Monday, May 07, 2007

I Talk, You Pay

I've been asked this question so many times I'm surprised I haven't blogged about it before.

If you're a writer, you're probably going to be asked to speak in public at some point.

The first few times this happens, you'll be flattered. So flattered, that you'll happily speak for free, or for the opportunity to sell three or four books to the crowd afterward.

As your star rises, you will be offered more and more speaking opportunities. In fact, you may get so many requests that you can pick and choose which ones to accept.

You'll pick the ones that are nearby and easy to get to. You'll pick the ones that will have the biggest crowds. You'll pick the ones where you were invited by a friend, or someone in the biz whom you owe. But first and foremost, you'll pick the ones that pay.

Being paid to speak is a wonderful thing. It validates your success. It gives you a forum where you're obviously appreciated. And most of all, it helps defer the cost of promotion, which is costly indeed.

But when someone contacts you and asks, "How much do you charge?" most new writers don't know how to answer.

Let's take a few scenarios.

1. A nearby library asks you to speak.

When I'm approached by a library within easy driving distance (less than 2 hours) I always ask if they offer a speaking fee.

Some libraries have budgets for speakers, and need to spend these budgets or else they lose them. Some libraries have no budgets, and can't pay anything at all.

If they don't offer a set dollar amount upfront, but instead ask what your fee is, I tell them to average the last three fees they've paid previous speakers, and I'll accept that.

This price can vary. I've spoken at libraries for a handshake. I've spoken at libraries for a tote bag. I've also spoken at libraries and gotten as much as $1200. The average is between $50 and $150.

Ask if you should bring books to sell (get these books from your local indie at a 40% discount, so they go toward your royalties.) I usually sell books to library patrons at a discounted rate (five bucks for paperbacks, twenty for hardcovers) and always bring some free giveaways for patrons, and some free books for the library.

2. A far away library asks you to speak.

I usually forgo the speaking fee, and instead ask for travel expenses. I do this because I figure I'm being taken someplace where I wouldn't normally go, for free. So I'll ask for gas or airfare, plus hotel if I'm staying overnight.

Many libraries will also throw in a free meal, which is always welcome. :)

3. A writing conference or convention asks you to speak.

Again, I usually do this for travel expenses, plus free admission to the event (including food if they have it.) I prefer the conference to handle flight/hotel details, rather than reimburse me later, because it makes things easier come tax time.

Could you ask for a fee on top of this? Sure, if you're big enough star. Some NYT writers ask for first class travel, accommodations, plus anywhere from $3000 to $50,000 to speak.

I'm not there yet. Someone paying for my travel is enough to get me someplace. If they insist on a little something above that, I won't turn it down.

Sometimes, I'll be invited to speak someplace (a book fair, a bookstore manager meeting) and won't be offered any sort of fee or travel expenses. I may still go, depending on the value of the event. Wouldn't you fly anywhere for a chance to speak to three hundred bookstore managers, or get a sound bite on the ten o'clock news?

If you're keynoting an event, receiving an award, or teaching a class, you aren't out of line to ask for them to cover expenses. After all, they want you, and you're there to work, so you should be paid for your efforts.

At these events, there is usually a bookseller who has your books available for sale. Be sure to contact them a few weeks prior to the event, to make sure they've got your books. While at the event, make sure you meet them and say thanks, and offer to sign their remaining stock.

4. Your publisher books a speaking engagement for you.

If you're lucky, your publisher may send you someplace to speak, usually at an industry convention like BEA or ALA or GLBA.

They may pay. They may not. It depends on their marketing budget for your book.

If your publisher does get you in front of a group of industry professionals, I say go, even if they don't pay your way. They can open doors you can't, and it's worth your time and money.

If they do pay, watch the expenses. Don't soak them for expensive room service or pay-per-view movies. This isn't a free vacation. It's a business trip.

If they don't pay, you can always ask your publisher for books to take to the event. Give away every last one they send you, and have them send the books to the hotel, not your home, so you don't have to travel with them.

This should go without saying, but DO NOT ask your publisher for a speaking fee. You might, however, ask them to compensate you for expenses after the fact, even if they originally said no to your request. Save your receipts, and give them a detailed rundown of what you did. Wowing a group of booksellers will get your publisher excited about you, and make them freer with the checkbook.


How much are you worth? It depends. Certainly your time is worth something. But when you're building a career, every chance you have to speak is time well spent. Even if it's a small crowd. Even if you don't sell a single book.

You never know which events are going to be stellar, and which are going to lead to even bigger events. I try to do as much as I can afford, both in terms of time and money. Getting paid is nice, but any opportunity that you have to speak in front of a group is an opportunity you should try to take.

Just remember: Before you start wondering how much you're getting paid, be sure that you're worth whatever they're offering. Hone your public speaking skills before you get in front of a crowd, or you may soon find yourself without any offers.


Stacey Cochran said...

Another great topic, JA. My speaking career has taken a quantum leap this calendar year, and I've got over a dozen events lined up for the summer. Because I'm new at this, no event host has paid me yet, but I continually pack bookstore after bookstore and library after library.

I'm still new enough at this that I have to convince the stores to actually have me. So far, I've been putting more audience members in each store than most New York Times bestselling authors. And I'm self-published.

Here's video of a panel I organized, moderated, and promoted at a bookstore last week in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Anonymous said...

Dear J.A. ConCrap,

I just read your Charlie Brown rant about faking confidence. You're worse than a Charlie Brown.You're a hack's hack. You write crap books about killing women. You get off on that and the animals that read your books do too. You dare to criticize and advise other writers? Charlie Brown? Faking confidence? You are a confident hack who writes crap only good for wiping my dog's butt. Big accomplishment. Go f!@#k yourself. You're not a writer. You're not a role model. You're a silly little nothing. A nobody who thinks if he talks loud enough people won't see how small he is. They see it, JA. People like you ruin the world. You're a jerk and you don't know it! But I'm glad you're honest enough to admit you're a fake. Keep faking.

JA Konrath said...

Dear Anon--

I've got a link that I think will help you.


Stephen Parrish said...

Joe: You have legions of fans, most of them (like me) silently gleaning priceless advice from your blog. The occasional asshole commenter is a price you have to pay for your high visibility.

Thanks for everything.

Ellen said...

This is so helpful, Joe. Thank you! I'm bookmarking this page.

I have a question. Can you explain more about getting books from a local indie to resell? Do you have to collect and pay sales tax on the books you sell? Do you need a tax ID number for that? What about taking credit cards? It all sounds so complicated to me.


Jude Hardin said...

I find it amusing that anon said all that, yet was polite enough to not write out *fuck*.

I think we're going to need something stronger than Zoloft, Joe. Anyone got a tranquilizer dart?

Simon Haynes said...

The Australian Society of Authors website contains a list of award rates for author visits, from travel expenses to lunch allowance to rates per hour and per day. Whenever a school or library asks me to speak, I just quote them the rates on that page. I usually volunteer for more hours than they ask for, or tell them not to bother with the travel or lunch expenses - depends on the distance and how much the total is likely to be. One trip I accepted a payment for time and petrol, but put myself up in a five star hotel on my dime.

And you're right, when I started out I did freebies, but they were great practice and I probably got more out of them than I gave back.

By the way, every cent I earn from public engagements is ploughed back into promotions, whether that's more free copies of my books, bookmarks, ads or whatever.

Simon Haynes

Anonymous said...

Good info, Joe.
Another of your posts that I'll have to revisit when 'someday' comes and I can apply the advice.

Anonymous said...

Hey, ANON. Just out of curiosity, is your last name York?
--ANON 2

Anonymous said...

Stacey: I checked out your website and was very impressed to see that you had a blurb from NY Times bestselling author David Morrell.

It's also very impressive that you're speaking at numerous libraries on how to get a literary agent and how to get a publisher. Way to go.

Anonymous said...

Spineless, gutless anon: Don't you mean KonCrap? ConCrap just sounds like a bad convention.

Anonymous said...

Can you give us a link to that great PW review? I'm hoping it got a star!

Anonymous said...

Jude sez:
I find it amusing that anon said all that, yet was polite enough to not write out *fuck*.

I caught that, too! I also wondered why he wipes his dog's butt.

Jeri said...

Good post, Joe, especially the tips on suggesting a fee. Having them take the average of the last 3 speakers avoids a lot of awkwardness.

Speaking of BEA, can you give us any tips on what writers should do when attending this event? I think you indicated in a post last year that one way to help sales was to personally meet the distributors and the stores' buyers. I imagine BEA would be one of the few opportunities to do that.

I must be watching too much Battlestar Galactica. I thought Anon #1 was telling you to "go frak yourself."

Jeri said...

Oops, I just realized you already talked about BEA here. My bad.

Trish Ryan said...

Great post. Thanks for the candid treatment of what can be an awkward topic. But then again, that's the beauty of this blog :)

Muchas Gracias!

Erin O'Brien said...

When I am asked to speak, I am so overjoyed that I promptly fall to my knees and offer to fellate the gentlemen.

If it is a woman, I offer to do her laundry.

We are the writers and the scribes. We are the recorders.

Mike Springer said...

Hey, Erin, I have a speaking engagement for you.

Good post, Joe.

JA Konrath said...

Not that I want to indulge anonymous posters who don't argue logically or have the guts to sign their name to their posts, but I was curious enough to go through my novels and count the victims.

Women killed: 3
Men killed: 3
Women in jeopardy: 1
Men in jeopardy: 1

Women killed: 6
Men killed: 10
Women in jeopardy: 1
Men in jeopardy: 1

Women killed: 1
Men killed: 5
Women in jeopardy: 0
Men in jeopardy: 2

Women killed: 3
Men killed: 7
Women in jeopardy: 0
Men in jeopardy: 1

Women killed: 0
Men killed: 6
Women in jeopardy: 2
Men in jeopardy: 4

Total numbers:
Women killed: 13
Men killed: 30
Women in jeopardy: 4
Men in jeopardy: 9

So while I may write books about killing, less than half of the victims have been women, and less than half of the characters I put in jeopardy have been women.

Whether my books are crap or not comes down to perspective, but they aren't mysogynistic.

Jina Bacarr said...

Hi, JA,

I'm a regular reader of your blog and totally enjoy it!

I read your latest blog, shaking my head in agreement. I've done booksignings at bookstores across the state, talked to library groups, spoken at university women luncheons, etc., usually for nothing more a free lunch if I got lucky.

But sometimes we writers do get a break: this year I've been invited to speak at La Biennale arts festival in Venice, Italy in June with all expenses paid! (Airfare, hotel, transfers) (I should mention I have two books translated into Italian that are doing well.) I even get to spend a few hours in Paris (okay, it's the airport, but it's Paris!).

Ciao! And keep up your great blog!

Anonymous said...

Joe, suggest that you sick, Jack on the asshole.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a nasty rant from that anonymous troll. Some people were just born without any sense of dignity or decorum, I guess.

Great post Joe--thanks for all ya do.

Anonymous said...

Here's another nasty little surprise I had after my book came out. Several major magazines said they wanted to "interview" me. What that meant was that they emailed me five open-ended question and I ended up writing about 1,200 words, which they published under the byline of the person who sent the five email questions. And they never paid me.

Sure, it's publicity, but if I'd been getting paid at the same rate as the magazines' freelancers, I figure I did about $10,000 worth of free work in the name of promotion. BTW, I also write articles freelance and could have gotten promotion just as good with a paid article, but I didn't want to let my publicist down or miss an opportunity.

Just saying...

Anonymous said...

P.S. I'm not the same anonymous who said terrible things about you, J.A. I like your books.

s.w. vaughn said...

Hey, AnonyCrap. You said:

You dare to criticize and advise other writers?

First: JA is published - and from your rant, I'll bet you're not. This is not a judgment on you (I have no idea who you are because you didn't bother to sign your name. What a surprise.); rather, it is a damned good qualification for JA to offer advice to other writers. You don't get published unless you can write (or you're famous, but that's another story.

Second: I've been reading this blog for a long time. The first time I found it, I went back and read the archives, too. NOT ONCE has JA criticized another writer. Never. He's shown nothing but support for published AND unpublished writers.

Third: if you're going to attempt a shitstorm, you should at least sign your name so you can get your share.

Heather Dudley said...


Anonymous flaming trolls...

JA, you've MADE it! Seriously! When you're successful enough to piss someone off, you've officially Made It (tm)!

It means someone hates your work enough to tell you about it! It affected them enough that they took time out of their day to tell you how much they despise you.

THAT is true success. Failures don't have trolls telling them how much they suck... they just get ignored. ;)

Teresa said...


I'm the workshop coordinator and conference chair for a writer's group. I have to say that public speaking engagements are not automatically a good thing. We've had a couple of presenters who have lost readers big-time by not being prepared and making general idiots out of themselves. Talking about politics and their sex lives in front of our group instead of sticking to the topic. Having handouts that looked like they were prepared by a ten-year-old while talking about how professionally you have to present your manuscript. These were bestsellers, too.

Our group is not rich, and we spent a lot of money to have them come.

I've been to writing conferences where 50% of the speakers have said "I put this presentation together last night, ha ha." Well, having spent thousands of dollars on attending, I didn't see what was so funny.

If you're not a good speaker, or don't have time to prepare, stay home and write instead. So yourself, and your audience, a favor.

Anonymous said...

not one to indulge anonymous trolls (she said anonymously) but i do think the violence in your books becomes both off putting and gratuitous - so while i might have enjoyed one in theory, i won't be buying another one. you're so unbelievably witty - funny enough to get by without the frankly, disturbing imagery.

Anonymous said...

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people, if you are interested to hone your public speaking skills, you can get a free chapter of the book here: