How Writers Earn Money #3: Public Speaking (Part 1) – Libraries & Festivals

Public speaking is one way to earn some extra money as a writer, and, depending on the type of public speaking you do, can also, ideally, be an opportunity to promote (and even sell) books. However, like royalties, and advances, for most writers public speaking will not generate anywhere near enough income to enable you to give up your day job.

The three most common avenues for public speaking for writers are:

  • Public libraries
  • Writers’ festivals
  • Schools

My Public Speaking Earnings

My total earnings for public speaking in the last 5 years:

By far the largest source of income for me has been from libraries, followed by festivals and one-off special events such as the Australian Society of Authors Conference.

Libraries

Many public libraries have a budget for events, and author talks are generally considered a good match for library punters. Talks generally last for an hour and I always charge ASA-recommended rates ($350/hour). You don’t have to do a different talk for every library you visit; there is unlikely to be any crossover so you can present the same talk at different venues.They’re not generally well-attended – I’ve had audiences as small as 4, with the average being around 10. Most libraries are happy for you to sell books at your talk, although in my experience not many people will buy the book; some will reserve it at the library and others go home and buy it on their e-reader or (god forbid) order it online from a multinational human-exploiting corporation.

How to arrange an author talk at a library

  1. Make a list of libraries in suburbs where you think there will be a demographic interested in your book

2. Look up the contact details for each library on the Australian Libraries Gateway.

3. Ring and find out the name and direct email address of the person who organises events

4. Send an email including:

      • a brief bio
      • a description of your book (attach a press release if you have one)
      • your speaking experience
      • your fee*

5. Follow up with a phone call to arrange a date.

6. Send an email confirming the date and time you have agreed and your fee*. Attach a bio and headshot which they can use for marketing.

7. After a successful event, ask for a testimonial which you can add to subsequent email enquiries

Setting up library talks is time-consuming. Librarians are busy and setting up an event requires persistence – I often had to ring and talk to someone three or more times before I locked in a date. The benefit of libraries is that you’re not competing against Tim Winton or Helen Garner so they’re prepared to take a punt on an unknown writer.

*If you do not discuss your fee upfront, the library will assume you are delivering a presentation for free. If they have no budget for events, move onto the next library on your list. If you have an agent or publisher setting up events for you, make sure they negotiate a reasonable fee on your behalf. One debut author I know spoke to tiny audiences at multiple libraries at events arranged by her big-five publisher where she sold hardly any books and was not paid for her time.

Free Template for Library Pitch Email

If you subscribe to this blog, I will gladly send you the template I use to pitch to libraries. Simply email me with proof of your subscription and I’ll send it through: a n n a b e l s m i t h a u s [a t] g m a i l [d o t] c o m

Writers Festivals

If your novel is a bestseller or has a lot of hype, you will be invited to all the major festivals, as well as some regional ones. However, it is notoriously difficult to get onto writers’ festival programs, especially for early career/mid-list authors. Jane Rawson and I wrote a post about this for our What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book series. Festivals have a limited travel budget and they tend to spend it on big-name authors who will help them sell tickets. Flying little-known writers from ‘the regions’ is a low priority, which is understandable but also frustrating if you don’t live in the big smoke.

If you are invited to take part in a writers’ festival, they will usually schedule you for 2-3 events over the course of 2-3 days. The Australian Society of Authors recommended rates are $200 for speaking on a panel, and $1000+ for a key-note address. On average I have been paid $250 for panel appearances. One successful Australian author I spoke to has delivered keynotes at festivals in Australia and overseas and been paid fees ranging between $700 and $5000 dollars, depending on the brief. However, very few early-career writers will be asked to deliver keynotes.

Many festivals will pay their writers’ travel costs (airfares, accomodation and sometimes also a meal allowance). Unfortunately, I have heard many stories of writers NOT being offered reimbursement for the costs of travel, so that even if they are paid for their appearances they may end up out of pocket. Furthermore, many writers I spoke to had been asked on multiple occasions to speak for free. If the festival organiser does not discuss payment with you, they probably assume you are willing to work for free. It may be up to you to ask what fee they are paying for your appearance. Writer Anita Heiss said whenever she is asked to work for free, she asks if the festival organisers and other staff are also ‘donating their fee’.

Speaking at festivals does not generally lead to a lot of book sales. While the chosen few may have long queues, it is a regular occurrence for authors to sign as few as 3 or 4 books after an event. Having said all this, writers festivals are brilliant fun and a lovely way to meet other writers so there are many benefits to being involved that have nothing to do with money.

Next week I’ll be posting Part 2 of this post on public speaking which is all about speaking at schools.

Your turn:

Writers, I’d love to hear your experiences with speaking at festivals and libraries. Have you ever been exceptionally well-paid? Have you ever been asked to or even tricked into working for free?

2 thoughts on “How Writers Earn Money #3: Public Speaking (Part 1) – Libraries & Festivals

  1. This is so helpful, Annabel! When I did promotion for my second novel I didn’t even know that I could be paid for speaking in libraries – I thought they were doing me a favour! One of them in the country offered to pay my accommodation for a night but that was it. It makes me feel much less bad about the time I didn’t turn up for one library talk because I got my days mixed up …

    1. Hi Jess, long time no speak, lovely to hear from you. I guess if they guaranteed massive audiences and lots of book sales they would be doing you a favour but that is rarely the case.

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