Obviously he charges more… he drives a Ferrari! - Katherine Roberts

A friend told me this story recently. I don’t remember the details so I've made some of them up, but it came about that Fairly Famous Author visited a school. She met Famous Author on her way out, and discovered (by embarrassing accident) that he was getting paid around ten times what she was getting paid to talk to the same children. Upon questioning this with the school, she was told to look in the car park. Puzzled, she did so... parked beside her small economical car, surrounded by an admiring gang of pupils, was a bright red Ferrari. “Of course he has to charge more,” said the school secretary. “He drives a Ferrari!”

Now, this story stuck with me for two reasons. First of all because it says a lot about the fame business – be it authors, footballers, singers, artists, or chefs – and secondly because it says a lot about me.

Before you ask, I am not Fairly Famous Author in the above story, although I could easily have been. I too have done talks in schools for the standard Society of Authors fee, and often felt guilty about charging some schools even that much. I certainly have no illusions that my presence at their school is worth a penny more. Yet I am aware many of my colleagues do charge more, some of them a lot more. And at the other end of the scale, I also know authors who consider the publicity more valuable than the fee and are happy to visit their local schools for nothing.

What to charge a school for an author visit is a personal decision, of course, and should depend on how long you are there and what you're expected to do. But it seems to me there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this story. The school that has "had" an author for nothing is unlikely to want to pay the next author very much more, unless they perceive he/she has much greater value… unless, dare I say it, he/she drives a Ferrari?

Let's be clear. I’m making no criticism of either author in the above story - I don't even know their names, it could even be an urban legend. Famous Author might well have been worth ten times more to that school than Fairly Famous Author, and you have to admire an author who earns enough to drive a Ferrari, but I wonder which came first? Fame or the Ferrari? Did Famous Author ever do talks in schools for nothing in order to build his career? Somehow, I doubt it... You can take this story and substitute “author” for almost any profession where there is no standard minimum (or maximum) wage, and in the end it comes down to how much we respect ourselves and our work.

I am very good at undervaluing myself. I think it might be something to do with not wanting to appear too big-headed. To be safe, I tend to err on the side of caution until there is evidence to support the view my work might be worth something. Briefly, however, I did believe in myself. When my first novel “Song Quest” won the Branford Boase Award, everyone in the industry was so fantastically enthusiastic that I had no qualms about giving up my day job to write more books. I was going to be the next JK Rowling, they promised, and I (in a wild moment of naivety) believed them. Little did I know that every other debut UK children’s author for the next 10 years would be hailed as same thing!

As you might have guessed I didn’t actually become the next JK Rowling, otherwise I'd have this site all to myself with wizardry and owls like Pottermore. But I felt quite successful, and for a while I believed my work had value. Then I found out (by embarrassing accident, see above) that other authors at my publisher’s party were being paid ten times what I was being paid… and no, I’m not talking about JK Rowling here. I’m talking about authors you probably haven’t even heard of.

I should have realised my mistake… I didn’t drive a Ferrari.

And so we come to e-book pricing. (You knew I would get here eventually, didn’t you?) After spending most of my August post explaining why I am making my Seven Fabulous Wonders books cheap for my fans, I am now going to tell you why this price promotion is not going to continue indefinitely. I’m not saying it didn’t work… actually, I think it did... I sold five times as many copies of "The Cleopatra Curse" during August than I sold of my other e-books during their first months of publication. But because my royalties are lower at the promotional price, I earned about the same as if I had sold fewer copies at a higher price. This being so, you might ask why I don’t just keep the price low to find more readers, and for that answer I refer you to the Ferrari story above. I believe these books - having been professionally edited and having taken about a year each to write - are worth more, and that they deserve to be driven around the countryside in a car that at least has a driver’s door.

So should I go out and buy a new car with my e-book royalties? Is that going to turn me into Famous Author worth ten times as much as Fairly Famous Author? No, of course not. It doesn’t work like that. Fame comes to an author (or artist or singer or footballer or chef) as a gift from others in response to our work, and there is little we can do to control that. But we can change how we value ourselves and our work. Because unless we believe that what we have to offer the world has value, you can be sure nobody else is going to believe it, either.

Katherine Roberts is doing her bit to raise the value of Fairly Famous Authors everywhere by increasing the price of "The Cleopatra Curse" to £1-99/$2.99 from today (if you are very quick you might still be able to grab it at the low price).
Buy from amazon.co.uk
Buy from amazon.com

"The Colossus Crisis" is now on offer at 86p/99c until September 30th.
Buy from amazon.co.uk
Buy from amazon.com 

The schedule for publication of the remaining Seven Wonders e-books is HERE.


Great post, Katherine. I think it's awful that there's such a discrepancy between authors' earnings. I had two friends who were both writing rom coms for the same publisher only for different imprints - one got ten times more than the other for exactly the same amount of work!
Unknown said…
Being someone who invites authors into talk to children, I can sympathise with both the school and your friend. The price that an author charges does vary and in these times of economic struggles I feel a responsibility to get a value for money visit. That is not to say that I do not value the author's impact on the children's reading. I do. I really do. But the budget only goes so far.

I think author's should charge a fee and I am happy to pay the recommended rate of SoA. But then, I feel I need the sessions to be a success and most often they are but not always. I always sell the author's books and at my very preppy school we tend to sell lots so I hope that the author feels it will have an impact on getting the word out to other children.

I have actually had a self-pubbed author once and his sessions were excellent. But I have to be honest here and say the product was not well-written. The children didn't care though and they still borrow his books. It has made me very wary though. He came on recommendation from another librarian.

It's a minefield all this!
Anonymous said…
Well said, Katherine, couldn't agree more.
Dan Holloway said…
Tales like this always remind me of history lessons and the story of Morton's Fork (Henry VII's minister, who used to go visiting nobles - put on too poor a show and you were stingy, put on too lavish a show and you could afford more tax).

Pricing is *such* a hot potato right now. I know authors you get the impression would happily defenstrate you for charging less than £2, and others who'd do the same if you charge more than 86p - so you really have to come to a decision you're comfortable with; for reasons you're comfortable with; and then be prepared to be flexible.

Appearance fees. Now there's another ticking time bomb. Those of us who are wholly self-published and therefore not eligible to be in the SoA have no standard rate. But as the spoken word scene expands, where most of us are in that boat, and more and more of us get asked to do things, the issue of appearance fee disparity will get ever edgier on both sides probably. At the moment even for a major spoken word event like Literary Death Match, where the audience pay around a tenner a ticket, we performers get nowt, not even travel. It's been a real eye-opener being involved in Pow-Wow Lit Fest (September 17th in Moseley), where the first question I was asked was "would travel plus £notenoughtoretireonbutmorethanbeermoney be acceptable?" There are very different approaches in the mainstream and alternative worlds, but as the aternative scene "grows up" it will be in for some teething issues.
madwippitt said…
Interesting. I had much the same dilemma when pricing riding lessons: should I charge the same as other local trainers who a)hadn't bothered to achieve any teaching qualifications and b) weren't actually that good anyway ... or remain underpriced at a half of their fees? In the end I stayed underpriced, as I deal mainly with the grass roots folk who can't afford to pay more but really, really want the help. When some have lost jobs I've even taught them for free until re-employed again, rather than lose them (and there is also the horse to consider in this). But somnetimes it grates when I see someone who has risen to fame which isn't massively deserved, gathering all the kudos and charging a fortune while my clients get the benefit of thirty-odd years of tried-and-tested teaching which they seem to enjoy ... It really is a catch-22. Or maybe I'm just becoming bitter and twisted!
I think it is this vast (and largely invisible) gulf between the top earners and the bottom earners in our profession for what is essentially the same work that grates on everyone.

Yes, there is a definite case for saying one book or author has more value than another because it won an award or that author is more entertaining as a speaker, but TEN TIMES as much?

It goes against everything you're taught at school about hard work and reward for effort. Perhaps it's true that you are either born talented/lucky or you're not, and no amount of work will help if you're not.
Anonymous said…
Great post, Kath. Sadly, I've found the more you charge for school visits the better you get treated. I offered workshops for nothing at my local school and they said they had plenty of after-achool-club helpers already! As for the huge gulf between the lowest and highest earners in our business, I think that's part of the society we live in, and it isn't a recipe for happiness and harmony. Unfortunately, it's the ones who are creaming it who make the rules.
Oh Jen... "after-school helper"! Do they have any idea how wonderful your workshops are? But how true. I've offered my services free in the past and been turned down, and it always completely baffles me.

The time I really didn't want to go somewhere and deliberately quoted them what I considered to be an extortionate fee (expecting them to back out), they accepted it without a wink... so then of course I had to do the event, but at least I was getting paid well!

I've just been reading Stuart Hill's post above on synchronicity, and same thing happened to me. The day after posting to this blog, I picked up a leaflet about the UK's First Festival of Social Injustice, addressing income inequality! I bought a ticket on the spot, and will report back in a blog post somewhere near here soon.

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