Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cha’Ching! Should Authors Charge for School Visits?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I've never charged for school visits. At first I thought nothing of it since I was a new author and had that “What? Charge? I’m a nobody, I’m just glad they want me to come talk to the kids!” notion. But fellow author friends said I ought to be charging something, because folks tend to value more what they pay for. Beside, I was out there working, and I deserved to be compensated for that effort.

It made sense (and still does), but that was right when the economy tanked and no one had any money. As a new author, getting books in the hands of readers was more important to me than the small fees I could earn.

Budgets are being cut all over, both at schools and in the author's own homes. More and more of the marketing expense is falling to author's shoulders. Fewer avenues of income are out there. What's an author to do these days?

Reasons Against Free School Visits

Not Charging Hurts Authors Everywhere
Like any product, giving it away makes people not want to pay for it. Look how papers have fallen since folks can get news online for free. The more authors do visits for free, the more likely it is no one will be willing to pay them to come out.

Authors Struggle Enough Already to be Paid Fairly
Let’s face it, unless you’re fortunate enough to get a decent advance, most books won’t earn their authors very much money. In the past, school visits were one way authors could supplement their incomes. The more freebies out there, the less authors are getting paid overall. Those who rely on that extra income to stay home and write might be forced to take day jobs, or stop writing altogether.

It Devalues Authors
Authors are a mysterious bunch, and most non-writers really don’t get how much work goes into a book. Free visits suggest that an author’s time and knowledge isn’t worth anything.

Reasons For Free School Visits

It’s Marketing That Usually Works
Authors spend a lot of time marketing their books and never see any results. With school visits, you spend X hours and can see X books sold. Figure out a good process, and you could sell a lot of books in one visit.

Schools Have No Money
Budgets are being cut everywhere. Many schools can’t afford to pay an author, even if they want to.

It’s Good for the Community
Being just a paid speaker makes you a person doing a job. But going on your own time and dime suggests you’re part of the community and willing to help support the local schools. Goodwill that can help you in unexpected ways down the road.

Middle of the Road Reasons for School Visits

There's Already Too Much on an Author’s Plate
With everything an author has to do these days to get their books out there, can they really afford to do visits without benefit to them? Is it better to skip the visits altogether and just write more books? Conversely, making X amount over a school year from fees might look good on paper, but what if that comes at a cost of less time to write?

Staying in Touch With Your Reader
If you never get out there and talk with your readers, are you missing out on something that can help your writing? Is it important to keep that connection, even at the cost of money or time?

I don’t know what the right answer is, if there even is one. I suspect it’ll be different for every author. I’m sure there are ways to compromise here, maybe with book sales. X books sold earns the school a discount or waves the fee. The students buy the books they were going to buy anyway, the author gets paid, and the school gets the visit for free or at a reduced and affordable rate.

It’s a tough call.

What do you think? Should authors charge for visits or not?


  1. Hmm, interesting. I'd never even heard of authors charging for school visits until I read this. I suppose it makes sense to look at each situation? For a short visit in small school with not much money and maybe less students -- no fee, but for a whole-day visit in a private school with more students -- yes? (That might be entirely stupid advice, I'm just saying things off the top of my head lol)

  2. This is something I've been thinking a lot about recently, since I really do want to get out there and visit schools (also libraries). But I have no idea how much to charge. I suppose a sliding scale is appropriate, based on (a) the author's experience (higher charge for a more established author... but who's call is that?), and (b) the school's budget. Public schools usually have less to dish out for stuff like this, but they also have a bigger "audience", so.

    Like you said... a tough call.

  3. I'm incredibly lucky because in Scotland schools can use Live Literature Funding to pay half of an author's fee and all of their travel etc expenses. It also means that all authors charge the same. £150 a session. It makes it possible to be a full time author, and it also means that schools really VALUE the visit, plan for it, followup afterwards etc. Rather than just taking it for granted. Yes, authors should be paid. But schools shouldn't have to foot the (whole) bill.

  4. I think new unheard of authors should do it for free or a low amount to get their name out there. I think school visits are great marketing and how many is up to the author.

    I do love the idea of a free 20 minute skype visit if the classroom has read the book.

    I know our school only brings in an author once a year and I have no idea how much they pay. Probably not a lot.

  5. Well, you know which side of the fence I come down on. When I began in this industry, school visits were actually how most children's book authors made their living. It certainly wasn't from the books themselves. Back then, creating children's books was considered a labor of love - a passion rather than a real source of income. Then Harry Potter came along, ONE author did very, very well, and school budgets started getting slashed. The thing is, most authors still can't live on what they make from their books, and now no school visits too? I think it all downgrades our years of effort to pure hobby. I Love doing school visits, I love sharing my books, but I also have to be realistic. At some point, all this effort must contribute to keeping a roof over my head. e

  6. I think you should charge for school visits - in fact, unless you had a local connection or you were brand new, I didn't think very many did it without charging.

    But our school district cut our visiting author program this year. Our PTA is going to try to pick it up, but the money will only stretch so far - they're trying to pick up a lot of other cut programs as well. The kids really love the visiting author programs, so I wish we could possibly get authors at a discount! But how many could afford to do that right now??

  7. I hadn't realized that authors even could charge for school visits. I have no idea what the right answer is, but this was certainly food for thought.

  8. My dad and I are authors, and we have been going to schools and doing author visits for seven years now. Always free.

    It can make people think it has little value, but that's not usually the case.

    Recently, a school said they didn't want us to come because 'we're too expensive' ... too expensive?! We don't charge anything! We just ask for the opportunity to sell books to the students, we don't require it, but it's appreciate that we get the opportunity.

    This usually works for us, though sometimes we sell as little as 0 books and sometimes as many as 150+. It all depends on the teachers, the students, and how excited they are about us coming.

    I think authors should do as they see fit, but if they charge, they're likely not to get invited to as many places. I've heard some authors charge $1,000 or more for one visit, which seems like quite a lot to me.

  9. Tough call. Some authors charge too much. I think a sliding scale would be appropriate.

  10. I think, at least to start with, I would ask the school to buy a couple of my books to put in their library in exchange for my "free" visit. Then I'd hope to sell more books directly to students, and hopefully make fans for life.

  11. Granted the economy has tanked and funds are being cut. However, and I didn't know this until my sister-in-law got published, schools have a certain amount of money set aside to pay authors to visit. If you don't ask though, they won't pay you. Some schools are honest. I think it depends on the "newness" of the author. If you are brand new either offer your services up for free or charge a lower amount.

  12. This is a tricky one. I came over to see what other people were saying, but I thought I'd throw my thoughts out there too.

    If you have to travel a significant distance, I don't see how you could do many without charging. I guess Skype visits for a class who has read the book would be a good alternative to this.

    If a visit was free to the school, I would definitely expect them to purchase/have some of your books in the library and allow you or a third-party vendor to sell your books - which the kids would know about ahead of time so they could bring money and they could get their books signed!

    I am far from being published, but I think I would do it if the school covered my travel costs and would be even more inclined to do it if they allowed me to sell my books during the visit. An exception to the travel costs thing would be if I was already in the area and had free time.

    That's a lot of "if"s

  13. What I do is say this:
    Generally all I expect is that the school or Library purchase 1 copy of each of my books for
    their library as appropiate for the age group at a discounted rate of £6 each. (2 to 4 titles)
    Assuming I am available, I am willing to attend venues in the West Midlands and immediate area for no other charge other than a cup of tea! For visits at a further distance than approximately 25 miles I would probably expect to receive reasonable expenses for mileage (Calculated at 25p per mile from Sutton Coldfield) but email me and we can discuss that."
    School seem ok with that.

  14. I’d look at it as free advertising/additional sales. Nine times out of 10 I’ve purchased the book(s) of a visiting author.

    You can’t buy marketing like that. Why charge for it?

  15. That's nice Lari. There are a lot of programs in the US that help schools with funding as well. It would be nice is we had a set fee like that. Would make things easier :)

    Everyone has great thoughts on this. I think it might also matter what kind of visit the author does. I know some authors who do a lot more than just talk about their books, and are basically teaching a class when they visit. For something like that, it's certainly worth a fee.

    I wonder how other speakers handle it? Do schools pay for all speakers or visitors?