6 Tips for Securing Speaking Engagements as a Self-Published Author

Image: microphone at front of conference room

Today’s post is by author Karen A. Chase (@KarenAChase).


For self-published authors, getting your book into the hands of readers who are specifically interested in your genre or your expertise is imperative. Even if you’ve managed to get your work into bookstores, your title is one thousands of books they carry. Online, your title is one among millions. So how do you stand out? Presentations.

When you find the right venues for a presentation about your book, you are the expert that people (readers) have come to see and hear. This results in a deeper connection to you and your book as well as stronger book sales and a more robust and loyal following.

Here are six ways to secure more speaking engagements or presentation opportunities.

1. Presentations matter more than book signings.

Most authors have held at least one book signing that makes them want to give up writing altogether. The sad little table at a bookstore. The avoidant glances. The one lonely reader who tells you their whole life story and waves goodbye without buying a book.

The tiny number of book sales is barely enough to cover the container of ice cream needed to soothe your tired soul.

Presentations, however, can result in greater sales—as well as profit, if readers purchase a book directly from you that you’ve ordered at cost. So, stop signing and start speaking. Ask yourself: What is your unique viewpoint on the space-time continuum, on a historic battle, the style or voice you write in?

2. Understand your audience first.

Before you pick up the phone or send emails to inquire about speaking at a conference or an organization, take time to understand your reader (a.k.a. your target audience). If you write books about the art of knitting, do your readers attend any knitting events that happen near you? Youbetchya. (See this list of Knitting and Fiber Arts events all over the country.)

Regardless of genre, with pen in hand, write a profile of your reader, answering these six questions.

  1. Which organizations or trade groups do your readers belong to?
  2. Which locations or organizations host events or conferences for them?
  3. Which percentage of your genre’s readers are men or women?
  4. Are they typically introverts or extroverts?
  5. What age(s) are they?
  6. Where do they hang out or where do they share online—which Facebook groups or social platforms?

From all this you can make a list of locations where your insights might be most treasured. As an example, I write about the American Revolution, so my list includes all the “heritage” organizations, like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Heritage groups have members that can prove they had ancestors who supported the war. Through my research, I became a DAR. The benefit of presenting to other DARs is they support their own members, and I don’t have to make them love my topic because they already do.

Bonus tip: Put writing conferences last on this list unless your book pertains specifically to the craft of writing. You need a robust and targeted audience of readers, not writers. And while book launch presentations can be at bookstores, turnout there can be scant compared to trade organizations.

3. Define your angle and develop unique presentations.

Simply reaching out to an organization about your book isn’t enough. You need to define the new perspective you bring to the same genre. And you need a plan—also written down in the form of a proposal that you can share widely—for the unique presentation you’ve developed.

Kris Spisak is a fine example; she’s the author of Get a Grip on Your Grammar. While she could have reached out to groups with presentations on why grammar matters, she instead created and trademarked Grammartopia. Spisak hosts this game-show style panel, where three to twelve contestants battle it out for grammar prowess in an entertaining and educational program. It’s as unique and fun as her book, and attendees never forget her. Furthermore, it has reach beyond writing conferences, because corporations can book her to help employees up their grammar game.

Bonus tip: Build a presentation that is authentic to you. Not everyone is a game-show hostess level extrovert like Kris Spisak. If you’re more introverted, keep reading.

4. Build your own panel discussion.

If the spotlight freaks you out, share it by inviting others to join the discussion.

The advantages to creating a group presentation are two-fold. First, it may be easier to secure a gig. My book is not traditionally published, and while that doesn’t matter to some organizations, to nonprofits on budgets I’m not a big enough draw on my own. So I’ve joined forces with two other novelists, Libby McNamee and Suzanne Adair. Like me, they are women writing about the American Revolution, specifically southern campaigns. McNamee writes young adult, and Adair also provides tours of historic sites. Our unique perspectives complement one another and for organizations who book us (three events and counting), we are viewed as a viable investment.

Secondly, the other panelists draw in potential attendees from their own audience who might not know you yet, and vice versa. That means new readers for each of you.

Bonus tip: You don’t have to pair up with other authors. If you write murder mysteries, invite experts like an undertaker and a private detective.

5. Begin outreach regionally.

If you still have a day job, you need to secure or create events close to home first. Go back to tip #2 and reorganize that list, putting all your local or regional events and opportunities first. Make special note of those that take place when you’re not working. If none exist in your area or when you’re available, this is an opportunity for you to consider creating them.

6. Contact potential venues or event coordinators far in advance.

Attendance at events is a direct result of how much marketing you (or your panelists) and the venue or organization can put behind your event. And lead time directly affects marketing.

Planning ahead gives you and the coordinators time to put together graphics, social media posts, advertising, and PR for the event. It allows time for attendees to register if the event is ticketed, and to coordinate food or beverage orders. In some cases where there is more coordination needed, like annual conferences, I’m booking presentations into summer of next year.

Bonus tip: Once you have a publishing date for your current book and especially if time is limited, reduce your writing hours for the next book and instead devote your time to connecting with readers and building presentations.

Parting advice

Ensure you post events on your website, and that you share them in your newsletter or blog. And when you get to presentations, have a sign-up sheet for your newsletter so interested attendees can follow your journey and hear about other events.

Why do all this in addition to writing? Ultimately, when done well, sharing the details behind your research, expertise, or writing can be incredibly rewarding for everyone. Moreover, if you plan on writing more books, what you need is simple. Readers. Focus your time on connecting to them via presentations, and they’ll come back for more.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

Karen A. Chase is an author and photographer, and a Daughter of the American Revolution with the Commonwealth Chapter in Virginia. Her first novel, Carrying Independence, is historical fiction about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Karen is a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities fellow for the 2019-2020 academic year. Originally from Canada, Karen is now chasing histories from Richmond, Virginia, and you can find a list of her events at her website.

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Susan Kite

Despite having worked in school libraries for 35 years, I have found myself disconnected from ‘the scene’ since my retirement. My one and only school presentation evidently bombed because I wasn’t asked to any other schools. I am not an extrovert and am definitely going to print this out and try the ideas Ms. Chase has listed. Thank you!

Karen A. Chase

Susan, it’s a good thing to try a few presentations and a few audiences. Not all are suited to you and it might take one or two presentations for you to find a sweet spot. The planning will definitely help you sort out who you’re speaking to, which might help the audience feel more connected to you. Keep going!

Patricia Finney (aka PF Chisholm)

Very helpful. Thank you.

Lisa Tener

I’m sharing your terrific tips! I would add that, if you do training or speaking, it’s a great idea to bundle books into your speaking or training fees (& up your price to reflect that). As long as you write a great book, all those additional readers will help spread the word, sometimes virally! I’m speaking about special sales/ bulk sales on Friday 11/8 as part of the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference, so I hope it’s okay to put in a relevant plug for the conference which will expand on some of the strategies here by providing steps to take: https://bit.ly/34bh1Nm

Richard Peyton

This is great information. I am new to writing books of which my first one is completed and t ghost e second one is as almost complete. I have been a public speaker for over twenty years. I am looking forward to read more articles on the topic of authors who use their books to help them step out of their comfort zone and engage the public, informing them of the articles that covers topics intrest.

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[…] Kristine Kathryn Rusch gives the scoop on public speaking for writers, and Karen A. Chase provides 6 tips for securing speaking engagements as a self-published author (helpful for any author). Also, Gigi Rosenberg shares a game plan for how to nail your next […]

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[…] In person events can be a great way to get the word out about your work. Boni Wagner-Stafford shows how to engineer your book launch success with a DIY strategy, Elizabeth Ducie explains how to promote books and have fun on the radio, and Karen A. Chase describes getting speaking engagements. […]

eileen lettick

Six excellent tips! They really work. Put yourself out there and mingle.