By Katie Knutson
Although it is impossible to put a numerical value on the art or experience of storytelling, if you are going to work as a storyteller, you have to charge for your performances. Even many experienced storytellers wrestle with the appropriate fees for their art. For a new teller, this can be a mystery. Here are some ideas to help you figure out what to charge for your work.
Know your Market
Talk to other storytellers in your area, especially those who do work similar to yours. Although money is not something most people like to talk about, it is a vital conversation to have—both for our survival as artists and to help the public understand that what we do is more than a hobby. How do your programs and experience compare to theirs?
Find other artists who work in similar venues. If you perform for birthday parties, talk to clowns, face painters, and singing telegram performers. Check out rental rates for bounce houses and chains that host birthday parties. If you want to work at festivals, approach musicians, buskers, Renaissance festival performers, and producers.
Consult with your local and regional organizations that have artist rosters. Many will list their expected fees on their website. Does your work meet the same quality standards as the roster artists?
Consider other costs
What expenses do you have for your performances? This includes not only mileage, meals, and lodging (which can often be listed as separate items in your contract), but also the time it took you to prepare for this specific gig and supplies (e.g., sound system, puppets, handouts).
Remember that your pricing can impact your market. If you are charging dramatically less for your performances than others, make sure it is for a good reason (e.g., you only have four stories in your repertoire or have only been performing for a couple months). If not, you are undercutting the market, which hurts you by making you work much more to earn a living and harms other tellers by undervaluing our art. Conversely, if you are charging too much, you may not get work. Find your balance, and don’t be afraid to raise your rates. Remember that people often determine your value as a performer based on how much they are paying you.
What if they don’t have the money?
First-time producers are often shocked when they hear that entertainers of all kinds expect to be paid for their services. Here are some ideas that continue to place a high value on our art while still respecting limited budgets:
- Encourage them to find a rookie for this event, and then budget more for entertainment for next year.
- Offer a set number of pro-bono gigs a year, but have an application process. If they really don’t have the money, they should be willing to fill out an application.
- If you are doing anything for a free or reduced rate, send an invoice that shows the normal price and the discount you are providing.
- Make an exchange. Maybe they can’t pay you, but would be willing to buy ten of your CDs, promote you in their newsletter, or write a letter of recommendation.
Give producers an opportunity to invest in you in some way; you will not only be treated with more respect, but will also be helping all of us as we advocate for storytellers and storytelling everywhere.
Please share your pricing tips and stories below. How did you decide what to charge? When was the last time you raised your rates? Did you decide to charge more than the other performers in your area? Did it pay off? Have you decided to raise your rates after reading this? (Good!) Why? Let’s start a conversation!
Katie Knutson has spent more of her life as a storyteller than not. She holds a degree in Theatre and spends her days working in schools using theater and storytelling to teach literacy, playwriting, acting, improvisation, and teamwork. She leads a variety of workshops for adults, including voice and movement, and has served extended terms on the boards of Northstar Storytelling League and Northlands Storytelling Network.