Authors don't come cheap these days, or at least the first one didn't.

Fantasy and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman's speaking fee of $45,000 for a recent four-hour appearance in the metrowide Club Book series has some tongues in the library community wagging in astonishment.

His Stillwater appearance consumed nearly a third of the money available for all nine authors scheduled to speak this spring and summer.

Money for Club Book, a metro­wide program started to expose suburbia to authors of critical national acclaim, comes from the state arts and cultural Legacy Fund. The money is raised through a 2008 voter-approved increase in the general sales and use tax.

Librarians defend Gaiman's handsome sum as a rare opportunity to begin an outstanding series of author appearances that residents can attend without paying at the door. The event drew 500 people.

"He's one of the greatest living science fiction and fantasy writers in the world," said Washington County librarian Patricia Conley, who recruited Gaiman for the April 25 reading. "We knew it would appeal to people from all over the area, of all ages, of all stripes."

Other authors in the series will average $5,062 in fees, with some of them making two or three appearances at public libraries. Fees range from author Kate DiCamillo's no-charge appearance in June in Apple Valley to Frances Mayes' $14,000 for readings in Woodbury and Edina libraries this week that drew about 150 people at each.

None of the money for Gaiman's appearance — or any of the other appearances — comes from property taxpayers, Conley said. Library costs touch a nerve in several metro counties because budget cutbacks in recent years have led to reduced staffing and hours.

Chris Olson, of the library agency that coordinated Gaiman's appearance, said Thursday that his $45,000 fee raised a few eyebrows but said the money was dedicated for library programming and couldn't have been spent for operating costs.
"It was at first a little bit of a surprise, but I know there are many major public speakers and authors who would charge that amount or more," said Olson, executive director of the Metropolitan Library Service Agency.

Gaiman has a reputation for quality writing in books, comics, theater and film, said Melinda Ludwiczak, MELSA's project manager. "I think other authors understand his stature," she said.

In addition to money for Club Book, the agency received more than $3 million from the Legacy Amendment fund this year for cultural programming at libraries in the seven metro counties and St. Paul, Olson said.

The next author in the series is Minnesota native Patricia Hampl, who will be paid $3,000 total for three events. She will appear May 19 at the Stillwater city library, July 8 at the Southdale Library and July 9 at the Chaska Community Center.

Gaiman's fee prompted some critical comments on a Library Journal blog, where Gaiman defended what he was paid and said he will donate the full amount to charity.

"I'm really busy, and I ought to be writing, so pricing appearances somewhere between ridiculously high and obscenely high helps to discourage most of the people who want me to come and talk to them," he wrote on the blog. "And, although I'm not sure it's anyone's business, when I get money like this, I put it back out again. In this case, 25 percent of what I get goes to a social/abuse charity, and the other 75 percent goes to an author/literature library related charity program."

Gaiman wrote that he did a three-hour reading session for free at a recent benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in Chicago. He said 1,600 people attended.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432