In August, I wrote my last entry in this series on developing a marketing plan for your book. Having implemented many of those ideas, I wanted to give some insight into what has and hasn’t worked for me so far.
Once I had a pretty firm idea of when the book would be out, I began targeting approximately 100 groups and organizations with e-mails about speaking. (I prefer corresponding via e-mail for a couple of reasons: it allows me to preserve an accurate record of who I’ve contacted and what was said and because I’m not sure how many people keep track of snail mail nowadays.) I compiled the list from my professional and personal networks, groups I’ve previously spoken to, groups with a clear connection to Andrew Jackson, and suggestions from other colleagues. I have had a booking success rate of approximately 25%, and I have received answers (either affirmative or negative) from almost everyone I contacted.
Scheduling talks in some organized manner is key. For example, once I booked a talk in South Carolina for spring break, I reached out to other organizations in that area or along the way to see if the timing would work for them. In that case, I was able to schedule four talks in one trip. Organized coordinating has also been important because of my teaching schedule. With limited days on which I can travel, even if it’s in the area, I need to know what dates/times are feasible for me and if I can offer an alternate date for a group if there’s a conflict.
The South Carolina trip I mentioned actually offers a nice segue into a dicey topic: honoraria/travel funds. Some groups are upfront about whether they will offer either of these; most, however, are not. Some have even asked me to name my fee. The best advice I can give is to try to at least break even financially. If you have to travel two hours to give a talk, I don’t think it’s uncouth to ask for enough of a fee to pay for your gas. If the talk requires an overnight stay, requesting lodging shouldn’t come as a surprise to the organization.
Some groups may also put you in a weird spot due to their disorganization. Be proactive in getting the information that you need for the talk, and plan to arrive early to set up, especially if you are using audio-visual aids. That also gives you time to read the audience and setting. Most attendees probably love history and/or are widely read but aren’t experts on your topic, so give it to them in a form they can easily understand. Also make sure that you respond to the setting. If you are in an open room with senior citizens who may find it hard to hear you, you will need to project more than if you are in a living room speaking to a book club. Use A/V if you can, but be able to talk without it in case something goes wrong.
Another consideration to give some thought is your book’s price point. Finding a price point that makes the book affordable, yet still allows you to turn a small profit is difficult. You have to realize that not many people are going to pay $50 for a book they can buy online for $30. With this book, I discovered that $5 made the difference between attendees balking at or making the purchase.
One final recommendation: seek out non-academic venues to write about your book. I wrote pieces for History News Network and Readex and am currently working on three others. These opportunities expose your book to audiences that you might not reach otherwise but that are likely to be interested in reading more about your topic.
Above all, be friendly and courteous. Send a thank-you note afterwards to the person most responsible for setting up the talk or asking you to submit a piece of writing. It’s not only good manners–that person may just invite you back to speak or write in the future or recommend you to someone else.