In May 2021 the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group published a document looking at the huge negative impact Covid-19 has had on the incomes of writers and outlined a “ten point plan” for post-pandemic recovery.
In order to create this document the APWG spoke to many writers who were struggling to adapt to careers changed or even ruined by an industry that was struggling to cope. As one of the writers spoken to, I know all too well that the post-pandemic environment is one where we have had to adapt and even face the prospect that we may never be able to earn an income the way we did before.
A Society of Authors survey from 2020 revealed that 65 % of writers had lost income during the first half of the pandemic and testimonies taken during all of this research showed that the expectation was of worst to come.
However, there is light on the horizon and that is the fact that the digital world (that we have all so hastily had to adapt to) is not as terrifying as we expected! Many of us have found out that we can carve a new career in this rapidly growing digital world. Where we once found that any form of digital visit or presence was regarded as second-best, it’s now often the preferred choice of many schools and clubs.
Which brings me to a question that many have been struggling to answer – what do you charge?
Sadly there has been over the last couple of years a huge increase in the expectation for creatives to provide both work and time for free. This is simply unacceptable. In my role as chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Committee (CWIG) I have been contacted by countless authors who have felt under extreme pressure to provide their work for free. This is appalling and I grind my teeth every time I hear someone say they were told it was “good exposure”. I always picture someone shivering to death on a mountainside when someone mentions “exposure”, and I always will because “exposure” does not pay the bills.
The Society of Authors is often asked what the “going rate” is for author visits and for your contributions but is unable to offer prescriptive advice about what you should charge. This really is a matter for the individual as there are so many different things to take into account. However, the SoA does publish some extremely useful and supportive guidance on what to expect and how to negotiate for it.
I do have specific concerns about the expectations and demands placed on poets. I am seeing an increasing number of poets being asked to do digital readings of their work for no fee. This concerns me greatly because you are effectively being asked to do a performance of an entire work for no fee. To ask this of any creative is hugely unethical practice and anyone who asks it should be aware of that.
The thing that is most important is that poets (and all creatives) should be empowered to challenge. You should all feel comfortable asking for payment and expecting (at the very least) reasonable remuneration for both your work and your time. This applies for events in both the virtual and physical sense and you should not feel under pressure to give your work or time for free.
This is where it is important that we stand together and speak up. I absolutely support people who choose to do some work for free (we all do this from time to time and for the causes we support) but that does not mean you should ever feel under any obligation to do that for everyone.
Some key points to think of
- Are you the key element of an event where you are also the only unpaid person present? I very much doubt that the organisers of an event are not paying the caterer, or the electrician, or the carpenters…
- Do the organisers value your work? If so, they should be comfortable paying you.
- Have you felt under pressure to do the work for free? If so, are you sure that this organisation is acting in an ethical way?
- Have you made sure to include your travel and other expenses? When you work out what you want to charge, do make sure you’ve included actual income and not just priced to break even!
Ultimately you should always keep in your mind that what you are doing is important. The UK’s Creative Industries contribute almost £13 million to the UK economy every hour*. You are not only vital to the mental health, education and general wellbeing of society, but also a part of a multi-million pound industry that fuels the economy.
Where would we all have been during the pandemic without poetry, music, arts, books? I really don’t want to imagine a world without poetry and for that we need poets, and poets need to pay the bills and eat.
Go ahead and ask for fair pay, as the adverts say – you’re worth it.
Dawn Finch is the Chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Groupat the Society of Authors and is a children’s writer and poet.
*Link to Gov document