Authors should be paid for festival appearances, writers have told The Bookseller, because “authors are professional and deserve professional treatment”.
Writer Joanne Harris, who said she has recently been contacted by festivals to ask her to waive an appearance fee, said that authors, like other participants, deserve payment. “[Festivals] expect to pay the caterers, the printers, the people in charge of the venues, the interviewers. No one would expect these people to work for free. Why are authors different? Authors are professionals, and deserve professional treatment, including a fee and expenses for their time and expertise,” she said.
Fellow author Mel Sherratt agreed, and said there was no guarantee authors would make money by selling copies of their books at a festival. “For me, it’s about meeting people, connecting with an audience that might then be interested enough to check out my work afterwards,” she said. “I like to spend time chatting to readers. Writers deserve to get paid—they are part of what makes a successful festival. As well as that, it can take a day out of a writer’s working week to attend and return from a festival or panel event, so it isn’t just an hour to do a talk. It can be very time-consuming and expensive, if travel costs are taken into consideration as well.”
Linda Grant [pictured] told The Bookseller that full-time authors lose a day’s work to attend festivals and “very often get little back from it in return”. She added: “You can go to a festival and have a really good time with a good audience, and it’s really well chaired and you sell lots of books. The other experience is committing to something five or six months in advance, and the schedule comes out and you’re in a small venue against a TV personality, there are 25 people in the audience and you sell two books. The problem is that while the thinking behind it is that you go to promote your books and sell them, it doesn’t always work out that way.
“My publisher [Little, Brown] will pay travel or accommodation [costs] if the festival won’t pay, but if you’re going to a festival you should be paid travel, accommodation and a fee. I don’t really understand why the publisher should be paying expenses.”
Author Nikesh Shukla said it was “common courtesy to pay your talent, your entertainment, the people on the programmes who make the content and the shows that sell the tickets that bring the crowds.”
Author and Chipping Norton Literary Festival (CNLF) organiser Clare Mackintosh said she could see the issue from both sides, but stressed that “the underlying principle doesn’t change: authors must be recompensed”. This year CNLF will run a profit-share model for authors for the first time. “When the bills have been paid and our projected outgoings accounted for, our profits will be divided between the 70 authors booked to attend,” Mackintosh said. “I will be the first to agree that this is not the perfect model—authors should be the first to be paid, not the last. However, it is a big step forward from non-payment.”
Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival, said writers are offered “fees in money, books or wine” to promote new publications. He added: “Where we are commissioning new work or lectures we offer money.”
Florence would not divulge the amounts, but said that Hay did not “treat actors and comedians who have written books any differently from poets or novelists in book-related events”.
Jane Furze, director of The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, said: “At Cheltenham we pay our speakers, as well as ensuring that travel and accommodation are provided either by us or the publisher. We understand that every speaker’s time is precious and therefore invest in a team that is dedicated to ensuring that each visit with us is effective, efficient and worthwhile. This includes providing tailored itineraries, complementary tickets and full complimentary catering for speakers and their guests. Our professional events team is also constantly on hand throughout the visit.”
A spokesperson for the Edinburgh International Book Festival said it paid £200 per author per event. In 2014 it generated £600,000 from book sales.
Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: "A key part of our ethos is to ensure that everybody who works at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is be paid for their time and accordingly we offer every speaker and moderator an appearance fee per event and have done for over 20 years. Every author is paid the same appearance fee, which this year will be £200, whether they are a first time novelist or an internationally renowned bestseller. We also cover travel and accommodation for every speaker, sometimes in partnership with the publisher, or international cultural institutes. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a registered charity and as such is a not-for-profit organisation which achieves a break-even position most years. It is worth noting that in recent years there has been an informal agreement amongst Scottish Book Festivals to pay a standard rate of £150 or above per author per event."