One of the ideas suggested in the comments of [Insert Great Idea for a Blog Post Here] was an explanation of how, exactly, I started speaking about self-publishing at workshops, seminars and other events, and how a tending-towards-reclusive, sweat-pants-wearing writer is supposed to transform, Clark Kent/Superman style, into a polished, enthused and entertaining public speaker for up to six hours at a time, and stay that way while a roomful of people are looking at you.
I can’t really tell you how to start getting speaking engagements, because there’s no simple, five-step process, and anyway—controversial!—not everyone deserves to get them. It’s kind of like writing a book. Just because you managed to write 100,000 words does not mean that that book should be published, and just because you figured out how to self-publish does not mean you should be paid to explain the process to other people. Good speakers not only have the knowledge, they’re good at delivering it too. Essentially, that means that they’re entertaining. This doesn’t necessarily involve cracking jokes and doing a little jig at the top of the room, but it does mean that you can—you must— keep your audience totally engaged for anywhere from one to six hours without them feeling bored, confused or like they’re back in school, and that you have the stamina needed to do it.
Not Easy Money
If that sounds a bit scary, it should, because most of the time the events you’re speaking at aren’t free, and in fact some of them can be quite expensive. This is because it’s presumed that for whatever amount of time the workshop or seminar is on for, the participants are getting to listen to—and ask questions of—an expert. Are you an expert?
Speaking engagements tend to pay really, really well, when you consider the time involved, i.e. €x amount for 90 minutes of my time? Yes, please! and this is why they can seem oh-so-attractive to self-publishers who only have e-book royalties coming in.
Except that’s not what you’re getting paid for. The time involved is not just the amount of time you’re scheduled to speak for, but the years of your life you’ve put into collecting the knowledge that qualifies you to speak, and the hours or days you spent preparing for the talk—which, if we’re talking about a full day’s workshop, could mean weeks upon weeks of devising, designing and practicing the delivery of a PowerPoint presentation. Consider that too.
I may sound a bit doom and gloom about this, but it’s only because I think people have a rosy view of getting paid to talk about self-publishing (or anything, for that matter), and this leads them to thinking they should be doing it when really, they’re not right for it. And who will suffer then? The people who paid to listen to them.
On the flip-side, if you’ve figured out how to do this self-publishing business, you’ve achieved more than most. It’s easy for me to format an e-book from a Word document, for example, but if someone rarely sends an e-mail, it’s going to seem like an Everest climb to them. They might relish the idea of getting a real, live person to patiently explain how to do it, instead of trawling through online articles and books full of terms they don’t understand. So if you are suitable for speaking about self-publishing, you should do it. There’s definitely a demand there, and it can be oh so much fun.
A Lucky Break
So how did I start getting speaking engagements?
I should start by telling you that even though I love to live as a hermit most of the time (as most writers do), I really enjoy public speaking. (I thought this was a bit weird until I met Joanna Penn—of The Creative Penn—and she told me that she’s the same, essentially an introvert who, for some reason, enjoys doing something totally extroverted: talking to an audience. Both of us also need post-speaking crash days to recover from what it takes out of us.) I loved debating when I was in school, and I was good at it, if I do say so myself. I have no qualms about talking in front of an audience, as long as I know what it is I’m talking about.
I should also point out that I live in Ireland, where the old joke of everyone knowing everyone else is actually true. I was told once that maybe 400 people in this entire country work in publishing; it’s not hard to meet most of them once you start going to a few events. So while I might have had a somewhat easy path to professional speaking through making contacts, it would of course be an entirely different mountain to climb for someone living in London or New York.
But anyway. In January 2010, Vanessa O’Loughlin—whom I’d “met” through Twitter—told me that she was organizing Ireland’s first self-publishing event, the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference, in October of that year. Vanessa was already well-established as the head of Inkwell Writers, who organized writing workshops and events in and around Dublin.
At this stage the release of Mousetrapped was still two months away but I said to myself, I’m going to speak at that event. This was totally idiotic as I wasn’t even yet a self-publisher, let alone a successful one, but I promised myself I’d be there, somehow.
If you go far enough back in the chain, Twitter is responsible for every single speaking engagement I’ve ever done. Click to see a larger version.
Fast forward to October, and I was attending the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference. Attending, not speaking; I’d got a discounted ticket in exchange for agreeing to live-tweet every session of the one-day event. I’d sold just under 1,000 books since March and was hardly setting the world on fire, but in Ireland’s self-publishing sphere, this was an achievement. A week before the conference, Vanessa called to say the afternoon keynote speaker had dropped out, and could I fill in?
So now I was speaking at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference, just as I’d told myself I would.
Here’s the funny thing: I really didn’t treat it very seriously. I wore jeans, and walked to the top of the room with my notes scribbled on a yellow legal pad. I thought about nothing other than telling my story, and telling it within the time frame: about half an hour, with fifteen minutes for questions. But I had a huge advantage before I even spoke: the person before me had been very technical, and spoke in a bit of a monotone. I’d also noticed that, during the day, the speakers the audiences seemed to enjoy the most were not the ones with the knowledge, necessarily, but the ones who told their personal stories. For example, a professional cover designer had imparted fantastically useful advice, but the self-published children’s book author before her was way more popular with the crowd, even though he “educated” us very little.
I’d been in a room with endless free coffee since 9:00am and I only had my personal story. So jeans or no jeans, I knew I’d do well. And I did. My little 30-minute giddy ramble about my self-publishing experience went down like a six-figure KDP Select Fund bonus, and it was the best feeling ever. I wanted to do it again.
In the audience (and also speaking) that day was Sarah, who I’d hired to copyedit Mousetrapped. Almost two years later, she’d bump into Ben, another Twitter friend and fellow Apollo nut, who had just pitched the idea of doing a social media workshop to Faber Academy. They loved it, and suggested adding a self-publishing element. Did Ben know anyone who could do that? He thought of me, but he’d never seen me speak. When he met Sarah the subject came up, and she assured him that I could do it. That’s how I got to do Faber Academy last year. It went exceptionally well, which is why Ben and I get to do it again next month.
One of the participants at the Faber Academy workshop last year was the lovely Alexandra, a traditionally published author who was looking to e-publish her backlist. A few months later she’d get in touch to invite me along to another London event she was chairing: a e-book seminar for Women in Journalism (UK). So that’s how I got to do that.
And so on and so on. I meet people through Twitter (good old fashioned networking, if you want to be fancy about it); they invite me to speak; me speaking leads to more opportunities. So if I had to answer the question “How do I get speaking engagements?” my absolute shortest answer would be Twitter!
(But then that’s pretty much my shortest answer to everything got to do with self-publishing success, so there you go.)
How Much Not-So-Easy Money, Exactly?
You’ll probably want to know how much to ask for/expect, or even how I much I ask for/expect. Well, I’m not going to tell you. It’s private, and it’s also not going to be of any use to you, because any figure would only be an example of what I get and absolutely nothing to do with you, with your events, your environment, etc. I will tell you this though: if you’re doing this right, you won’t really need to worry about it.
I really believe that if you can, you should aim to get invited by an established company/event/festival/etc. to speak at something they’re organizing, as opposed to organizing your own workshop or seminar. It’s so much easier. And if they’re a professional operation, they’ll tell you the fee, and this fee will be what they pay all their speakers, a kind of standard. A less professional—or less reputable—operation might ask, well, how much would you do it for? Because they’re trying to get away with paying you as little as they can.
I can tell you that in two and a half years of doing this I’ve never been asked how much my fee is. I’ve just been presented with what’s on offer, and either agreed or disagreed to take part. (Actually, I’ve never disagreed, come to think of it. But then I’ve been very, very lucky.)
Compensation for speaking engagements usually falls into one of these categories:
- Charity. That’s what the organizers seem to think you are anyway, because there’s no compensation whatsoever: no expenses, no fee and no feeding. They might say something like, “We don’t offer a fee, but our previous speakers have really enjoyed themselves.” Um, riiiiiight. How wonderful. But will my credit card company take enjoyment in lieu of this month’s minimum payment, eh? I doubt it somehow. I would only do something for free if it was (i) likely to raise my profile and/or look good on my writing CV, (ii) for an actual charity, (iii) not going to cost me any money in terms of travel, preparation time, etc., (iv) not going to make any money for the organizers outside of their costs and (v) going to be fun for me.
- Expenses only. I have never done a speaking engagement where I live; almost all of them have been in Dublin (3 hours away by train) or London (an hour away by plane). Therefore I always incur travel expenses. Many events will not offer a fee but will offer reimbursement (or partial reimbursement) of how much it costs you to get there. At this stage in my speaking/self-publishing career, this is perfectly acceptable to me, especially because I genuinely enjoy these events and see them not only as an opportunity to travel but to meet loads of interesting people as well, and talk publishing over free coffee. (What more could a girl want?)
- Expenses + a fee (AKA cha-CHING!). The best case scenario is that you would be paid a speaking fee and offered x amount towards or a reimbursement of your expenses. When this happens, it’s a beautiful thing.
Whether it’s expenses only or expenses plus a fee, there’s a game to play. Let’s say you’re getting paid €500 for a full day workshop, but that’s it; no expenses. Or let’s say there’s no fee at all for participating in a panel discussion, but they are willing to give you £200 towards the expenses you incur traveling to get there. Well, in both these cases the less you spend, the more you make. (Amount paid – expenses incurred = profit.) And so begins the challenge of budget travel.
I have this down to a fine art by now. Here are some tips for saving on your travel expenses:
- Book your travel as soon as possible. Flights, train tickets and even hotel rooms get more expensive as availability declines.
- Pre-pay for lower rates. Most hotel chains offer pre-pay rates which are 10% or more cheaper than what you’ll pay if you book now and settle the bill on check-out. The only downside is that these are normally non-refundable, so make sure you’re definitely going before you book. Failing that:
- Search for good deals. I love Booking.com because you don’t have to pay in advance but you can still avail of great rates. But here’s a tip: all the hotels that sell rooms on sites like that have to pay the site a commission. So if you’re feeling a bit cheeky, you could ring the hotel and say you want to book with them direct, and what’s the best rate they could do for you. For example, could they give you the Booking.com for a standard room, but upgrade you to a superior one? That’s a good deal for them, because you’re saving them commission.
- Stick to public transport, if possible. Avoid taxis.
- Sign up to mileage and loyalty schemes. Nearly all hotel chains and airlines have loyalty cards for their customers; sign up for them. You won’t be able to take advantage for a while but one day you might get a free night or a free flight and, hey, you were buying them anyway.
- Ask the organizers. If this is an event that has run in the past, the organizers will probably have a list of accommodation options, and they might offer a discounted rate for attendees/speakers.
- Get creative. This isn’t a holiday, it’s a challenge: spend as little money as possible while still being sufficiently sheltered, fed and watered. For instance, on a trip to London a few months ago I made it my mission to spend as little as I thought a person possibly could without hitching and youth hostels. I flew with Ryanair to Gatwick with only carry-on luggage; I took the EasyBus from Gatwick to Earl’s Court tube station (for only £2!!!); I ordered a visitor’s Oyster Card online so I could avail of cheaper tube fares; I stayed in an EasyHotel (a fraction—a tiny, tiny fraction—of the cost of staying anywhere else in London); instead of eating out I got take-away foods from places like Sainbury’s and Starbucks. Now if I was on holiday, I wouldn’t want to start it with the stress of a Ryanair flight and an hour-long bus ride into London. But I wasn’t on holiday, I was working. And my entire two night London visit came to less than £200, which isn’t at all bad for accommodation + transport + food in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Of course, I ruined it all by spreeing in Paperchase, Foyles, etc. while I was there, but, hey, nobody’s perfect…
Some events pay on the day but most pay afterwards, in response to an invoice you’ve sent them. Remember to keep all your receipts and evidence of your travel expenses such as booking confirmations, etc. I don’t send these to the organizers; I just bill them the amount. But I do say something like “Receipts are available on request.”
Credit: from the Mountains To Sea Dun Laoghaire Book Festival Facebook page. L-R: Vanessa O’Loughlin, me, Adrian White, Arlene Hunt.
Some Practical Tips
About getting speaking engagements:
- If you’re unsure whether or not you’re cut out for this, start by simply sharing your self-publishing story with other people. Find an opportunity to just do that. It may be in the form of a short talk (like my break was at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference) or it may be by participating in a panel discussion where two or three people discuss topics put forth by a chairperson. If all else fails, post your own videos on your website. If you have a popular web series going on, why wouldn’t someone want you for the live, 3-D version?
- Say yes to everything, within reason. If you get an invite to speak at an event, find out everything you can about it before you answer. Google is your friend. Does it seem like the real deal? Who else will be there? Have they done this before? If they’ve asked you to speak for free, check: are they charging for tickets to your event? Because if they are, that might be a red flag. Why are they making money when you’re expected to do this for nothing? The main questions to ask yourself are: (i) Will this cost me money? (ii) Is this a networking opportunity? (iii) Is this likely to further my profile? Sometimes you might want to do something just because it seems like it’ll be fun, and that’s fine. Go ahead. But go into everything with eyes wide open.
- Be good. Almost every speaking engagement will lead to another speaking engagement—if you’re good and impress the organizers and participants. No one will invite back someone who underwhelmed, or who made the workshop attendees’ brains turn to soup. Ditto for being unprofessional late, making diva demands or being otherwise annoying.
- I’m sure many writers would see speaking engagements as an excellent opportunity to sell copies of their own books, and I’m sure it is—but I never do it. The first reason why is that as a POD paperback self-publisher, I avoid ordering stock of my own book like the plague. Second, I always travel to these events, sometimes by plane, always by public transport, and lugging a box of books there and back is just not feasible. Third, I would feel cheeky trying to sell a €10 or €15 “how to self-publish” book to someone who’s just spent €125 to hear what was advertised as everything I know about self-publishing. Instead, I bring little business cards or postcards so that if people do want to purchase the book, they have all the information they need to do it when they get back home.
About the presentation itself:
- If you are booked to talk for longer than an hour and you can, use a visual aid. For most people, this will take the form of a PowerPoint presentation. It should serve both as eye-fodder for your listeners and notes for you. (And if you have a brand, extend it to your slides—mine have a pink color scheme.) Arrive in plenty of time so you can ensure that everything is working perfectly before the attendees arrive.
- The hardest thing to get right is timing, especially if you’re doing a whole day. Start by dividing the day into blocks, e.g. start to first coffee break, coffee break to lunch, after lunch to mid-afternoon break, mid-afternoon break to Q&A time, Q&A time. Then divide your talk into sections, e.g. Overview, Why Self-Publishing, E-books, POD Paperbacks, Social Media, etc. and match them up with the blocks of time. Try not to straddle a subject across two blocks of time if you can avoid it; you’ll lose momentum and the participants might lose out. I do an initial practice in which I quickly run through the talk—and yes, this involves talking to yourself—but keep in mind that it will always take longer on the day as people interrupt to ask questions, seek clarification, etc.
- Break up the presentation in the afternoon. Post-lunch, people will be at the most sluggish—including you. I usually talk about book trailers at this point, which allows me to spend half an hour showing funny YouTube videos. A break for my participants from concentrating, and a break for me from speaking. Hooray!
- Start with an overview. For example, “First we’re going to talk about why you should self-publish, then move onto e-books, then…” etc. etc. This prevents people from asking questions which are going to be answered later on.
About delivering it:
- I would always recommend that you aim to get invited to speak as oppose to creating your own workshop or seminar. It’s so much easier. There’s already an established company (and so probably an established customer base), they’ll take care of everything from logistics to lunch, and they’ll pay you. They’ll also likely be a great contact for future invites.
- Whenever I do a long-ish workshop and always when I do a full day, I tell my participants right at the start that they don’t need to worry about taking notes because the entire PowerPoint presentation and a page of all the links I mention will be on my website from Monday. (These things are always on a weekend.) Then I make a new page on my website, like http://www.catherineryanhoward.com/faberworkshop, upload the PP file and any links, etc. and make it password protected. I give the participants the password and the URL, and then they—and only they—can access the information afterwards. (Why not make it public? Because how are the participants, who paid money to attend, going to feel when they discover that anyone can now see the presentation for free?) This way they don’t stress about writing every single thing I say down, and listen to me instead. Everyone’s a winner.
- Always, always, always have two back-ups. My presentation may be on my laptop, but just in case I bring it on disk as well, and just in case just in case, I put a copy in my Dropbox folder, which can be accessed from anywhere there’s internet.
- Tailor your talk to your audience. A writers’ group who have invited you to share your self-publishing experience will probably be okay with an informal chat, but if people are paying serious money to learn everything they need to know about self-publishing, they’re going to want their money’s worth.
- If you are doing a day-long workshop where lunch is provided for everyone, don’t stay for it. Or at least, don’t stay for all of it. (You do need to eat!) Get away for a while. Go for a walk. Get some air. Check your e-mails. But stop talking.
- Thanks to a haunted hotel room, I once had to do a full day’s workshop on 2 hours sleep. Two hours! I didn’t think I’d make it, but an emergency raid of the venue’s vending machines got me through. You should always have: (i) water… um, obviously, (ii) a bottle of Lucozade or some other energy drink and (iii) chocolate—a couple of squares on the coffee break, along with coffee of course, makes a world of difference.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about speaking engagements? Were there any surprises in this post? Is this the longest blog post you’ve ever read in your life? Leave your questions or comments below.
I have four speaking engagements coming up: one in London, one in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Chipping Norton at ChipLitFest. You can find more details about each of them on my News page.
And here’s another tip: if you don’t know what to blog about, ask your followers. They’ll make great suggestions, and you’ll end up writing nearly 4,000 words about the very first one… This idea was suggested by Diane. Please contact me to claim your free digital edition of Self-Printed, if you’d like one.