Still on the subject of ‘How much do writers earn?’ (see last post), author Joanne Harris* (of ‘Chocolat’ fame. And by the way, can you believe it’s 20 years since that novel was published?) has revealed – in a tweet – how much she’s accepted for work in the past week. And also, what she’s turned down. This is in the interest of ‘openness’ and I applaud her for doing so.
We writers tend to be pretty coy about what we get paid and that doesn’t help our cause, does it? We might, for example, be accepting a much lower rate than someone else is getting for the same work.
I know, in the past, when I’ve been asked by an organiser what I charge for a workshop or a talk, it’s been difficult to answer. Ask for too much and you fear appearing ‘greedy’ (and might price yourself out of the job!) but ask for too little and you don’t do yourself – or other writers – any favours by underselling yourself and your skills.
I have just about worked out how to answer this one now, by the way. I calculate how long it’s going to take me, in terms of travel time, preparation and delivery of, say, a workshop. If it’s going to take a total of 6 hours and I think £10 an hour is a reasonable rate of pay, then I’ll quote £60 (plus, maybe something for petrol). It’s still a bit ‘random’ but it’s better than just plucking a figure out of the air.
This week, Ms Harris has accepted: £500 for an article in a leading newspaper, £100 (begrudgingly) for a smaller article in a different newspaper and £150 each for two festival appearances. Another 2 festivals who said they had ‘no budget for contributors’ were turned down and GOOD for her for doing that.
This ‘no budget for contributors’ is laughable really, isn’t it? Because without the writers, there would be no audience and therefore no literary festival! But the writers are supposed to do it for the ‘exposure’. Ooh don’t get me started on that one.
I replied to Joanne’s tweet (truthfully – and she gave me a *Fist-bump* for it – ooh, get me!) that the small literary festival that I volunteer for (which I didn’t mention in my tweet but which you all know because I mention it often enough, the Evesham Festival of Words), would never expect any contributor to work without payment.
Some of the writers and performers we approach, I should add, do offer to waive their fee (and even then, we still offer expenses. eg: travel and overnight accommodation). I suspect they do this because we are a very small festival and they are helping us to grow. Which is very worthy and kind of them but absolutely not expected.
What writerly things would you – or do you – do for free?
Joanne Harris has tweeted (again!) today a list of #10WaysToSupportWriters because she believes – as do I – that writers should support other writers.
A great example of this – for me, at least – was the womagwriter blog that Kath McGurl set up several years ago, as a virtual meeting place for those writing, or hoping to write, for the women’s magazine market.
It was the first time I’d ever seen information about magazine guidelines and tips for getting published, in one place. It definitely helped me and was a very valuable (and generous) resource. Hats off to Kath (now a successful novelist and full-time writer – there’s karma for you), for setting that up. (The website is still running, in the capable hands of Patsy Collins now, by the way).
I try to ‘give something back’ by volunteering for the Evesham Festival and by offering my services free of charge once a fortnight at a seniors’ writing group in Stratford-on-Avon (both of which I really enjoy, so it’s not really ‘work’).
But to return to Joanne Harris for a moment. She suggests in her list of ‘ways to help writers’, that you “think hard before making requests of a fellow-writer, especially if you don’t know them in real life. And never ask a writer to do something (editing, manuscript assessment, etc) that any other professional would charge for.” Hear, hear to that. It’s particularly difficult, I think, to turn down a request to read or edit something from a friend, or a friend of a friend.
I had an email a couple of weeks ago out of the blue, from a stranger (perhaps he/she reads my blog but I suspect not, so I feel at liberty to quote from the emails but I will of course not reveal his/her name). This person had seen my little e-book on starting a creative writing class, on Amazon.
“I would like to know if we could have a chat to exchange correspondence about how to lead a writers group or class?” was the question. Because this person had never conducted a creative writing class before. Hmm, I was very tempted to suggest that they might want to buy my book and read it BUT I was feeling kind and generous (I don’t always) and, noticing that they actually wanted to teach children, not adults, I replied:
“My book is aimed at those who are going to be teaching adults, so probably not very relevant for you (and I don’t teach children, so I can’t help, sorry!).
Kate Long has written a book called ‘Boost Creative Writing Confidence at KS2’ which would probably be more useful to you. Here is the link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boost-Creative-Writing-Confidence-KS2/dp/1723961175/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1550166469&sr=8-1&keywords=Kate+long
It costs £10 but if you’ve never taught Creative Writing before and you’re looking for some guidance, it would probably be a good investment!”
Quite helpful, wasn’t I? (Plus, I was helping to promote a fellow writer’s book).
But that wasn’t enough for the person, who then decided that they did want to teach adults, after all (but still didn’t want to pay £2.99 for my e-book):
“Hi Helen, thanks but I am also a graduate student in literature. Is it possible we can talk about teaching adult to write and be published? And some resources?”
At which point, I’m afraid I just wrote back and said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time for that.’ (true!) and of course, I’ve never heard from them again.
I suspect published/well known authors (which of course, I am not), must get these kinds of requests all the time. It’s cheeky, isn’t it? Or do you think I should have been more helpful?!
* If you’re on Twitter, you should follow her: she has lots of good stuff to say. @joannechocolat is her handle.