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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pay the Author! Or how writers get treated like dirt...

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.

Okay. Okay. 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.

6 comments:

Mike said...

Writers aren't the only professionals who get this treatment. Some of my performing friends are called on time and again to donate their resources for singing, dancing or playing an instrument at fund-raising gigs. No one thinks of the time costs of rehearsal, of getting music arrangements done, costumes organised, hire/insurance of instruments and transport of all this to venue.

The piano accompanist is often one of the worst treated, called on to work with a vocalist or other instrumentalist, usually making an equal contribution to the work, yet rarely even getting acknowledged at performance or in program, and often not getting paid.

Frankus said...

This is the same thing:

http://vimeo.com/22053820

gwson1872 said...

As a non-artist, I have struggled to understand, why people such as yourself are expected to do so many things for free. Strangely, when I suggest that they follow through on the logic and not take a salary, their mindset changes.

Alan Cooper said...

Why complain? It's just the market rate that they were offering you.

If there were more authors and speakers of equal calibre and reputation interested in getting access to an audience, then they might be asking you to pay for the opportunity. I'd probably have to pay a lot to get a spot on their podium but someone like Richard Dawkins might command a hefty fee.

The fact that you are worth exactly zero in the current market is just a coincidence and actually not at all insulting. (And in fact your complaint could be seen as an insult to those of us who the market values even less)

Russell Blackford said...

Not zero - worse than that, minus $1000 (give or take).

Of course, I do actually get paid for (some of the) other things I do. But no writers will ever be paid for anything if we all undercut each other by doing all this stuff for free and at our own expense.

Vicki Coughlan said...

I have noticed the same thing as a professional, that professional services are expected to be donated, while noone would would ever THINK of asking a plumber/electrician to do a job for nothing or to be out of pocket, it is really bizarre! So this extends further than just to writers and artists, it is an endemic thing.