Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nonfiction Writer Turned Speaker

Okay, so this blog isn’t really about nonfiction writing. It’s about speaking – speaking about what you write as a means of promoting yourself and your writing projects (books). I’m choosing this topic for one reason: I recently discovered that I didn’t know enough about it, and I had to go searching for information. So, I’d like to share that information with you.

As I’ve mentioned before, we nonfiction writers need to develop a platform, and we do this by either writing enough, speaking enough, teaching enough, blogging enough – doing something enough so that lots of people either know who we are or we build a big enough mailing list that we are able to promote our books successfully. In other words, we can sell our books to all these people who know us or who are on our mailing list. Speaking represents one of the most common ways for writers to build their platforms.

I realize that some writers are reclusive and may not enjoy being around large groups of people, let alone getting up in front of them and speaking to them. I also realize that some writers – including me – would rather be writing than speaking.

Now, I do enjoy speaking and teaching, but I have sometimes felt a bit out of integrity when I’ve called myself a “speaker” or “teacher” since I know that what I really am is a “writer.” I simply speak about what I write. As speaker or teacher I’m supposed to be an “expert” on whatever I’m speaking about, yet I normally feel like I know just a little bit about my subject – just the little bit I wrote about. But I guess that’s must my “stuff.” Let’s move on…

Let me get back to the point of this blog: My agent keeps asking me how much money I want to earn from my speaking. I’ve been giving him a huge, pie-in-the-sky figure, but, in fact, until recently I’ve had no idea what I could actually earn speaking. I do speak here and there and as often as I can. Many times I speak for free, and because I speak on a “spiritual” topic I tend to speak in small churches and synagogues where the pay, when there is any, is pretty low. Sometimes I speak or teach at conferences, and then I’m lucky to get my expenses paid. I do most of this for the sake of promotion. When I realized that he thought I was a bit crazy or misled in my beliefs, I decided maybe I should actually find out what I could get paid to go out and speak.

I realized, however, that no one actually talks to writers about this. To discover anything about speaking, you have to treat yourself like a speaker and join a speakers bureau or the National Speakers Association (NSA), take a class on speaking or at least begin doing research on speaking. This begins to open the doors of information.

While I did not join any such group or class, I did begin doing research and I asked a friend if I could join her mastermind group, which consisted of four or five women who focused on sharing leads and information on speaking. Prior to the first meeting, I contacted one of the other women in the group who knew me and who I knew did a lot of speaking. I asked her what she thought I should be charging for my speaking services. I was shocked when she replied, “$1,500.”

“Do you think I can even ask this of a synagogue with a small budget?” I replied.

She said, “Your fee should be $1,500. If they can’t pay you that, see what they can pay you. Ask them what their budget is. If they can’t pay you that much, accept $500. That should be your minimum payment.”

Well, that was a starting point, I thought, although I was still reeling from the first amount.

I then contacted someone I had met once who was a member of the NSA. I asked her about speaking fees, and she sent me a chart that broke speaking payment down into levels. This was most helpful and gave me something concrete to work from when it came to seriously considering what to charge. I can’t share the whole chart, since it contained a copyright, but I can tell you that the levels ranged from beginning speakers, who were unpaid, to part-time speakers, who were paid $100-850, to non-professional speakers, who were paid $1,000-2,000, to professional, full-time speakers, who were paid $4,000-9,000, to celebrity and famous speakers, who were paid between $10,000 to $25,000+.

At this point, I still speak for free and for expenses on many occasions, because I am still trying to build my platform. I speak on a regular basis at a small church where I’m paid $125 – their standard fee. However, with every addition “gig” that I put on my list of recently speaking engagements, I know that I am moving closer and closer to being able to charge more. I have now set up my own desired speaking fee schedule, and while I am willing to work within most organizations’ budgets, I do plan on earning that $1,500 (or close to it) when I go out and speak in the not too distant future.

So, now you don’t have to wonder about what to charge as a speaker. You can transform yourself from a writer into a speaker with less questions and lack of information than I experienced.

Now, if you have a fear of speaking or need help with your public speaking ability, I suggest you join Toastmasters, a speaking class, NSA, or some other group that will support you. And go out and begin speaking. I found that the best way to get over my nerves and get better at speaking was, as the Nike ads says, to just do it. That same little church has a small congregation, and they asked me to come every few months and to speak on a different topic each time. I showed up, gave it my best shot, tried different things, and eventually began to feel comfortable and confident. Now, when I go to new places to speak, that same level of comfort and confidence tends to come with me. So, if nothing else, get some experience. And ask for feedback; people are happy to tell you how to improve on your presentation. Or, ask someone to video tape you while you speak. Watching the video afterwards provides a wonderful learning tool.

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