Fair pay for writers – it’s not a term you hear bandied about very much is it? Besides, don’t authors earn squillions from the huge royalties they rake in? Well, maybe if you’re EL James or JK Rowling. The rest of us take on lots of other different kinds of work so that we can afford to stay at home and write books, some of the time. This work can be anything from teaching to author talks at libraries, to presenting workshops at schools.
When I first started being invited to do author talks and workshops, which was about two years ago when What is Left Over, After came out, I was a little ignorant about the idea of fair pay for writers. I looked up what the Australian Society of Authors – of which I am a member – had to say on the matter and was pleased to see they had a list of rates for all different kinds of talks and events. But I very quickly realised that many of the people who ask authors to be involved in events have no idea about ASA rates and it is up to the author to ask for whatever pay they think is fair. Using the ASA rates to work out this fair level of pay should be a no-brainer, but I was often told that no, the organisation couldn’t afford to pay that, how about we pay you $x instead, $x usually being about half of what the recommended rate is.
In fact, I remember being asked to present a one hour workshop at a school by an English teacher, which I agreed to. Stupidly I didn’t bring up the pay issue and nor did she. It was only after I’d delivered the workshop that I realised the school had no intention of paying me anything for the time it had taken to both put together and deliver the workshop. The school paid the teachers to teach the students but apparently it was quite acceptable to get an author in to do the work a teacher would otherwise do, for free. Yes, it was my fault for not clarifying this up front and boy did I learn from that mistake.
Of course there are occasions when an author is happy to work for less than the recommended rate – authors are all happy to donate their time working for charitable projects aimed at helping prevent illiteracy, aimed at encouraging children to read etc. Authors are also often happy to forgo a fee in order to have the chance to promote and sell their books, deciding that the publicity benefits outweigh any potential fee from the event.
But, overall, if an author is providing a service, such as teaching people how to write and those people are paying to attend the sessions to hear the author, then shouldn’t the organisation involved pay the author fairly for their time? Of course they should.
If authors always accept a fee that is lower than the recommended rate, then no one wins. It makes it difficult for anyone to ever get the fees back up to reasonable levels and it sets a precedent so that authors following in our footsteps also feel obliged to accept less money. It also gives those who pay to attend these events an unrealistic idea of how much an author’s time and expertise cost – the organisers should surely charge the participants enough money to be able to pay the author an appropriate amount of money. If they don’t, they’re devaluing the skills they are selling.
I’ve been lucky enough to find a few organisations in Perth who are very happy to pay ASA rates. They charge their attendees an amount that covers those rates and guess what? The workshops or events are usually booked out. Everyone is happy, from the host organisation to the people who come along, to me, the author who feels valued and who probably puts more effort and energy into the workshop as a result.
So I’ve decided that, this year, I’m only going to work with organisations who pay fairly, except if it’s for a charitable event or some other purpose that I’m willing to give and take on. I’m going to put a fair value on my time and I’m going to get better at saying no when I don’t feel the value both parties are gaining is equal. What I’d like to do is encourage other writers in WA to do the same, to make a declaration that our skills are worthy of a certain level of compensation and to help make a difference to those authors who come after us. Who’s with me?