The Value of a Professional

Thursday, January 10, 2019
The first of the year, I had the coordinator of a writer’s group contact me because I’m involved with SCBWI. She wanted a professional children’s writer to speak to her group but I wasn’t able to help. Pressed for time, I sent a short reply. This is the email I wish I’d sent her:

Thank you so much for reaching out to me in your search for a children’s writer who could speak to your group. You asked for someone who is a professional in the field of children’s writing, which I gathered meant you wanted a published author, preferably of trade books. I think you wanted someone who would present a workshop-style program, teach your members about what it takes to get published, and share his or her expertise. You weren’t clear but it seemed like this could be one to two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

When you didn’t offer an honorarium, I asked about a speaker’s fee. This wasn’t possible, you said, but the author could sell books.

I then asked where you were located because metro Atlanta encompasses quite a lot of territory! My thought was that perhaps a member who lives in your area might consider speaking to your group if he or she were close enough that there would be little travel.

Unfortunately, your group is in an area where we have few members, and no published professionals. So I’m afraid I can’t help you. But I can offer you a bit of advice.

Many authors enjoy speaking to writer’s groups. Writers love writers, right? But when it comes to selling books at these events, I’ve found, for children’s book authors, that writers rarely buy the author’s children’s books. I feel like it’s different for authors of adult fiction or memoir or even non-fiction, but the kiddie books? They don’t sell at events like a writer’s group meeting. (One time, I had an author bring his books to a writer’s workshop. He sold one book and one person stole a book.)

The bottom line is that many published authors (with trade publishers) just don’t want to deal with all that goes into directly selling their books. They rely on booksellers, so offering to let authors sell their books is not a plus. (For self-published or indie authors, it’s a different story. They are generally well-invested in their book and always happy for an opportunity to sell them!)

My organization offers lots of opportunities for writers to learn all about the craft and business of writing for children. There are tons of webinars available—at a very small price—that you really can’t afford not to try one! We have conferences, albeit a bit more expensive, but a bargain considering all that you get. And finally, in areas like Atlanta, we sometimes offer free writer’s workshops, presented by professionals. It might be a trek for your writer’s group to attend, but after all, it’s free for attendees.

It’s not free for the professionals. There’s their time and travel expenses (and usually food and sometimes lodging) to consider. Which is why whether it’s a webinar, a conference, or a free workshop, we always pay our professionals. We value our professional authors (or agents or editors or illustrators). We value the years they’ve dedicated to learning their craft and we appreciate their willingness to share their inside info. We know how hard they’ve worked to get where they are and we're grateful they're able to help others along the way.

I wish you the best of luck, but I also wish you’d consider asking your writer’s group to pitch in and pay for the professionals you invite to speak, even if it’s just gas and lunch. Someday, these very writers may find themselves on the other side of the podium, sharing their expertise. And I hope that by then, they will have learned the value of a professional. And perhaps, they will have learned the value of themselves as professionals and of their achievement—and that they will have received a nice speaker’s fee!

~Cathy C. Hall


Renee Roberson said...

You are completely right. After reading over your post, I thought about the few times I've presented or sat on a panel, and I'm not even a published author, just a gal working in the publishing industry. I spoke on a panel about freelancing a few years ago for a local writers' group, and received a $100 stipend for my time AND a free dinner from the event organizers beforehand. And recently, I went to the local college (two minutes from my office) to speak at an alumni event on what types of jobs you can find in the marketing field, and they gave me a $50 gift card to the college bookstore, which I used to pick up some Christmas presents for my son! If a professional is asked to take hours out of their day to educate others in the field, a little something should be offered. Especially if there is travel involved. Hopefully this is a learning lesson for that event organizer and they will change the "incentives" they offer in the future!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Exactly, Renee! I'm happy--and many of us in SCBWI--are happy to give back when we're available. And so I'll get a professional from my organization to present a workshop for SCBWI members (offered free to the public)at a fraction of what that person could make doing a school visit!

Friends helping friends. But when there's no connection there, when a group wants a professional writer to basically give a workshop for free? That's not okay with me. It's something about the arts, that people expect a writer or an artist or a musician to give their services away...and creatives ARE often generous with their gifts!But that doesn't mean we should take advantage of their generosity!

Pat Wahler said...

I couldn't agree more, Cathy! In fact, I recently saw a meme that addressed this issue, putting other professionals in the same position, such as the doctor who says: "I'm not being paid for this surgery, but the patient assures me it will be great exposure." Or the lawyer who says: "I give all my legal counsel away for free on the internet. But sometimes people click my 'donate' button."

All I could think was, how true!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Preach it!

Debra Mayhew said...

Not to long ago a family member laughed at me when I said, "I don't write for free anymore." I wasn't trying to sound snobby at all, just expressing that, except in rare cases, I'm past that stage in my writing career. I don't expect to get paid much and I know it's a competitive market out there, AND I know everyone has to pay their dues, but I'm at the point where I've spent enough time on my craft to receive compensation - even if it's just a little bit. Gas and meal money sounds like a fair deal to me. I enjoyed your letter, though it did occur to me that your recipient probably preferred the short and sweet version! :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Hahahhaha! Debra, we had a back and forth till I said, sorry, I couldn't help, that she might want to consider paying some sort of compensation for a professional. Never heard another word from her!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Cath, this is amazing! You should totally send it because it could change the way she approaches authors next time. Each member of her group could pitch in a little to make it happen.

Something similar happened to me, but from the asker's standpoint. WOW has been running our flash fiction contest since '06, and we've always had a literary agent as guest judge. Back in the day, it was considered taboo for agents to accept any kind of reading fee or they'd end up on the Beware list, so we simply partnered with agents and promoted their authors and their agency in exchange for their judging. Well, a few years ago, I'd asked a new agent if she was interested in partnering with us, and she said, "So you're basically asking me to work for free when I could be reading books instead. As a new agent, I don't get paid until I get my first client and land a book deal, so promotion means nothing to me." For one thing, I didn't know that and thought the agency paid her something, but they do not. She schooled me hard! I felt like a jackass. By her telling me how it is, I learned something and changed our entire policy, and thanked her for it. And she became the first agent judge we paid, which totally fit our mission of helping women in the industry. So I started seeking out brand new agents because they weren't getting paid at their agencies and then paying them for their judging services. It was a win win. But if that one agent didn't tell me like it is, I never would've realized it.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, it's tough for agents, and authors don't make the same kind of money they once made. I think that's why there's such a turn around in that side of the publishing business.

I'm very glad you listened to that agent, Ang! (But I'm afraid you are the exception to the rule...most people don't want to hear about paying for professionals; they expect us to do it for the love, I guess!)

Linda O'Connell said...

You are right. I've participated in freebie panels for the library, but otherwise, I expect to be compensated in some way. You handled it very well!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You know what, Cath? It isn't just our time we're expected to offer free, but our published work as well. I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me, "I'd love to read your books. Do you have any you can give me?" My answer is always, "I do keep some at home if you'd like to buy one, and they're all available on Amazon." I actually had one lady say "Oh, no, I don't want to buy it. I just want to read it." *sigh* I sent her to our local library which finally has the books on their shelf.

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