At the Capture Books retreat (fall, 2020), the question was posed in open session, “What kind of money do you actually make when you speak on an author platform?”
Trying to filter the pointedness of this question, I diverted the authors to talk about the variety of benefits they have received through public speaking. And, there are many– were many prior to Covid-19 state rules and restrictions.
After many of these benefits were discussed, including the fact that authors have continued to make appearances even through the pandemic this past summer, the question was posed again, and to my surprise, authors in the room rose to the challenge, opening up about their choices and experiences in forms of payment for speaking engagements.
Taken aback at the variety of models used, I was impressed by the author’s willingness to discuss individual finances.
Because the models were so varied, the opportunity to cover them for an article on publicity seemed like an appropriate topic, and an important one, to offer for exploration.
Books sold at events can represent the best money an author earns apart from being underwritten by a name brand.
Since an author rarely makes more than two dollars on each book sold through a store or book selling distribution service, an author’s presentation at public events can help sway not only market sales of one’s books, without a middleman, but also provides authors with an opportunity to address topics of personal importance to them.
Authors are influencers, after all.
But, how does an newer author get booked?
One author, a media library specialist, said she was regularly offered a pretty decent flat fee for public speaking in relation to her specialty. Her presentations were given to audiences of educators, other librarians, and media-industry professionals. Being employed by a school system helps.
To this end, it may be worth it for an author to get a three year substitute certification or license in order to speak as a teacher’s substitute.
Why is this? A school system has pre-tested their employees, thus an employee asked to present at an event is regarded to be free of liability silt, overcoming the first bar of recommendations.
Additionally, a substitute teacher has already proven an ability to organize under pressure and has some ability to manage time, a message or presentation, and is able to hold the interest of an audience.
Any teacher who has learned to use hooks and gimmicks can grab the attention of an audience. A great teacher keeps a prop or two hidden up his or her sleeve in order to entertain. So, an author who also happens to be a teacher has a distinct advantage in the field of speaking at educational events.
Another author, a ministry founder, said that since she regularly spoke to women in retreat settings, she often requests that an honorarium or love offering be taken. She also asks that she be allowed to sell books from a book table.
Since she views each of her speaking opportunities as a ministry event, she doesn’t want an awkward conversation about payment to delay or burden the relationships. Mixing business and ministry outside of traditional employment can cause unnecessary speculation. She doesn’t want any of this to get in the way of her greater goal. She does, however, ask for the travel expenses to be covered and the hotel accommodation if she has to stay overnight.
The point is not to go broke
When asked how this model works out financially, she said that most often, the offerings have been generous and they have covered her expenses and time. Because the woman asking for a reasonable model of payment was known to have small children, this author then added to her experience telling about a time when Capture Books had booked an name branded author for one of their retreats. This name branded author had small children. In the author’s contract, there had been a childcare line item, and it had happily been paid.
Another author who writes and sells gift books said that she often approaches gift and novelty shops as well as libraries for book signing events. These venues are in addition to local festivals and church events.
Since she often brings supplies for workshops such as making vision boards and life maps, her contract request includes the price of one of her books with the cost of art supplies. We call this wrapping the cost of a book into the price of her author appearance.
Bonus: In addition, she also offers a clever and quick gift wrap option for books for tips.
One author said that she felt a certain freedom and joy when she presented educational workshops on her unique process of creativity.
She speaks to creative writing classes as a substitute teacher, and group therapy counselor. In the course of her presentation, she can ask the students to look up her book on Amazon and bookmark it for purchase if they are interested. She divulged that it is mostly the booking of these opportunities that has been difficult for her.
The group discussed the possibilities of approaching the receptionist with the conversation to present for a counseling group, state run health associations, and charter schools or colleges.
With or without a hired publicist, this off-topic conversation drifted into using the contact lists provided by Capture Books to woo speaking opportunities through well-edited emails with great opening lines, a couple of endorsements, and then following up an email with a phone call to the receptionist.
During stay-at-home seasons, Zoom or Skype conferences work well for joining a classroom already set up by the teacher and school system.
At this juncture, a brainstorming process took place about who is hiring for speaker events, and included the convenience that many of these groups have a set fee with the option of hosting a book table. An author shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask about a set fee or a book table.
Square and PayPal were the main forms of receiving payments preferred besides cash. But, many customers do not carry cash or exact change, even when they are shopping at holiday bazaars.
Why is the productivity so much higher when an author speaks at an event?
When speaking authors sell their own stock of books at events, the middle man fee is eliminated because they don’t have to pay the brick and mortar store their hefty fifty percent cut. [Though, when speaking at a book chainstore, the store’s retail policy will demand that the books are purchased through Ingram or Amazon. sold according to the list price guaranteeing their cut.]
Otherwise, the author can choose to offer the audience a discount, or they can sell the book for what it is valued at, or they can simply wrap up the price of the book with the cost of their presentation and offer each person who comes an autographed copy.
Some authors give their books away in order to woo someone to their business or product.
Authors make money and choose to work in a variety of ways because every author is uniquely gifted and embodies unique aims for having written their book(s).
In addition to the models mentioned above, an author can find partnerships in:
- alma maters
- athletics organizations
- youth organizations
- senior organizations
- sales organizations
- hobbie organizations
- missions events
- religious denominations
- and corporate causes.
In the beginning, and continuing for some authors throughout their writing career since they do not have a national platform for their book topics, they must be able to borrow a platform.
Take a moment to investigate online one of the above potential partner platforms for drafting an author email to and a follow-up telephone script. Reflect on your good relationships with an organization from your past and follow the trail to where it might lead. Then, repeat and file your emails into a computer file or desk file. Begin working methodically through these contact lists.
Remember that power of familiarity
When you find an intersection of interest between yourself and a possible event partner, make sure that you put them on your email opt-in list so that your author name, press releases, and recommendations come regularly to their inbox.
Books are still sold at charitable auctions and fundraisers. One of the Capture Books authors sold her humorous housewarming book, Before Long, Let’s Move!, in a picnic basket at a State-wide realtor’s conference last year.
Authors can look at speaking events as a way to broaden their unique voice and ministry, a way to raise awareness for a cause, and as a way to offer their talents to an educational system or charity for fundraising or a church or corporation for special events.
At the very least, when an presentation is booked, the author’s book is highlighted in pre-presentation materials and in the introduction when welcoming the author to the stage.
If you want to sell books, get yourself booked!
©Laura Bartnick, 2020, is the managing partner of Capture Books, a boutique publishing group.