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Should writers be paid for festival appearances?

16 March 2015

There's been a buzz this week around the question of authors getting paid to appear at festivals. In the UK they largely don't get paid, as they are seen as promoting their books and selling them as well. In fact many festivals get off lightly and even get the publishers to pay the authors' travel costs and accommodation. But do the book sales and publicity justify the work done by authors?

Joanne Harris said: ‘(Festivals) expect to pay the caterers, the printers, the people in charge of the venues, the interviewers. No one would expect these people to work for free. Why are authors different? Authors are professionals, and deserve professional treatment, including a fee and expenses for their time and expertise.'

The exception is the Edinburgh Book Festival which pays £200 ($296) per author per event. In 2014 it also generated £600,000 ($887,000) from book sales, a substantial figure. Certainly if you compare writers to musicians and singers, you wouldn't expect them to turn up for festivals without payment, especially the big names

There's also the increasing trend towards celebrities who are not necessarily from the book world but who do draw in the crowds. Whatever their current position on this, there's no doubt that festivals such as Hay generated terrific interest a few years ago when they managed to entice Bill Clinton to attend.

Joanna Trollope also complained that literary festivals value celebrity over writing: ‘I see that the bigger festivals have to change to survive, but I think they have been skewed and sucked up in the commercial Hoover... the trouble with embracing celebrity culture is that it patronises the audience.'