12 EXCELLENT SECRETS to Sell More Books at Speaking Gigs! by Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg

12 EXCELLENT SECRETS to Sell More Books at Speaking Gigs! by Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg

Your book has just been published and you’re ready for fame and fortune. Your publisher sent out some review copies but now he’s moved on. You’re left on your own to figure out how to get some publicity and sell books!

Even if you have a traditional contract, if you’re not a celebrity, you’re responsible for creating all your own fame and fortune.

In either scenario, speaking gigs are an excellent way to get publicity, and sell more copies of your book. Unless you’re Oprah, you probably don’t have a PR agent booking your speaking dates. Here are 12 things you can do to get some great gigs:

1. Create an entertaining (not boring!) book talk.

Sure, you can read a chapter but that’s not enough. Take the audience behind the scenes, and give them the backstory: Talk about things like: What inspired you? What did you learn researching your book? What potential ideas/endings/characters did you discard along the way? Are you an expert in your subject? How did you learn about that topic? This will elevate your presentation into an event, not just a book reading.

When a famous author gives a book talk, it’s often in an interview format. This is a good style to emulate because they are answering questions an audience would ask. Listen to an author interview – possibly on a book similar to yours – and use this for inspiration.

2. Think outside the box.

Don’t limit yourself to bookstores and libraries for “speaking gigs.” Identify your target audiences and interest groups. Gardening book? Consider Home Depot, a local garden store, or an arboretum. Check out meet-up groups that share your topic. Make a list of area book clubs, synagogue and church groups, senior living residences, charitable organizations, alumni groups, historical societies, and hobby clubs. Decide how far you’d be willing to travel.

3. Charge a fee for your presentation.

If your presentation is good, you should be paid to speak. After all, you’re providing entertainment for a group. Several times a year, we send emails to pitch ourselves as “great speakers for your upcoming event.” We include contact information, references, links to our blog, and samples of our work. When we get a response, we quote our speaking fee, and inform them that we bring our books with us, to sign and sell. Our final email includes the line: “This email serves as confirmation that you have booked The Word Mavens for price/date/time/place.

4. Arrive early and shmooze.

We like to arrive 30 minutes early to set up a table with our books, bookmarks, business cards, money box and a framed sign stating the price of the books. We sit behind the table, and welcome people to take a look at our books. We often sell a few books before our presentation.

When we were newbies, we passed out copies of our book to audience members before the program. We wanted them to see how terrific it was! Big mistake. When we asked everyone to pass back the books, a few wouldn’t. They thought the book was a giveaway.

5. Don’t judge an audience by its size.

Over the years, we’ve calculated that we usually sell books to about one-third of our audience members. However we are often surprised. We’ve spoken to small audiences in out-of-the-way communities who are hungry for social events and entertainment – and they bought a lot of books. We’ve spoken at retirement communities where people don’t carry a wallet with them, and don’t have cash to buy our books. Sometimes people buy multiple books. Other times, they’ve really come just to be with their friends.

6. You can judge a gig by the cost of admission.

Although it’s hard to predict just how free-spending the audience will be, we’ve found that if they can spend $25 on a lunch meeting, they probably have the extra cash to buy a book. If the organization charges $3 to attend, the audience might not have the means for an impulse book purchase.

7. Be the first – or only – act.

If your audience has just sat through an hour of boring adult education, they won’t be thrilled to see you for Act II. Encourage the group to limit their “business meeting” before you go on.

Competing with other fundraisers, 50/50 raffles, and requests for donations takes cash away from your book sales. At the end of a recent program, our host announced, “On this table are a bunch of sample books that publishers to sent us for the school library. Please come help yourself to some free books!” Needless to say, this surprise giveaway cut into our book sales. If we had known about this in advance, we would have asked if they could give away their books at another time.

8. A well-fed audience is a happy audience — and they should eat before you speak.

Food is often on the program, too, and it’s better if the audience is fed first. If they’re waiting for the program to be over so they can be called up to get dessert, they won’t be paying full attention to you. Once you’ve booked the date, ask for the schedule so you can see where you fit in.

9. Don’t let hecklers, perennial hand-raisers or off-topic commenters interrupt your flow.

Our books include Yiddish words, and audience members frequently raise their hand to chastise us that we’re not pronouncing that word like their grandmom did. We’ve learned to nod politely and say, “thank you,” and move on. It’s okay not to call on everyone who has their hand raised, or to ask the audience to hold questions until the end.

10. People love a deal.

Our books sell for $18, but if you buy both – it’s two for $30. You get a discount and a free bookmark with each purchase! We made the bookmarks, which include a cartoon from the book. We also have a few gift-wrapped copies available – for people who want a ready-to-give gift.

11. Don’t be shy about announcing that your book is for sale.

At the end of your talk, announce that you are selling your book today. Note the price, and tell them it makes a great gift for Mother’s Day or National Donut Day. Or any day!

Be prepared to sell. Buy a credit card reader like Square that allows your phone to process credit card payments. Even senior citizens don’t carry a checkbook anymore. Have a cash box, and get $30 or more of singles so you can easily make change.

12. Stay late and shmooze with your audience.

Invite people to tell you their stories. That’s how we’ve collected some of our funniest material. Put out a sign-up sheet so people can subscribe to your blog, or receive your author newsletter.

Ask the audience to write a review of your books on Amazon. Ask the host to recommend you to his or her colleagues. Do like your mother taught you and send a thank you note to your host/group afterwards.


After each gig, we assess: What stories got a laugh? Where do we need more explanation? What’s happening in the news that we can discuss? Because we continually update and add content to our talk, we’ve been able to book return engagements.

Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg, The Word Mavens, are the authors of the “Dictionary of Jewish Words” and “The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories.” Connect with them at http://www.thewordmavens.com.


Angela is not only the publisher of WritersWeekly.com. She is President & CEO of BookLocker.com,
a self-publishing services company that has been in business since 1998. Ask her anything.


One Response to "12 EXCELLENT SECRETS to Sell More Books at Speaking Gigs! by Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg"

  1. Mary Turzillo  June 8, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Thank you so much! I have done a gig at a library where the audience was admitted free (I was paid $100), and only three people showed up, one of whom confessed that she didn’t understand English very well, so my talk did not work for her. I had brought some theme-connected candy (Mars Bars, since my book is MARS GIRLS), but nobody even took a candy. And (no surprise) I sold no books. On the other hand, I went to the Mars Convention and even though my presentation competed with four other authors, I sold books. I did walk around with the book and bring it up in conversation. And I sold a respectable number of books. I should get the Square. My sister (a historical true-crime author) has it, and she sells lots of books that way. This is a good good article. The only thing I would add to it is that a writer should market short pieces so interested readers see her work in print and want more. Just as an example, it occurs to me that Ellen and Joyce’s book might make a cool present for a Jewish doctor I know. But that’s not actually about speaking gigs. Thanks so much!