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As an (as yet unpublished) author, I think I’d rather they spent the money promoting the event in the local press.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?