Monday, 18 January 2016

Authors at Literary Festivals

Forgive me if the following post is controversial or sounds in any way smug, in an "I'm all right so what's all the fuss about" way. But I don't understand the problem with authors being offered peanuts, or in some cases nothing at all, for appearing at literary festivals. If it's such a problem, the solution is perfectly simple. Don't go. No author is forced to attend a literary festival. If the festival is not offering a fee, you are under no obligation to accept. Not many books are sold at festivals, unless you are already a big name already selling millions elsewhere, in which case the number you will sign at the festival is going to be insignificant.

Publishers may be prepared to pay for their authors' travel and accommodation, but this is a financial consideration and will understandably depend on how well the individual author's books are selling. Your publisher will obviously be happy to cover these expenses if the amount is insignificant compared to the revenue they derive from your books. Otherwise, it would be unreasonable to expect them to pay. (I hope my publisher never feels the need to remind me I said that... )
  
To claim that authors depend on income from such appearances is a contradiction in terms. Fortunate enough to earn a living from writing fiction, these days I call myself a 'full-time writer'. Before I could afford to give up my day job, I called myself a teacher who wrote books. If you rely on teaching or public appearances to pay your bills, you are a teacher, or a public speaker, who writes books. You are not a full-time writer. I do appreciate the terrible irony of the situation. When you earn enough from your writing to easily fund trips to festivals yourself, someone else will pay for you to be there. While you are struggling with the finances, you are on your own. 

It seems to me that authors benefit hugely from literary festivals. That is why many writers attend even if they are not participating on panels, or giving interviews. Apart from the opportunity to catch up with fellow authors, network with industry professionals, and meet readers, festivals are interesting and enjoyable. And if you are contributing, not only is it fun, but you have the added bonus of seeing your name in the programme, which is free promotion to a target audience. 

I happen to think literary festivals are an important cultural phenomenon, allowing us to meet our readers face to face, in a world where so much of our life is acted out online. If you don't buy into the ethos of literary festivals, stay at home and spend the time writing. Vote with your feet, and stop bleating. 



http://leighrussell.co.uk

11 comments:

Gordon Brice said...

I am not a writer, but totally agree with what you have said, Leigh. True, it must be tough for writers struggling to make their way, to have to fund their visits, especially if they do not receive any reward for attending, but, the publicity must count for something......quite a lot in fact.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Gordon. Festivals give authors publicity, and a chance to meet other authors and industry professionals as well as those all important fans, and they are great fun. So many authors attend, even if they are not speaking, that the evidence speaks for itself really. Authors would not turn up if they didn't want to. Thank you for commenting.

Leigh Russell said...

Of course it's always nice to be paid as well, but I don't accept payment from libraries, or when I judge writing competitions that are raising money for charity. Not everything has to be financially rewarding. There are other considerations.

Gordon Brice said...

That's wonderful, Leigh and must result in you receiving far more invitations than you are able to handle. Little wonder that you get tired.

Leigh Russell said...

Sadly I can no longer accept all the invitations I receive. The most difficult one to turn down was Bath Literature Festival, but I just could not make it. And that was a paid appearance! I begged them to ask me again this year, but they haven't. Such is life.

Sue Wilkinson said...

I do hope authors agree with you Leigh! Harrogate Crime festival is such a joy every year because of the friendly atmosphere and the diversity of those attending. The panels and interviews are also great of course but it's the chat at the bar, the swopping of opinions and recommendations and the opportunities to meet people of like minds that make such festivals so enjoyable. Roll on July and I hope to see you there!

Leigh Russell said...

I look forward to seeing you there, Sue Wilkinson! Thanks for commenting.

Jane said...

One of the biggest headlines about literature today is the lack of diversity in terms of output and how it is peopled by white middle class decision-makers. (In fact, I read an article this week about one such white middle class person this week who had to work a second job in a legal firm for the 'privilege' of working in publishing, as it pays so little, and how hard it hit her financially when she was promoted to editor and had to give up her second job). However, I am coming around to the way of thinking that working for free (and giving away work for free) is part of the problem. Few people can afford to do this and it therefore perpetuates the problem. As Nick Cohen put it this week:'It remains the case that if you want a truly ‘diverse’ culture, where all talents are ‘celebrated’, you must insist on one point before any other: pay the bloody writer.' (I would extend this call to paying everybody within the publishing industry.)

Leigh Russell said...

I do agree that diversity is needed, Jane, but it comes back to the same problem. Best selling authors attract paying audiences. Unknown ones don't. It's a great pity that celebrities are more popular than serious writers, but that's the world we live in.

Derek Thompson said...

Hi, Leigh. Great to see a 'chewy' topic this early in the year! I think the key is managing people's expectations at the outset, and also being transparent. If, as a little known author, with less than 25,000 sales under my belt, an event were relatively close to me I'd be prepared to attend for free. However, whether full-time or not, if writing IS part of your business it must rankle if other people are being paid but you are asked along for nowt.

Leigh Russell said...

Fair point, Derek. And I'm guessing that for self-published authors, those sales would barely cover the cost of producing your books in the first place. (I'm guessing about that but I think you need print copies if you're speaking at a festival and that must cost money.) The only point about other authors being paid is that if the bigger names are attracting an audience when your name alone doesn't, then the paid authors (if anyone other than the cleaners is actually paid at this hypothetical festival) are actually providing you, the unpaid unknown author, with new readers. If they would only be there for a fee, and without their presence you would have no audience, I'm not sure why it would rankle with you, (not you personally, but you as the hypothetical lesser known author at this hypothetival festival.) I would have thought you (as previous prentheses) would be grateful to be on the programme. Just a thought.