Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Question of Charity

'How much do we owe you?'  the secretary asks, so I tell her the sum we agreed a year ago:  £30 plus travel expenses (calculated from the cost of the petrol needed to get there courtesy of Google maps).

She looks askance at the amount.  'Shall I make it our to charity or will you?' she says.
I don't reply.

I suppose it looks like I am awash with money.  I have given a 45 minute talk and then answered questions.  At the end of the talk I have offered my books for sale if anyone should be interested.  The books I've brought with me (bought, as I explained to my audience, from my publisher) I am selling at little more than I paid for them.  In fact, there is a friendly  little squabble about who gets the last one.  My total profit is a modest £3.50 and my customers go away happy knowing they have paid a lower price for my new book than they'll find anywhere else.

This talk, which is illustrated with pictures, took me weeks to prepare.  It was based on research that took me years to do.  This afternoon I spent three hours going over the talk and refining it because I hadn't given it for a while and felt I needed to revise it.  I was invited to give the talk a year ago and in response I set out my terms and conditions which included my fee, travelling expenses and opportunity to sell books.

So why am I being asked to give this money I've earned to charity?  And why am I feeling an uncharitable wretch for ignoring that question and insisting that the secretary makes the cheque out to me?

A few days later I have a conversation with my brother.  He is a consultant microbiologist at a hospital. He is also giving a talk - an after dinner talk for 20 minutes to a similar number of people as me.  I do not think that his talk is any more interesting, worthy or entertaining than mine.  My brother's talk is in Prague.  They pay for his flight over, his night in a hotel and £150 for giving the talk.  There is no question about him giving the money to charity.  So why the difference?  And if, say, the secretary of the group I gave my talk to was applying for legal representation, or having a broken window mended would she also ask that lawyer or joiner if she should pay their fee to charity?

5 Comments:

Blogger Brian Clegg said...

Clare - you absolutely shouldn't feel any guilt. In fact, to be honest, what you were asking for is very small indeed - Society of Authors would recommend a minimum of £150 for the talk plus travel at 45p/mile. The parallels with fees for services is spot on. Shame on them - in fact you should name and shame them.

Sat Sep 14, 10:30:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Brian - very glad to know I wasn't overcharging them!

Sat Sep 14, 12:32:00 pm  
Blogger Nora Lumiere said...

This happens to artists all the time too. We're expected to donate vast murals that would take months to paint and design, logos, portraits - all for free.
I was once told that translating a poem should cost less per word than a screenplay as it's shorter.
I hope in future you'll charge the above-mentioned fee in the name of all artists, writers, not to mention––women. Just picture yourself as Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" as you do it so you'll feel fierce and powerful and entirely justified.

Sun Sep 15, 04:29:00 pm  
Blogger Manoj Sterex said...

If the terms for the talk was set earlier and agreed upon, there's no point of mentioning charity at the last minute! That's very silly.

You are not wrong in taking the money. Especially since you've put your heart out for the talk to make it interesting and amusing.

Sun Sep 15, 08:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Nora: Yes, I suspected as much (about artists) too. Actors and musicians, maybe, too.
And yes, I think I'll take Brian's (and the SoA) advice about payment from now on too! Thanks!

Yes, Manoj - my thoughts exactly! Thank you.

Sun Sep 15, 11:26:00 pm  

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