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Jackie Baldwin jackie@story-lovers.com
Kate Dudding kate@katedudding.com

Fee Structures
The information below contains excerpts from the many discussions held on the Texas Woman's University School of Library and Information Studies STORYTELL Discussion List regarding the subject of fee structures for storytellers. Because many people contributed to these discussions, opinions vary from person to person. Since there are no precise rules regarding fees, we have included diverse suggestions from many tellers for you to read and make your own decisions about what and how you will charge.

For the full discussion of these subjects, go to: www.story-lovers.com/listsfees.html

Attitude is important when deciding what to charge for your work

• You should value yourself and charge accordingly. If you don’t value what you do, neither will others. There will always be people who think you should tell for “peanuts,” and it will be up to you to deal with that attitude.

• Many tellers always charge something for their performances, even if it's only travel expenses for a free show. The bookers will have more respect for you, even if you charge a nominal amount.

• To help your own attitude, try telling yourself affirmations like “I am worth every penny that I charge” over and over. Then, when someone questions you about your fee, you can tell them honestly that you have carefully figured out the minimum amount you can afford and you can’t go below that. This confidence will show in your voice and words and will help make the bookers know that they are getting a high level of professionalism for their money.

• Believe in your heart that being a storyteller is a “real” job. Storytellers put much time and effort into the preparation and performing of their programs so that audiences get the best performances possible. That increases a teller’s worth and the worth of the storytelling art as well.

When and how do I start telling professionally; should I do volunteer/free shows?

• Many folks start either as volunteers or as part of their job--for example, teachers, librarians, read-aloud volunteers. Then the storytelling just evolves if the person wants it to. Volunteering is a good idea. The main thing is getting enough practice, and finding audiences to practice in front of! To be good, tell more! That can be difficult if you are trying to work full time, and have a family and maybe a life too. So consider how much time you can devote to it - and it can become all-consuming. There is so much to learn, so many stories, so many techniques, not to mention philosophy, tale variants, etc.

• As for when you should start charging and how you'll know when you're good enough, listen to some professional tellers, or experienced tellers in your area. When you have been voluntarily paid a few times it does feel good and eventually you will be confident enough in your abilities and have a large enough repertoire to set fees. But this varies from teller to teller. It's common for beginning tellers to feel they are not worth paying for at all, but listen to what people say about your performance, not what your self-doubts tell you. If you don't start charging when you are at least keeping your audiences' interest, not only will people tend to take advantage and not treat you with enough consideration, but you may devalue storytelling in general, making it harder for professionals to earn sensible fees.

FEE STRUCTURES: THE POSSIBILITIES

It all depends...

Helpful Hints

• Find out what other tellers in your area are charging. Try not to undercut them. Sometimes, I have to charge LESS than my "normal" fee because of the prevailing fees being charged.

• In my experience--largely focused on conferences in the not-for profit and membership association area is that there is wide range and usually multiple levels of fees paid presenters.

• Some will hire one or two "keynoters" at higher rates because they will "draw" people to the conference. Many membership and professional associations pay nothing or only a token honorarium or reduced conference fee. Some require presenters to register for the conference and expect attendance beyond their own sessions. This is a system built up on the premises that presenting your findings to peers is a "professional responsibility" and part of your job. You and your agency, institution gain "standing" or credibility based on having their staff and work reviewed and highlighted in "conferences". Often in these situations the presenter’s employers will cover expenses rather than conference organizers. So one needs to know--what kind of conference it is, how it is funded, what the traditions are. The decision to participate as presenter is often more on the "opportunity" than on the "remuneration.”

• IRS/Federal Travel allowance is currently 48.5 cents a mile.

• Schools usually have a length based on their schedule. I like shows from 45-60 minutes. I don't like shows less than 20 minutes. Other venues I usually go for these lengths with preschool around 20-30 minutes.

• Size of audience doesn't matter to me. I've done from a few to close to a thousand. A nice size is 20-50.

• Request annual reports in the public domain that indicate budget and expenditures of agencies, schools etc....know what they have. Additionally expect other tellers to be honest with you about what they have been paid by the same organization.

How do you set your fees?

• When you set your fee you are establishing your worth as a performer. AND you are establishing the worth of other performers. Undercutting or doing lots of free shows hurts other performers and our art. That says Storytellers are cheap and not worth much if anything, and the same for storytelling in general. Storytelling will flourish as an art only if it has value. If we cheapen the value then we are diminishing Storytelling as a legitimate art. Plus it hurts those who dedicate their lives to the art. These are the professional Storytellers that pay the bills with our fees. These are the Storytellers who can put the time and energy into telling. We don't have "real" jobs to go to and take away from our performing.

• Fees can range from $0.00 to $600 per performance generally, but vary.

• Some tellers are willing to negotiate price; others won’t budge.

• Fees vary according to venue, e.g., libraries, classrooms, assemblies, parks, festivals, fairs, etc.

• Some tellers have local fees, regional fees, and tour fees, which may or may not include mileage.

• Some tellers offer exchanges. For example: “Budget” prices in exchange for multiple bookings later in the year.

• In the freelance area of motivational and keynote speakers the fees are usually substantial--minimally around $1000 and usually over $2000 plus expenses for a single appearance.

• A series of gigs, work in schools, whole days and other special circumstances may demand a lower per-hour fee, but lots of badly paid work will burn you out and kill your desire to develop - be realistic. Many experienced professionals do elect to also accept a limited number of volunteer or low-paid gigs, usually for good causes that they wish to support. Some tellers present an invoice even for volunteer gigs, with the full fee stated, but marked as waived - this not only makes it clear what your usual value is, but can help the organizer to claim for work-in-kind on their budget.

• I have set a basic fee of $150 for a performance--no matter what length (I seldom go over one hour for one gig). I add travel expenses to this if the gig is located over about 25 miles from my home; I ask for 45 cents per mile. I charge less for birthday parties--I have a minimum charge of $65 which is just for showing up and telling stories. I also offer leading games, crafts, or creative drama, which takes up to one and a half hours. I charge $100 for storytelling and games; $150 for storytelling, crafts, or creative drama. I seldom have takers for the "expanded" parties--most people just want the $65 storytelling.

• I negotiate fees for festivals--since I'm usually there for a while, but not telling all the time, charging for festivals is tricky. Also, I usually sell some CD's at festivals, making some money there, too. I'm actually telling at a local "art in the park" along with several other storytellers from our guild, and I'm not charging anything, but we will promote our guild, and I can sell CD's. I'm looking at this as an opportunity to pass out my literature to a lot of people and help publicize our group. It also should be a fun day--I love art in the park.

• Tell the folks you need to know what they can spend - then tell them what you can do for what they have. Be able to do something and know what it is in advance for every cent over your bottom line.

How flexible should you be in determining your fee structure?

• Think about these factors:

Reducing your fee for special cases may cause this to become your new fee. Somebody sometimes may want to give you more than your rock-bottom fee, but by and large not. Sponsors don't like paying more than they have to. And they talk to each other about who they've hired, who was (and wasn't) good, and how much they cost. They can even get competitive on how good a deal they made. You don't want your "good" sponsors feeling resentful, or like they've been taken. Many times, the ones who are least able to find the right kind of money to pay you are not great sponsors in other ways as well.

Don’t take it personally when people can’t figure out why you charge what you do. How could they know? It's not in their interest to know, especially if by not knowing they can influence you (somehow) to do something that's good for them. Be friendly, positive and informative. Don't argue or debate. Stay noncommittal until you make up your mind, then (if necessary) use the broken record* technique until they understand.

* Broken Record – A technique of assertiveness training: the last person to talk in an argument wins. It's easy to get worn down by somebody who doesn't accept your central point. The solution is not to argue. Let them argue, and follow each of their statements by simply repeating your main point.

Example: “That's much higher than we can pay! That's too much money!” “I understand that my show may not fit into your budget, but my fee is X and I can't work for less.” “But we need a storyteller! We really need you!” “Thank you so much, and of course I'd love to come, but my fee is X and I can't work for less.” (etc)

• All my fees are open to negotiation, but usually people will pay my basic fee. If I'm telling in a different area, where the going rate for storytelling is more, I increase my fees so I'm not undercutting my fellow storytellers there. I will also lower my fees if I find out the going rate there is less than my usual charge.

Should you announce your fees in promotional materials, such as a brochure?

• I always include my fee schedule with my brochure, so when I am talking to groups they have that information up front. It also is there to talk about negotiated rates if they want to do more than just entertainment programming.

• For those putting fees in a brochure or on their websites, it's good to put the date that the fees will be reviewed. Example: "All fees are guaranteed until January 2007." That way, if they have your brochure for several years they won't get a shock when your fees have increased.

• For schools and libraries I do print my fees and include them with "most" mailings. On the schedule of fees, at the bottom in good-sized font, I print the words: "These are my normal fees but are not cut in stone. I will do my best to work within your budget. Please contact me and let's discuss all of the options."

• I state clearly on my publicity materials that I charge for travel--so it doesn't surprise them when I tell them how much it will be.

Do you offer price breaks for nonprofits?

• I don't really offer a "price break," so to speak. I have a set rate for small, not-for-profits that are not libraries or schools. The rate is $150 plus mileage for a single performance of 45 minutes or less. I live out in the middle of nowhere, so mileage is usually a considerable cost.

• I'll discount that fee slightly for local groups (and I do mean local), but now I set a cap of no more than one of those per month. I was getting a lot of little clubs and service organizations that wanted Irish stories in March for $50 plus a meal. (Irish stories are one of my specialties.) That was fine the first two years we were out here in the new place, but they take way too much time, especially the ones who insist on having a "short" business meeting between the luncheon and the program. One "short" business meeting lasted 45 minutes, and from the time I left home until the time I came back it was a six-hour day. For $50. It was especially aggravating to listen to their budget report, paying me a ridiculous little fee and then hearing about how they were spending thousands of dollars on other projects. The lunch was good, though, and that little group of ladies has referred me to many other groups, several that have paid my full fee, so sometimes it all works out in the end. And most of the time the lunches are good!

• One thing I did when I first started telling stories full-time was calculate my daily income from my regular job. I keep that in the back of my mind as my bottom-line. When the fee dips below that level, I really need a good reason to accept it, seeing as how I gave up my day job for this. Being married to an accountant helps me stand firm on this. Having a new car and a car payment helps, too.

FEES WHEN TRAVELING FOR PERFORMANCES

Again, it all depends...start by answering these questions:

How far away does the venue have to be to stay overnight the night before rather than driving on the day of the performance?

• If it’s an early day or evening performance and it’s a long drive, staying overnight is important for optimum performance. Use Google to find a hotel/motel near the performance site and contact them directly. Travelocity and Orbitz do not always offer the lowest rates. AAA will sometimes save you up to 15% on your room.

• Be agreeable to staying in homes, but point out allergies, food problems, etc.

• Some tellers use one-way commutes of three hours or longer as the justification for requiring lodging.

• If a teller has to leave home before 6:00 a.m. or drive more than two hours at night to get home, it’s best to give the client a breakdown of costs, giving them the option of providing the housing.

• Some tellers opt for a fee plus travel and board. If traveling for more than two days, some add a per diem to make sure any meals and expenses are covered. Include approximate cost of any taxi, bus or car service needed from home to and from airports.

• Lots of my bookings are 80-130 miles away. I quote a price that is dependent on the program(s) wanted and the distance traveled. I always mention that part of my price is dependent on time and distance traveled and if there is another booking in the same area for the same day, both parties receive a discount. The discount depends on the total amount charged. Let's say it's $250 for a one session event at a library. I discount to $200 apiece if there's more than one booking. I don't usually go lower than that (though I have been open to negotiations, especially if it turns into a two-day gig.) I know that for many, this is really cheap, but once folks catch on to how it works, I get a lot of repeat jobs with a schedule all worked out by the library folks.

• I have built travel costs into my fee and quote my clients a flat. I have created a fee chart for myself so that I can quote fairly and quickly. It is organized by driving time - the longer it takes me to get there, the more I charge. My fee chart builds in my expenses except for lodging.

• I prefer not to leave home before 6 a.m., and I prefer not to drive more than two hours at night. I do give clients a breakdown of prices - most opt to reschedule at a time more convenient for me than pay for lodging. I give clients the option of whether they want to provide the housing, or if they want me to do my own booking (and I ask for their recommendations of a nice, clean place to stay).

• I am thinking of requiring lodging for any one-way commutes of 3 hours or longer, though. I just had one a couple weeks ago, three hours each way, and I was exhausted by the time I got home.

• I've been experimenting with adding a $10 meal fee for each 4 hours of travel, depending on the location and the venue.

• Talk to your client to determine their need, then decide where to go with the fee. How difficult the show will be? Audience? What they want? Total time? Venue conditions? Who is the venue? How much can they afford? My goal is to set a price that will be fair to me and to the client.

• Some very worthwhile organizations will treat you like dirt if you are free. I agreed to do a free show only to get there and find my show have been relegated to another time or stage because they used the money they would have paid me to hire another performer and gave my fee to him. All I expect is to be treated as a professional and given respect. There are some that do that and I will do free shows for them anytime I'm available.

If an overnight stay is necessary, is this fee included in the standard quote or is it a separate charge?

• Round off the cost of your room and add it to your normal fee, making that fee all inclusive, rather than breaking down every expense

• When I travel - I do like to do a circuit of storytelling where I travel and see some country as I tell. I tend not to single out the cost of lodging and food. I include them in a lump sum.

• I let the client arrange and pre-pay for lodging (if it is a non-profit like a library or a school, they are tax exempt and can get the government room rate plus - they know the area and can book you a decent room near your venue). Allowing the client to arrange and pre-pay lodging also minimizes out-of-pocket expenses, which is great, especially if you have to wait for your fee to be processed.

How do sponsors pay you?

• In the past couple of years I have begun accepting credit cards.

• Some of my corporate clients have begun to use direct deposit. One fear I had was turning over my checking account number AND social security number to accounting offices in India, where most of the out-sourced accounting is being handled. I opened a checking account just for that purpose. I keep the minimum balance in it to prevent service charges and I only use it for direct deposit of fees and Paypal. Once the fee is deposited I write a check into our own personal/joint account. It’s a little more work, but it beats having the exposure.

BLOCK BOOKINGS

  • Do you give discounts for block bookings? And, if so, how much?
  • And how do you, if you do, initiate the conversation about block booking?
  • When we suggest it, often the librarian doesn't follow through.When we travel a distance, it makes it more worthwhile for us to have several programs.
  • How do you handle this situation?

• Mostly with more distant shows. After I quote the first show I tell them how to save money with another close show. Then if they get someone, I discount the second (and third) show(s). Add together, and divide by two (or three). I use MS Streets and Trips to calculate total mileage and divide by two (or three). Usually can't do more in a day. If touring for several days, then I use similar methodology. The times I've used it have worked very well.

• If you are driving, charge the current mileage rate. Round trip is 500 miles @ .405 = $202.50. Per Diem at $40. You should also charge for lodging. If it's a really long distance, I charge for two nights.

• I really like to set up a tour in a community--sometimes it starts with one school that wants me, and I offer a free performance to that school if they will set up at least four other performances at my regular rate. That way the travel expenses are shared by all the schools, and I get more work for my driving time. Even if the venue does not set up four extra performances, they still get a break by setting up one or two because of sharing the travel expenses.

RESIDENCIES

• For a standard rate, I usually tally the total number of hours I am expected to work. Multiply the number of hours by my standard rate. This gives me my top dollar amount. Next I figure what my costs to and from the engagement would be. Then add materials. This is your total dollar amount and your high rate. Next ask the school how much they have allocated for the residency. Subtract this amount from your high dollar rate (expect a substantial discrepancy). If the school is not forthcoming with an exact rate ask them to give you the ball park figures for the residency - their low and their high dollar amount. Settle on an amount that feels fair to you lower than your high dollar amount and the prevailing rate if you are well established and can get the school or district to agree. Have your proposal drawn up to reflect the costs involved itemizing actual expenditures to be incurred. I have gotten schools to agree on a supplemental fee to cover additional supplies needed.

Once you have this information combined with the rate Young Audiences gave you, determine which rate works best for you based on your personal needs and what they are willing to offer. In some cases it may not be worth your time involved to proceed. (I have opted not to give the residency when I knew the school could afford to pay more) Generally, most schools are fair and will pay you according to the prevailing standard. Other times the rate is not what you would like, but you can live with it. Also weigh in if this is your first residency or do you have substantial experience giving residencies? I am sometimes swayed by an affinity for a certain school, or a desire to work in a specific area or with a specific population. Is this a school that has a difficult time obtaining funds? When I was just starting out, I often agreed to a low rate because this gave me hands on experience and provided needed services and some of the inner city schools could barely afford it, but desperately needed the services.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Tim Sheppard has wonderful advice on his website about fees, marketing and promotion under "Getting Professional": www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/faq.html.

David Holt and Bill Mooney's book The Storytellers Guide (August House $23.95 ISBN 0-87483-482-1) covers many of these issues.

Harlynne Geisler's book Storytelling Professionally - the Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer, available on at its publisher: Libraries Unlimited, is well recommended for practical advice on the business of storytelling.

David Helfick's book on How to Make Money Performing in Schools (ISBN 0-9638705-8-0 self-published by Silcox Productions, P.O. Box 1407, Orient, WA 99160 for $18.95 plus shipping & handling) is also well recommended for practical advice on the business of storytelling.

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Copyright 2007 by Jackie Baldwin and Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.