How Much Should I Charge? Three Rules of Thumb

MoneySign-BlackWhen you are figuring out what to charge for a school visit, here are three rules of thumb that can help:

• Be decisive about what fee works best for you.

• Don’t be defensive about your fee.

• Silence is your friend if you have to negotiate your fee.

Rule of Thumb #1: Be decisive about what fee works best for you
Authors’ and illustrators’ fees for school visits are all over the map, so you’re free to come up with your own figure.  If you’re at a loss of where to begin, check out publishers’ sites for their author and illustrator appearance pages to get some examples. The median fees (not the average) will guide you. For example, here’s what I found at the site of Little Brown Young Readers division, a publisher’s grid that includes 80 authors and illustrators from 22 states, DC and one Canadian province.

Primary grades or “All Ages” (30 author and illustrators)
FEES:
NEGOTIABLE = 2
N/A = 2
Authors/illustrators who post a local plus non-local fee = 13:30
Local fee range = $500 – $2000
Median local fee = $775
Non-local fee range = $450 – $5000
Median non-local fee = $1250

Grades 5 and up (50 authors)
FEES:
NEGOTIABLE = 5
N/A = 2
Authors who post a local plus non-local fee = 13:50
Local fee range = $250 – $1500
Median local fee =$500
Non-local fee range = $100 – $5000
Median non-local fee = $1,000

Rule of Thumb #2: Don’t be defensive about your fee.
If people question your fee, just say, “This is what I charge.” You don’t have to do a dance or explain why you’re worth it. Just know that you are worth it!

Rule of Thumb #3: Silence is your friend if you have to negotiate your fee.
I was a garage sale recently. A shopper showed interest in a table and chair set. My friend blurted, “It’s $60 or best offer.” She should’ve just said, “It’s $60” and let them make the next move. Her next action would then be determined by their actions or comments.

With school visits, don’t take a potential host’s silence as a “no.” Don’t assume they can’t afford you. They’re thinking it over. If they counter with a price or ask if you can do any better, you can either choose to negotiate or stand with your original fee.  And your silence in this exchange is just as significant. When you don’t chatter, good things can happen.

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9 Comments on “How Much Should I Charge? Three Rules of Thumb”

  • Alexis,

    One thing I learned was to ask…”What is your budget?” Often they have a bigger budget than I would have thought. Also, I am a book store, sometimes I take a lower fee if I am allowed to sell my books in advance and at the school. I do not do a school visit for free. The more they pay for you the better you are treated. If a school can not afford me I give them options to obtain funds or partner with other schools to lower my fees. PTA is always a good source.

  • You’re right, Tina. The “What’s your budget?” question is a good one. If their budget is really far from what your fee is, then it makes it easier to recommend other authors to them who might be within their range — that way, you’re remembered as being helpful. But I don’t tie book sales to my appearance fee. I found that schools have a misconception that if they allow sales, that’s enough compensation for a visit, and it’s not — at least for me.

  • Excellent, practical advice, as always, Alexis! I’m just under the median for local visits, and I’m thinking of raising my rates some. Have been considering it for a year or two, actually. I think it’s time to do it.

  • With all the honors you’ve garnered for your works, Laura, I think it’s time for you to reconsider your rates, too! Schools who choose you to visit really get a rich, full program.

  • My publisher told me in 2003 to charge not less than $1,000. I was shocked. I had never considered charging anywhere close to that. But I did raise my fees and used the extra money to pay off outstanding bills.

  • Good for your publisher for nudging you, Wendie! The majority of children’s authors and illustrators who live on royalties and school visits don’t even make close what a first year teacher makes! In fact, according to a survey by NEA (National Education Association) for the 2012-2013 school year, the average annual starting teacher salary was $36,141 (the lowest = $27,274, the highest = $51,539 and the median = $34,600). And it’s not as if authors could even be engaged at $1,000 a day for for all 180 days in a school year. (Hmmm — that would make a nice salary, wouldn’t it!) I don’t know why authors are so apologetic about trying to earn a living. Here’s a link to the chart: http://www.nea.org/home/2012-2013-average-starting-teacher-salary.html

  • Thanks, Alexis. I did have higher rates several years ago, but didn’t get many bites. But maybe I could go a bit higher now. Thanks for that chart, too!

  • Laura – there are so many factors involved in hiring, especially if an author is traveling from a distance and other expenses are involved. Setting fees is a dance, and each of us has to figure out what works best in the area in which we’d like to do the most visits. I haven’t raised or lowered my rates for years ($975 local, $1200 non-local, $1500 out of state), but am noticing more invitations in the last two years after that horrible dip in invitations during the recession of 2007-2008 until recently. I think that in addition to the economy & educational funding improving lately, schools are refocusing on quality children’s literature across subject areas – which can translate to more school visits (fingers crossed!).

  • That’s good news, isn’t it? My state (MN) just lost a lot of Legacy Funding, which was used to subsidize author events at schools and libraries outside of the metro area. So I anticipate fewer outstate visits as the new budget goes into effect. And while there are SO many fabulous things about living in a state with many truly wonderful children’s writers, the downside is that there is stiff competition even for local authors. Hope your schedule just keeps getting fuller (more full?)!

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