Saturday, October 13, 2007


Last year I was on the road for more than ten weeks, promoting my books.

It wasn't easy on me, or my family. Much of that time, I was touring. But a good amount of it was spent speaking at events, giving lectures, teaching classes and seminars--things not directly related to selling my books.

Sure, my books were usually available for sale after these events, and I usually moved a few copies. But I wasn't there to talk about my series. I was there to talk about agents, and editors, and publishing. This wasn't book promotion. It was teaching.

I liked doing this. Even if I wasn't paid. Even if I didn't sell a single book after the event.

I still enjoy it, but my wife laid down the law and told me that I couldn't do any more events unless I was monetarily compensated for my time.

I could understand her reasoning. While I still feel that helping new authors is something all writers should do, she pointed out that I spend a lot of time and money driving around and lecturing. So I decided to begin charging for most of my appearances.

I expected that this would limit the amount of events I did. But, strangely, I still wound up doing a lot of traveling. A lot of organizations and libraries have budgets for these things, and were happy to get me.

It made me rethink my prior attitude.

I once believed I owed the world a karma debt, and had to help everyone I could. When someone asked me to speak, I was flattered. Money wasn't important.

But then I realized that money was important. I'm a professional writer, and I get paid for doing that. If I'm being approached as an expert on the publishing world, and headlining events where I speak for two, three, or four hours, what's the difference between me and a professional speaker? And don't professional speakers get paid, just like professional writers do?

I certainly wouldn't write a book and let someone publish it for free. Yet I'll drive hundreds of miles, and speak to crowds of people at paying events, for free.

It made no sense. So now I charge.

I'm still grateful to be published, and still flattered to be asked to speak at events, but I'm no longer going to spend an evening driving to some remote location, lecturing my heart out, all for the opportunity of selling three paperbacks.

My time, and my lectures, have value.

It only took me four years to realize it.


Anonymous said...

Awhile back, I came across an ad with one of the greatest slogans I’ve ever seen. The copy read, “In this life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”

As you gain knowledge in any field, you become more valuable. But those who pay for your services usually ask you what you charge instead of the other way around. And that’s the magic word: Ask. If you don’t ask, many times…you don’t get.

Joshua James said...

What range do the fees fall in, if you don't mind me asking?

Richard Cooper said...

Your wife is one smart cookie. Glad you wised up, too. Before being disgraced, Pete Rose would get 5Gs for a speech. You're much better than he was. So, what's your batting average?

Stephen Parrish said...

I think it was Nathaniel Hawthorne who said that whenever he got an envelope in the mail he opened it, turned it upside down, and shook it. If a check fell out, he read the letter. Otherwise he didn't.

Robin Bayne said...

I agree on speaking--after you have an expertise you should be compensated.

I have given workshops without charging, expecting to sell books afterward, and went home without selling any.

Conda Douglas said...

It also has to do with perception: if you charge, you're a professional. If you don't you're an amateur. So why do so many writers struggle with: I love doing this and I'd do it if I wasn't paid, so I won't ask for payment?

I'm talking about the writers who enjoy speaking to groups, signings, etc.

Cyn Bagley said...

yahoo! You do have a smart wife. LOL

Janet said...

Neatly demonstrating the value of the proverb "Two heads are better than one."

Anonymous said...

I personally find it much easier to promote a book online. A great source would be Nothing It beats hitting the road to remote places at odd hours. :)

Mark Terry said...

My first reaction is, "About time."

It's just a matter of prioritizing, I think. You know, time is money, etc., and how you define what it is you're doing for a living. Are you a writer or are you a public speaker? It's okay to do both, but you have to decide what your priorities are.

Now maybe I'll take those observations and put them into practice myself.

Barry Eisler said...

Joe, I'm no economist, but if you're still too busy with these gigs, maybe you should... charge more? You're worth it amigo.

I've always viewed compensation for speaking gigs as the market at work. When you're first published, you need the speaking opportunities more than they need you. Hence, it makes sense to go out of pocket to take advantage of the opportunity. But as you get better known, you add more value at these venues, and need them less. It follows that they should start paying you to make it worth your while, and that they'll want to pay you because it's worth their while.

Strange that the less you need to do a gig, the more value you'll get out of it. AKA, the rich get richer. Getting rich is the hard part -- staying rich is easy.


Anonymous said...

I would like to offer a different, less mercenary opinion.

Do you want to be a professional speaker?

If you do, then by all means you should charge.

If you don't, you might want to think of these engagements this way: they help your brand. Corporations spend millions of dollars getting their brand in front of the public. In many cases, they pay to sponsor events, just to have their brand name, be it soap or a service, displayed in front of the public.

Every time you speak you are putting your name in front of people, whether it’s two or two thousand. Maybe someone even writes a newspaper article about your appearance. That’s free advertising. You are getting a return on investment for your time.

Even when you don’t sell a single book at an event, you are investing in your brand. Many people talk about marketing and advertising as sort of a mathematical formula.
If I invest $100, did I sell $100 or more worth of product? It’s not so neat and tidy. It’s not so direct. It isn’t meant to me.

It’s more like going to the gym. You can’t equate the amount of work with immediate results. You can’t say, for example, if I curl 10 pounds 10 times today, I should be able to curl 12 pounds 12 times tomorrow. There are so many factors that enter into it like genetics, nutrition, etc.

Marketing is the same way. There is never a direct correlation between amount of money or time spent and immediate sales. But, just as you are making yourself stronger and healthier with every workout, you are making you’re your brand, Brand JA Konrath, stronger and healthier every time you are in front of people.

Randy Rohn
Executive Creative Director
Keller Crescent

JA Konrath said...

If you don't, you might want to think of these engagements this way: they help your brand.

I would agree, if the point of my lectures was talking about my books.

But when I'm lecturing to a group of writers about the business of publishing, branding is a very tiny part of it. The reason I'm there is to teach, not to sell.

I teach a community college class on how to get published. I get paid for this class. I use the very same presentation when I'm asked to speak about publishing. It stands to reason that I should be compensated for this as well.

If I'm asked to entertain, I don't mind doing so for free, because it is branding. If I'm asked to inform, it isn't branding. It's teaching.

While knowing a lot about the publishing biz is a platform of sorts, the majority of my fanbase is made up of readers, not newbie writers. Sure, I sell a few books at teaching events. This blog, which is meant to teach, also sells books for me. But not on a level that makes it cost-effective.

I don't mind blogging for free, because it helps me focus my thoughts, and I can do it at home for zero cost. Lecturing takes time, money, and effort.

Stacey Cochran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Allen said...

The fact of the matter is, you are a professional. I know people who are in different lines of work, but are PROFESSIONALS and they get paid to do what they do. My best friend is a pro wrestler (dont laugh, he makes more that I do)...he gets asked to speak all of the time, but he wont even crank his car to go speak for less than 1000.00. It just isnt worth it to him.

I think you did the right thing, JA. You put yourself in a position that you can make money off of what you KNOW and you should make as much as you can. You EARNED that right.

Bernie Dowling said...

Maybe you and your wife are both right. You can charge now because you did freebies in the past. Maybe you can compare your lecturing to a business you started up four years ago.
Your business lost money in the beginning (when you did freebies) but you are now making money because of the early investment. Of course you probably could have taken a profit from the business earlier. I have just published my first crime novel, Iraqi Icicle, and I know it will be a while before I can give up my day job.
But if I persist and learn from people such as you, I will be alright within a few years.

Anonymous said...

Pay a worker his/her wages. You deserve it! They say behind every good man is a great wife. She sounds like a wise woman to me.

Anonymous said...

Joe: Get the $ if you can and if you want it. But getting the money or not getting the money doesn't make the speech itself any more valuable or less valuable. That contribution to the universe stays the same either way. I do lots of stuff for free that I could get paid for. In the end it comes down to a personal philosophy. Best, Jim

Jamie Ford said...

You need one of those Van Halen like contracts that says if you find a brown M&M in your hotel room you get to trash the joint.

Congrats on taking a stand and charging what you're worth. Kudos.