Writer Beware: the High Cost of Author Visits

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Writer Beware: the High Cost of Author Visits

As a new author, you will undoubtedly be asked to make author visits to various functions. You may be asked to speak at libraries, visit schools, go to conventions, teach workshops, and so on. It’s very easy to become so popular that you bankrupt yourself, and I see new authors who do it all of the time.

Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a celebrity. So when you’re asked to drive three hundred miles to talk at a convention, your first impulse is to say “Of course I’ll come.”

When you attend any event, there are a number of costs. You will undoubtedly rack up some travel expenses, which might include auto expenses, hotels, airfare, food, and so on. You will need to be prepared for that.

But very often, there are plenty of hidden costs. The big one of course is that every time that you go anywhere, you will lose time that could have been spent on your writing. But you’ll also discover that there are expenses that you didn’t anticipate—such as hidden hotel costs, automobile repairs, and something that I’m prone to: catching of communicable diseases that leave you sick for days.

Most of the time, the person who is inviting you to come is unable or unwilling to recompense you for time and travel, much less time lost from writing.

So before you accept an offer, create a balance sheet. Look at the offer and ask yourself, “What am I likely to gain, and what will I lose?”

As a writer, you may have a lot to gain. You can widen your audience of readers, make business connections, and perhaps get rejuvenated just by traveling outside of the house. Sometimes the travel can fill research needs for future books.

Very often, your hosts may offset some of the costs—hotel, food, and travel expenses are common, but as you grow in popularity, you can also add speaker’s fees into the mix.

So, let’s examine some recent offers. I have a company in China that wants me to write a screenplay. I’ve written one for them before and was paid well for it. They’re offering to fly me and my wife to China to teach some writing workshops with the idea of creating some buzz for the movies that I want to write. They’ll cover all of my expenses and pay me to teach. It sounds like there is no downside, right?

Well, there’s a good chance that everything will work out well, but you do have to worry about a few things. Have you seen the reports on air quality in Beijing lately? The smog there is deadly, and I know that with my allergies, this will present me with some real challenges. There’s a good chance that I’ll get ill, and I know that the jet lag alone will always leave me unsettled for two weeks after travel. So in order to go, I need to get enough money to pay both for my time there, but also to pay for downtime after the trip. In this case, I decided to raise my speaking fees high enough to cover the extra costs.

Normally, when a school or convention is willing to pay my per diem, I don’t have to think too hard about whether it’s worth it to go.

Consider another recent offer. I was asked to go to a writing convention as a special guest. The drive isn’t bad—about 260 miles. So there will be drive time there and back, gas and auto expenses (your car needs to be purchased and maintained, and you need to consider those costs), hotel fees, the cost of food, and so on. The convention is a small one, and isn’t offering any fee at all. So the three days will cost me the following: lost writing income, hotel fees, travel, and food. In this case, there are a lot of writers, and so I’ll probably sell some writing workshops and that will probably make it worthwhile. But this is the kind of thing that is questionable.

How about this one: I was recently asked to help support a 2-day workshop for young writers in another state. To travel there, I would have had to have driven for 1 day each way, so I’d be losing four days total of writing. I’d also have hotels, food, and so on. In this case, I just figured that between the hidden costs and actual costs, I would be losing about $2500, and I couldn’t afford it. So I thanked the good folks, and sent a small donation instead.

Even when you think that you know the hidden costs for a workshop, writer beware. With my very first workshop where I was asked to be a guest, the manager of the convention didn’t pay my airfare. Just before I left for the airport, he phoned me and asked me to put it on my credit card, promising to pay me later. But I smelled a rat, and didn’t go. It was a good thing. My host had taken all of the money from the convention attendees and fled the country.

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