This page is from the website of the Australian Society of Authors; it contains suggested payment rates for authors for writing, public appearances, reimbursement of travel costs, etc.
Now, I actually don't have any complaints about my current book publishers - that isn't what the post will be about. Phew! You guys can sigh with relief.
Nor do I expect to be paid for academic articles, whether in journals or chapters of academic books (the latter often involves at least some sort of free or discounted book offer, which is very welcome). That's a bit different. And there are many circumstances in which writing without a fee is appropriate if it's to help a cause that I believe in. I can consider it charity.
My gripe is actually with people who expect writers to turn up and speak at their events. So often, it's assumed that writers somehow don't deserve payment, despite the time and energy that has to go in. I'm sure the same people who ask writers to speak at their various forums pay their plumbers, lawyers, pest control people, caterers, etc., etc., but writers are expected to work for nothing.
Now, I realise that if we all demanded fees on all occasions many activities could not go ahead. So we often waive fees as a gesture of goodwill and with the comfort that at least we get some publicity and that it all helps to get the message across. We tend to be like that; we're reasonable that way. In fact, we realise that some organisations that ask us to speak can't even pay our full expenses ... and we may be prepared to cover some costs if asked nicely and with some reasonable attempt by the organisation to cover what they can. It all depends.
But it really can become a joke. Recently, a fairly prestigious organisation that cannot be totally without money asked me to attend a conference interstate and to speak on a panel. I said I'd be more than happy to do it, but I'd need my travel and accommodation expenses covered (it would have been impossible to do the job without staying interstate for at least one night, most conveniently at the hotel where the conference was taking place). I was fobbed off on the basis that the organisation is a not-for-profit one and therefore could not pay expenses.
Well, really - the fact that it is a not-for-profit organisation is irrelevant; it must still have some source of funding to conduct its activities, with some kind of annual budget. If it doesn't budget to cover such costs that is hardly my fault or the fault of other speakers.
I will not be speaking at that conference.
What's more I find it downright insulting to be asked to speak at a conference interstate on the basis that I will not only not be given any payment for my time and trouble but will also have to pay for taxi and plane fares (several hundred dollars at least) and accommodation costs (probably another couple of hundred dollars) out of my own pocket.
Let's get this straight: you want me to do something for you, something that involves quite a bit of work on my part, plus taking time out to go to a conference that I was not otherwise planning to attend ... and then you want me to pay a thousand dollars or so out of my own pocket for the privilege of helping you out? What on earth are you thinking? The arrogance of this really boggles my mind.
Like other writers, I'm prepared to be very reasonable, depending on the circumstances of the people or organisations that ask me to speak. But there are limits. Why on earth should I, or anyone, agree to be treated in such a contemptuous way? Why wouldn't I take offence at this?
This sort of thing happens too often, and I think it's about time writers started to protest. We get treated like dirt, all too often, and I think we are too nice about it. Let's make some public fuss about the way we are so often treated. This post is my small contribution. I encourage other writers to speak up.