the past several months we’ve looked at a host of ways to supplement
your fiction income. Whether you’re waiting on that first advance check
or you’re in between contracts, chances are pretty good you could use
the extra cash. Over the next few months we’re going to talk about one
of the most creative—and obvious—ways for novelists to earn income on
the side: public speaking.
Some of you are shaking in your
boots as you contemplate the idea. You’re asking questions like, “Where
do I find speaking gigs? Who’s going to be interested in what I have to
say, anyway? What topics should I choose? How do I work up the courage
to do this?” Some writers are introverts. They’d much prefer to sit in
front of a computer and not interact with the public. The very idea of
standing in front of a crowd causes them to break out in a cold sweat.
We’ll address the actual
delivery of a speech in a later article. Today I want to answer the
“Where do I find speaking gigs?” question. Once you’ve settled on a
plan of action, you will be much more relaxed, I assure you! How do I
know? Because I’ve spent the better part of the past ten years
“becoming” a public speaker. I’ve learned quite a few things along the
way, things that might be of interest to newbies and seasoned pros,
First, the possibilities for
speaking engagements are unlimited as long as you approach the project
creatively. Your topics are key, and might be to be tailored to the
groups you target. I’ll tell you a little about my journey, as this
might help you think of ideas for your own project.
Let me start by saying that I
was a theater kid, practically raised on the stage. I started
performing at a young age and found life in the spotlight appealing. So
the idea of speaking to promote my books sounded like a blast. I felt
it would be a natural extension of writing. After all, why write a book
if I didn’t plan on telling people about it?
My novel Hurricane
released in 2004 on the heels of three major hurricanes. I needed to
get the word out in a hurry. I had the courage. I had the desire. What
I didn’t have was a plan. Oh, if only someone had given me instructions
on how to build a platform!
After a little creative
thinking, I decided to start with a local slant. I knew going in that I
would have to tailor my topics to fit the various groups, but I’ve
always enjoyed coming up with topics, anyway, so I found this to be a
The following is a list of
organizations where I cut my teeth (so to speak). As you read over this
list, think about your book or articles. Could you tailor your speeches
to fit these organizations?
WRITERS GROUPS AND GUILDS: As a writer, it just made sense to start
with writing groups and guilds. After some deliberation, I decided to
speak on the topic of merging fact with fiction. Once I settled on my
topic, I approached various writing groups (Christian and secular) and
offered my services. When a gig was offered, I spoke with great
enthusiasm, going into detail about the research of the book, and
explaining how I merged historical fact with fictional characters, and
so on. Most of the writers I spoke to were interested in the “process”
of book writing, as well.
• CHURCHES/SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES: I offered my speaking services to a
variety of churches/denominations, where I spoke about the Galveston
hurricane and paralleled it to the storms we
go through in our
lives. I gave personal testimony of the many storms I’d survived in my
own life (going into detail about how God had restored my faith after
each storm). I had an amazing response to this topic, particularly from
churches close to the coast.
CIVIC GROUPS: I spoke to multiple civic groups (everything from Lions
Clubs to the Sons of Veterans of the Civil War), tweaking my speech to
cover the historical elements of the storm and how it changed the
make-up of south Texas. I zeroed in on the message that storms can
either strengthen or weaken us. Like Houston (after the Galveston
hurricane), we can take advantage of the storms in our lives to become
bigger, better, and stronger than we’ve ever been.
• SCHOOLS: Since Texas history is a seventh-grade subject, I approached
history teachers and asked to speak. Many of the students came with
money in hand to buy my book. (Side note: If you have product to sell
to students, you’ll need to put together a promo page to be sent home
to the parents a few days before you’re scheduled to speak so that they
can know about your book ahead of time and send a check on the day of
• HISTORICAL GROUPS: I was privileged to speak to historical
foundations about the storm, focusing on the local history.
• ONLINE CHAT CLASSES: I taught a six-week online course for writers,
using my journey as the foundation for the class.
• READING GROUPS: I was invited to speak to a local reading club/group.
The twelve members of the group were required to purchase my book and
read it in advance. They invited me to dinner, gave me opportunity to
share about the writing of my book, then asked me specific questions
related to the story. Out of that evening’s event came several more
Next month I’ll spend some time
talking about how you can craft your speeches to meet the needs of
specific groups. Then, a couple months from now, I’ll share some clever
ideas for earning money beyond the usual stipend.