How to Monetise Author Speaking Gigs
Making a living speaking as an author can seem impossible if you’re new to it. After all, why would anyone pay to hear you speak? You might have special knowledge but anyone could find it on the internet. Yes, you’ve published a book, but it isn’t a runaway bestseller. And you’re an okay speaker but not spectacular. Don’t fret, though. These are common concerns. Starting can be daunting, particularly when you compare yourself to experienced keynote speakers who reportedly earn more money in an hour onstage than you make in a month, but getting started on that path is easier than you think.
The problem holding back many new authors isn’t that they can’t succeed; it’s that their mindset gets in their way. They can’t imagine charging for their time and many event organisers are happy to take advantage of widespread author desperation, offering “exposure” in exchange for free speaking work. It’s predatory but commonplace. In fact, this happens so much that in 2016, according to The Independent, international bestseller Philip Pullman felt the need to make the issue public, quitting the Oxford Literary Festival in England after organisers refused to pay guest authors.
Of course, you don’t need to charge for every event to prove that your time is valuable. If you’re new to speaking and want to speak for free a few times to build your reputation and presenting skills, that’s fine. Likewise, if you want to work for free to support a low-budget bookfair or a charity, that’s also commendable. Just know that your time is valuable and, once you get started, if you focus on monetising speaking gigs, you can turn speaking into a lucrative income stream. In fact, there are actionable tactics you can try to increase your chances of making this happen.
Charge for Speaking
The first thing you can do is establish a speaking fee. Normalise it. You might not feel like you can justify it, but speaking is a skill, no matter the content of your speech. Many people can’t engage an audience or even step onstage without sweating. If you can speak eloquently in front of an audience then you’re in the minority. It’s important, though, to get your price right. As a general rule, it’s effective to start higher than you think. Allow room for negotiation but don’t let anyone box you into an hourly rate, because $25 for an hour onstage will put you well below the industry average. Charge based on the value you provide and an audience’s size instead of your time. Most organisations expect to pay for speakers, even if they would rather get them for free.
Many low-profile speakers charge between $300 and $1,000 for a single-day event. And, according to the All American Entertainment Speakers Bureau, mid-to-high-range ones like Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield and acclaimed fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor expect between $10,000 and $50,000, even if an event will be conducted online. That might seem outrageous if you usually take home $2,000 a month from a day job but it’s typical for experienced speakers with a platform. What you must remember is that your fee shouldn’t just reflect your time onstage but also your travel time, expenses, prep work, and the opportunity cost of whatever high-value activity you could do if you weren’t speaking – like writing a chapter of a book.
Your spoken words aren’t the only ones you can charge for at an event. Consider the written ones you’ve included in your books. Many authors take inventory to events and place them on a table at the back or side of the room to sell copies after they’ve captured their audience’s attention and provided value. You don’t necessarily have to pitch your work during your speech if that makes you feel slimy. Simply provide value when speaking and mention casually at the end that you have books available for anyone who’s interested. That way, your audience can volunteer to buy copies if they want some.
Depending on how you publish, you might need to supply books yourself or have your publisher send them. Consider which of your titles will interest each audience for best results. If you’re a self-improvement author, for example, you might take different books for a crowd interested in meditation than you would for one wanting to learn business skills. Similarly, as a children’s author, you might prioritise alternative books for 11-year-olds to the ones you would show six-year-olds. Don’t depend on selling books to pay yourself here – your speaking fee should cover the basics. Instead, think of it as a bonus you get for engaging an audience.
Schedule Signing Time
Hosting a book signing is a great way to sell more books at a speaking engagement. Signing works best after you’ve spoken because, by that time, you will have made your audience aware of you and warmed them to the idea of buying your books. Plus, your time onstage might have inspired your audience to approach you with follow-up questions. To lubricate this process, inform them when onstage that you’ll be happy to speak further at your signing table after your talk. All these tactics strengthen your ability to hand-sell copies and engage with readers while, ideally, a helper handles payments.
Moreover, a book signing gives you the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with readers and seize offshoot opportunities when they arise. Say an audience member doesn’t like the look of the book you touted in your speech. In that case, you can direct them to another they might prefer. Or, what if they want to book you for another speaking engagement? At a signing, you can hand them your business card. Even if they have a question you can’t monetise, that’s fine. Building rapport with your audience in this way will lead them to think of you fondly and could manifest into lucrative opportunities in the future.
Take Email Addresses
It’s no secret among online marketers that an active email list is the most cost-effective marketing tool for most authors. Many of us are even familiar with the trusted process of building one:
- Give away a freebie to entice sign-ups.
- Promote the landing page using Facebook ads.
- Warm new leads until they’re ready to buy.
However, using Facebook ads and a reader magnet isn’t the only way to do it. Taking email addresses offline at speaking engagements might not be as scaleable as running an ad 24/7 but, having met your audience, a list built in this way will start highly engaged, particularly if they’ve given you their address without expecting a freebie.
You won’t necessarily make money on the day from anyone who gives you their email address. However, this method will help you stay connected with that live audience for weeks, months, or even years. Do so and that connection could turn into extra book sales or even more speaking gigs. Playing the long game can lead to you selling far more books, particularly if you speak at corporate gigs. David Chilton, the non-fiction author of The Wealthy Barber, has mentioned on The Creative Penn podcast that he has sold as many as 110,000 books in a bulk order using a similar method after an employer decided they would like all their employees to read his book. That’s far more copies than he could ever justify shipping to the event itself.
Upsell a High-Ticket Item
Some authors charge a lower speaking fee to reach more audiences, relying on selling high-ticket items at events to inflate their earning potential. Such items often include educational courses that cost between $50 and $30,000. This strategy works well for non-fiction authors, but there’s nothing stopping a fiction author from monetising high-ticket items in a similar way. For instance, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson recently went viral for raising what, at the time of writing this article, amounts to around $30 million on Kickstarter, promising merch box subscriptions and special edition books for fans that cost as much as $500 a pop.
You won’t sell many high-ticket items at events compared to low-cost individual book sales, but nor do you need to sell many when one $500 item can bag you as much profit as 200 book sales. Often, it doesn’t even take a lot of extra effort to sell pricier goods once you’ve created them. The challenge is coming up with something that readers perceive as being worth the price tag in the first place. As a creator, however, that shouldn’t be too challenging. If you already have a fanbase of readers who love your work, you could even poll them for ideas.
Getting started as an author who earns a strong income from speaking isn’t easy, but stick with it because success in this field is all about momentum. As your platform grows, you can increase your speaking fee with it and deploy other monetisation strategies. Eventually, your reputation will even begin selling for you. Just know, in the meantime, that earning an income this way is possible. Use the tips outlined in this post and you can develop an impressive income stream from speaking as an author.
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