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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Harlan Ellison on paying the writer

Somehow I don't think Harlan Ellison would be paying out of his own pocket - in unpaid travel and accommodation expenses - for the privilege of turning up to speak at a conference.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

No, and you'd have to pity the poor fool who ever suggested it to him. Ellison invented grudges.

Pete Moulton

ColinGavaghan said...

Trying being an academic! We are constantly being asked to contribute expertise, give talks, submit writing, review other people's writing, brief the media (I'm waiting for a phone call right now!) - almost always without being paid.

Now I understand that, as a salaried academic, my situation is slightly different from a professional, full-time author. But even so, isn't Ellison overstating the case a bit? Surely a less established author would indeed benefit from having their name brought to the attention of a new potential audience. Especially when - as in this case - no-one is asking for any additional work.

Russell Blackford said...

The difference with being an academic (unless you're a sessional one or an honorary one, like me) is that you get a substantial salary which is supposed to cover all this.

Admittedly, academics end up working very long hours for what works out out at a relatively low hourly rate - I'm not someone who'll at all deny this. Academia is not the place to be if you want a high ratio of dollars earned for hours worked.

ColinGavaghan said...

I'm sure you're like me, Russell, in that we get asked to do quite a lot of pro bono talks and the like which are certainly not within our job description and which won't, in any obvious way, advance our careers (at least once we have one or two on the CV). Whether I accept or decline these offers will depend on a variety of factors: the identity of the organisation, how busy I am, how much extra work will be involved, etc. But yes, I have a guaranteed and healthy salary, which means I don't have to worry over much about where my next rent cheque is coming from.

There again, neither do quite a few professional writers. Whether X ought to give up his time for free - or whether it's even appropriate to ask X so to do - seems to owe at least as much to these kinds of considerations as to whether X makes his living predominantly as a writer. Asking a famous and presumably fairly wealthy author to surrender a tiny part of his intellectual property (not, I stress again, to do any extra work or give up any more time) hardly seems like the sort of gross imposition that would merit Ellison's furious rant (though given that the request came from a famously wealthy organisation, a simple 'no' would have been a fair reply). But then, as Pete says, t5he guy is not exactly renowned for the reasoned & proportionate nature of his responses...