Festivals Survey: Initial Findings & Next Steps

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.

Earlier this year the SoA wrote to a cross-section of the many literary festivals in the UK.

We contacted 22 festivals and asked them to tell us what they pay authors and what rights they demand in return. 17 of those surveyed responded in detail – others invited us to speak to them.

Although these initial findings are inevitably mixed – there are many variables, including size, form of funding and specialisms – they do give us cause to be optimistic.

We’ve opened lines of communication and most organisers have reacted to the call to properly consider the treatment of authors.

The SoA also spoke to Arts Council England about the treatment of authors at festivals. They have agreed that they will analyse proposed expenditure to ensure writers are being paid and have confirmed they will not fund festivals who do not remunerate authors.


Of the 17 who replied, 12 pay all authors they engage to take part as solo speakers or members of a panel. The majority pay authors the same with fees ranging between £100 – £1,000 plus expenses (mostly within the range of £150 – £200), although some admit to variations (from £350 – £1,000) on the basis of the fame of the author or distance travelled.

11 of the 17 pay chairs, mostly within the range of £75 – £150; some pay chairs more than speakers, some the same and some less.

We have asked all festivals to reconsider their payments to authors. The ALCS study of last year showed that the average earnings of a professional full time author are only £11,000 per year.

An event involves time and preparation and authors deserve to be paid just as much as every other professional who contributes to the event, particularly if people are paying to see them. We know that festival economics are complex and of course the negotiation of fees is a matter for individuals.

However, all festivals – especially those with commercial sponsors, and any festival where the public pays for tickets – should offer reasonable fees as a matter of course. Fees should take into account travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time. Although an event may only be an hour an author seldom loses less than a day when you take into account preparation and travel.

Fees should take in to account the annual salary an author would expect to earn as a freelance. We recommend Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows daily rates to equate with different salaries.

Using that reckoner a fee of £100 equates to an annual salary of just £9,000 or £150 to an annual salary of £13,500 (The NASUWT 2013 salaries for Leading Practitioners (excluding London and the Fringe) are between £37,836 – £57,520. which would equate to a fee of around £400 to £600).

Most of the festivals surveyed pay expenses. Some festivals do not pay authors with books to sell, expecting publishers to have agreed the work as part of marketing activity and to cover the expenses incurred.

Most pay VAT on top of fees but some fees are VAT-inclusive, meaning in practice that VAT registered authors are paid 20% less than those who are not VAT-registered. However, some pay whatever is invoiced – so make sure you include VAT if you are VAT-registered.


Pleasingly, the huge majority of festivals who responded say that they have an open and fair approach to rights. Those that seek rights, for example to use a recording of a talk on a website, do so in advance and took and arranged appropriate, negotiable remuneration.

What now?

The SoA is writing to all the festivals who responded to discuss their terms for authors. We have also sent them practical guidance for engaging authors and ‘Minimum Practice Guidelines’ which we hope all festivals will use and which will act as an impetus to consider the treatment of authors.

We have also created guidelines for authors which include a checklist and template invoice. 

We would love to hear from other festivals and authors to widen our knowledge. Please leave your comments below or email us.

Festivals surveyed:
  • Aye Write
  • Bath Literature Festival
  • Bath – Children’s
  • Bloody Scotland
  • Books by the Beach/Scarborough
  • Borders Book Festival
  • Cambridge
  • Charleston
  • Cheltenham
  • Edinburgh
  • Harrogate – Crime Writing & Literary
  • Hay
  • Henley
  • Ilkley Literature Festival
  • Jewish Book Week
  • Kew
  • Oxford
  • Sherbourne
  • South Bank
  • Stanza
  • Ways with Words
  • Wigtown

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