We’d love you to speak. P.S. We can’t pay you.

Because my first book publishes in March, I’ve been approached for a few months now to speak at various events, primarily on the subject of debut novels and my journey to publication. None of these venues have offered to pay me, though others on the panels are being paid either a speaking fee or given money for travel. My circle of writer friends are split down the middle on this one – should you speak at a conference or give a workshop if you’re not being paid or should you insist on some kind of payment for your time and expertise? Isn’t our knowledge valuable? Why should we give it away for free?

Every writer has to answer that question for themselves. Those that depend on speaking fees or paid seminars or earn a healthy chunk of their income by providing editing services will rightly feel they should be paid for sharing the same information they regularly charge for. But what if that’s not the case?

Five valid reasons you might want to speak for free

You can sell books and promote your brand

It’s common for presenters to bring along a stack of books either to sell directly after their presentation or later at a book signing table at the event. This is a plus when your book is fiction because attendees often want to read your work after hearing your talk. If you’ve written a non-fiction book about the craft, or you sell services to writers (editor, PR person, book designer), attendees can pick up a brochure about your offerings and possibly hire you. Regardless, there’s a financial incentive for you to appear before a ready-made audience who are interested in writing. If there’s no opportunity to either hand-sell your book or promote your services, you may want to pass.

You get a chance to network

Stories abound of writers who met their next agent during happy hour at a conference or who talked to a reader at a seminar whose brother works at a publishing firm. Likewise, this appearance is a great reason to reach out to other writers on the program to introduce yourself with an eye to future co-presentations or marketing partnerships. Getting your name out there to other seasoned writers can pay off when you ask them for blurbs or invite them to interview you at a bookstore appearance.

You can hone your presentation skills

If you don’t have much experience speaking before an audience, here’s a golden opportunity to get some practice. As a writer, you’re going to be asked to talk about your book, your life as a writer, your inspiration, and your daily routine, be it on podcasts, online interviews or at future conferences. Everyone gets jittery about public speaking, but having some experience with working a crowd, pacing through a Power Point presentation, and fielding questions from an audience can help you feel more confident and in control.

You’ll enhance your credentials

Before I had a book in the works, I often applied to smaller venues to speak on subjects where I had expertise—being a good podcast guest, writing short fiction that sells, how to get started on Instagram. Inevitably, I was asked for references from people who had previously booked me for talks, even when the venue was just a small, local gig. If you haven’t ever spoken before a group before, it’s sad but true that you may not be able to break in without previous experience.

You can give back

You may be asked to speak at a conference or before a group which has helped you in your own journey as a writer. For example, I would say yes to any panel for the Chicago Writers Association or Women’s Fiction Writers or Sisters in Crime because each has been an invaluable resource for me in my career. Sharing my thoughts at an in-person event or via a Zoom presentation would be my way of giving back to an organization that has given to me.

There are of course other considerations. Does the talk occur at a time you’ll be working on final edits? Does it require travel? Do your family obligations preclude this time commitment? Will you need to develop new teaching materials and hand-outs or is it an off-the-cuff, share-your-thoughts type of talk? Are the other speakers people you’d die to network with? Are you being asked to keynote the event or run the entire seminar yourself (in which case there should be some payment involved) or are you one of several dozen presenters in a roundtable discussion?

My advice? Don’t necessarily say no without carefully weighting the pluses and minuses. That free appearance at a national conference or that opportunity to appear on a panel with writers you admire may pay-off in unexpected ways.

T.E.D. talk, anyone?



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