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A friend of mine asked about this yesterday on the group message board for The New Jersey Authors’ Network, where members organize multi-author signings, most of which are held in libraries.


He says, ‘…As writers, we deserve to be paid for our time and the knowledge we're offering. Any speaker that goes into a school or library or comes to a writing group and speaks gets compensated for their time. We should be treated no differently…


On the face of it, that's a fair point, especially since libraries allocate a small portion of their budget for hosting events. 

However, I don't think the answer's as simple as it first appears.


I’ve only organized two library events so far. On both occasions the people there put in a lot of effort to help make them a success – producing flyers, advertising in the local press etc. The subject of payment never came up, but I’d have thought that any speaker-fee for an unknown – and by that I mean: not a household name – is likely to be minimal. I should also point out that the library agreed to sponsor the event, which meant there were no costs to the network.


As an (as yet unpublished) author, I think I’d rather they spent the money promoting the event in the local press. Sure, they do that already, but if it were up to me, I’d prefer they used the speaker fee to buy a bigger ad, or place one in a paper they didn’t normally advertise through. 


On the other hand, if that minimal fee pays your travel expenses, at least you know you won’t make a loss.


Let’s look at this from the library’s point of view. 


Since speakers may sell their books after the event, there’s already a financial incentive for the authors involved. The bigger the turnout for the event, the greater potential for book sales and, hopefully, acquiring long-term readers.


There’s a difference between the library inviting someone to speak there (some kind of incentive would be expected), and someone approaching the library to hold an event.


Overall, while I agree in principal that a writer’s time is as valuable as anyone else’s, I think libraries already give a lot of help to those who ask for it. If I had to choose, I’d rather a library didn’t pay a speaker fee and held more author-related events.


Then again, that’s just my opinion. How about you?


Do you think writers should get paid for speaking at a library?



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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
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Sep. 15th, 2009 12:31 pm (UTC)
Here in Canada, libraries can apply for Canada Council grants to help pay for speaker fees. So, yes, if a library contacts me and asks me to come and speak, I do expect to be paid. The only exception would be if I personally know the librarian, and I'm doing him/her a favour, then I'd speak for free.
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)
If they contact you, I agree, but I'm thinking more of when you contact the library and ask them to host an event for you.
(no subject) - faerie_writer - Sep. 15th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC)
I guess it would be up to the author if they want to get paid or not. I agree with you, I'd rather see the money go to promoting the event. Maybe something for travel expences, especially if the event is a long way away.
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, if it's a long journey, and you don't know how many will show, it may be comforting to know that, at the very least, your expenses are covered.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
I get paid when I speak in libraries and schools etc. unless, as faerie_writer said above, it's a personal favour of some sort. I used to do that kind of thing for free, but I was advised to stop because some of my writing colleagues needed that kind of income to survive and I was undercutting them. Fair point, I thought.

And yes, I only speak when invited. Obviously, if I invite myself things would be different.
Sep. 15th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
'...if I invite myself things would be different...'

I think that's the key here. At least as far as network signings go, the writer(s) have approached the library.

Thanks for the input :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
I suppose you have to decide if it's worth your time or not. Does it help you to appear and get your name out there? Right now the economy has tanked so thoroughly I doubt many libraries are paying people to speak. They're too busy trying to hold onto their staff and not cut basic services. It's not like a library is a for-profit institution.

I have some public librarian friends and I will ask them whether they usually pay when an author speaks, and if they're still having those kinds of events.
Sep. 15th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'd be interested to hear their thoughts on the sbject, and whether they expect to pay the speaker if it was he/she who approached the library in the first place.
Sep. 15th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I think the distinction you make between being invited or seeking out venues for self-promotion is key. The writer is being provided a place and is given free promotion for the evening. It's a bit like getting a story published without pay in a highly respected magazine--you get exposure; you get something on your "resume." But is that undermining authors who, like anyone else, should get paid for their work?

I think this issue goes beyond being paid for events. I hear a lot of argument back and forth about whether or not an author should submit to journals/magazines that only offer contributor copies. To accept no pay for writing is possibly to undermine authors who are expecting pay, who want to improve payment for authors in general. Yet, in the literary world where colleges are responsible for the journals, I hear different stories. To be pay authors is to reduce output, to pay authors requires being funded and thus under the guidelines of a possibly commercial entity, to pay authors is to limit the amount and variety of journals out there. I hear this, and at the same time, I see genre magazines paying authors and still succeeding.

Apparently, I'm not offering an opinion either way. I'm not really sure. I think, as in all professions, at the start, you do what you have to do. You take meager pay and take what promotion you can get. If Iowa Review wanted to publish my poem for no pay, I'd jump up and down and say thank you, yet I'm a staunch union supporter, and the other argument suggests writers should unite. And now I've gone on too long.
Sep. 15th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Lol, this is one of those 'on the other hand' issues, where I go from one side to the other with each thought.

Thanks for your input :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
I write this from the perspective of one who volunteered in the public schools, school and public libraries for many, many years. I know what goes on, why and how. That said--

I agree with you on all but one point--I don't think ANY author needs to be paid by a local public library or public school. If the author lives in or near that town and is approached by a library to speak at some event, the author doesn't have to accept, but if she does, she shouldn't ask a fee. Now I will say why.

Most public libraries and schools are hurting. The ever-expanding push to computerize everything, have computers available, create interesting programs to bring people into the library to begin with never ends. I won't even begin to list the way public schools are hurting. If a local author can help a library or school by speaking, whether it be a fundraiser or simply exciting kids about reading, she should.
This is not only the philanthropic thing to do; there is an ulterior motive for such philanthropy. First, as you mentioned, is the sales potential. Second, it is in her best interests to get people to click of the tele and READ! ESPECIALLY CHILDREN!!! What could a local library or school actually pay? A hundred, maybe a few hundred bucks? That same money can go a long way in a school or library, which in turn goes a long way in keeping readers reading, and hopefully, creating new readers.

A writer's time is definitely worth something. There's no doubt about that; however--there's always a however--none of us got into writing to become rich. Even those who hope to make a living writing can rarely do so without struggling to keep up with bills. Anyone who did get into writing to be the next big STAR is either delusional or too egotistical to be a writer anyway. :) But seriously, I know a lot of authors, one who's even been on the best seller list; every one of them has a second job. Being a successful author means you've published. Period.

That being said, it shouldn't cost an author anything to speak at a library or school. If there are commuting costs or whatnot, the author should be compensated.

Speaking at a writers' group is a different matter, but I've already gone on too long to start on that! I'll end with this:
"...the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that only offers us what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day." (Bea in Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon)
Sep. 15th, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
This goes ESPECIALLY for authors who approach the library or school and ask for a venue, of course.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 15th, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Sep. 16th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 16th, 2009 11:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 15th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - reudaly - Sep. 15th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 15th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 15th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
Very interesting post, Jon. As a newb writer I'd happily speak for free, I'd consider that a great opportunity for me to meet more people and especially potential readers. I've learned a lot more from people's responses to your question though. It seems there's a fine line between doing things for free and thus undercutting writers who depend on their income, and on the other hand if everybody must be paid, that limits the number of writers who will get to speak. I'm not quite sure what side of the line I'd come down on.

Incidentally, it doesn't seem like a library could pay much, what with the economy being in the toilet and all. But I do understand that it's the principle of the thing, that somebody who gives their time should be paid for it.
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
For me, a major factor is whether you were invited, or it was your idea. In any event, it may be a moot point, since I imagine libraries will be paring budgets to the bone for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I think it depends. A new writer should be delighted to be invited while a writer who gets a hundred invitations a month might have to think of the value of his time.

It probably has to do with which point in the career arc one is at.

I just spoke at my old high school, and would do so again fro free as many times as they requested it, because I enjoy it a lot.
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
True enough, but I was thinking more of when it's the writer who approached the library, rather than the other way around.

Congrats again on the school reading thing. Marshall Payne told me he heard the headmaster and half the students fell asleep during the reading. Is that true?

Just kidding ;)
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Sep. 15th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 15th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 15th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
What's a typical fee for this sort of thing? Can you give me a range at least?

At my high school, we had two authors visit for the day when I was in grade 9 and 10. The first was my favourite author, Isobelle Carmody, and the second was another successful YA author, Gary Crew. They talked about their lives, the writing and publishing process, and ran workshops with us. I loved it (though I was intimidated too!) and I suppose they must have been paid something for it, but I never thought about it before. Public schools in my state aren't all that well funded. I just love that it happened at all, especially considering it's a small rural school in the middle of Tassie!

I think what I'm trying to say (which doesn't really answer your question because I don't know enough about it), is that I appreciate authors who make the effort to travel to places to speak, but I wish that public institutions like libraries and schools didn't have to pay for it. Wishful thinking merely :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
I've no idea what a typical fee is - no-one's yet been daft enough to invite me to speak, much less offer to pay :)

I think it's great that your favorite author came to speak to your school :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
For me, libraries are one of those places I would be happy to speak for free. I think libraries are important instituions that allow those who cannot afford to own books to read them anyway. It's a way to allow children to see the magic of reading.
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 15th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
I think you're right.
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
A lot of good responses, many of which I agree with.

On an author approaching a library for a speaking event, I would say they should not be paid.

If the library approaches the author, the further away it is, the more likely I think they should be compensated.

However, I agree with Jennifer on the fact that authors should consider giving something back to the community. Not all promotions need to be centered or focused on money.

If karma exists, a few free engagements will not hurt the author in any way.
Sep. 16th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Karma,paying it forward,keeping in with Him upstairs, whatever we call it, it's a good idea to give back :)
Sep. 16th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
All right, as an author who's been in all these positions this is my policy:

If invited to speak at a library or school that is local, I will donate or volunteer my time including my travel time/expense. Schools and libraries are the backbone of literacy upon which I rely for my continued livelihood in producing future readers and to whom I am indebted for my skills and experience. I like to give back if I can.

If invited to a large scale library event, such as the well-known Orange County (CA) Libraries Writer's Day events, I expect to have all expenses covered and some small honorarium--this is a professional gig for a large organization that charges for admission and sales. They are profiting from my professional presence and I shouldn't be in debt to make that happen.

If invited to speak at a local library or school that is out of my area (and I mean like... out of state or more than 3 hours drive), generally I expect to be offered compensation for my time and travel expenses. I usually donate that back, but if the travel is really a pain or very pricey, I will donate my time only and expect my travel to be compensated.

If invited to speak at a Writer's Conference or other professional conference, I expect to have some compensation, such as free conference entry and banquet, if local, and at least free entry and some travel compensation if distant.

If I invite myself to an event, I expect to pay entry fees and travel if it is not local (and usually when it is) especially if the organization hosting is a library or school. I am asking for a chance to promote myself and that, while it shouldn't be exorbitantly expensive, should be my financial burden since it is to MY benefit primarily and I made the opening request.

On the other hand, if you are asking me to TEACH a workshop or such like, I need some compensation or prior agreement to donate time. That's a field in which writers must be compensated--the professional passage of knowledge. But where libraries and schools through High School are concerned, I want to give my time if I can. Sometimes I can't afford it, but it shouldn't be expected that I'll just "give" time in that situation.

Colleges and Universities are a different case since they often have speaker's budgets. At this point, I donate time only to community colleges and my own alma mater.

I may make exceptions, but that's the general rule for me and for a lot of other pros I know.
Sep. 16th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Great answer! Thanks for taking the time to set your thoughts out so succinctly :)
Sep. 16th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC)
Library speaker fees
I've spoken at 2 libraries. One I sold 2 books. The other I sold zero.
I'd rather have the cash in hand, personally, even if it isn't much.
Sep. 16th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)
Re: Library speaker fees
Did the library invite you to these events, or did you approach them?
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Sorry to hear you've not had good experiences with libraries.

I think if the library approaches the writer, the least they should do is offer to cover travel costs. We've been lucky with the one in Manalapan. The people there are most helpful.

That said, I think it's different if it's the writer who approaches the library first.
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