Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Are Authors Worth?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an organization from my home state and asked to host a series of lectures by fiction writers. I was also asked to help line up the speakers. As I was talking with the “person in charge” I asked what the fee or honorarium would be. The answer was that the authors would be allowed to sell their own books.

I explained that in this day of rising fuel prices I didn’t think that would be adequate compensation. I suggested we pay one hundred and fifty dollars per person. Honestly you would have thought I suggested a hundred and fifty thousand. I could hear the gasp and intake of breath all the way from South Carolina.

Now why is this? Are writers not celebrities of a sort? Don’t they deserve to get a little recognition in a monetary sense for their accomplishments? I think they do. But even I must confess that I am a person who will go anywhere and everywhere to spread the word about my books. And I don’t usually get any compensation.

That is not to say I haven’t gotten paid in some instances. Sometimes I have been paid nicely. Sometimes I have not. I have spoken to groups and gotten a plant, a book weight, a pen set, gift certificates for everything from restaurants to video stores, and hand written thank you notes. You never know what you are going to get.

I think one reason writers don’t get paid is that most of us just feel so lucky to be writers. We still haven’t gotten over the fact that we are published authors. So when someone asks if we will speak to this or that group we just say sure and show up.

I have a friend who is an author and she decided to put her foot down and ask to at least get gas money. She said she got responses like “oh we can’t do that” or “do we really have to?” Mind now that she wasn’t asking for a fee, just for gas money.

Another friend of mine doesn’t mind doing these events for free but his wife pitches a fit when he isn’t paid. She says they don’t earn enough for him to make trips that don’t compensate him. He tried the old argument about selling his books there but she countered with the fact that sometimes he doesn’t sell very many books. That is true for all authors. Books sales are never guaranteed.

Then there are the writers who say that they don’t go anywhere without being paid. I don’t believe it. Unless they are on the level of John Grisham or Danielle Steel I think they take what they can get just like the rest of us. And if they aren’t offered anything they still go just to have a chance to plug their book.

For the upcoming event I mentioned I got the honorarium approved, but not without a struggle. It was like taking pennies from the poor. I felt like the meanest guy around, but then I thought about the poor writers who were going to travel a hundreds miles or more. They were taking their time and their talent to come and speak. That put some strength in my backbone and I stood tough.

Maybe some of you have the solution, or maybe you don’t think it is a problem. I would like to know what you think. Personally I think writers should be paid for their time and efforts but maybe I am just being miserly.


Jackie K Cooper's next book THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS will be published in September by Mercer University Press


Anonymous said...

Great post! Authors almost always speak at such things and therefor deserve to be compensated for their time and efforts. Organizations almost always have a budget to cover the expenses.

People also tend to value you more when you ask for compensation. I used to do lots of freebies, but no more.


River Jordan said...

Lovely of you to address this. As writers we have be working for so hard for so long in the dark, we are just flattered oftentimes that anyone asks us to show up and lets face it, we love to tell a good story.

Maybe we should UNITE! and only show up if we get compensation. Okay, maybe we can start with a free lunch and a gas voucher. :)