Joanne Harris withdraws from festival over 'unreasonable' demands

Joanne Harris withdraws from festival over 'unreasonable' demands

Joanne Harris has announced she is pulling out of a literature festival “for the first time in my life” because of its demanding contract terms and has called for an industry-wide standard to be introduced.

Chocolat author Harris tweeted earlier today (23rd February) that: “For the first time in my life, and with the utmost regret, I'm pulling out of a festival because of the terms of their contract.”

The festival in question had demanded a six-week exclusivity clause around the author holding any other events in the area, requested unrestricted filming of her attendance there and five free copies of the book. “All this for the princely sum of fifty quid,” Harris said, adding: “No thanks.”

Speaking to The Bookseller, Harris said she was reluctant to disclose the name of the July literature festival because the issues concerned many festivals and she didn’t want there to be a “hate fest” against the event.

However, Harris said to prevent the “unreasonable” demands of festivals getting out of control for authors, an industry standard contract should be drawn up by the Society of Authors.

“The contract terms are unreasonable,” Harris said. “I spoke to my PR at my publisher’s about it and she said there were lots of these contracts around. The exclusivity element is becoming a massive issue because it makes doing a book tour practically impossible and festivals are also asking authors to give permission to be filmed and recorded– with some the festivals charging for downloads of the film and podcasts. The festivals often also send the contract through really late after you have already agreed to appear and it has announced you are appearing, making it hard for authors not to agree to the terms.

“I think it is time for the Society of Authors to have an industry standard contracts rather than allow festivals to decide their own terms,” Harris added.

Authors "love" doing festivals, the Transworld author said, but the list of demands they have to agree to was "eroding the good will” of writers.

“These festivals are expecting everyone to be paid apart from the author, which the festival is built around,” Harris said. “It is time we really had a look at this. It was OK 50 years ago but it is not OK now. Especially young or unknown authors who can’t afford to go and have to pay their own travel. I am speaking out because someone needs to take a stance where others might feel they can’t. Somewhere along the line it has become accepted that authors don’t get paid for this type of thing. We need to send the message out that art isn’t free, that art has a worth and needs to be paid for.”

Harris said she was now “reluctant” to attend festivals which do not offer a fee, although she will return the fee for a small festival, she said.

Last month, author and Society of Authors president Philip Pullman announced he was standing down from his position as patron of Oxford Literary Festival because it did not pay authors to speak, despite him trying to “long persuade” them to.

At the time, he said: "Festivals pay everyone else who’s professionally involved.They pay for the electricity they use, they pay rent for the lecture halls they hire, they pay the people who supply the marquees and the toilets, they pay the publicists and the professional administrators, they pay for the drinks receptions, they pay the people who cook and serve the ‘black tie dinners’, they pay the people who design and print the brochures and the programmes, they pay the people who do the cleaning. Only the authors are expected to work for nothing. Many of us have had enough of that.”

Shortly afterwards, prominent writers including Harris and Linda Grant, Denise Mina, and Francesca Simon called for publishers and fellow authors to boycott events which didn’t pay authors in a letter to The Bookseller.

The Society of Authors (SoA) has drawn up a document of "Minimum Practice Guidelines" for literary festivals, covering the areas of transparency, payment and expenses, rights, arrangements and book sales.

Nicola Solomon, c.e.o of the SoA, said: "We do not advocate a standard contract but we do urge all festivals to follow our guidelines. Like Joanne, we have seen a number of festivals which try to impose an exclusivity period on authors. This strikes us as most unfair and singularly inappropriate, particularly when authors are paid so little for festivals. We will be adding this to our guidelines when we revise them later in the year."

She added: "Contracts should be given at the time the author is first contacted so they know what terms are being requested. Authors should not be recorded without permission and use of any such recordings, even for publicity purposes should attract an extra fee."

Oxford Literary Festival has since said it would “meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers" from 2017.

Harris has previously issued a 12-point “Writer’s Manifesto” at Manchester Literature Festival, arguing that “a writer and their readers should be based on mutual respect.”