.

Valerie Stasik said...

Hooray! Hooray! Hope you've said it all. Fact is, you get respect when you exhibit self-respect. And expecting to be paid for one's talent and time tells the world you respect yourself. Funny thing, your rep jumps up several notches. You are regarded as professional. Some may pass on your offering, but others will recognize your worth and pay you. In short, you are no longer a door mat.

Valerie Stasik

Valerie Fletcher Adolph said...

Right on! Professional speakers increase their income by making back-of-room book sales. Speakers earn extra money from writing.

So it's hardly fair that writers don't increase their income by speaking. Maybe once in a while at book launches they do, but not consistently.

Valerie Fletcher Adolph