What Am I Worth (Or Not Worth)

What Am I Worth (Or Not Worth) January 10, 2016

I like speaking at Pagan Festivals. I can’t really write worth a damn, but I’m generally a pretty good public speaker. When I’m speaking in public I try really hard to mix solid (scholarly) information with personal anecdotes and dick jokes. (Since I do a lot of workshops about the Horned God there’s always a lot of room in there for dick jokes.) Some people really like my stuff, some don’t, and that should probably be expected. Liking a presenter (or teacher if you prefer, but I’ll admit to not liking that word) is matter of personal preference. I love apples, you like plums, it’s OK.

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I write this blog (and now books!) mostly because I like presenting workshops. I’d love to present workshops ten to twelves times a year at festivals and/or bookstores and not have it bankrupt me, but it probably would result in a large net loss every year. I don’t suffer under any illusions that writing and teaching Pagan stuff is a traditional paying gig, in fact I’d be fine with simply having my airfare and hotel paid for when I’m on the road (no honorariums needed), but that just doesn’t happen all that often.

It’s a rather open secret that there are a lot of festivals that offer their presenters absolutely nothing in exchange for teaching*. I can literally speak to, and entertain, several hundred people over the course of a weekend and not receive even a discounted entrance fee. I’m not necessarily complaining here. I like doing workshops, and no one is forcing me to do it. I also generally sell a pretty good amount of books after speaking at a festival which means I’m recouping some of my losses. Hopefully after listening to me pontificate people will want to buy a book or at least read this blog, so yes, sometimes exposure is its own reward.

But I’d be lying if I said that absolutely nothing doesn’t hurt once in awhile.

It hurts my pride, because the implication is that my work isn’t worth anything. A workshop isn’t just the seventy minutes spent talking about a particular subject. There’s the time involved in putting a workshop together (for me that’s generally at least 40 hours), and then there’s money spent on books for research, and computer programs so I can run a powerpoint presentation with my words. Even a simple note saying “Hi, we just want you to know that your time and efforts are appreciated” would go a long way.

Me at my first book signing for "The Witch's Athame."
Me at my first book signing for “The Witch’s Athame.”

I know that a lot of festivals make absolutely nothing, and that they are run by volunteers who also make nothing. Those volunteers also have to deal with all kinds of complaints that they may or may not even be responsible for. Demanding money or even a discount in the face of such obstacles strikes me as wrong. Perhaps when the day rolls around when festival X has five grand in the bank then maybe I’ll ask for something, and even then maybe I won’t. What if asking for something puts me on some sort of list where my workshops are rejected? In such a scenario even the limited benefit of exposure could be taken away from me . . . . And as I said at the beginning I talk in public because I like it, and not because I erroneously believe it’s going to pay my rent.

Some of you who read a lot of Pagan blogs probably have figured out that I’m writing about this because I was inspired by Taylor Ellwood’s post on the same subject. Last month he wrote:

I will no longer present at conferences where it is expected that I will foot the bill to come and present workshops. I will no longer pay to present at a conference. What that really means is that I’m not going to pay registration and airfare and hotel and food to present workshops for your event and help get people in the door for your event.

For the record I thought Taylor’s post was brave and I understand the sentiment, even if I don’t fully agree with it. I’m not Starhawk or Christopher Penczak but I still draw a crowd when I speak at most places. However, unless it’s only my name on the marquee I’m not sure that “I help get people in the door.” People go to festivals for a variety of reasons, and workshops are only a small portion of that. I’ve never been to ConVocation (in beautiful lovey Detroit Michigan!) and had someone come up to me and say “I’m here today because of you Jason.” And ConVocation even includes pictures of me with their publicity stuff.

The best "perk" I've gotten from Paganism is that I got to marry this woman.
The best “perk” I’ve gotten from Paganism is that I got to marry this woman.

When I lived in Michigan and used to fly down to San Jose for PantheaCon I’d easily spend 1000 dollars of my own money on what amounted to a four day trip mostly spent inside a hotel, but it changed my life. I met a whole host of people that encouraged me to be the public Pagan that I am today. I met famous Pagans who said super nice and encouraging things to me and met publishers who eventually asked me to write for them. I also made lifelong friends and had a lot of fun along the way. I’ve gotten so much out of the festival experience that it would be impossible for me to turn my back on it, even if it sometimes hurts my pride and puts a very large dent in my wallet.

I think we also sometimes forget just how young the Pagan movement is, and how especially young the Pagan festival/convention circuit is. There are festivals that have been going for over twenty some years now, but I don’t think we can honestly compare ourselves to sci-fi and comic book conventions yet. There are maybe two million Pagans in the United States, seventy million people in North America have paid to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Coca-Cola is not co-sponsoring any of our festivals and in the age of the internet I have to assume that many of the folks who once vended at Pagan festivals no longer do so (costing event organizers money). Perhaps it’s still too early to make demands on a movement that is still relatively speaking, in its infancy. (And it’s also not a movement that’s been co-opted by the mainstream. Witchcraft has gone through “fad” periods but it’s never been dominated by a movie studio, or even a mainstream publisher.)

So I’ll keep talking at and visiting Pagan festivals, though it probably won’t be as many as I’d like and it’ll probably continue to cost me more than I think it should, or want it to. Perhaps we’ll get to a point where presenters will routinely be compensated in some way for the tremendous amount of work they put into their presentations. And until that day I hope that people will remember that a nice “thank you” still goes a long way.

*But certainly not all. There are a whole host of festivals that have at the very least comped my admission for speaking at their events, and others that have in addition paid some travel expenses and/or hotel costs. There are some festivals who have bent over backwards to make me feel both wanted and appreciated. To those events I sincerely say thank you.

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