Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

BE RESILIENT has been chosen for the Reading Well for Teens booklist from The Reading Agency

Author events – how to earn a living

My first piece of advice would be: don’t have a pandemic. As well as everything else the pandemic did, for children’s authors who relied on school events to survive financially it has been catastrophic for several reasons:

  • Obviously, during the pandemic we couldn’t do them
  • Online events, if available, often pay less well
  • School budgets are even more stretched
  • And author events are way down the list of priorities for schools
  • Even if we do an in-person event, there’s a higher risk than usual of catching an illness – I’m looking at you, Covid – that could prevent our ability to do more for a while, thus further reducing income

But all my other advice would/should/might be in the online event I’m doing for the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group of the Society of Authors this afternoon. Trouble is, I have major internet issues, thanks to criminals who stole miles of copper wiring connecting my village and others to the wider world. I might be able to use a mobile connection, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, but otherwise I will be contributing via this blog.

It’s a shame because I have a bit of a reputation for telling it how it is when it comes to author events. I have done hundreds and the experiences have ranged from joyous to this one. (Get coffee. A lot.) I have learnt as much as I want to know – or more – about how best to avoid the worst experiences, the ones that leave you feeling scraped off the floor and wishing you could stay there. And I like to share that knowledge with fellow authors as well as with all the countless kind and good event hosts, who really do want their visiting author to feel comfortable so that they can do their best work. (I do realise some authors must be difficult, too!)

Today’s SoA panel is about the contractual/money/organisational side and setting out your cans and can’ts in advance, rather than how to actually deal with situations once you’re there. I have included a couple that are also about how to do more events or access other budgets.

Author events – contracts, money and being professional

  1. Be very clear about what you will and won’t do. You are not an extra supply teacher, even if you also are a teacher. You are an author/illustrator come to share something different and special. You are also not a performing seal. Only agree to what you know you can do well. I set out my stall here and you’ll notice that it is quite feisty – this is because I’m trying to put people off but failing quite badly.
  2. Charge what you need to charge and believe in your value. Here is something to help you: How much should writers charge for events? Yes, I KNOW so many schools are struggling but this is not your fault and you should not be made to feel guilty. So many PEOPLE/AUTHORS are struggling, too. If necessary, point out that this is not an hourly fee: it’s to cover all the countless hours you’ll spend preparing for the event, travelling to and from it, hanging around on station platforms and recovering from it, not to mention the hours/years you’ve spent becoming the person who can deliver this event.
  3. (Almost) never agree to a free or nearly free event. If you do, you are lowering the value of ALL authors and damaging the very real need to earn a living for work – we are professionals and we have to earn for our work. Imagine if teacher turned up to an interview and said they’d be happy to work for nothing – or even to work for nothing one day a week – what would the other teachers think? It’s not fair and it’s not right. And almost every author will tell you that it’s the free ones that are more likely to go badly and leave you feeling sat upon.
    • Here are two more articles that might empower you:
    • But if you can’t face reading those, I simply suggest:
      • If you do feel the need to do it for nothing, make a point of explaining why this is a generally problematic, unsupportive thing to do for your colleagues and why you are doing it in this case. Ask them to make this point to the SLT.
      • If you are actually lucky enough not to want or need the fee, you might consider offering it back to a particular cause or fund in the school? But still explain why most authors should be paid properly. PLUS expenses.
    • If anyone says they won’t pay you but you’ll benefit from the exposure, refuse and point out that people die of exposure. You’ll be better off staying at home and writing another 3000 words.
  4. Have a booking form which includes your Terms and Conditions and get the organiser to sign it. My sample T&C are here. Feel free to use/adapt.
    • Make sure you include the Morgan Clause, which basically says that if they try to make you jump through the sillies that’s fine as long as they pay extra for your time and irritation. Note that it’s almost never the organiser’s fault but the account department’s “system” so make sure you alert the poor organiser to your clause so they can tell the account dept, who will almost always see sense along with the looming Morgan penalty.
    • Think through your cancellation terms carefully.
    • Include something about recording – schools often want to record but be very careful. For an in-person event, the recording quality is likely to be poor AND it will restrict what you can do on stage – will it affect your performance? – do you want that to be shown to other audiences? Also, what about your future event earning ability if your events are put online? For online events, your earning ability is also at risk but you could set a time limit and you should definitely refuse to allow it to be put online. Keep control and only agree to what you’re happy with. Wave copyright law at them – copyright must remain yours even if they record.
  5. Always be polite, clear, sympathetic, professional, making it clear that everything you say has one purpose only: that you will be able to deliver the perfect event, the exact event they want. I used to send Nicola Morgan’s School Event Guidelines out in advance but I do most events online now so I haven’t bothered for a while. I also think that the schools that most need it didn’t read it…
  6. Online events need extra thought:
    • Fees: in my case I reduce the fee for online events, but only because with my in-person events I am explicit that part of the fee is for my travelling time, so it’s right for me to remove that element. I still charge a decent amount, though, because the prep time and the energy burnt during the actual event are the same and are the bulk of the work. If your fees were already pared right back, you don’t have to reduce them.
    • Tech: I am not alone in being allergic to Microsoft Teams as an external speaker. I now refuse to use it. Or I charge £100 extra which I then waive in the (unlikely) event that it all goes smoothly. With any platform, be clear in advance about who is setting it up – usually it’s the school and so it should be, but a couple of times I’ve had schools ask me to do it – in both cases they said they’d seen a webinar I’d organised myself (a public one – see below) and they were so impressed by the professionalism that they wanted it just like that. But I’d rather not unless I’m being paid a lot.
    • Practise your powerpoint manipulation so it’s really slick. Use the “kiosk” browsing option rather than full screen so you can have it open and ready in advance.
  7. Offer a range of options – for example, I offer online Q&A sessions which schools love – two schools have booked me three years in a row for these. They are cheaper than full talks but involve much less prep.
  8. Widen your audience – you might only be thinking of the students but what about parents and what about staff? There are different – and usually bigger – budgets for these. And if your books have particular curricular relevance, think about what separate budgets there might be for that – eg STEM or inclusion.
  9. Offer to give the school some publicity, on Twitter, your website, Insta, whatever you use.
  10. Provide extra value – I always provide a downloadable package with a mass of stuff that will appeal to different stakeholders: senior management, library, teaching staff, year heads and students. There will be handouts, links, worksheets, posters, postcards, activities. The aim is that the value will continue way way beyond the hour each audience might spend with me.

Organising a public pay-to-view webinar yourself

This is the way to earn a living from your talks. I’ve now done four and really enjoyed it. It’s hard work and the preparation is intense but you are in control and you can earn quite well. Eventbrite works really well. Ideally you need a friend/colleague (in my case my freelance assistant) to work behind the scenes to deal with glitches.

If anyone would like me to do an online event about doing an online event, let me know! It won’t be free but you know that by now…

Is there a risk of losing bookings by being this strong?

You can certainly lose bookings by charging too much but you have to decide what they are worth to you and not take less. So yes, feel free to negotiate on fees – but start higher than you might think. Of course there are probably schools that don’t contact me because I’m up-front on my website about my fees. But plenty do and they are always happy with how it turns out. Two schools could share – I’ve done that several times. I’ve sometimes been able to help a school that’s really keen (if they don’t show they’re keen I’m not inclined to try but if they are I’ll bend over backwards) by offering some free books or a free online Q&A after the event, or a video they can use for other year groups.

But I don’t believe you’ll lose a booking by being strong and confident in your rights and needs. And, frankly, if a school decided not to book me because I’m standing up for myself then are they a school I want to work for? I’ll leave you to answer that.

Strong authors; powerful events; empowered audiences. Together, we can do this.

Thank you to the Society of Authors for organising this panel event and for paying the speakers a fee!

PS Authors, you have joined the SoA, right? Excellent!

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.

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