Resetting the Default

Writers need to be paid.

Can we accept that as the default.

Writers – in fact all artists – need to be paid.

So can we end the practice of paying everyone else and expecting  writers and artists to volunteer their time. Some can’t, some can, some can some of the times, some sometimes can’t, but that should always be their choice. My favourite invites to do anything are clear on what exactly is being asked and what’s being offered, without me first having to raise it. Then I can decide what I can give and what I can’t. Second best, that when I raise it, the conversation can proceed without the attitude.

The attitude that expects writers and artists to give, give, give, never taking in to account that they have to live, live, live.


There is often the expectation that writers will or should do it just because they’re asked, or for exposure perhaps. Volunteerism is good, yes, and, yes, exposure is necessary but at a certain point it’s not enough. You can’t give back what you don’t have. Writers, like everyone else, have to consider the practicalities of making a living. So the writer or artist isn’t an a-hole for asking what’s in it for me. Also, very often, the very thing we’re often too hesitant to insist on is that who and what we are has value, and it’s good when that value is acknowledged.

Of course, writers make their living in many ways but very few live in the rarefied space of being able to sit back and collect royalties on sales of their books. Royalties count sure but the hustle has many parts.

If you’re a freelance provider of writing related services, the hustle involves juggling what you can do with what you can’t, even when you want to. I actually don’t think that’s different to any working person – but a person working a job’s time is covered (think about that next time you’re inviting an artist/writer to a meeting, where your time is covered but theirs isn’t, in the interest of picking their brain…and remember every email isn’t a meeting).

And then there are live appearances. We do have books to promote and sell, and when opportunities to promote our books intersect with the opportunity to talk books and/or promote or advocate for the arts and community issues we are passionate about, we’re easy. Which is probably one reason authors who have it like that have booking agents and managers processing and negotiating invitations to speak or lead workshops whether at schools, festival, or other for profit AND not-for-profit events. But let’s be clear; not all authors have it like that – and too often we’re expected to do it just for the exposure. And maybe we can, for a time but maybe comes a time we assert the need to be paid for our time or at minimum that our expenses be covered. Much like free/promotional copies of books, unpaid appearances may be okay up to a point, but can, beyond that point be a strain on a working writer. Maybe comes a time when it moves beyond need to an understanding of your value.

Take school invites. This can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you’re grateful for the interest in your books and your time and the opportunity to engage with students. on the other hand, doing this gratis can become a strain after a time due to the time commitment relative to the returns. In the Caribbean, unlike some other parts of the world, schools (and most events) typically don’t budget a fee for author appearances when making invitations and it can get uncomfortable when you raise the issue of even advance book orders and/or decline for practical reasons. This link – though specific to children’s writers and illustrators in the UK – provides some insights for schools anywhere thinking to have authors come in to a school or library. The first deals with considerations when inviting an author to participate in your event, the second with considerations when bringing an author in to your school and other educational institution.

Let me be clear that I write this mindful that all markets can’t support the same things. Some schools barely have budgets to do the work they’re supposed to be doing (here and other places), much less extras like bringing in authors. But some, understanding that visiting writers come at a cost troubleshoot with that understanding including partnerships with corporate sponsors, PTA fundraising, and pre-orders paid for by the parents. Whatever your school (or your event since this is hardly limited to schools) is able or not able to do, do not shame authors/artists for raising the issue of commerce because if I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, APUA does not accept thank yous.

If we at all value what writers/artists do, we need to re-think our default when it comes to a writer’s/artist’s time. Accept that that time and our artists have value…and bills, and take it from there. Writers/artists are often open to the discourse.


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