The Parable of the Couch, or What Are You Worth? #KidlitWomen

It’s Women’s History Month and the children’s literature community is celebrating with 31 days of posts seeking to address gender and social inequalities in our industry. Join the conversation at KidlitWomen on Facebook and by searching #KidlitWomen on Twitter.

If you have known me for any length of time, you have probably heard me tell a little story—a true story, first told to me by my dad—that I like to call The Parable of the Couch.

Many, many years ago, my parents’ had a neighbor who bought a new couch. He dragged his old one to his curb and placed a small cardboard sign upon it, marked FREE.


Photo Credit: Jason Matthews, used under a creative commons license

The couch sat outside, without so much as a single inquiry, for an entire week. The neighbor, not wanting to haul it away himself, developed a different strategy: He removed the FREE sign and replaced it with a new one—this one marked: $10.00.

Friends, someone stole his couch that very night.

Here’s a truth: When you value something, other people value it as well.

Publishing doesn’t like to talk about money—at least not out in the open—so I can link to no studies showing the gender wage disparity when it comes to school visits and speaking fees. But anecdotally, I have heard account after account of men, at similar, or even lower, career levels to their female  counterparts, being paid more—often when speaking at the very same event. Could part of the problem lie with women not asking for enough?

At the time of this posting the following tweet has been shared more than 30,000 times, and liked nearly 170,000. Though its subject is design work, the principle is the same:

[Generalization Alert] Men, I love  your confidence. I love that you can ask top dollar—demand top dollar—without worrying too much whether you deserve it or not. That is truly a skill, and one that doesn’t come easy to many women.

Women, stop undervaluing yourselves.

Stop feeling guilty for wanting to be paid well.

Stop standing at the curb with a FREE sign around your neck, hoping to be noticed.

You have worked extremely hard to get to where you are. You are an expert in your field. Throw your shoulders back and act like it.



Approach every negotiation with the confidence of this kid.

How much more? That depends on a lot of factors, but consider saying something like the following at the negotiating stage. You may be surprised where it leads you:

Women/Non-Binary People: “My speaking fee is negotiable, but I must be paid as much as the man you had speak last year.”

While we are on the subject, male allies can lend support by saying this:

Male Allies: “I would ask that any women speaking are paid the same amount as I am.”

And since we cannot rightly look at issues of gender equality without considering intersectionality, white people, let’s all go one better:

White Allies of Any Gender: “I would ask that any people of color speaking are paid the same amount as I am.”

Let’s each place a high value on the work that we, and our industry peers, do. Let’s work together, and use what privilege we have, to raise each other up.

We are worth it.

End note: Though this essay focused mainly on women, the disparities mentioned also apply, and often to an even greater degree, to people who identify outside the gender binary. My apologies if anyone felt excluded. 

Let's chat, shall we?

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