My friend Michael made me aware of this news over at Boing Boing. It’s since caused a fair stir, with opinions all over the interwebz. So I thought, what kind of writer or blogger am I if I don’t weigh in too? Basically there’s been outrage that Neil Gaiman would charge $45,000 for an appearance fee. In the Boing Boing article they cite Gaiman’s FAQ which offers this explanation:
Q. How can I get Neil Gaiman to make an appearance at my school/convention/event?
A. Contact Lisa Bransdorf at the Greater Talent Network. Tell her you want Neil to appear somewhere. Have her tell you how much it costs. Have her say it again in case you misheard it the first time. Tell her you could get Bill Clinton for that money. Have her tell you that you couldn’t even get ten minutes of Bill Clinton for that money but it’s true, he’s not cheap.
On the other hand, I’m really busy, and I ought to be writing, so pricing appearances somewhere between ridiculously high and obscenely high helps to discourage most of the people who want me to come and talk to them. Which I could make a full time profession, if I didn’t say ‘no’ a lot.
I think it’s important to remember that Gaiman is an author. He writes awesome fiction that has millions of fans around the world. That’s what he’s famous for, that’s what he’s clearly very, very good at and that’s what his fans expect of him. Gaiman is also an incredibly hard working writer when it comes to tours and promotions. I don’t think there’s a harder working writer in the business and his success is at least in part due to this commitment to promote his work. And Gaiman doesn’t always charge his fee – there are things he’ll do for free as part of that commitment.
Any writer will tell you that marketing and promotion are harder work and take more time than the actual writing process. That’s as true for a relative nobody like me as it is for a giant like Gaiman. On his website, Neil has further commented on the issue. The key point of that post for me was this:
The main reason I got a speaking agency, ten years ago, was because too many requests for me to come and speak were coming in. And the speaking requests were, and are, a distraction from what I ought to be doing, which is writing. So rather than say no, we’ve always priced me high. Not Tony Blair high, or Sarah Palin high (last time I read about them, they’re about $400,000 and $150,000 respectively). But I’m at the top end of what it costs to bring an author who should be home writing and does not really want a second career as a public speaker to your event.
So if you want to pay me to come in and talk, it’s expensive.
Cory Doctorow weighed in on the Boing Boing post with an long, interesting comment that ended with this:
Anyone who asks me to leave the continent for a talk gets a friendly, hand-written, personal note explaining that I can only do this for a ridiculous amount of money; that I’ll consider lowering my fee a little if they can’t make it, and that I’ll cheerfully add their institution or group to the list of people to come speak at for free the next time paid work brings me to their neck of the world (I pay someone to keep track of this).
And then, like Neil, I do a ton of free talking: I’ll do sf conventions where I’m guest of honor for free (of course); I don’t charge any of my publishers to tour with my books (of course — but this takes me to 4 or 5 countries a year for a month or two’s worth of travel); I do EFF, ORG, and other civil liberties groups’ events for free (of course). I also attend one or two professional events at my own expense every year and speak for free (of course), such as the WorldCon.
All told, I probably spend a little more time on on the road than I would truly like to, maybe 20-30%. But most of the time I really enjoy seeing people, talking about stuff I care about, raising money for causes I support, etc. It’s a fun deal. That said, I also dearly want to spend more time at my desk and more time with my family. Like everything in life, there’s a trade-off, and I’m thankful every day that I’m lucky enough to have a trade-off between two such pleasurable alternatives.
So before people start railing at Gaiman for being a prima donna or for acting like a superstar, it’s best to get all the facts. The truth is that Gaiman is a superstar and he’s in high demand. He’s also really busy, always touring and appearing and, fundamentally, should be writing. I’d rather get more writing from Gaiman and less touring around, but I’m selfish like that.
It would certainly be amazing to be in a position to not only have Gaiman’s literary success, but also his profile which gives him such clout and allows him to earn enormous sums of money. It’s encouraging to all us starving artists out here. But let’s give Neil the last word on all this and it’ll show what a bollocks storm in a teacup it all really is:
I was asked if I’d come and talk at Stillwater, and be paid $40,000. I said, “That’s an awful lot of money for a little library.”
“It’s not from the library. It’s from the Legacy Fund, a Minnesota tax allocation that allows the library to pay market rates to bring authors to suburban libraries who otherwise wouldn’t be able to bring them in. They have to use the money now as it won’t roll over to next year and expires next month.”
Well, that seemed fairly simple. They’d already booked a number of other authors. They had the money sitting there and were happy to pay me my rack rate. Either they gave the money to me or it went away – it couldn’t be used for anything else. And, most importantly, the dates worked. Another week and I would have had to say no, as I would have been away writing. But I got in from Chicago that morning. I said yes.
I figure money like that, sort of out-of-the-blue windfall money, is best used for Good Deeds, so I let a couple of small and needy charities (one doing social work, the other library/book based) know that I would be passing the money on to them, after agents had taken their commission, and did not think twice about it.
More power to your elbow, Mr Gaiman. Keep doing what you’re doing.