We are somehow conditioned to believe that asking for money is a sordid undertaking. As authors, illustrators and storytellers, this means that when we get invited to events as resource people—guest speaker, workshop facilitator, expert speaker, competition judge, awards juror, or simply as an entertainer—we hesitate to ask for money.
Even though writing (that is, writing fiction for children and young adults in India) is a labour of love for most of us, it does not mean that schools, festivals, online events and so on have a right to benefit from it. Would a literary festival ask the tent people to work for free, or the caterers? Would a webinar demand free internet access? Why then is the very content that makes these events what they are not valued?
Having been a freelancer for almost a quarter of a century, asking for money or negotiating is second nature for me. I know how to say “Where should I send my invoice?” in all 22 national languages. (No, not really, but I can make myself clear.) However, negotiating with editors and publishers is one thing; asking “How much?” when someone invites you to a webinar or a literary festival is quite something else.
Actually, it’s not. We just think it is. And it needs to stop.
Recently, authors and illustrators in India are attempting to get organised and develop a set of best practices for school visits and other events. Meanwhile, here are some of the things I’ve learnt over the years:
Vouchers are not payment: We all love book vouchers and boxes of cookies and chocolates, but these are gifts, not payments. If you’ve asked for or been offered payment, then vouchers and gifts cannot stand in for cold, hard cash.
Taking care of your transport and accommodation is not a replacement for payment: Any payment has to be in addition to any actuals incurred. The orginizer should either be reimbursing you (be ready to produce bills) or picking up the tab directly. To avoid nasty surprises, check beforehand.
“But others are doing it for free” is no reason you have to: Just because they are, doesn’t mean this practice is right, or that you need to do the same. It is, however, fine to enter into an agreement where you know at the outset that your participation or contribution will be voluntary. What is not fine is for an organizer to use this argument as an emotional blackmail tactic, and guilt you into not being paid.
Events that are ticketed or open to paying members MUST pay: This is self-explanatory. There is no other side to this. Any organizer who doesn’t do this is exploiting you. Stop it now.
It doesn’t mean you can’t help a friend or your alma mater or a good cause: To reiterate, there are many occasions when doing a pro bono session is perfectly okay. It is also absolutely fine for you to decide to forego payment at any time. What is not okay is unpaid creative labour being the norm or to be expected to do it for a bunch of flowers and chai–samosa.
Storytelling, the arts, creativity—all these are essential for human existence. We’ve always told and shared stories, and we always will. Therefore, the experiences, expertise, advice, entertainment that all of us—authors, illustrators, other kinds of storytellers—have to offer are priceless. Event organizers are the (essential) go-betweens that help our stories reach readers or listeners. But they cannot take us for granted or disrespect our time and our work.
Still not convinced? Or convinced but not confident enough? Get in touch through the comment form below, and I will be happy to coach you. Yes, I fully expect to be paid—in desserts, with chocolate in them.