Speaking Engagements for Authors: Why, Where, and How
As we return to a normal schedule in the months to come, this is a perfect time to discuss speaking engagement planning. Even so, much of this advice works equally well for online events! You might think that the most important item to discuss is where you can book speaking engagements, but I’d like to take a step back and ask you to think through why you’re seeking to book these types of events. What’s your goal? That’s the real starting point!
What Are Your Goals for Speaking Engagements?
Why do you want to book speaking engagements—is it simply a means to gain attention for your book(s) and sell more copies? Or do you have a broader message based on your book’s topic or expertise that you’ve gained during your writing or publishing journey? Perhaps, you’ve specifically written a nonfiction book to highlight your competence on a topic that will allow you to gain more clients for your business.
1. First, take a moment to jot down the topics you are able to speak on with a level of competency. (For nonfiction authors, this will likely be a longer list.)
2. Now, take this same list and note what your goals might be with each topic. Is it simply selling more books? Selling books and earning speaking fees?
3. Or are you hoping speaking engagements will bring you in contact with audiences who could use your services.
(Or maybe all of the above?)
This list will guide your next steps.
Book Signings, Book Readings, Book Festivals and Fairs, Writing Conferences
These are the least lucrative events and are often the type we do the most at the beginning of our author careers. These may offer an opportunity to speak briefly about your book, offer a reading, take questions from readers, and maybe be part of a panel discussion with other authors. While these can be fun and offer you the ability to become known to small groups of readers, these are often time-consuming and sparsely attended. Or if it is a large book festival or a larger writing conference, you may be one of a hundred or more authors vying for the attention of potential book buyers. You typically do not get paid for these types of events and your book sales will be your only compensation. Or if you pay a vendor fee to have a display table, you could struggle to gain enough sales to break even. But the side benefit is that it allows you to get your book information out there and may give you some valuable public speaking experience if the event includes a book reading, Q&A or a writers/author discussion panel.
Most often you learn of these events because you’re already immersed in the writing/book world and you see them being talked about on Facebook groups or in other online forums. However, if you’re searching online for them, simply enter the type of event and the geographical region:
- Book Fairs/Festivals
- Writing Conferences
- Open-to-the-public Book Clubs
- Bookstores & Libraries (You may also wish to send inquiries about a book reading/author event to bookstores or libraries that offer author events.)
To help you locate bookstores, use the IndieBound bookstore finder: https://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder
Lists of public libraries can often be found on governmental websites. Here’s a link to Wisconsin’s list. https://dpi.wi.gov/pld/directories/systems
School and Library Programs/Presentations
Depending on the popularity of your books and whether you’re offering specific programming, school and library visits offer a unique chance to connect with readers and possibly writers at the same times as earning an honorarium or speaker’s fee. (Other student programs may be good opportunities as well--for instance, the photo above shows me mid-presentation at a Boys & Girls Club during their afterschool programming.)
If you write in the children’s market, programming at schools may be a perfect fit, even more so if your book includes topics that can fit into the curriculum. Perhaps you are interested in sharing your writing skills by leading writing workshops for student-age and adult writers. Libraries often sponsor this type of programming and will pay the educator/writer offering the course.
I separate this type of programming from an event where you are there primarily to read from and promote your book. This is value-added programming where you’re sharing skills and/or information on topics related to writing or the content of your books.
Check out this informative article about gaining consistent school bookings. https://selfpublishingformula.com/authors-how-to-get-regular-school-bookings/
Larger Conferences for Librarians and Teachers
The associations for state/national public libraries, school libraries, teachers, reading associations, educational and media technology professionals and more are all places where authors might be able to be a featured speaker. These often are paid appearances and provide excellent visibility with audiences that have the power to shelve (buy) your books for their libraries or classrooms.
But you must have something pertinent to offer. Do you speak on a topic that is relevant to librarians or teachers? Do you write books aimed toward a topic that’s desirable—enticing reluctant readers, STEM concepts, diversity in content/characters and more.
For instance, one of my most well-received sessions at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Conference was one I developed called "Around the World Book by Book." It provided an extensive reading list and accompanying teaching tools that helped educators develop their own units to teach diverse books. Here’s what that session description looked like:
The sharing of story through literature is a powerful unifying force that gives us a way to embrace our similarities and respect our differences no matter where we call home. In this session, we’ll explore reading lists by country and region and integrated activities for middle school and high school students, including awareness campaigns on issues shared around the globe.
Now, this took a long time to develop and included a painstakingly researched spreadsheet of titles by continent, country, grade level along with links to teaching guides. I wasn’t uniquely suited to offer this course, except for my love of reading books from around the globe, but it worked.
Business or Industry Events Related to your Nonfiction Topic
If you’ve written a nonfiction book on any topic, you’re likely to find events or conferences focused on topics where your expertise would be a good fit as a keynote or session speaker. Anytime you have the opportunity to speak to members of a group or from an industry that’s interested in what you have to say, you have a great opportunity to sell more books. Sometimes, if you’re the keynote speaker your contract may include that X number of books are purchased to give to the conference attendees. At the very least, you’ll have the chance to sell your books and earn an honorarium or fee. If you’re writing books in a certain area, then you will certainly already have knowledge of the conferences and associations and gatherings where you might speak on your topic. You’re probably already a member of some of these associations if this is your career area. But again – google is your friend. (One place that is often overlooked are Rotary Clubs.)
Can Your Fiction Research Translate into a Speaking Topic?
For fiction, you might have become an expert on certain things due the extensive research you’ve done while writing your book. For example, my research into the Neolithic monuments of Ireland and Celtic Mythology have allowed me to book speaking engagements at Irish festivals and libraries and conferences. In order to write well on a topic—even to include that topic in your fiction work—you have to learn a lot. You might as well use that to earn some speaking fees. Do you write about the environment, local history, ethnic customs or local traditions, true crime, or biographies of well-known people? Then you might find community groups, ethnic organizations/festivals, issue organizations, historical societies/foundations, senior centers, and (again) libraries interested in booking you for a speaking engagement.
In the photo below, I'm clearly enjoying the book signing portion of the Sheboygan Book Festival!
HOW TO BOOK THESE EVENTS
For the events where you’re attending a festival or book fair and not speaking or contributing as part of a panel, you will likely not need to send a proposal. Perhaps just an application will suffice or there might (in some cases) be a rather informal sign-up process. But for booking actual speaking engagements, once you’ve thought through what topics you’re prepared to speak on or teach, you’ll have a good idea of what types of locations will be a good fit.
1. Do your research for the specific places you would like to approach with a speaking proposal. Make a spreadsheet of the contact information, website name, location etc. along with the list of speaker requirements (if they note that on their website.) Some of the bigger associations, conferences, and conventions may require a very specific proposal—usually this is spelled out. Don’t forget to note any deadline for submitting proposals.
2. Create your proposal. Write out a description of the talk/session you’re offering and the amount of time you need to present it. Make sure you’re noting the benefits of the talk. Explain what the attendees or students will learn from you – be specific. Be succinct, polite, and professional – while also being interesting and engaging in your communication with the contact person. Include quotes or testimonials from places where you’ve previously spoken. Most often this communication will be via an email, or possibly a special contact form if you’re approaching a larger organization.
Here are other resources that may help you craft your proposal:
3. Decide how much you’ll charge. Will you charge for travel? It’s hard to decide what your time is worth. If you’re not a very experienced speaker with many endorsements or testimonials, then you probably can’t charge as much as someone who is more well-known. This is going to vary by the type of event and by location. I still remain flexible for groups who I know have smaller budgets. I hesitate to offer a range here, because of the many variables, but do please charge something … even if you waive the fee for a group, make sure they know that you typically charge $XXX.
4. Be sure to think through your technology needs. While you might not include them in the initial proposal, you will certainly include them in a speaking agreement or contract.
ONCE YOU’VE BOOKED AN EVENT: What to do in the days before, the day of, and after.
- Even with groups I know well, I always work with a contract to avoid misunderstandings.
- Make sure you have all the details on time, place, audience size, technology provided.
- Confirm how you’ll receive payment.
- Confirm all details a week in advance.
- Send a shorter confirmation the day prior, including your best contact number for last-minute emergencies should they arise.
- Arrive in plenty of time to set up and test technology – there’s always a glitch with something . . . the microphone, the adapter for the power point projector etc…
- Bring a water bottle (just in case water is not provided.)
- Bring your books, business cards, or any other printed material that you would like the audience to have or purchase (based on what you’ve worked out with the organization.)
- Have fun!
- After the event, send a formal thank you to the group, and ask the coordinator / contact person to write an endorsement or testimonial.
There's lots of great information out there to help authors land the best speaking engagements. Here are more helpful articles:
Good luck!! And if you have any questions, use the contact form on this website to send me a quick message! ~ Valerie