I was asked this the other day, after (in another article no longer online) I’d mentioned that as professionals we need to be paid, just as doctors and plumbers and teachers and accountants are paid for their work. By default, we should always be offered a fee.
But how much should we charge?
Some factors to consider:
- The time you will spend – see list further down the page for details of what to consider, because it’s not just the time delivering the talk.
- The level of fee that will make you feel positive rather than negative: a fee that “feels right”.
- The budget of the organiser.
- How much you want to do the event – in other words, how compelling is it for you to do, all things considered. (For example, you might feel that a particular event will lead to other good things and therefore that you might accept a lower fee. However, never attach any weight at all to an organiser saying, “It will be good for your profile”. It’s a rare event that is so good for your profile that you can afford to undervalue your work.)
You might also factor in:
- How valuable your event is – based on how unusual and in demand the topic or you are. Supply and demand.
Thus, the answer you will arrive at for each event will be different. This is a pain in the neck if you have to think and negotiate separately and lengthily for each event. Therefore, it’s helpful to have some guidelines, and to work out in advance what you will charge for different sorts of things.
Here’s a start:
1. (I have removed reference to the otherwise excellent Scottish Book Trust scheme because in my view £150 per event is only acceptable if you’re doing at least two in one day. The figure has been the same for nearly ten years and needs to rise before I can recommend it further.)
2. The Society of Authors has guidelines here (written by me). Particularly note: “Authors and organisers might find the Andrew Bibby reckoner useful. It shows daily freelance rates to equate with different salaries. According to this, to achieve salary of £25k, a daily rate would need to be £283. To achieve a salary of £40k, the daily rate would be £427. Note that these assume that the author would be working every day which is unlikely. Thus if an author were to charge £400 for a day of school events, this may equate to only £200 per day once preparation time is factored in and an annual salary of under £20,000. By comparison £40k would be towards the lower end of the scale of a Leading Practitioner, as an example.”
NB Festivals and bookshops are a special case. I believe festivals should pay all authors the same, and the Edinburgh one certainly does this. This means that you wouldn’t be able to negotiate, and that’s fair enough. All festivals should pay something, though. Bookshops generally don’t pay because they generally don’t charge a ticket price. For signings, readings and launch events, that’s fair enough, as the economics don’t work otherwise. However, if bookshops are charging, for a workshop perhaps, they should also pay you.
What do I (NM) charge and how do I work it out?
Based on a lot of experience, I have a new system for working out fees. Note that I do a wide range of different events, some “simple” school events requiring little preparation and others much more complicated school or INSET days so my fees vary a lot; I also travel long distances and have learnt that standing on a freezing train station and lugging suitcases across the country/world is not something I can do for nothing.
This is how I arrive at a fee:
- I ask organisers to fill in my request for a fee costing so that I can get a real sense of what I’m being asked to do and how long it will take me.
- I then estimate the total time the event will take, including admin (expect masses of emails and don’t forget things like time spent booking train tickets etc), preparation and research, travel, and the time actually at the venue. An event takes me an average of two days. Usually, this is a day for the actual event and a day for preparation and admin – but some events will be less and some more. If I charged £400, that would be £200 a day, which equates to a salary of under £20k (see Andrew Bibby’s reckoner for the computation and scale). I hope it’s obvious that my expertise is worth far more than that, so I charge more – usually at least £600 if it’s taking me two days. [Edited to add: those figures are now out of date. I charge at least £500 for the speaking day and £250-350 for travelling/preparing etc.]
- Always specify that expenses are extra and must be covered.
- Festivals are different, by the way– they should pay all authors the same, which may not be much. So, you have to decide whether you’d like to do it for that low fee. Good festivals are often fun and worthwhile, but I suggest you make sure that things like bookselling, publicity and author care are well set up.
- For overseas events, I have an extra daily charge (£15) to cover internet and phone use, as well as the general extra costs of foreign travel.
- I also consider to some extent the budget of the organiser. School events will generally be cheaper than professional training/INSET. For the latter, I offer expertise on a subject which people want to know about but very few authors or speakers can talk about. But I can’t do a large number of these time-consuming and often high-stress talks, so I have to (and can) charge a “decent” fee.
One of the most annoying things anyone can say to a speaker/author is, “Wow, £XXX per hour? Per hour?”
*takes a deep breath*
It’s not “per hour”. I reckon each event occupies an absolute minimum of one day (if no preparation and barely any admin), and regularly as many as five days or even more, probably averaging two days. Two days per event. So, the fee is for, on average, two days of my time. That includes:
- Admin: emails back and forward discussing details before the event, sending biogs and photos and event blurbs and sometimes filling in forms for the organisation; booking travel and accommodation; looking up the venue and getting/printing out directions; making handouts, gathering the various materials for each talk; ordering and signing postcards in advance; ordering books and getting a float (if applicable); preparing the invoice and copying receipts.
- Preparation time: which may be very little but for some of the things I do is a lot. A workshop may take two or more days of actual preparation. I reckon one recent one took me four days, including things like emailing four publishers for copyright permissions and filling in the forms etc.
- Travel to and from the event, including hanging around in stations/airports.
- Delivering the actual talk, including hanging around before, after and perhaps between.
- Recovery: I simply can’t deliver a couple of hour-long, adrenaline-fuelled talks to new audiences and then go straight into a piece of work at my desk. I’m usually wiped for a couple of hours.
And that’s just time. That’s not to factor in two other priceless things: energy (including stress, in some cases) and expertise.
What if you want to do a free event?
Think about why. Because you’re starting out? No, being a beginner doesn’t make your time and ability worth nothing: just work very hard to prepare a cracking event. New authors don’t necessarily do less good events than old hands. Because it will be good publicity? Almost never. It might be but how are you going to ensure that? The organiser probably doesn’t understand your situation. Also think about the downsides: people don’t value free things so much and it is more likely to be cancelled or get a poor turn out. There’s also a case for saying you are undermining the whole principle for other authors.
But, there are times when it’s fine to do a free event, if you want to but not because you’ve been asked to or you feel guilty:
- Around publication of a new book. (Your publisher ought to cover expenses.)
- For a charity you genuinely want to support – but not just because it’s a charity.
- For something so exciting that it really would be foolish to turn it down. And this should be your response, not their assumption.
- Bookshops, when they aren’t charging customers.
- Exceptional other times when you really feel you want to do it and you’ve thought through why. But make sure it’s a very very good reason!
Otherwise, you should charge. Respect yourself and your work. Respect our profession.
Be open, honest, flexible, realistic, and work out how much the gig is worth to you and what it will take out of you.
I love speaking, really love it, and I throw myself into it. But I need to earn a living and I think I’m worth a living wage. Actually, I think I’m worth more than that, but I won’t push my luck. 🙂