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Does Public Speaking Help You Sell Books (and Vice Versa)?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Does a self-published book help you land public speaking gigs—and do those gigs help you sell your book? The answer is both yes and no!

Does a self-published book help you land public speaking gigs—and do those gigs help you sell your book? The answer is both yes and no!

Does Writing a Book Help You Get Speaking Gigs? Do Speaking Gigs Help Sell Your Book?

One of the myths pushed by online business coaching programs is that if you have written a book, whether traditionally or self-published, you will be able to get public speaking gigs. On the flip side of the equation, there are those who suggest that public speaking will help you sell more books. I'm here to tell you that they're both right and both dead wrong.

True, having a published book on your professional resume can give you a bit of clout and make you more palatable to event organizers who hire speakers. It is also true that having a book, especially if self-published, can offer book sales opportunities at events where you are the featured speaker.

But that's in the theoretical sense. In today's real world of networking and technology, these time-honored perks of publishing and speaking are not the drivers of book sales and speaking fees that they once were.

Publishing Isn't What It Used to Be

Though authors who attempt it may disagree, self publishing today is so much easier than it's even been in history. And even though they may still respect the work of an author who speaks at an event, event sponsors and organizers know that becoming a published author isn't as herculean an effort as it used to be. The only exception might be for traditionally published authors (who also have additional marketing challenges as we'll discuss later).

Plus, event organizers and sponsors are not regularly scanning the publishing universe for new authors, either traditionally or self published, to hire as speakers. There's just too much being published to review! Getting speaking gigs still requires a significant sales effort.

So, depending on the event host, touting an author status may not be the ticket that leads to a speaking opportunity.

In-person networking events have been attracting fewer people in recent years.

In-person networking events have been attracting fewer people in recent years.

Lower In-Person Event Participation

With some exceptions, over the past decade, it's been my observation that live in-person networking and events are attracting less and less attendees on a regular basis. This reduces both speaking and book sale revenue potential. If there are less paid attendees, there are less funds available to hire speakers. And with lower actual attendance, there are fewer opportunities to sell books or even build an opt-in email marketing list.

"I'll Get It On My Kindle."

EBooks are fantastic... except when you're trying to make book sales at an event. Selling books at events necessitates having a print edition so as not to lose out on impulse sales. While that does expand sales opportunities for print books, it can also increase costs since the author must have a stock of physical print books at the event.

Then the next issue authors face is how many books to bring. It's been my experience that maybe 5 to 10 percent or less of the in-person attendees will actually buy the print book at the event.

Lowering the on-site print book sales is the "I'll get it on my Kindle" eBook reading attendees. Will they actually buy the book after the event? My experience is that I haven't seen a significant bump in Kindle eBook sales afterwards. Some of these attendees are just trying to be nice by saying they'll buy the eBook later.

Plus, there's the issue of Kindle Unlimited. Some of the eBook reading attendees may be subscribers to this Amazon program that allows unlimited monthly access to participating Kindle eBooks. The author will only get paid for pages read (and usually only for a portion of the total eBook's pages) if he has enrolled his book in the KDP Select program which requires exclusivity on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing self publishing platform.

Getting "Paid" in Book Sales

To save on budgets, some event organizers recruit authors to speak with the carrot of book sales opportunities at the event. Some events may offer author speakers an honorarium. But, more often, they're hoping that the author speaker will be content with gaining book sales from attendees at the event. There are a number of problems with this arrangement.

First, as noted earlier, very few attendees may actually buy the book after the event. Plus, it's chaotic trying to answer attendees' post event questions while trying to complete book purchase transactions. Some impatient attendees just give up and don't buy. Others may surreptitiously swipe a copy of the book without paying.

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Next, again because of the low book sales potential, the meager amount of book revenues will not equitably compensate the author speaker for their time and travel.

Lastly, if the only benefit from speaking at these events is book sales, authors may turn their presentations into sales presentations, lowering attendee satisfaction. I've attended events where the whole premise was to have authors "sell from the stage." In addition to books for sale in the lobby, they were selling their coaching or consulting. But I think you can imagine that the presentation was a hard sell for both types of purchases.

Word to the wise: If an event intends to "pay" you in book sales opportunities, ask them to purchase the books for every attendee in advance. This helps avoid the situation of being promised a good turnout and only a few show up. (I've experienced this first hand on multiple occasions. Learned my lesson!)

Traditional Publishing Troubles

Even though self publishing has attained a great deal of acceptance over time, there is still a level of prestige attached to being a traditionally published author, especially with a big trade publisher. Can that increase the number of resulting speaking gigs?

Remember that larger traditional publishers may spend little time promoting an author after the initial book launch. It's just not profitable for them to do so unless it's a big name author. So lesser known traditionally published authors are faced with the same search for speaking gigs as their self published colleagues, even though they may be able to command higher speaking fees.

But the book sales opportunities are worse than for self publishing. Some traditionally published authors may bring a few copies to sell at events. But it's been my observation that they usually only bring a couple copies to be used as door prizes. Why? Because after the few author copies their publisher offers them during the book launch, they typically must pay full retail price for any additional copies. Since they really can't charge more than retail, it just doesn't make sense for them to offer books for sale at a loss.

I've even been at an event where the traditionally published author speaker encouraged attendees to buy his book on Amazon, but said that he'll only get about $0.60 in royalties for each copy. When one of the attendees held up her copy of the book, the speaker thanked her for her purchase. But then to add insult to injury, the attendee said that it wasn't her book because she borrowed it from the library. Well, maybe he made a royalty on the sale to the library.

So Should You Do Both Public Speaking AND Publishing?

Yes. However, realize that both efforts are public relations that could help make sales of books, speaking, and other services in the future. It's the whole book marketing versus marketing with books situation!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Have you noticed any changes in the last year with your book sales due to public speaking?

Answer: Now that almost all of my business is done online, I'm doing almost no in-person speaking. However, I am doing more "speaking" with my podcast (audio and video). My total book sales for this year are pretty similar to last year, except that the mix of formats is different. Last year it was only print and eBooks. This year, with the introduction of audio editions and the podcast, a sizable portion of the book sales are now in audio. So I think this speaks to the point that the venue or audience could have an impact on sales. People who listen to a podcast could be good prospects for audio books.

Does having books help me get gigs? Well, it used to years ago when I would speak to groups. Now that I've built my own speaking platform online, books don't help me get gigs.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 11, 2017:

Billybuc, I've got to admit that I have somewhat of a love-hate thing with speaking, too. I love speaking and connecting with people. But all the brouhaha surrounding it? Not so much. Glad you enjoyed my straight shootin'! Have a wonderful day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 11, 2017:

I have this love-hate thing going with public speaking. I'm good at it, but is it worth the internal anguish leading up to it? As always, great information....very realistic, you shoot from the hip and tell it like it is, which I love.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 11, 2017:

Laura, it is truly an uphill battle! Glad this gave you some perspective to help make decisions about your upcoming endeavors. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 11, 2017:

Flourish, I feel their pain, too! So authors and speakers really need to do some serious cost-benefit analysis before they launch headlong into a speaking strategy. Thanks for your compassion! Have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 10, 2017:

This makes me feel so much more empathy for authors in the circumstances described. It's bad enough to receive little compensation for your intellectual property but I had no idea that traditional authors may have to buy extra books at the retail price if they're going to be offering them at events. What a let down.

Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on June 10, 2017:

This has helped to answer a lot of the questions I've had about public events. I'm about to publish my fourth book, and I will most likely self-publish again. I've been looking into author visits/events, and it seems like it's just as much of an uphill battle as any other method of marketing. Thanks for the tips!

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