Monday, 25 November 2013

Letter to a lit festival admin person

Dear [X]

1914: Poetry Remembers (Faber & Faber) – Public Reading Project

[Y] at Faber has forwarded your request for permission for a reading of Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘The Little Auto’, in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation, at the above event in the forthcoming Bath Literature Festival.

I replied to [Y] to say that after the invoice for permission for the poem to appear in the Faber anthology has been paid (its due date is tomorrow, and no sign of it yet); and after a copy of the book as requested with the permission invoice has been received (it was published a month ago); and after Faber have confirmed that in any reprint or paperback edition the mis-spelt name of the translator will be corrected, and her name will be removed from under another poem that she did not translate, and the publication details of the book in which the translation originally appeared will be listed (at present there is no mention) – then we can talk about further permissions.

Until all that is sorted, I can’t give any further permission through Faber.

If, however, Bath Festivals is dealing directly with myself, and my dealings with Faber are not relevant, we can move on.

I find it odd that you suggest I ‘waive any fees usually applicable’. What do you mean by ‘usually’? Bath Festivals, the organisation from which you write and a registered charity, received in 2012 (the last publicly available accounts) £190,200 from ACE and £245,00 from Bath & NE Somerset Councils; and had £406,530 staff costs (for 14 employees; average, just over £29,000 each), plus £9,515 ‘staff expenses’; total income, £1,203,981. CB editions, from whom you are requesting permission, receives no public funding for its publishing; has no employees; and makes an annual loss, even though all editing, design, typesetting, marketing and time are given freely, not costed against income. Neither does the translator of the poem you request permission for make an income from that work, yet, beyond a very few coffees or beers above the £200 advance from CBe. This is how things get done, how a large amount of the material on which literary festivals depend gets produced. I and a co-organiser have put on an annual book fair for poetry presses in London for three years (50 publishers at each of the last two events) without any payment at all. We did it for the enjoyment, and have no regrets, which is how I publish also, but to have this work taken advantage of by other arts organisations that are in receipt of large amounts of public money – no.

So, £300 for the permission. Negotiable. We can talk, and I hope we will. Which will go to publisher/translator 50/50. More, if you like; that is, if you think that the existence of certain small presses putting out what is worth putting out is something needing support rather than being something to be exploited. I think the public reading idea is lovely. I think the Bath Literature Festival is a fine thing. I resent the assumption that, in times of cutting corners, rather than the admin, payment for the people who write, translate, publish, provide the material on which festivals depend, is the corner to be cut.

With all best wishes


Anonymous said...

Great post. I guess that answers the Duke of Edinburgh's question?

Andrew Shields said...

Well put. I'm curious what the answer will be.

Sheenagh Pugh said...

I do hope you'll update us on progress, both with Faber and Bath. It's deplorable that a small publisher and their authors should in effect be expected to subsidise a festival in receipt of public money and a far bigger, more solvent, publisher.

Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson said...

Great Post Charles!

Anonymous said...

As elegant a two-fingered salute as I have read in a long while. Hurrah.

George S said...

Well, yes, I too am curious as to the reply. We live in a world of mutual dependence. The apparatus of dissemination has a permanent paid staff. What it disseminates does not and never really has any such thing. No one as far as I know, except the Laureate, receives a salary for writing. Most of the time, most of us, live in a voluntary, or, if paying, a gestural economy.

I undertake free readings and give away poems to people who ask, partly because it seems an interesting use of time, partly because I have some faint idea that it is a form of 'seeding' in that what you read in one place might result in someone buying a book in another. I never ever expected to make what the world would call 'a living' from writing, not from poetry at least. Not even from translation.

As a publisher, you are in the middle station, Charles. You do do marvellous books and you don't have financial support. You are not part of the funding state apparatus. I don't know whether you could have been(I reckon you could, at some cost) or whether you deliberately steered clear (I can see very good reasong why you might).

£300 is what I nominally ask for for a reading, plus travel and accommodation when required. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't. I don't worry too much about it because for many years I held down a regular teaching job (half-time for the last 24 years), supplemented by freelance literary activity, which, as a total was more than pocket money, though individual parts of it looked very much like that. I heard a productive novelist last week faintly sneer that he had supported himself entirely by writing while others were less serious because they work in academia. So much for poets, I thought.

Your note to the organisation at Bath is based on a point of principle but is also an act of provocative realpolitik because you know that festival budgets won't allow for every poem that is read publicly (read, not published) to be paid for.

You have done marvellous things at personal expense and that should be recognised. I don't know how.

As for Faber that really does sound like high-handed incompetence somewhere along the line.

Forgive this lengthy reply. You make me think. This is me thinking.

Amanda Craig said...

Well said in your elegantly-phrased post, though £300 for a reading is generous compared to the Society of Authors minimum of £150 which I ask for as a novelist. I like the Bath festival too but this whole attitude that we who create the stuff are somehow a free resource needs challenging repeatedly.

George S said...

Amanda, I am aged. It's £150 for me and £150 for my bath chair.

charles said...

I'm not usually good at saying no. Like probably everyone in the business, I've done many things for free, and on most occasions very happily. It's only when I feel I'm being taken advantage of, or taken for granted, that I start to feel riled. In this case, a credibility gap seemed to open up between "Bath Fesivals is a charity and we therefore operate on very limited budgets" and the actual figures I then found, and into that gap popped my request for £300. That figure is clearly over the top; but I do think that an organisation with over £400,000 staff costs, and in receipt of over £435,000 of public money, should not be inviting writers, performers, publishers, to "waive any fees usually applicable".

George, I haven't in fact deliberately steered clear of the funding apparatus. It just so happens that none of the three applications to ACE for CBe publishing got anywhere. (I should add that ACE has, for the past two years, supported the Free Verse book fair.) If I'm developing the traits of a stubborn old bastard, this is largely accidental. All money comes with strings, but a willingness to ask for help when it's needed is, I think, a good thing.

George S said...

I was mistaken, Charles. I am more than astonished in that case that the plea for funding fell on deaf ears.

And yes, the occasional flush of being riled when one thinks one is being taken for granted. It's the same with the readings. I don't like it being assumed that I will read for free. Being asked nicely is a different matter. Same with giving poems or articles. I do both these things for free when such are the circumstances. I always think it is better that these thing happen than that they don't.

Mind you, I suspect, the sense of being taken for granted is a function of ageing.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a venerable Classical music publisher (which, admittedly, published some pretty austere new music) and we faced similar issues with orchestras thinking they were doing us a favour by performing works published by us, and therefore expecting not to pay hire charges.
But the publisher had paid all the costs up to that point: the composer's advance or retainer, the copy-editing and typesetting charges, the part-extraction and score preparation and duplication charges, all without public funding and resulting in a yearly loss in that part of the business which was usually only just balanced by a meagre profit on the publishing side.

BBB said...

Great post.

Anthony said...

As Amanda Craig said, an elegantly phrased, excellent response. My best wishes for progress! (In Rosemary Sutcliff's days there were no festivals that I know of ... !)