Monday, October 7, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #34: The Business of Writing

Hi Picture Book Writers (and non-writers too!)

I had the great pleasure of spending time with the fabulous picture book author Alexis O'Neill yesterday afternoon at the Windsor Free Library, where she generously spent two hours educating a room full of writers on school author visits.

It was a fast two hours, people, partly because there was a lot to get through and partly because Alexis is a super-knowledgable, entertaining, and a high-energy speaker.  (Also, there were cookies.  Mmmmm.)

If you can see from the board, we took a poll on the kinds of things we most wanted to know and Alexis focused on that.  Here are some of the most common topics of interest:

   Getting gigs
   Setting fees
   Creating Assemblies
   Selling books
   Dealing with contracts
   Travel expenses
   Preparing the school staff for a visit
   Seeming too commercial

I took a ton of notes and got a lot of great ideas for myself, as well as ideas for Picture Book Workshop.  So if you'll bear with me for a few weeks, I'll be talking about school visits.

One of the early points Alexis made was that it is not uncommon for authors to be asked to do free author visits.  I may have mentioned a similar mindset (in another post) referring to artists.  People are simply not uncomfortable asking for free things from creative people.  I doubt very much that a school would ask a dentist do come in and do free fillings, or LENSCRAFTERS to give kids free glasses, but authors get asked to do free visits all the time.

Now, I don't want to seem like a miser.  Most schools are not overflowing with cash.  I don't really blame them for trying to get an author in on the cheap, but I can guarantee that other school presenters get paid.  Mr. Math Wizard gets paid.  The drum squad from Cambodia gets paid.  And if Mr. Math Wizard and the drummers get paid, then you should too, because you are a writing professional, and a school visit is a business transaction.

One of the things Alexis said was, "There's always money to be found for things of value."

If a school values having you in, they will pay you.

The trick for us authors is asking for it.  I think many of us are quiet and polite.  It's difficult to negotiate.  It seems rude.  Also, we don't always know what's the norm.  What do author's get paid for a school visit?

FYI, in Connecticut, $500 - $1000 is the normal range.

Now, does that mean that you never do a freebie?  You never widdle down your cost?

Of course not.  There are exceptions.  I offer my services to my son's school for free.  The kid has been going there since he was three years old and it's been a marvelous school for him.  Free author visits is my way of saying Thank You to my son's school.  But guess what?  He won't be there next year.  Next year the gravy train ends.   Next year, I won't be a Mom-who's-also-an-author, I'll be a Writing Professional.

So the point of this little post is to value yourself as a professional, know that it's OK to ask for money for your services, and that people who value you and your talents will pay you for them.  And those who aren't willing to do so, aren't really worth your time and effort.  But always be polite in your refusal, because someone who "doesn't have the funds" on Monday, might be able to find them by Friday if they want you bad enough. :)

PS.  I want to give another shout out to ALEXIS O' NEILL.   Thank you so much!  I also want to let you know that her new book is out, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS.

The book is the fictional story of a boy who wins a kite flying contest on the first bridge from Canada to USA.  (The bridge part is real.)  The reviews are great and it looks like a fabulous way to get kids interested in a historical event; a little fiction mixed with history is a lovely thing.  Check it out!


Maureen said...

Amen to this post! I once attended a small business workshop where they said much the same thing: If they don't pay you, you don't have to feel bad turning it down!

Workshop looked amazing (so jealous!). Just checked out the book on amazon. Will have to seriously consider buying for my kiddo's upcoming birthday...

Alexis O'Neill said...

Julie - Thanks for your generous post! I was pretty humbled on Sunday, being in a room full of such highly published children's authors & illustrators, but excited to know how open everyone was to new ways of thinking about old issues. Best to you!