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Agony Editor: Is it in poor taste for an author to charge a book club an appearance fee?

(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

I recently invited a writer to my book club. She got back to me with a fee. I was shocked. This is the first I’ve heard of authors charging money to visit book clubs. To be honest, I’m inclined to rescind my invitation. After all, we bought her book. Isn’t that enough?

Signed,
Cash Grab

Dear Grab,

Oh, book clubs. Ask any author how they feel about going to them and no doubt you’ll get a potpourri of answers. Some authors, usually the emerging ones, will happily visit book clubs as a way to grow their audience. For more established authors, the chances are less likely.

While I’m sure the author appreciated the invitation – and that your group selected her book – there are time sacrifices she needs to consider. Usually, going to a book club will take up a writer’s entire evening. (I was once at a book club until 2 a.m. At least the wine was good.) If your writer relies on writing for her livelihood, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for her to ask for compensation. Remember: it’s work for her. The time she spends with your club is time away from writing.

I’ll break it down another way – if your book club has 10 people in it and you’ve all purchased her book for $20 (and that’s a big assumption because some people in book clubs share or borrow books), that means that, based on 10 per cent royalties, your writer has potentially raked in a whopping 20 bucks. That’s provided she’s earned out her advance. From her vantage point, your invitation might not seem too lucrative. So to directly answer your question, no. Buying the book isn’t enough. Having said that, there are no hard rules and every author operates differently. As a courtesy, ask an author if they have a book club fee the next time you’re considering inviting one out. It will send a signal that you’re respectful of their time, guarantee clarity, and save you from having to deal with the awkward situation you’re currently faced with.


Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

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