Getting Speaking Assignments to Support Your Books

Reading another author’s blog last week about using speaking engagements to support books beyond the initial launch, I noticed a couple of pre published authors asked about how an author figures out what to talk about, and how fiction authors secure  invitations to speak. Here’s how I built my speaking credits over a 20 year career and what I talk about.

Start small and network.  As a newly- published author of a novel for young readers, I approached my next door neighbor, a teacher in the local schools. I showed him the book and offered to speak to the fifth graders at his school free of charge. I visited our local bookseller and set up a book signing for the Saturday following my talk at the school. On the day of my talk, I took the quilt that had inspired the story and some pictures of the real-life people who had cameo appearances in the novel. I read a brief excerpt from the book, led the students in a brief writing exercise, and handed out a brochure with my photo, the book jacket, and info about the signing.  I left my contact information with the school librarian, the teachers,and with the bookseller.  Within a month, I had five invitations to speak at surrounding schools, and three of those offered a modest honorarium. Some were able to host book sales thorough a local bookseller or parents’ organization.

Contact organizations that have some connection to your book and offer to speak. In my case, I contacted the state writers organization for young people’s literature, and was invited to speak at a regional conference. In attendance at that regional conference was someone who booked speakers at the national level. It took several more years of sending in proposals but eventually I was invited to speak at the national conference for which I was paid, in addition to having my hotel, airfare, and conference registration paid. This conference like most others, hosted a huge book signing for me and for the other speakers on the program.

Take a look at what your main characters do, and see if there is an organization that might be interested. For instance,  if your character is a quilter, check out local quilting clubs, guilds, or organizations.  If he’s a horse trainer, look for local equestrian organizations.

Contact  local college and university programs. Offer to speak to their students of creative writing. It might turn into a permanent gig that will help pay the bills between books.

Sign up for speakers bureaus. Many organizations maintain a free database of people who are available to speak. After you have published a few books and established a track record, contact writers’ groups, conference coordinators, and workshop directors and ask to be considered for places on their programs.

I started small, at the local level, and over several years, built a reputation for offering programs that are fun, interactive, and helpful. By the time I had written my twelfth book, I had accumulated speaking credits at more than a hundred venues, speaking to groups as small as 20 and as large as two thousand.

Check into getting on the program at book fairs and festivals. Chances are if your book is selected for the festival, you will have to pay all your own expenses to get there. But most of the big festivals  draw thousands of readers, and the potential for exposure is great. Even if you don’t sell many books when it’s your turn in the signing tent, your name and your book will be printed in the program.

No matter how small the group, solicit an endorsement from the person who booked you. Consider putting endorsements on your website, and/or in the printed material you send to prospective venues.

What I Talk About:   Depends on the audience. Obviously, for writers conferences and workshops, I focus on some aspect of craft. Last year at the South Carolina Writers Workshop, I talked about self editing, and gave a second workshop on writing for teens. At the 2010 ACFW workshop, I talked about writing historical novels. This is also my topic when I speak at the national Romantic Times convention in Chicago next April. In March I’m speaking to a group in Houston about getting and working with an agent.  Over the years I’ve spoken on crafting strong beginnings, avoiding sagging middles, developing a plot skeleton, and building three dimensional characters. But I’ve also spoken on how I conduct research, what online resources I love, and once, on the funniest things that have happened to me on the road to publication.

The important thing is to choose topics you feel comfortable teaching. Always provide a “take away” for your audience. Be generous with your information and your printed materials. You never know when one of them will wind up in the hands of a national conference director.

Next week I’ll share some tips on how to craft and deliver a dynamite speech.

10 thoughts on “Getting Speaking Assignments to Support Your Books

  1. Susan Karsten

    This column is one of my most frequent stops out of the many that ACFW brings to my attention. As someone who loves to do public speaking (minored in it in college), this was right up my alley. I like the way you figured it out on your own, got it going…voila! I would love to save this for reference when one of my first two books gets published. I have written (and am re-visiting to add length, conflict, etc.) a middle grade book which features a 13 year old girl who looses weight in a healthy way. Based on your experience, I can see myself appearing at health fairs and similar venues. Thanks again and I will check back for your next installment on speaking.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Susan,thanks so much for your comment. I’m always pleased when this blog provides help and inspiration to other writers. I love your idea of speaking to health fairs. I also think the middle schools would be great venues Unfortunately, most school budgets have been slashed so drastically that few of them can afford to bring authors in. But they are usually eager to support you by preselling your books or by partnering with a local bookstore to offer them for sale when you are able to visit.

      Good luck with your novel. Keep me posted!

  2. Kat Heckenbach

    I so needed to read this today! It is really frustrating for us newly-published writers, trying to figure out how to build a platform like this. Your advice to “start small” with local speaking engagements is what I’m trying to do, but it’s often disappointing when I compare myself to other, established authors who tour around and attract gobs of readers.

    We tend to focus on where those authors are *now* vs. where they were when they were newly published. This was the reminder I needed right now to get my focus back on these first steps and not compare my journey to the journey of someone farther along.

    And you have given me some things to look into that I wasn’t aware of before. Thanks so much for posting this!

    1. dorothy Post author

      Kat, you are so right. We will always be able to find others who are farther along the path than we are, and such comparisons can only make us unhappy and insecure. Of course we’d like to attract the numbers of readers of a John Grisham, say, or a Karen Kingsbury, but most of us must be content with much more modest achievements. Even with my track record, I am finding it hard to be accepted to several Christian fiction venues where I would like to speak. All I can do is to keep sending out proposals and hope that one of them lands on the right desk. Good luck with your own journey. Thanks so much for stopping by here.

  3. Delia Latham

    Dorothy, I so enjoyed this post! This is an area I haven’t developed in my own writing career, mostly because I didn’t know how to go about it…where to start. Plus, I’ve only lived in this area for three years, so I’m not real familiar with the people…schools…associations, etc., that I need to contact. But your column has given me the prod I need to start developing this area of contact. Thank you!

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Delia,

      I’m so glad you found this post helpful. It is so hard to know how and where to take that first step. Good luck!! Thanks for reading Writers Caffeine.

  4. Naomi Musch

    Hi Dorothy,
    Great post! I would be interested in seeing a sample letter/email or hearing what you would say when you’re cold-calling an organization for the first time. Hi, I’m… and I wrote a book, and I’d like to have the opportunity to talk to your group about it??? Something like that? I’ve done many dozens of interviews over the years, and yet that first contact always makes my legs shake! Thanks,

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Naomi, I know what you mean! I dread that cold call, too. I try to approach groups through someone I know, for example, a neighbor, friend, even my hairdresser…just someone whose name I can use…”Hi, I’m Dorothy. Susie Q at the Smooth Lines Beauty Salon gave me your name….” etc. Makes it a little easier. If I send a letter or email I usually begin by saying, “I’m writing this brief note to introduce myself.” …and go from there… Good luck. Thanks so much for checking in with me here.

  5. Regina Jennings

    Thank you for this timely post, Dorothy. I didn’t know if I’d do any speaking or not, but when I received a request from our local library, I realized how short-sighted it’d be to decline it. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!

    1. dorothy Post author

      Regina, You’re welcome! A local librarian who loves your work can be a powerful ally. Often he or she is eager to introduce you to colleagues who might well ask you to speak to their patrons, too. Be sure to get an endorsement from this first librarian, and use it to introduce yourself to others. Thanks so much for checking in at Writers Caffeine. Good luck with your book!!

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