I coached a new book author recently who was invited to speak at a conference. After I offered congratulations, she said the conference organizers didn’t bring up money and she wasn’t sure how to ask.
I suggested she ask, “What’s your budget?” It’s polite, it puts the onus on the conference organizers, and it gives the impression that you might be flexible about the amount.
If I could only suggest one piece of advice, though, it would be something I have learned the hard way: Don’t agree to speak without a written contract. That’s because the contract spells out the details of how you will be compensated, such as whether the organizers pay for the actual airfare or give you a stipend towards it.
I know you don’t want to wait. It’s exciting, you’re flattered to be asked, and you want to do it. But sometimes you have the wrong information, or you misheard, or they left out an important detail that could crimp your travel budget. It’s best to find out what they’ll agree to before you’ve purchased plane tickets or before the website has announced you.
Here’s what to consider when you are asked to speak:
1. Is pay involved? Of course, I’m hoping the answer is yes, but you might be willing to speak for free if it is a charity, or if there are other benefits. We’ll get to those in a minute. Here are the expenses conferences might pay for speakers:
- Round-trip airfare
- Ground transportation to and from the location and meals
- Hotel room and room tax
- Conference attendance fee
- Speaking fee or honorarium.
If they don’t offer what you want, speak up politely, without emotion. You should know that not all conference organizers treat all speakers the same. At one conference, I learned that other speakers were told the conference paid no expenses. I know that was false, because they reimbursed me. At another conference, I asked my fellow panelists about reimbursements, and discovered our amounts differed by hundreds of dollars.
2. Are there marketing opportunities? If you’re not getting paid as much as you would like, marketing opportunities might make up for it. Make sure your speaker bio and photo appears on the conference website, with links to your website or book. When the organizers promote the conference, they’ll also promote you by extension, perhaps to a whole new audience. People who read your bio might visit your site or blog, or they might purchase your book.
3. Can you sell your book? If the conference organizers don’t mention opportunities to sell your book, ask. Some conferences contract with booksellers, who bring your book and sell it. Others ask you to bring your own books and sell them yourself.
If your book isn’t out yet, you still want to get it in front of your target audience. The client I mentioned arranged to put postcards about her upcoming cookbook in the goodie bags. The conference organizers also gave her a free ad to promote her book in the published agenda.
4. Is the time and expense worth it? You’ll always have some out-of-pocket expenses, even if you’re compensated. But the perks can make going worthwhile. Perhaps you’ll visit a new city with trendy restaurants and neighborhoods. You’ll get to hobnob and network with peers and friends. You might even visit an elderly aunt you haven’t seen for years.
So those are my main tips. What about you? If you’ve spoken at conferences, did you feel you were compensated fairly? Or if you were not compensated at all, what made speaking there worthwhile? If you do speak at conferences, what tips do you have for fellow authors and bloggers?
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