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.
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’re recently had several flaps about writers responding to negative reviews. That one I’m not getting involved in. I have a simple rule of thumb on that– writers don’t respond to reviews. Hell, don’t even read them.
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.