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

A visit from a writer, poet or illustrator to a festival, school or library can be an immensely rewarding experience for all involved. Authors also do a great deal of work as visiting lecturers and experts on TV and radio. We provide many leaflets and guidelines to ensure that organisers and authors get the most out of these visits.

Authors, like many creators, are all too often expected to provide their labour for free. The work that they do should be properly remunerated, whether through fair terms for payment in a contract, making an appearance at a book festival or speaking as an expert in the media. We also works to obtain payment for authors for appearances, to agree fair terms, to ensure that authors’ copyright is protected and to minimise bureaucracy around tax and other requirements, including the provision of low cost public liability insurance to our members.

What are we asking for?

In 2015 we wrote to a cross-section of the many literary festivals in the UK asking whether they paid authors for festivals. Although the findings were inevitably mixed – there are many variables, including size, form of funding and specialisms – some obvious traits emerged. 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 the same with fees ranging between £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. Since then more festivals have agreed to pay authors as a result of our campaign.

Authors earn their living as freelancers. The ALCS study of 2014 showed that the average earnings of a professional full time author are only £11,000 per year. A recent EU study put that figure at £12,500. An event involves time and preparation and authors deserve to be paid just as much as every other professional who contributes to the event, particularly if people are paying to see them.

We ask all festivals to regularly review the fees paid to authors. We know that festival economics are complex and of course the negotiation of fees is a matter for individuals. However, all festivals – especially those with commercial sponsors, and any festival where the public pays for tickets – should offer reasonable fees as a matter of course.

Fees should take into account travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time. Although an event may only be an hour an author seldom loses less than a day when you take into account preparation and travel. Fees should take into account the annual salary an author would expect to earn as a freelancer. We recommend Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows daily rates to equate with different salaries. Using that, a fee of £150 equates to an annual salary of £13,500. In comparison, the NASUWT 2016 salaries for Leading Practitioners (excluding London and the Fringe) are between £38,984 and £59,264, which would equate to a fee of around £415 to £610.

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?

We continue to campaign to encourage other festivals to remunerate authors fairly, pay expenses and VAT, and treat authors appropriately in line with our Minimum Practice Guidelines for Festivals. We have updated our Minimum Practice Guidelines for literary festivals as well as those for schools and Universities.

We are speaking to the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT) and the BBC to try to negotiate fair terms when using authors and their work.

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.