How much should writers charge for events?

jacks game 2I 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. 🙂

 

 

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29 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for all this information, and for the confidence boost. I have just mastered the art of saying I charge a fee for events without visibly cringing or apologising despite wanting to.

    1. TVM, Mark. One thing I could have added, actually, is something about pressing to encourage book sales – except that, as we know, we would have to sell A LOT of books to make any respectable income.

  2. Great post! One question that my wife (who organises contemporary dance events for a living) always asks when I get a request to do a free book event is “Is the person that’s asking you being paid?” If they, like her, are in a salaried job, she considers it inappropriate for them to be asking you to give your time for free and effectively helping to keep them in paid employment.

    Another question I always ask with free events is, “Do those attending have to pay to get in.” If they do, and it’s not for charity or a good cause, I request a fee.

    But there are exceptions. I’ve just done a free event at Seven Stories on the grounds that I’ve wanted to visit since they opened but never got round to it. On top of which, my publisher covered my travel costs, my family got in for free, they gave us lunch and they’re currently facing a 100% cut in their local council funding 🙁

    1. Jonathan – brilliant example of an event that’s absolutely good to do free!
      And yes, re whether the person organising is on a salary – because otherwise the speaker could be the only adult involved who isn’t paid.

      1. Another exception I make for free events (now that I’m earning a reasonable living and can afford to) is events in my immediate local community, where travel is minimal (walking or cycling distance). However, I always make clear when doing so that I you would normally charge – to prevent word getting around that I’m prepared to make free appearances generally!

    1. Good! However, I think writers should charge even if it’s not their main way of earning a living. And I think wealthy authors should charge, too, even if they then choose to donate their fee to a chosen charity. Oh, btw, I hate it when festivals suggest that we do that… It should be an act initiated by the donor, not suggested with some kind of moral obligation.

  3. Fantastic post! Actually i was the one who asked for it, mainly because this kind of information is simply not available. I’m just starting to be approached to speak at events, and they all say, “how much do you charge?” I had no idea, and on two occasions turned the work down because i didn’t know what to say (and I’ve got a WI talk application in the draw that I’ve had and not responded to for 6 months for the same reason, which is so unprofessional!). However, now i feel confident enough to move forward. There’s just so much good information in this post – thank you!

    1. Hi Tu – if you’re a professional writer, it is! But if it’s a hobby I don’t believe you’d be invited to do the talks or that you’d be charging a fee. Professionals get paid. End of… 🙂

      1. (Oops, sorry, PC filled me in as ‘tu’…) Yes, agree. I’ve been dabbling with writing fiction (in between having babies) for the last couple of years and have been surprised at just how much writers do for free, and how many people — oh how many — will write purely for publication. That happens in my profession too — scientific writers will submit articles purely for publication — but the balance is different; the daily grind, and all the meetings, are unquestionably chargeable.

        1. Hi again! It’s always really good to get another perspective, as I tend to assume that writing is a profession because it is for me and the writers I know! Of course, many others (perhaps like you) write fiction as a hobby. But for me, beng a writer *is* the job, the main reason for going to my desk, the thing that answers the “what do you do?” question. But part of being a professional writer is managing the whole career, and the actual writing is a) the most important part but b) not all of it. I can see that scientists are scientists first and present papers for publication as a secondary thing. For me, the writing is almost everything (ideally!)

          1. I’m not a hobby writer, just new to fiction, and noticing that there are a lot of hobby writers who don’t get paid, and a lot of pros who don’t seem to feel that payment is an automatic right. There’s sometimes an interesting ambivalence about finance in the creative sector…?
            With science it’s different; the scientific writers are commercial writers and as a discipline, it has its own art (e.g. making sophisticated medicine comprehensible to all patients). It’s only the journals that don’t pay — a historical issue. We tolerate it because journal publications are a negligible proportion of our writing, and because there’s a joy in sharing information.

            1. This is a really interesting conversation. I do think that historically there’s been “ambivalence about finance in the creative sector” but much less so nowadays, especially since the creative industries make so much money for the country. Any writer who gets something published should be paid and should, where possible, stand up for that, but I do recognise that academic writing has traditionally been different. Am I right in thinking that the reasons an academic doesn’t usually get paid for writing a journal article are that a) the academic is salaried and b), connected to that, that writing for publication is part of the job, especially with a view to attracting funding to the uni and because the writing is usually reporting on research, another part of the job? For other professional writers, whether novelists or whatever, being a writer isn’t salaried, so we should expect to be paid.

              “joy in sharing information” – absolutely, which is why bloggers are not paid and even a professional writer writing a guest post for a blog wouldn’t usually expect to be paid. (And any income to a blog would be through advertising.)

              It’s all very interesting! Good luck with your writing and please accept my apologies for thinking you meant you were a hobby writer. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

            2. It is interesting, and I’m not sure why the scientific/medical journals don’t pay for contributions. You’re right about a lot of the academics and other writers (e.g. pharma, research etc) being salaried — and their organisations might hope for peer-reviewed publication as part of that role — but still, the journals sell the work… It’s a historical glitch which has been tolerated because we feel flattered if our work is accepted (hoist by our own egos?). I just asked my husband (and business partner) if he knows why/how it ended up like this, and he just said, ‘It’s a privilege to be published in them!’ And grinned.
              As for blogs, yes, definitely — I blog for free as well, because I enjoy it. I take it back; I am a hobby writer! (And a pro.)

  4. Thanks so much for this great post. I have been charging for school visits, in line with the SoA guidelines, but it’s a real battle to resist the urge to say “Oh, it’s fine. I’ll do it for free”, even though I really need the money and days of preparatory work goes into these events.

    It’s this horrible mix of guilt, self-consciousness and people-pleasing.

    The thing that I always come back to, though, is that if I do an event for free, then I’ll be undermining other writers who charge for events, and that is bad for everybody.

    I hope, with more experience, that I’ll be able to send off my invoice without feeling like a naughty child who’s about to get a telling off. The other side of this is that I feel completely delighted and proud of myself when the payments for these events appear in my bank account.

    But, anyway, I intend to keep charging for events, so I’ll just have to get over these cringey, embarrassed feelings. Professionals get paid for their work, and quite rightly so.

  5. This has been really helpful to me, thank you. I’m a self-published children’s fiction author, so in some ways feel even more uncomfortable requesting payment and putting a value on my time and energy (my own particular hang up over my desire to be traditionally published). However, book sales will not make me my fortune!
    My first couple of author workshops were at my daughters’ school. I didn’t charge, because it was a favour to them and I was testing the water. It wasn’t actually until I drafted out my ‘credentials’ (degree, experience working with children and all the different writing work I do) and came up with some ideas for different workshops that I realised I wasn’t a fraud! I could do this and shouldn’t undervalue it. Not least because, as you and others have said, it undermines the profession as a whole.
    Now I’m determined to make sure that the schools get value for money!
    Also, I downloaded your eBook on synopsis writing and it saved my sanity. Jo Cotterill recommended it to me. I went from tearing my hair out to lightbulb moment in the time it took to read it. Thank you. 🙂

  6. I have read all the comments with great interest. I am an English and Drama teacher in a boarding school and have taught for twenty years now. I started writing for fun about eight years ago, but after a few successes in competitions, a couple of courses, and acceptances of short stories by The People’s Friend, I started to believe that I might be able to make a career of writing at some point in the future. I have self-published five children’s books and am very pleased with the outcome of that and how they are selling. I have been in exactly the same position as many of the other contributors to this page and am still wrangling with what I should charge for workshops. To date, I have done them in the local area and free of charge, though fitting this in between teaching or in my holidays has been difficult. I have received comments before I’ve even got to the organising stage such as ‘We couldn’t possibly afford to pay what the Society of Authors recommends but we could offer a nice lunch and enthusiastic children’. Needless to say, I have not taken up that offer, especially as it is an hour’s drive away. In other places I have asked for there to be a push on book sales, but I spent one whole day doing workshops for nothing and emerged with £24, which made me feel very disheartened and quite a mug. A conversation I had by chance with a primary school teacher, who seemed shocked that I would consider charging £50 for a one hour session, £80 for two and £100 for three, further disillusioned me. She asked what I could do that she couldn’t – quite insulting, though it gave me something to think about. Even when I have offered my services for nothing, hardly any schools have taken me up on it, so they must think, I presume, that I am useless. I am certainly going to start charging and have really appreciated the advice that you have offered here and elsewhere, Nicola. I may have a decent income from my teaching job, but that is no reason why I should not put value on my talents in the events I do linked to my writing. I am still considering the figures and what I can offer to make me ‘desirable’ but am not prepared to be taken advantage of any longer. Any further advice you might be able to offer would be much appreciated.

    1. Hi Lynne and thanks for sharing your interesting and resonant experiences. I’m glad to hear that you’re on board with the value and worth thing! To be honest, I don’t think the problem of people not understanding will ever go away but we have to keep on explaining firmly and clearly. You’ll be glad to hear that Arts Council England have said they will not give funding to any organisation/festival that does not pay authors/illustrators to speak/perform. So, we are getting there!

      You said, “Even when I have offered my services for nothing, hardly any schools have taken me up on it, so they must think, I presume, that I am useless.” No, it’s because people often don’t value things that are free and they may think free things won’t be very good!

      As for tips: I looked at your website and my immediate thought is to suggest that you put information about your events up there. You need organisers/schools to see a) that you offer events as a professional and b) what types of events you do and what your terms are. For example, perhaps you can only do Mondays or you’ll only go within 50 miles of X; and, crucially, what kind of fees and expenses you charge. You probably haven’t put anything there because you’re still trying to work it out. I think you should get something simple up there asap. A good idea would also be a downloadable pdf that librarians can print off.

      My other thought is that, as an Eng and Drama teacher, you could offer INSET sessions to schools.

      My final thought is to suggest you join the Scattered Authors Society. I’m organising our annual get-together (informal conference) in Feb so do hurry and you could come. We always talk about events and share expertise.

      If you want to email me privately, feel free. Use the contact button at the top of this page.

      Good luck!

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