How Authors Can Become Paid Speakers

November 29, 2021
You know what people love? Cookies and wine.

Okay, sure you already knew that.

You know what else they love? Authors.

Believe it or not, even in our culture with its social media obsession and short attention spans (squirrel!), writing a book is still regarded as a monumental feat. It is a strange phenomenon indeed; not nearly as many people read books as there are people who are impressed by people who write books. Go figure.

But you can use your prestige as an author to your advantage by leveraging your book into other money-making endeavors. One such endeavor is paid speaking.

It's not an easy road, but with plenty of organization, effort and persistence, you can turn a book into lucrative speaking gigs. Below I offer six tips on how authors can become paid speakers.
1. Why Authors Want to Become a Paid Speaker
Here's a dirty secret about the book business: you won't make much money from your book sales. Few authors break even on their investment in their book. Even more rare is the author who can make a living as a writer.

But you can use your status as topic expert, inherently conferred upon you by your writing a book, to build your business. There are fewer avenues an author can take that are as profitable as becoming a paid speaker.

At the low end, speakers may make maybe a thousand dollars, including expenses paid, per speaking engagement. On the high end? Think thousands of dollars to stand in front of an audience and tell them what you know. Pretty nice, right?

Another good reason to become a paid speaker is because it helps sell your book. Long gone are the days when you could put a book on Amazon and expect book sales to just roll in. Like, last century long gone. You have to work for those book sales and being a paid speaker is a critical hook to a multi-pronged book publicity initiative.
2. It's Okay If Your Book Didn't Sell Well
Becoming a paid speaker doesn't require that your book was a bestseller. In fact, book sales are not particularly important in order to be a paid speaker, but obviously it can help.

What is crucial is how you market yourself as a topic expert and compelling speaker. Event coordinators want to know that you will add value to their event by providing useful information to the audience in an engaging and memorable way. How many books you've sold is pretty irrelevant to them. In short, of course it helps if your book is a best seller, but it's not necessary.
3. Ride the Momentum
Book publicity and brand expansion is about creating momentum and riding it as far and as long as you can. If you get momentum for your book, build upon it with more speaking engagements. Conversely, you might see an upwards trend in book sales with a series of speaker appearances.

It's kind of like those surfers who ride those giant waves that are basically terrifying walls of water. The surfers work so hard to catch the wave and then ride it out, often to shore, playing in it and performing all kinds of dazzling tricks. They certainly don't jump out of it once they're in it.

Be like that crazy giant wave surfer who figures out not only how to get in the wave, but to make the most of it for as long as possible.
4. Build Your Brand as a Speaker
How you communicate your message as a speaker is as important as the message itself. It's much like one-on-one communication; it's not just what you say, it's how you say it.

To find success as a speaker, you need to create a brand. Your messaging should be clear and consistent regardless of the speaking venue. However, you might find that fine-tuning your message and presentation style for each audience improves audience engagement.

Like mom always said "practice makes perfect!" Practice, practice, practice and always ask for feedback to improve your skill set. This is key to how authors can become paid speakers - and well-paid speakers at that. It doesn't happen overnight.
For newbies, I recommend cutting your teeth at the Rotary Club or other community-based speaking outlets.
It's better to hone your messaging and speaking style by practicing here, than at paid gigs right off the bat. You should also reach out to organizations or associations that you belong to or have a relationship with - this is a great way to start your speaking career.

For branding purposes, consider that most speakers fall into a speaker type category. Here are some examples:

  • Inspirational Speaker

  • Motivational Speaker

  • Educational Speaker

  • Leadership Speaker, or

  • Sales Speaker

Typically, you will want to build your brand under one of these labels since event organizers often look for speakers in these categories.
5. Run a Speaker's Campaign
After you have practiced your presentation, received constructive feedback and refined your speaking style, it might be time to dig in and run a speaker campaign. This is not a necessary step, but if you are serious about elevating your speaking visibility and increasing your speaking engagements, a dedicated campaign is highly effective. Combining this with media interviews can increase your fees as well.

To run a campaign, you need to know what you are doing and you need a considerable amount of time to run it. Read: you very likely will need the help of a pro.

To be sure, most speakers use a speaking agent, or a publicist doubling as a speaking agent, to book and negotiate their speaking events. The amount of time that goes into corresponding with event coordinators, much less pitching to them, can't be overstated. This can be a full time job for authors who become speakers.

I know the time commitment involved in running a speaker's campaign. I once did this as a full time job for a very successful writer-speaker: John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

Plan on running your campaign for at least six months minimally. Anything less than that and your campaign will not gain momentum and will fall off right away.

The campaign will include:
  • Creating a press kit and other solicitation materials about who you are as a speaker (your brand) and why you are so great (include testimonials).
  • Soliciting potential organizations to host you as a speaker, including researching, emailing, calling and following-up with them.
  • Developing a speaker's website and keeping it up-to-date with testimonials and new speaking events.
  • Posting regularly to social media to raise brand awareness, highlight upcoming speaking engagements, and to maintain campaign momentum.
  • Negotiating and booking speaking engagements.
  • Work with the venue on all logistics up to the day of the event.
PRO TIP: Use a professional headshot.
No photos your spouse took of you with their phone please.
6. Negotiate Like a Pro
Eureka! You have a party interested in hosting you as a speaker. Now it's time to negotiate!

There's more than just the speaking fee to consider. There's travel arrangements and accommodations to sort out. Consider how you are getting there, where you will be staying, who is picking you up, and who is paying for it?

There are also speaking logistics that might be important to you like:

  • What is the speaking format and for how long?

  • Do you have technological requirements they can meet?

  • Will you have other responsibilities besides speaking?

  • If there are other speakers, what's the order?

  • Will your book be sold at the venue? If so, who will sell them? Will the organization or another party - like a bookstore - be responsible for this? (If not, this is often a dealbreaker. You want the synergy of a speaking engagement and books sold at the event.)

  • Have a format for a contract, but will need to be tailored for the event. Be sure to spell out every detail.

Now I hate to say this, but many new speakers have too high of expectations about their fees.

My full-time client John Perkins had a book on the New York Times' Bestsellers' list and still did not command high speaking fees when starting out. He had to establish himself as a valuable speaker, not just a great author, to secure lucrative speaking fees and this took a while.

The first hard and fast rule to negotiating is to think and act like a salesperson; be nimble and flexible about your fees.

Find out what an organization is looking for in a speaker, and don't stick with a flat fee for all events. You can have a flat rate, but you will miss out on speaking engagements.

First, get information on the organization. How many people are likely to attend? What have past events and their attendance been like? In other words, look for signs on how much money they might be willing to pay for a speaker of your caliber.

For example, an organization that asks when you will be in their area is likely to not have the funds to pay for travel. In this instance, you can come down on your price, especially if you deliver more than one speech in the same city or region.

Conversely, if a well-known organization approaches you, or one that has more elaborate events, then negotiate up!

Finally, consider the not-so-obvious payouts of being a speaker. Well-attended speaking events means more people who could purchase your book at the event. There is also the added benefit of word mouth spreading faster and further from a large audience.

And this next point I must make and I hope you don't skim over it because it is arguably the most important. One thing I learned negotiating for years for speakers is that you never know who might be in the audience. One attendee can make a monumental difference in your marketing efforts.

Here's a little anecdote to illustrate my point. Once I had a speaker booked for an event. We found out there would only be a couple of dozen people in attendance. He was a little discouraged, but fulfilled his commitment.

Guess who was one of the few people in the audience? A New York Times writer. Eventually this speaker had a NYT feature on his book.

Similarly, an event might have in attendance a person who is influential at another organization, who might book you for their event. In short, consider speaking at events that don't quite meet your desired fees; you never know what might come of it - this is especially true for new speakers.

7. Turn Event Attendees Into Brand Loyalists
If you were reading carefully, especially the part about riding momentum, you likely know where I am going with this last point. Sure, it's fantastic to move somebody with a speech. Maybe the listener will use your insights to create meaningful change in their lives. Maybe you will educate them on something that broadens their perspective.

That is all extremely well and good. But even better is if your relationship continued even after you walked off the stage.
So how do you convert audience members into brand loyalists?
As an author, you may want to write other books. As a topic expert, you may want to regularly lecture. As a budding brand, you might have a social media presence that you want to expand upon. All of these things require an audience. And the audience at your paid speaking engagements can and should be your built-in audience for ongoing or future projects.

The takeaway here is that brand loyalists are the ones most likely to buy your next book. Or see your next event. Or engage with you on social media. Or recommend you to friends and coworkers. In other words, you want to cultivate and nurture brand loyalists!

To do this, you need to obtain audience contact information wherever possible. Sometimes the event organizers can give you attendees' registration information, which would include crucial email addresses. You can also hand out cards for people to fill out at in-person gigs, or post an online sign-up sheet for virtual events.

And be sure to plug yourself, if appropriate, at some point during the presentation, usually at the end. Mention upcoming events, your website, your social media handles and any other marketing information that is relevant.

After getting audience contact information, which is marketing gold, you need to know how to follow-up with your audience. Effective marketing campaigns will involve a combination of newsletters, email drip campaigns and social media postings. These will be done at regular intervals and include relevant, value-add information for your audience about your brand.
PRO TIP: Post speaking video to Youtube.
This both nurtures your relationship with brand loyalists and increases your exposure that can lead to new speaking engagements.
How Authors Can Become Paid Speakers in a Nutshell
You've read all of this and are thinking, "Man! This seems like a lot. I don't think I can do all of this on my own."

Don't worry. Becoming a paid speaker is a progression. You can't do all of this in a month. It happens over a longer period of time of at least several months or a few years.

And you will likely need professional help from a speaker's agent to hit your goals as a speaker.

As I mentioned above, you must be a salesperson for yourself. This is absolutely necessary to reaching your potential in landing gigs and negotiating the most lucrative rates. Generally speaking, authors are not good at selling themselves. Having another person do this is almost always far more effective.

But keep in mind that nothing is black and white. These are general guidelines. Be prepared to be fluid about becoming a speaker and handing your business as a speaker.
Want to learn more about how authors can become paid speakers? Reach out to me today. I provide full service book publicity and speaker consulting for authors looking to take their publicity to the next level.