A fair shout for fees

John McLay, founder of the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, wrote in The Bookseller that when authors attend a festival, they enter into an unspoken agreement with the festival organisers not to expect a fee. I don’t agree.

I set up the Hertford Children’s Book Festival in 2012. This year’s stellar line-up includes Charlie Higson, David Baddiel, Emma Kennedy, Holly Smale, James Mayhew, Sally Gardner, John Hegley, Meg Rosoff and Alex Scarrow, to name but a few. Also appearing at our venues and schools in and around Hertford are lesser-known authors with far more modest sales figures; some self-publish, many have other jobs to supplement their income. Last year the average annual income for an author was £12,000. Regardless of their standing in the charts or their sales, all of our authors receive the same fee.

Yes, festivals enable authors to promote and sell books and to widen the appeal of their work. And yes, running a book festival requires hard graft and investment year round. The Hertford Children’s Book Festival is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation and we run a very tight ship. We are aiming to steer our festival to stand shoulder to shoulder with the larger, more established ones.

Maureen Pegg, my co-organiser, and I did our research; we talked to authors, agents and publishers, we met councillors, local businesses and philanthropic individuals. We flirted, we bartered, we begged. The response was heartening: in this fast-moving digital age, people really do want children to remain hungry for books. We earmark part of our funding and donations to pay our authors.

For an author, festival events require a great deal of preparation, thought, generosity and often nerves. The festival fee we pay all our authors is not big bucks, but it is there as a token of our appreciation and respect. They are all hardworking, entertaining and inspiring professionals who simply ought to be remunerated for the service they provide. As Maureen says: “You don’t ask your local butcher for a free steak. Authors are giving their time and energy and yes they do benefit but why shouldn’t they? They deserve to feel valued.”

Author Freya North is the co-organiser of the Hertford Children’s Book Festival, which runs 2nd–8th October