Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Philip Pullman

If You Write for a Living (or, even if you don’t do it for a living), Should You Be Paid to Speak at an Event?

I’ve been following a story… 

Paying Authors to Speak

Image Courtesy of sanja gjenero ~

Not one I’m intimately involved in—I don’t count on being paid as a writer (even though being a writer is my main occupation...)—the United States government pays me a military pension—though, I am looking for an alternative income that could exceed the pension and afford me more freedom of mundane decision :-)

But, it is a story I’m intensely interested in

I first caught wind of the issue in The SpectatorWhy English writers accept being treated like dirt.


concerning the Oxford Literary Festival not paying authors they invited to speak…

“The worst literary festivals prey on their [authors] hope of recognition like conmen preying on lonely old ladies’ hopes of company. If only they could talk to potential readers, writers think. If only they could get them in a room, sit them down and persuade them to give their damn book a chance.”

“In English literary culture, and I suspect the literary cultures of many other countries, middle-class taboos play their part in keeping writers servile.”

“As a well brought up Englishman, it has taken me years to overcome my instinctive nervousness at asking to be paid. It felt sordid, not the sort of thing nice people do. Certainly, when I raised the grubby subject of money, the festival organiser replied in the pained tones of a bishop who has just heard a fart ricochet around his cathedral. I agreed to work for nothing, then resented the festival organisers and despised myself for going along with them.”

That’s a very personal-view-article and, if you’re a writer, you should consider reading the whole thing—if you know a writer, you might consider passing the link to them

The next article I saw about the issue was quite different—in The BooksellerAuthors rally behind festival boycott campaign.


Beginning with reference to an open letterA call to boycott festivals that don’t pay author fees

“‘Twenty years ago there was a glorious cottage industry feel about the festivals but now they are much more professional events. ‘Special Advisors’ are handsomely paid to organise prestigious sponsors to foot the bill for pompous dinners – it has always seemed to me that having minor royals round a dinner table would be much more suited to a food festival or a British Legion event. Somewhere some literary festivals have lost their way. Wonderful events happen – but often the organisers don’t even know. They were busy changing for dinner! Hopefully the spirit of celebrating writing and the sometimes subversive spirit of creativity can return.'”

Then, a few days later, again in The Bookseller, I saw this—Oxford Literary Festival looks to start paying authors.


from a statement from the Festival (which other articles have disputed…)

“We have of course been aware of the debate regarding author payments for some time, but given the limitations of the tight budgets we run to (the Festival’s last audited accounts show a loss of £18,000 in 2014) paying each speaker would require an additional 15% in costs or £75,000 for the 500 speakers across our 250 events planned for 2016. However, once April’s Festival is over, we will meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers while safe-guarding the presence of our record-levels of unknown writers for 2017 and beyond”.

Then, the last article I’ve seen (though, as with most issues surrounding authors and pay, there will probably be more…), from The GuardianLiterary festival boycott could trigger writers’ block.


“Last week you carried a news item (Report, 14 January) in which prominent authors called on publishers and writers to boycott festivals that don’t pay them. If they mean events where no writers are paid, I wholeheartedly support them. If, however, they want a boycott of festivals where some writers are paid and others not, all they will achieve is a decline in the number of opportunities for established and new authors to present their work.

Philip Pullman states that ‘only the authors … are expected to do it for nothing’. In most cases, this is patently not true. Those who actually do it for nothing – indeed often contribute financially – are the organisers and supporters. If an author has a ‘name’, they are bound to attract an audience, which means that relative unknowns are able to enjoy an equal degree of publicity on the strength of their colleagues’ prominence. It is only fair to pay the well-known authors more since, without them, there would be little or no audience at all.”
~ Ed Tonkyn

So, whether you’re a publisher, writer, or the dearly-loved reader, do you think all authors should be paid to speak at gatherings and events?
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