I know schools are being stretched tight with funding and they must prioritise where the money goes. But, an increasing number of my author and illustrator colleagues are being asked to appear for free at schools who say they can’t afford to pay. Surely, one must ask, isn’t the opportunity for students’ to connect with the world of books and writing important too?
Recently, two children’s authors were asked if they’d visit a school to speak to students as a ‘marketing exercise’ for the author rather than a paid engagement.
Marketing exercise? Sounds good. Authors and illustrators have to market themselves nowadays – publishers don’t have the money to do it, except for their best-selling authors (who, you would think, hardly need advertising and marketing).
But, unfortunately, ‘marketing’ your name/book to a small school community or even to a large community does not mean kids will run home to their parents saying, ‘Can I please buy anonymous author’s book, Such and Such, Dad? Please, I want this book more than a Big Rooster dinner tonight, and Mum, it’s even cheaper than Big Rooster’.
Marketing one’s name is a slow, steady process of many, many hours of writing or illustrating, occasionally winning awards even, coming up with books that kids and librarians will love (and parents too) and being paid to visit schools because the librarians love your books and think you’re good value. And word of mouth sells books. Ask the marketing department in any publishing house.
We rely on school visits and most of us love them with a passion – it’s a chance to connect with our fabulous audience and to engage with wonderful, enthusiastic librarians and teachers.
But, like other professionals, our writing is our business and like other businesses, we are paid for our professional service.
Here’s what other authors and illustrators say on the issue…
“When I’ve done visits for a small fee on the proviso that I can sell books, the most I’ve sold is probably 5 or 6. With a profit of maybe $5 - $8 per book, it hardly works out profitable, when you consider the time it takes to prepare for the visit and all.
And of course if you can’t sell books after the visit, and rely on the kids going home to ask Mum or Dad to go to the shops and buy the book…… well, add up the royalties for MAYBE one or two sales and you get a grand sum of $1 – $2 dollars!!! Bet not many teachers would put in a days work for that!”
“No, please don’t do it for free. Even being able to sell your books doesn’t make up for it in principle. I’m sure they allocate money for other things, but some just have this idea you should be grateful to be asked! I used to feel guilty until I discovered that my local state primary school paid $700 for a man and his two sheep dogs to come and give a demonstration on the oval!!”
“Try to negotiate at least half payment as long as you can sell books
yourself would be my best advice.”
“It’s an interesting issue. I’ve had a particular teacher from a local
school hassling me for a while to do an author visit for nothing. In
the end I got fed up and said that teachers don’t teach for nothing so
why should authors?”
“Lately, two writer’s festivals have asked me to be involved; both for
nothing. This irks me even more when festivals can pay some authors
and not others.”
“I had a request that was similar. In the end I didn’t do it as they ‘had no budget’ for me and it would have meant me taking the morning off work so I would have been losing money to do it. I did do one for free a few years ago for a small school through my local library (who have been amazing to me – hosted all my launches) but arranged to be able to sell and sign books on the day. Think I sold two books!
I know the teachers mean well thinking it’s a ‘marketing opportunity’ for us, but it hasn’t worked that way for me so far. My policy now is that I only do ‘freebies’ for my kids’ school and my local library. I send a quote for all others.”
And lastly, I asked Sophie Masson, award-winning author and an experienced school presenter about the issue – here are her words of wisdom.
“I think that the authors have made the right move in refusing the offer. Schools must not think they can get an author for nothing–after all no teacher would consent to give an hour’s free teaching, would they! I know many schools cry poor (and indeed many are) but there are many grants available for even impoverished schools to pay for authors: the ASA’s info page about their partnership program with the NSW Government, Authors in Priority Schools offers just such an opportunity (Ed: not available in other states). The local branch of the CBC may also help, and librarians’ association also can provide grants. For standard talks and workshops, I’d never do them for nothing, not even locally.
As an aside, though, when you’re dealing with local schools, particularly primary, where you do feel a sense of connection to the community, there are also creative ways you can get involved as an author, without charging yet also without doing yourself out of income.
For instance, I ran a competition at one of our local primary schools recently (the one my boys went to) which was centred around one of my books, the Boggle Hunters–the kids had to draw a boggle, and the three best creations got a prize (which I donated–a copy of the book and an extra thing.) There was a special event at the school then for the presentation. It was a big success, the kids loved it, so did their teachers.
I didn’t feel put upon but really enjoyed it, the local media were intrigued and did a good story on it (which they wouldn’t have done if it had just been a talk) and the book got heaps of publicity. Plus it set no bad precedent about getting work out of me for nothing!”
Thank you, Sophie, and all the other concerned children’s books’ creators.
Here’s the link to the Australian Society of Authors‘ suggested Rates and Conditions for published writers and illustrators. The ASA states: These rates take into account the time and effort members devote to researching and writing and/or illustrating books and making public appearances in connection with promoting them. While members occasionally might allow their work to be used for less, we encourage them to regard ASA rates as an industry standard and, if possible, to negotiate fees higher than the minimum.
Have you had a similar experience recently? Do you have some advice on the issue? If you’d like to remain anonymous, do so. Would love to read your comments.