Should authors should be paid for festival appearances? Of course!
On Thursday it was reported that Philip Pullman had resigned as the festival patron of the Oxford Literary Festival patron because authors attending the festival were not paid.
Now The Bookseller has published a letter written by author Amanda Craig calling on all festivals to pay authors. It has been signed by 30 writers, including Joanne Harris, who lives in Huddersfield and is a great supporter of the Huddersfield Literature Festival.
The Huddersfield Literature Festival is a not-for-profit organisation that is proud to pay its performers and fully supports this principle.
As Festival Director, I’m familiar with the challenges of stretching funding as far as possible while keeping ticket prices accessible to local audiences. Every year we have to re-apply for grants and sponsorship and I’m probably not alone among festival directors in saying that this is one of the hardest parts of the role.
When planning our budget, every penny is made to count – but not to the detriment of the performers. At HLF we offer all of our invited performers a fee. Some of them donate this fee back to the festival, which we are grateful for – but neither expect nor take for granted. The only exceptions are events such our Poetry Slam, where audience members get up on the night to perform – although the host will still be paid.
Having previously worked in book publishing for 12 years, I have long been aware that many authors are on low earnings – several I worked with had full-time jobs and used up their holidays to go on author tours and visit festivals. But offering a fee to performers is also a point of principle – they are providing not just a service but the most important contribution to a festival.
Like other festivals, we rely heavily on a host of local volunteers who put heart and soul into the planning and execution of the festival every year and I would like to pay tribute to them here. The Festival Secretary and I are the only ones who each receive a small annual stipend but we both also have day jobs (I work full-time as a copywriter).
We are grateful when venues offer space for free or suppliers offer discounts on such things as print, and yes, it would be fantastic to have more money to spend on promoting the festival – but why should it be the authors who take the hit?
Accessibility and diversity are both important to HLF. The festival includes a high rate of LGBT and BAME performers and we are also working with Stagetext to offer live subtitling at two of our events to give deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audiences access to these events. As usual, this March we will have a number of free or pay-what-you-like events and many others that are ticketed at £5 or less, with concessions available.
If we can pay our authors while keeping ticket prices affordable, then festivals that charge much higher prices can too. And we would certainly rather reward our authors than spend money on expensive dinners.
Longer term, I have many ambitions for the festival. At present we have no venue of our own and I would love to see an arts centre established in Huddersfield with flexible spaces for different events. Having a commercial background, I would also like to find a sustainable source of funding for the festival that could allow planning more than a year ahead – and paid full-time festival roles. But whatever the future, we will continue to offer a fee to authors and performers.
The Huddersfield Literature Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary this March. If you’d like to know which authors are coming, take a look at our Diary of Events page – and get booking!
Image shows Festival Director Michelle Hodgson with performers at Polari Up North - an LGBT event held annually at the festival. All performers were paid.