Festivals, teaching & appearances

People expect to be paid for the work they do - so why are authors so often expected to work for free?

The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture-halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing? … Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous, it always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.

Philip Pullman

Writers, poets, illustrators and scriptwriters are all too often expected to provide their labour for free. All visits and appearances undertaken by authors should be properly remunerated, whether visiting a school, making an appearance at a festival, judging a competition or speaking as an expert in the media.

We provide various leaflets and guidelines to ensure that organisers and authors get the most out of these visits and appearances.

What are we asking for?

We ask all organisations that book authors, poets and other contributors for events and appearances to regularly review the fees that they pay. Fees should take into account travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time. They should be based on the annual salary an author would expect to earn as a freelancer, and we recommend Andrew Bibby’s reckoner as a guide, which shows how daily rates equate with different salaries.

We are also concerned that some festivals ask for wide rights (e.g. podcasts) or attempt to apply exclusion zones, preventing an author from working within a certain distance of the festival for a specific period of time. This unreasonably exploits an author's work on the one hand, then limits their future opportunities on the other.

What are we doing?

In 2015 we wrote to a cross-section of the many literary festivals in the UK asking whether they paid authors and other contributors for appearances. Of the 17 who replied, 12 paid all authors they engage to take part as solo speakers or members of a panel. The majority paid all authors with fees at that time ranging from £100 to £1000 plus expenses (mostly within the range of £150 to £200). We followed this up with a campaign for payment spearheaded by our President, Philip Pullman. As a result, more festivals have agreed to pay authors.

We continue to campaign to encourage all organisations to remunerate authors fairly, pay expenses and VAT, and treat authors appropriately in line with our guidelines. You can read our guidelines on rates and fees for various types of appearances here.

What Can You Do?

  • Whenever you are invited to appear at a festival or other venue, use our guidelines for authors which include a checklist and template invoice.
  • We would love to hear from festivals and authors to broaden our knowledge of current practices - both good and bad. Please email us to share your experiences, or fill in our festival survey.