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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Speaker fees? They must be joking!

The New York Times is running a story by Rachel Donadio called "More Bang for the Book." It's about speaker fees, and claims that a mid-list author can ask (but not necessarily get) $2,500 for a speaking engagement, while a top-seller -- particularly, it seems, if the book is inspirational or written by "a superstar presidential historian" -- can ask up to $40,000. (One of the latter, Doris Kearns Goodwin, can average a lecture a week.) Some best-selling authors charge double that -- on book tours!

Only the venues listed in the story sound familiar -- the churches, the libraries, and the downright weird. I've done all of those, including nearly sinking the Last Wooden Whaleship -- the marvelous old Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut -- with an overlarge crowd. But fees? On book tours, that is unheard of, while the incidental stuff, such as talks to genealogists or maritime enthusiasts, garners wine for my wine-imbibing visitors, or another of my wonderful (though involuntary) collection of handmade pincushions. Oh, and petrol vouchers. After years of this, my rule of thumb is that I will always talk at a museum or historical society where I hope to do some valuable research, or to help out a good friend, but otherwise avoid the business, unless I actually have a new book to promote.

But, it seems, the wine-and-vouchers era is coming to an end, and I might have to rethink my stance. These days, publishers have become booking agents, or have teamed up with speakers' bureaux -- or so Ms Donadio informs us. HarperCollins, Knopf, and Penguin have set up their own agencies, while Random House has gone into some kind of partnership with the American Program Bureau . . . though I have to admit I see no mid-list authors on their list:


Vanda Symon said...

Speakers fees will always be a contentious issue. I'd be delighted if I got paid for speaking. Doesn't happen often, but some of the gifts are lovely, especially the handmade ones - no pincushions, but I have had a beautiful handmade notebook that's too lovely to use.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree, though I have been paid little 'allowances' in Australia: I gave a lecture to visiting US journalism students and was paid $200. Likewise, I was on a panel of writers at a library event about travel writing, and was paid $200 plus a lovely book. However, nothing like the NY Times article says (Like Joan, I noticed the article online and guffawed into my computer at the rates claimed). I recently spoke at a conference which, of course, was not paid - but I also had to pay to attend the conference ($500)! I didn't mind, as I was able to add a note about my upcoming book. Then, after first saying we had 30 minutes to speak, there were so many participants that we were told on the first day that we would have to cut our speeches to 15 minutes. I was annoyed about this, because it meant the organisers had gone for quantity (at $500 a pop) rather than quality. I guess, though, on the other hand, it's the association's main way of funding itself.