Author of His Dark Materials trilogy Philip Pullman has resigned from his position as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival due to the fact that they do not pay the authors appearing as speakers at the festival. Pullman, who is also president of the Society of Authors, which campaigns for speakers at literary festivals to be properly paid, felt that his two roles contradicted each other. He has been praised by numerous fellow authors for his action.
Why aren’t literature festivals paying?
Oxford Literary Festival claims they cannot afford to pay authors because, as a charity event, they receive no government funding. A spokesperson said “”We are very sad that Philip Pullman has decided to resign as patron of the festival. We are grateful for the support he has given over the years, and for his many appearances at the festival. The Oxford Literary Festival is a registered charity which does not receive any government or public funding. Each year for the festival to take place, substantial sponsorship and donations have to be raised.”
Other literary festivals such as Manx LitFest or Hay Festival subsist entirely off sponsorship, yet still manage to pay their authors. Manx Litfest pays authors a flat daily rate, expecting none of them, not even new, unknown authors, to work for free.
Literature festivals charge a fee to their visitors, and it is only right that part of the money earned should be used to pay guest authors. Without the presence of authors, these festivals would not exist.
Walking in an author’s shoes
A recent survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society revealed that the average earnings of a full time author come to a meagre £11,000 per year. It comes as no surprise then that authors need to earn from their books in other ways too. Few authors can afford the travel and accommodation expenses that come with an unpaid appearance at a literature festival. And they shouldn’t have to. “Good exposure” is not a good enough reason for an author to find him/herself out of pocket.
Authors who take time out of their day to attend a literature festival (more often that not bringing crowds of paying visitors with them) and who give talks and workshops at said festival deserve to be paid for their efforts. Yes, it is a chance to promote their work and connect with readers, but is this enough when there are bills to pay? After all, this is time they could be spending writing the next book… This isn’t to say that authors should never appear at events for free if they want to- literature festivals are about sharing literature and encouraging people to read- but if the festival is earning money, the authors should be too. As best-selling author Joanne Harris so perfectly put it: “You wouldn’t dream of not paying your caterers, so why would you even consider not paying the headline act?”
Why writing needs to be treated as a profession
Since Pullman’s resignation, a letter written by author Amanda Craig has been published in The Bookseller magazine, calling for publishers and authors to boycott literary festivals that do not pay their guest authors. The letter has 30 author signatures. Outrage at the lack of author pay has been appearing in other areas, too. The New Society of Authors want authors to receive 50% of e-book revenue, instead of the current 25%. Philip Pullman has said that if authors are not paid more then they “will become an endangered species.”
Similarly, many magazines decline to pay their freelance writers, asking them to submit articles in exchange for an opportunity to build up their portfolios and showcase their writing skills. These writing skills should be paid for! While exposure is beneficial to new freelancers, writers cannot be expected to give their time for free. Crafting an impressive piece takes effort- it’s not as easy as stringing a few words together. Would you employ a carpenter to make you a garden seat for your guests to enjoy, only to ask him to leave it to you for free, because his talent will be showcased in your front garden? It’s an unlikely comparison, but I hope you can see my point! Writers are the storytellers of our society. They create fictional worlds to escape to, bring history back to life, impart knowledge and teach, create discussion on moral issues, challenge certain viewpoints and bring awareness to issues we hadn’t thought of before. JK Rowling created a love for reading in children across the globe.
Writing needs to be treated as a profession. And Philip Pullman knows this.
Writer’s Block by Drew Coffman via Flickr.