Authors could earn additional revenue from speaking fees

One of the oft-heard plaints whenever someone compares how the music industry and the book industry should deal with pirates is that authors don’t have the same ability to earn a living from “live shows” that musicians do if their recorded media stops bringing in enough money. But one literary agency thinks that may not necessarily have to be true.

The Literary Platform has an article looking at agency Conville & Walsh’s efforts to create a new revenue stream for authors and agents out of live appearances, with a speakers agency called “Hire Intelligence”. The agency has already created some events that have attracted hundreds of listeners.

“Can a separate or additional revenue stream ever be a bad thing?”asks [agency co-founder Patrick] Walsh. “An author can’t automatically assume that they will be able to live off their primary advance, especially in today’s relatively fragile ecosystem. But more than that, Hire Intelligence is a part of our wider efforts to raise the profile of the authors we work with, which is becoming crucial, especially in America. Now, at least in non-fiction, you have to sell a person as much as their project, and that’s something we wanted to take very seriously. Where we think we’re doing something different with Hire Intelligence is in focussing our initial efforts on real experts, translating their hard-won knowledge for the lay audience, and charging a healthy fee for doing so.”

Rather than the single-book-targeted book publicity tour, which Walsh calls “artificial,” the agency is focusing on booking authors to speak more generally on the subjects in which they have expertise.

While not every author will be comfortable speaking to crowds, the idea of booking an author as a speaker could be quite helpful to those authors who do have the ability to speak. And some authors do it already—Neil Gaiman can charge fairly significant speaking fees, though he usually donates them to charity. (This caused a bit of a fuss earlier this year when a Minnesota state representative took exception to a hefty fee Gaiman received for speaking at a Minnesota library.)

My friends who are authors tell me that it’s extremely rare for an author to be able to quit his or her day job. But perhaps this sort of thing could help some of them get by a little easier.

3 Comments on Authors could earn additional revenue from speaking fees

  1. Hum– Also, authors could make money doing bake sales or magic shows. It seems to me that the medium of writing is quite distinct from the medium of spoken word. When we read, we savor the words, read back over phrases that amuse us or catch our fancy. I’ve heard authors give readings and some of the best writers have been bad readers. Of course, I’ve never actually paid to listen to an author read–why should I when I can buy the book and savor the words in a voice that, to me, fits the character. Overall, I’d rather pay for my books and let authors make a living that way.

  2. Rob—but you are speaking as an individual customer, in the example you cite, and speakers are very seldom booked for the benefit of an individual customer. Speakers speak to groups. And if you were a convention organizer looking to book a speaker for your convention, why wouldn’t an author be among the candidates you would consider? If they were a good speaker and the topic interested you, why not? Plenty of non-fiction authors are already involved in this game—the book is just the PR tool to make them be seen as an expert so they can get the speaking gigs, which can be quite lucrative. The trick is going to be seeing if any fiction writers can parlay this into a sideline for themselves. Personally, I think some of them can.

  3. A speaker’s tour might work for a nonfiction writer who is an expert on a popular subject or self-help series, or for a celebrity who writes, but it would be spit useless as an income resource for a vast majority of writers. For a vast majority of authors, just to get people to come to a reading and signing for free is about impossible. Heaven knows I’ve been to events like this for friends who are very well-known and respected in their field, and the audience is almost nonexistent even with promotion and the offer of free food. One of the most popular romance lines did a series of group signings for their most successful authors some years back, and the only way they could get any kind of crowd was to bring along their male cover model. As to conventions, a vast majority of authors, if not all, come on their own coin to most sf and reader conventions, and these conventions are appallingly expensive if they aren’t local.

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