How to become a professional storyteller: First paid jobs/Setting fees

Storytelling is a fantastic career with scope for creativity, personal growth, travel, variety and collaboration (and it is much more exhausting than most people realise!) But it can sometimes be difficult to know what first steps to take.

There’s a lot to say so I will be writing a short series on Getting Started. Part one is about setting fees and that first paid job.

If you plan on making storytelling your JOB, you need to give plenty of thought to money at the outset, no point in leaving it “until you get established”.

How much will you charge, bearing in mind your experience?

I advise you to look at other teller’s fees (here are mine) and charge something…not identical but in the same ballpark. Remember prices can vary around the country and don’t be scared to go higher than other people! You can also think about how much money you need to live on, there’s no point in charging a figure so low that you will have to work 27 jobs a week to pay your bills! Other performers might try to make you feel bad for “undercutting” the average price or- conversely- for charging “too much” based on your ability or experience! I would advise an aspiring storyteller to keep their own counsel – there is no way you will be able to please everyone!

When starting your career, you will (probably) want to keep your fees on the lower end in order to attract business. But there is no need to go too low. Let me explain.

Some beginners think about how little general experience they have or how few stories they know. Then they charge very little. But try this. Instead, think about what you can offer THIS client?

Lets say you have just had that exciting very first school enquiry…

Enquiry email:

“Hi, we are a year 4 class who are studying Ancient Egypt. We’re looking for a storyteller to deliver an hour of Ancient Egyptian storytelling. Can you do the 1st June and what are your fees?”

You: (*thinks* help I don’t know any ancient Egyptian stories. But surely I SHOULD?! All real storytellers ought to know at least a few, right? First hurdle and I failed already. Can I learn a whole HOURS worth in just three weeks? if I do, will they be interesting? How old is Year Four anyway? gosh I don’t even know that! I better not charge too much seeing as I’m such a rank amateur…)

Instead take a deep breath and think. What does the teacher WANT? They do not want a virtuoso performer with a huge repertoire and main stage festival experience.

They do want an engaging, interactive and fun hour which will have taught the kids something.  It may take you longer to prepare than someone who has been storytelling for 20 years but if you can deliver a session which combines great learning with fun activities then you have given them everything they want and you don’t need to feel bad about charging the same as anyone else.

So, here’s your response:

“Hi many thanks for your enquiry. I would love to meet your year fours and I’m free on the 1st. Each session will last an hour. It will be colourful, educational and interactive so you might want to hold it in the hall so the children can move around.  The cost is £X Please note maximum number for this session is 30, if you wish to book more than one session, the cost is £Y.

If they get back to you, be sure to put ALL the details, session content, address, date, time, money in writing straight away. This protects you if the teacher makes a mistake about something. Then add a cancellation clause- a part at the end of your message which lets them know that there is a fee if they cancel the session at the last minute!

And then… research and rehearse the session like mad and keep a stopwatch handy. Make it brilliant. Do NOT rely on “winging it”!

In summary: When you are deciding what to charge, you don’t need to worry about how much better someone else could do the job- or if another teller will think you have undercut them- or how much experience you (don’t) have. Instead think about whether you can make the client and above all, the AUDIENCE happy. And once you have that paid job, give it your everything and make it as great as you possibly can. If you made the audience happy and got paid, you just scored your first success!

Part 2: In order to get storytelling work you need to be out there telling stories. So how do you get those first precious jobs which will hopefully snowball into a thriving career?