Thursday, 3 May 2012

Writers Doing Events For Charity

I had a rather heated exchange recently with someone who suggested writers should be keen to appear at an event for free a) to support the charity and b) for the publicity.

This makes me cross.

Take Reason a).

I don't like being blackmailed to support a charity for no reason other than it's a charity.  I particularly don't like being blackmailed to give my time for free when I am a freelance.  Writing, or doing stuff as a writer, is my only source of income.  If I give my writing time away for free, my income suffers.

This is annoying, but becomes extraordinarily annoying when the person doing the asking is on a salary. For all but the most local of events, an appearance means the loss of a day's income.  Are they donating a day of their income to the charity?  Is the printer and designer of the programme foregoing their fees?  Will the electricity board waive costs?  No, I don't think so.  Everybody else associated with the event is usually getting paid.  So why should the attraction - the reason why people are paying for their seats which means that everyone else is getting paid - do it for free?  Which leads onto....

Reason b).

What, exactly, do they mean by publicity?  In most cases this actually means having your name included on a programme which is going to be circulated around a mailing list.  If you're lucky you'll get a short biographical paragraph.  I accept that there is a cumulative approach to publicity and that it takes 7 (or 10 or 12, depending on which stats you read) mentions of your name for it to stick in people's heads.  But it has to be said that most events do not translate into book sales.

And even if they did, try doing this maths.  Of the book's cover price, only 7-10% will be sticking to the writer's sticky fingers.  So, if the average price is £7 - £10, the author might expect to see anything between 49p to  £1 before their agent has taken their cut.  If I sell 30 books, that's going to mean an income of around £15 to £30 at best, for what may well have taken a day.  It's not enough to live on....

Finally, what triggered the argument was the information that a famous author's fee for appearing at events was £50,000, or £30,000 for a charity.  This led to the comment that writers should appear for free because of a) and b).

To me, what it said was that the famous author was fed up with reasons a) and b).  They simply didn't want to do events.  They wanted to write (or do whatever it was they wanted to do to enjoy their life).  If any event was prepared to pay the enormous fee then they'd do it - and who wouldn't?  

Having said all that I, along with many other writers, will do events for free for a variety of reasons from it being an expected part of the publicity for a book launch to the event being local so it doesn't take up much travelling time.  As a new writer you have to take what opportunities come your way to help the reading public become aware of your book.

But in general I think events should pay a fee, whether it's for charity or not.  And then the writer can decide if they want to hand it back to the charity.  That's their choice.  


Giles Diggle said...

Very well put, Sarah! Apart from anything else, you have laid bare the economics of the writing life. I say support the charities you would support anyway through choice. In my case it's the RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Amnesty International, The Red Cross.

And after all you are supporting, daily, that worthy cause which is the "Skint Writer". :-) !

docstar said...

I think it depends entirely on the charity and how much you support its cause personally. If it were something I strongly believed in and I knew they were typically in dire straits money-wise, I'd probably donate my time. If it were "Cause of the Month" and they had a huge paid staff, you can bet your life I'd expect payment. But any charity that tried to guilt me into appearing for nothing would get the heave-ho immediately.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Well said! Besides all the events that I have taken part in have produced very little for me. And my time could be better spent elsewhere, pronmoting my name... EG blogging and networking??

Sarah Duncan said...

Giles - I'm pleased to be supporting Skint Writers!

Docstar - You're right, it's got to be the writer's choice.

Pat - you've just made me realise that it's not just about events being unproductive, but that we now have other alternatives for reaching readers which are more productive. And can mostly be done from home, which is always good.

Philip C James said...

Hear hear!

It is actually against the code of conduct of the body that regulates street charity fundraisers ("Chuggers") to guilt-trip members of the public into contributing to their charity - why should authors receive any less protection?