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02 April 2012 @ 05:25 pm
What's a writer worth?  
The writer Paul Magrs, (Dr Who books, YA books and many prose works for adults) has posted a brilliant all-purpose email on his blog for the use of authors who get asked to do unpaid work at literary festivals. Having agreed to appear for free at a festival, doing 4 events over 2 days, he then found they wouldn't even pay his train fare, at which point, unsurprisingly, he pulled out. This was not some sort of free festival, by the way. Though he doesn't name it in the blog post, he subsequently did on Facebook, because they were still advertising his presence and he wanted to explain to anyone who expected to see him why he wouldn't be there. The festival in question, an SF/fantasy affair, is charging attenders £45 for a ticket to all events. I wonder if said attenders realise that the authors they came to hear won't see a penny of it?

The excuse often made by such festivals is that authors will find their appearance "profile-raising" and will sell more as a result. As a commenter on the blog points out, try that one on your plumber and see how far you get. The caterers, electricians and other backroom people who enable these festivals to happen will all expect, quite rightly, to get paid and would not consider working otherwise. Yet authors, the raison d'etre of a literary festival, are with increasing frequency expected to donate their services. Quite often, too, and certainly in the case of this festival, there will be "guests of honour" who do get paid, presumably at the expense of those who don't (the year Bill Clinton appeared at Hay, he was rumoured to have been paid £10,000, while most of the writers present went home with a white rose.)

At least, though, Hay does, or then did, pay expenses. Actually expecting an author to be out of pocket by attending is a new one on me, but I suspect it may increase. Paul Magrs did the right thing by pulling out, but I really wish more writers would refuse to be treated in this way. I don't think writers should even agree to appear without a fee, unless for charity or at a festival to which entrance is not charged. It's demeaning and it's unprofessional.

It's also a dangerous precedent to set. Organisers may tell you: these are hard times, they can't afford to pay writers "at the moment" (the implication being that if your charity enables them to survive, things might get better in future). Well, if they can't afford to pay those who constitute the most important part of their festival, they had better by all means go out of business. And as for the future, let us not forget that once upon a time, young people who entered professions, especially in the media, got paid. These days, they are expected to work for nothing as "interns" and somehow keep themselves or be kept by wealthy London-based parents in the meantime. This disgraceful modern version of sweated labour has become the norm and it will be very hard to change it back. If authors let unpaid work become their norm, they may well find the same. Many non-authors have real difficulty understanding why writers want and deserve payment; I have heard people seriously suggest they should do it for love and that it somehow undermines their commitment to their art if they want to put food on the table as well. But such folk are romantic fools; festival organisers are not, or shouldn't be.

Some few lucky authors may be able to afford to appear for no fee (though I suspect they won't be the ones asked to do so). But they should refuse anyway, on principle and out of solidarity with their fellow-writers.
the Legs, the Nose and Mrs Robinson: Pen and papermatildabj on April 2nd, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
Interesting, and I broadly agree with it. But there are writers going to Eastercon who are only being paid expenses - do you disagree with this?
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on April 2nd, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
Well, if they're fan fiction writers they aren't doing it for pay in the first place. If not, they might well be the sort of folk who'd be glad to be going to the con anyway. I did the CultTV con for exes plus con entry, and I got to meet some mighty interesting folk. But that was still getting paid in a nominal sort of way. Tis the principle of the thing.
inamac: Bookinamac on April 2nd, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Eastercon has always had a high number of professional writer attendees - many of whom, if not sponsored by their publishers are encouraged to attend for publicity purposes - it stands half-way between a literary festival and a writer's conference/publicity event.

Magrs is right - he was treated abominably if he wasn't offered at least travel expenses - whether or not the attendees were paying. He's giving up valuable working time.
Susanlil_shepherd on April 2nd, 2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
One does remember a certain actor who had such a good time at the con at which he had been a GoH that he asked the organisers how much it would cost him to get membership for the next one.
Sheenagh Pugh: sheenaghpugh on April 3rd, 2012 07:22 am (UTC)
yes, that's what I mean! Con membership, especially if they're also feeding you, is worth a fair bit.
Lawrence Schimeldesayunoencama on April 6th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC)
In terms of fan fiction, I think that there is a difference between writing it even if for no $$$ (because it is, after all, a sub-legal activity) and not doing it for $$$, especially if the convention is using them for content or otherwise as a draw for a segment of audience, etc.
Lawrence Schimeldesayunoencama on April 6th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Sci-fi conventions are a thing apart, where writers appear on programming in lieu of convention membership. (Except at World Fantasy and some Worldcons, where one must pay for a membership if you wish to be on programming.)
Bernadette RussellBernadette Russell on April 3rd, 2012 06:18 am (UTC)
general comment about artists not getting paid
Artists (of all backgrounds) are increasingly being asked to do stuff for nothing/or for reduced fees, and we have to refuse at some point, else become the ones who are subsidising the arts. Last night at a nigh profile film event and a prestidous venue, during a discussion about how hard it is to make film with the film council funding gone, the curator of the event (with her healthy salary and job security) said: “but you know, we make the best, most creative choices without any money, so I think it’s good”. This in front of film makers who haven’t made work for three years due to lack of funds, who are struggling professionally and personally without money. (I don’t make films, but friends do!)
I assume the organisers don’t work for free. I assume that their fees/ salaries come from public funding. All around me I see artists not being paid to produce work for events by people on salaries who do not even acknowledge that this situation is wrong/unacceptable/unsustainable.I am lucky enough in my work to get treated properly by great organisations on "our side". But it's time to speak out against this.
Sorry for the rant but I think it’s important that we share (the larger artistiic community what is going on)
Sheenagh Pugh: Brainsheenaghpugh on April 3rd, 2012 06:46 am (UTC)
Re: general comment about artists not getting paid
Did anyone take the curator up on this remark at the time? I do hope so!
steepholmsteepholm on April 3rd, 2012 06:36 am (UTC)
If you don't know it, you should see this classic Harlan Ellison rant...

Jo BellJo Bell on April 3rd, 2012 09:12 am (UTC)
Paid writers, paid organisers
I agree with Paul Magrs wholeheartedly and have often done the same thing. I do sometimes work for free - for instance, to support a new festival starting here in Macclesfield, when I said "My fee would normally be XXX so please count this as a donation towards your match funding." That made the point that I would normally expect to be paid, gave them some help and resulted in me getting three paid gigs with them the following year.

One word of caution - the organisers of literary festivals ARE often unpaid. At Ledbury Festival for instance, we now have - at last - two paid staff members, but a great deal of the programming, work, event managing and high-level contact is done by volunteers. The West Port Book Festival, which is extremely keen on paying its performers, is run entirely by volunteers, and the Barnaby Festival that I just mentioned, ditto. So occasionally the shoe is on the other foot!
Nicholas MurrayNicholasGMurray on April 3rd, 2012 11:16 am (UTC)
Literary Festivals
Amen to all that. I have no coyness about naming names. I appeared at the Sunday Times/Oxford Literary Festival a couple of years ago in an event that was double-sponsored by (a) Murdoch (b) a travel company (the subject of the event being Bruce Chatwin). They refused to pay but I did get presented with a single Wedgwood cup and saucer (!) which, when I opened the box, was shattered in pieces. Did they reply to my email pointing this out? I leave you to guess.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on April 3rd, 2012 12:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Literary Festivals
What do you bet the Wedgwood didn't actually cost 'em anything either? Donated, no doubt. Cheapskates... And they don't think ahead; surely they realise that in these days of instant communication authors read each others' blogs and find out what to avoid!
angestoique on April 8th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Literary Festivals
A Wedgwood cup and saucer (even when intact) don't help to pay the rent, do they ? There's so much of this, all underpinned by the idea that "creative types" are meant to live on thin air.

And too many writers put up with it. They do fall for the "It'll be good for your profile" message. We're too nice.