Writers should be paid for visits – of course they should. A day in a school, for instance, isn’t just a day in a school. There is all the preparation beforehand, plus several phone-calls and emails to sort everything out, and travel to and from the venue, let alone all those years of apprenticeship in your craft. Hence, I rate such a day at £350 but only get that rarely.
It isn’t all that clear cut anyway.
The new writer
I’m so often asked to give a creative writing workshop and I feel a little of fraud. Surely the teacher can do this better, not least of all because she knows her own students well. Yet a writer is welcomed because she brings in some value-added: we have written well enough to be published. We can and maybe should subvert the National Curriculum. Actually, as well, many teachers don’t know how to teach their student to write
I feel this even though I’m quite an experienced writer and teacher. I know of several writers who offered free workshops to start with. They felt awkward asking for payment when they so lack confidence in what they were doing. This is fair enough as long as they gradually start charging first a lower rate and eventually a normal rate, perhaps picking up a few endorsements on the way.
This seems fair on schools who anyway don’t have a lot of spare cash. They shouldn’t be asked to pay a lot for what is less than professional.
Most festivals do not pay their writers. “You’re getting good publicity out of it,” they say. Are you? In 2010 I was involved in publishing and editing a book which was launched at the Hay Festival. We sold out. Well, almost. The bookshop who’d supplied the books to the whole festival kept the remainder and eventually sold them. They’d actually ordered 25% more than they normally do and we were in the biggest stadium, with our celebrity speaker, in the key early evening spot. We had one of the longest queues for signing. Yes, we sold all 75 books. Split the royalty on that between the writers in the anthology…
The book did reasonably in the end but it wasn’t just the festival that sold it. I’ve had about £100 of royalties from it.
I appeared at the main Buxton festival one year. Again I wasn’t paid but did have a lovely lunch and a free ticket to the opera. I made some contacts at the workshop I ran who eventually booked me for a paid workshop.
Building a profile
A writing friend of mine recently interviewed a medium-profile writer on her blog. People interested in his genre would know his name. He described how in the first year of being published he did 150 free visits to libraries. Other writers will probably squirm at that. Yet from every point of view this makes sense.
Why would libraries pay for an unknown writer to talk to them? They’re hardly keeping open now. He was gradually meeting his readership and getting a few more readers with each visit. It must have been hard work, of course: roughly three talks a week! Later, when he is in demand, he can charge.
Promotional visit or workshop?
I actually distinguish between the two. As I write for children, my school visits are the equivalent of a reading that some of my poet colleagues do in the evenings. (And they mostly don’t get paid!).
I do offer a free school visit that lasts about 90 minutes that is purely promotional. It consists of:
· A reading from one book
· A short talk about that book
· A Q & A session
· A short creative writing exercise
I advertise the book in advance and ask the school to encourage parents to buy the book. The student can bring it in to be signed. I give out promotional material as well. I usually try and make some sort of offer – maybe two of my books, signed, at a discount, passing on some of my author discount to them.
However, it’s really the presales I’m interested in: they help to keep my publishers happy.
Most schools actually want a whole day. So, that’s £350 plus expenses. I work out the expenses on 45p per mile and bundle them into the quote, plus I supply the materials and charge for them. I may choose, in fact, to travel by train and stay overnight the day before.
Often they’ll come back and say that that is too much. I then offer to reduce it by a quarter to include the “free” promotional visit.
I do take a few books along, though it’s rare for school children to be able to pay cash.
I’ll do something similar for writing groups but take along a few extra copies then; adults do have cash. And fortunately now I’m at the stage where writing groups expect to pay a fee.
So, definitely, it’s not all that black and white.