I can’t eat publicity

Something topical culled from the internet.

There’s been a lot of talk online about authors being asked or expected to do events for free, or virtually for free. So I figured I’d stick my oar in on this.

When I started out as an illustrator, I took crap jobs for crap money, because I figured it was the price of getting established. And it was. There was no back-up or support for illustrators, particularly in Ireland. You were on your own. I sometimes took even crapper money for good jobs, just to get those jobs to have in the portfolio. I don’t do that any more, because I’ve been at this malarky for a long time now, and I expect to be treated like a professional.

But one of the most valuable lessons I learned was that I had to sell myself as a tradesman. If you wanted my work, you had to pay me an hourly rate. If you wanted ideas, I would charge you for the amount of time I figured I could put into coming up with that idea, and what it was worth to you.

As I did when I was an illustrator, I took on a lot of badly paid events, and free stuff and daft stuff, because I considered these the price of learning the ropes, getting established and getting publicity for my books. Most authors – particularly children’s authors – start off the same way

And while events are an essential part of getting publicity, if we were to do it for just the publicity, there would be almost no full-time writers, and therefore no one available to do these events, and certainly to do them to the standard that people can expect today.Let’s say you run a festival, and you want a writer to do it for free – for the publicity. Let’s say they’re a typical mid-level, full-time author, so you’re confident you can get an audience for them: maybe fifty people. You could maybe get more in than that, but you don’t want to hire a bigger hall, in case you can’t fill it. Let’s be really generous – to keep the numbers simple – and say that the author gets one euro for every book that sells for ten euros (they often don’t) as a result of that session. If every single person in that audience bought a book, that author would get fifty quid for travelling to your event, and performing for an hour with skills and experience that take years to develop. Does that sound reasonable to you?

All the various people and organizations who build their businesses around books expect to get paid for the work they do, but it’s astonishing that writers, and to a lesser extent, illustrators, whose work is the foundation of these businesses, are expected to give their time for free, in return for royalties they may eventually earn after every other person involved in the sales chain – most of whom are employed full-time – has been paid first.Do you work for a company or organization? Would you be willing to travel to another town or county to work for free, in the hope that you might get paid a little more somewhere down the line in return for this work . . .

And if you’re running a big, prestigious festival that can draw audiences because it has a powerful brand, and you think you can offer little or no fee on the basis that an author should be grateful they’ve been invited, then bear in mind we’re all talking to each other a lot more these days. Word gets around fast. And the problem with brands is that once a company’s brand becomes tainted, everything they do and everything they’re associated with becomes tainted too.

If you want people to bring their time and expertise to events you intend to hold, and you are counting on those people to attract audiences and make your events a success, you can’t expect them to come for free. We’re professionals. And professionals get paid.

The full post can be found here, I’ve met Oisin Mc Gann at a couple of the small conventions here in Dublin and he is an informative speaker.  Myself  I’ve never been asked to speak at event; since I am pretty small time and content to be an amateur writer this isn’t surprising. Still what I would take from Oisin is that a writer (or anyone creating with the aim to sell) has to grasp sooner or later is that it is a business. Sure not everything is about the pursuit of the mighty Dollar/Pound/Euro/Insert-Name- of-Reasonably-Hard-Currency-Here but unless independently wealthy, an average standard of living requires a certain amount of cold hard cash each year.

We can loop this back to what I said about linking to Amazon, that reaching out to a small geographically limited group is probably never going to pay its way even if the event is in the writers hometown and expenses are minimal. If further a-field then travel and accommodation are factored in so then the average writer will have to sell a significant number of books just to break-even on a single event. At the end of the day publicity might be nice but no one can pay next months credit card bill with it.

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Filed under Traditional Publishing, Writing

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