This is one of those questions that always blindsides me. I’ll be sitting somewhere trying to sell books when someone in charge of a library or similar place asks me if I’d be interested in speaking some time. I rarely expect it, but the question comes, “how much do you charge to come and speak.” It may not happen to you early on as a writer, but you should have an idea in mind for a few reasons.
- If you charge nothing (as you might intend) people will assume you are worthless. I can attest to this personally from many experiences across the arts. We used to run youth concerts all the time and attendance always suffered when the show was “free” because the inherent, subconscious value placed on the event was nothing. If there’s no investment, there’s no commitment and there’s no value.
- Your time is worth something. Even if you want to donate it or do a service for someone else or an organization there are travel fees (even just fuel) which can sometimes be significant. You can do an event for free, but you should invoice the event with a figure to retain your “value.” If you would normally charge $X but do it an event for free, ask for a gift in kind letter if they are a nonprofit like most libraries. You can write that amount off on your taxes.
How much should you charge? It will vary widely depending on your area, but a good ballpark is about $200, from what I’ve heard from other authors. I ask for $200 from libraries and ask library workers to also identify one student reader who they think one of my books is perfect for but may not be able to afford purchasing—that student will receive a free, autographed copy. If significant travel is involved I would ask for additional monies to cover expenses.
There are a few articles below that might help you to further think through things like speaking engagement fees, etc. In addition to being a writer I am a musician and regularly speak/preach at churches. As is often the case in religious work people tend to say, “oh, just pay me whatever you can afford/think it’s worth.” That’s a pretty loaded position to put someone in. I recently booked music and speaking gig and gave the church director a price. She was very relieved; over the past three years they’d used a different music team who incurred significant travel each year and she never knew if what they paid even covered expenses and so they always assumed they were imposing. Setting a fee and clearly stating what you will provide puts everyone at ease.
Have an idea what you want to charge. You don’t need to be rigid, however. I tell libraries and organizations that I don’t want cost to be an issue if it means the difference between doing an event or not and that we can negotiate something if necessary.