Fair pay for authors

Why should authors be paid? Because it’s hard, skilled work and professionals are paid.

It’s an important principle: authors, writers and illustrators should be paid for events. There are three exceptions (and festivals are not one): most bookshop events; a very few promotional events around publication; and occasional events which, for well- considered reasons, you wish to do unpaid. In all of those cases, expenses should be offered and organisers should understand that the author is giving up legitimate earnings.

Why should authors be paid? Because it’s work—hard, skilled work; we’re professionalsand professionals are paid; and applause doesn’t pay bills. Also, free events more often go badly, as the organiser may not value it enough to invest the necessary time. And if you’re still unpersuaded, imagine applying for a job and one candidate offers to work for no salary, thus securing the job and wrecking the whole model of paying workers. So even if you love doing events so much that you would do them for nothing, please don’t, for the sake of your fellow workers and the worth of what we do.

How much to charge? Estimate the total time the event will take, including admin (expect masses of emails), preparation, travel, hanging about and the time actually at the venue. An event takes me an average of two days—usually the day of the event and another day for preparation and admin. If I charged £400, that’s £200 a day, which equates to a salary under £20,000 (cf. Andrew Bibby’s freelance scale in the Society of Authors guidelines).

I believe my expertise is worth more than that, so I charge more—at least £600 if it is taking me two days. Finally, always specify that expenses are extra and must be covered. Festivals are different—they should pay all authors the same, which may not be much. 

Inspiring readers with great events is valuable work and if we undervalue it ourselves we can’t expect others to think it’s worth anything.

Nicola Morgan is an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction who speaks internationally on adolescence, stress and “readaxation” and is an advocate for authors, school libraries and readers. She is the incoming chair of the SoA Children’s Writers & Illustrators Group