Pay The Writer

I recently followed a discussion about what writers should charge when they’re invited to speak.  100% of those responding posted about how they didn’t charge anything, or only expenses, etc.  Not a single person posted that they charged what they felt their time was worth.  In fact, it seemed as if most felt grateful that they were invited in the first place.

Being the troublemaker I am, I posted a link to Harlan Ellison’s Youtube video reference Pay The Writer.  Then, suddenly, out of the woodwork, came all those who agreed that writers should get paid for their time.

I like to be an author advocate since there doesn’t seem to be many of them.  An indie bookstore closes, there’s an article in the paper, a blurb in PW, people lament, but an indie writer goes out of business there’s not a blip on the radar.  I’ve found taking this position is not publicly popular.  On Twitter, on loops, on Facebook, on this blog, there are people who have attacked me.  The funny thing is, though, I then get a ton of emails and DMs privately, telling me they appreciate what I’m doing.

We don’t like talking about money (except for those who make a lot of it) in America.  In White Palace, Susan Sarandon’s character asks her yuppie boyfriend how much he makes.  He doesn’t want to tell, and her response is basically:  we can have sex, but you can’t tell me how much you make?  Apparently not.

Before I get crucified, yes, I do think one should volunteer to help certain non-profits (but also remember, a lot of people working at non-profits are getting paid and often they earmark funds for speakers.  Schools, for example, often set aside funds for speakers and there’s nothing wrong with taking them) and also donate.  At Who Dares Wins Publishing we donate a percentage of our gross at the end of each year to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.  I’ve also made numerous talks and presentations gratis over the years. However, there is a difference between giving back to your community (doing select free workshops etc) and being asked to forgo your ability to earn a living.

We teach people how to treat us.  This is a tenet of Warrior Writer.  When I branched out from the writing world into other businesses with my Who Dares Wins consulting, I was surprised to find that if I quoted a speaking/consulting fee that was too low, I was treated as if what I was presenting was not very worthwhile.

You have to consider not only the actual talk, but your expertise.  When I present Who Dares Wins, I’m not just giving a company a two-hour presentation.  I’m giving them the benefit of decades of experience as a Special Forces student, team leader, operations officer, commander, soldier, instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center and consultant to previous organizations.  Also, being a NY Times bestselling author who has sold millions of books and started up a successful publishing company.  That stuff was hard to come by.  It’s worth something.

I do feel uncomfortable when someone asks how much I charge for a talk, particularly in the writing world when I know money is tight for the organizations.  I remember, though, what I was told one year at the Maui Writers Conference.  A CEO of a very successful company told me that in the corporate world, to get the kind of high level expertise that was being given at Maui (Terry Brooks, Elizabeth George, John Saul, Dorothy Allison, Robin Cook, Frank McCourt, Dan Millman, etc. etc.) one would expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars.  And all these best-selling authors  were getting was a plane ticket and a hotel room for their collective experiences and expertise.

I believe writers should value their expertise.  If asked what you charge, consider who is asking, what is being asked, and what value it will have to those who receive your expertise.  Remember, all they can do is say no, or tell you what they can pay.  Or you can always negotiate.  One technique I use for some of my day long presentations is give a percentage of my book sales at the event back to the organization.  This is a win-win situation.

Publishing is changing.  Writers used to treated (except for the few brand name authors) as the bottom rung of the food chain.  We were interchangeable parts.  We’re not any more.  All those people between us and our readers (agents, editors, publishers, book reps, bookstores) are the ones whose jobs are in danger, although the ones who are adapting will prosper, just as writers who do will also.  If we don’t respect ourselves, we’re not going to get respect from others.

Harlan Ellison — Pay The Writer (warning language)

Write It Forward!

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on February 7, 2011, in Publishing Options, Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. There’s no room for cowards in the writing profession. I have many friends who are attorneys, who I wouldn’t dream of asking for “free advice.” Why would a lawyer, or a writer, or anyone give away her expertise? I’m 100% in agreement with this post, Bob. Pay the lawyer, pay the writer. The other side of that coin, if you’re a writer, is; ask for what you are worth. Those who don’t think much of their skill, their craft, their expertise, however, never will. They make it tough on us all, but I’m no coward. This is an excellent post.

  2. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    I’ve always graciously accepted what many of the schools and libraries have offered. When I speak to local groups most of the event coordinators tell me up front what they pay or don’t pay. Most conferences don’t pay their workshop presenters, but waive the conference fee. I don’t mind that because I was probably going to go to the conference anyway. Recently I was asked to do a full-day workshop. This is something that was new to me, but having been the minicon chair for the past 4 years for my local RWA chapter I have a pretty good idea what many authors are charging to come present. I did struggle with what I thought I was “worth” in comparison to the speakers I have brought in. My time is valuable and they came to me because they valued my expertise, asking to be paid for both shouldn’t be awkward. It’s not necessarily awkward in any other profession.

  3. Author Kristen Lamb

    People value what they pay for, even if it isn’t a lot. If we want to do “free” then add on extras for free (as you suggested). Then there is added value. When I worked in sales we always were told not to give away too much free stuff…it smacked of desperation. You gave free goodies to reward for a purchase order.

    Thanks for talking about this tabu subject.

  4. Bob, I find your blogs enlightening. At a recent writers’ meeting, I was amazed when an audience member stated she thought ‘all writers’ worked for ‘free’ when doing workshops. This appears to be the general concensus of many including schools, book groups, civic organizations. I was asked to do a workshop at an Authors Fair, and even asked to donate one of my books, plus 10% of my proceeds. The event’s coordinator blatantly stated that with the profit authors’ make, her organization didn’t feel the need to offer a speaking stipend. My question is: how does a writer determine a fee amount to charge? Please don’t say–it depends on the situation. I’d like examples? Also, should there be a written contract to gaurantee the speaker’s fee? Thanks.

  5. Bob – I’m always interested in what you have to say, so keep on advocating for the author. The more information out there, the more informed choices we can make. I regret that people can’t seem to have an exchange of ideas anymore without going to the mat.

  6. On the flip side of this coin, there are writers who are keynoters who charge 10k for a speech. Their claim to fame is a book written 10 years ago. I know they’ve bankrupted a conference or two, but if someone is will to pay them that, than caveat emptor.
    How to determine what you’re worth? Full time writers are self-employed. I have an 18 month Excel spreadsheet that lays out exactly what my expenses and income are. This gives me a pretty good idea of what my time needs to be worth. Another thing to consider is if you can sell books and it’s a large audience, sometimes that by itself can make your time worth it.
    There are times when I take on a job or gig where it really isn’t worth my time. I taught a course at the Univ. of WA last fall and for what they paid me, I’d have been better off working at McDonalds, especially since I had the max number of students in the class, it was a writing class, and grading took forever. But I did it primarily for the experience, not the pay.

  7. Amen. If you’re uncomfortable charging money for your time, think about everyone else – by NOT charging you are keeping the fees down for everyone else.

    Here’s what I mean: I’ve spent much of my career in the non-profit world. The fact that there are trust fund folks out there who can afford to work for little or no pay keeps salaries so low that those of us who can’t afford NOT to get paid can’t afford to do this kind of work. I know they mean well, but their generosity keeps less privileged folks out of non-profit work. And it means the NGOs don’t value the work nearly as much as they should.

    The same applies to writers. Better to take a fee and donate it, split part of your proceeds, etc. Writers conferences are professional organizations, not charities. Get paid for your work.

  8. I believe it’s key when people like Bob, with decades of experience in this business, talk about the reality of the publishing world, even when it boils down to the uncomfortable topic of money.

    This is the invaluable “inside” scoop that too many wannabe gurus pretend to provide for the unsuspecting newbies who don’t know the difference between someone selling them a line to increase their blog hits, and true substance. This is the insight that should be driving writing conversations about our industry–the substantive viewpoints offered on sites like Write It Forward week in and week out.

    Thanks for blazing that trail, Bob and Jenn!

  9. I’ve seen a lot of blogs lately; when do you consider yourself an author? As opposed to writer as a label. Are writers artists? Is it in the writer code to belittle ourselves? We get that enough from others, why do it to ourselves?

  10. “We teach people how to treat us. This is a tenet of Warrior Writer. When I branched out from the writing world into other businesses with my Who Dares Wins consulting, I was surprised to find that if I quoted a speaking/consulting fee that was too low, I was treated as if what I was presenting was not very worthwhile.”–Bob Mayer

    Yes,yes! When we give our time (outside of charity), it is how we assign it’s value, that someone will agree to your assessment and pay accordingly. Payment for a service is a fee rendered for the worth that you (or I) put onto it; payment is not a reward!

  11. Writers are not only artists, we’re business people. We have to merge the two. In today’s market and economy, we’re doomed if we’re not savvy with our business. I spend a large percentage of my time running my business.

  12. Always impressive and mind-opening, Bob. Thank you making your wisdom and experience available to us here.

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

  13. Thanks for the reminder, Bob. Ironically, my CPA said something very similar when I opened up my own law practice–“If you charge too little, people won’t take you seriously as an attorney.”

  14. I am amazed at how incensed some writers get at the idea they should be properly compensated for their work.

    — c.

  15. It’s amazing how often event organizers won’t pay for a hotel or even comp authors the conference fee for the privilege having their names used to attract attendees as well as the expectation of providing entertainment and information for an entire weekend. They figure they’re doing us a favor by allowing us all that exposure and the opportunity to maybe sell a few copies of our books. I’ve been struggling with the exposure vs cost in money, time and energy of doing these events. Thanks for the food for thought.

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