Speakers bureaus: Next big thing on ‘Writer’s Bloc’

Speakers bureaus: Next big thing on ‘Writer’s Bloc’
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First Published: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 12 38 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 12 38 PM IST
New York: We have heard of authors making a killing out of the signing amount that could be offered to them by a publisher who sees a winner as soon as he takes a look at the manuscript. Today authors have even started making money out of royalties. Now it seems a new revenue stream in book publishing is making waves - getting authors to do road shows as they undertake a series of “paid lectures” at book stores, museums, libraries and other prominent meeting points, all organized and ‘fixed’ by their literary agents.
Even before Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book "The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11," he was one of the busiest lecturing authors published by Alfred A. Knopf.
For April and May, he was booked to speak at Princeton and Wesleyan universities, at a public relations seminar in Santa Barbara, California, and at a lunch in Chicago sponsored by the Northern Trust Bank.
However, he is not on the typical whirlwind book tour, where authors make free appearances at bookstores and talk shows to promote their work. He is being paid to speak by host groups, which also cover his travel expenses.
The engagements are arranged by the Knopf Speakers Bureau, which was set up a year and a half ago to sell books and market authors after the initial publicity campaign. It has helped the company's authors earn extra money.
Wright's best-seller, which published last summer, is for sale wherever he speaks. He admits that the Knopf Speakers Bureau has changed his life. Before the speakers bureau represented him he was getting lots of offers, but none with money attached!
In the last two years, several major publishing houses have set up speakers bureaus. HarperCollins was the first, in May 2005, followed by Random House, which set up a partnership with an existing company, the American Programme Bureau, rather than build its own. Knopf and Penguin established in-house speakers bureaus in 2006, and two other publishers, Holtzbrinck and the Hachette Book Group, may do the same.
Speaker’s bureau will hopefully help address issues of concern to the publishing industry and to those who want to write but steer clear of the exercise for want of remuneration and recognition. Fleeting tastes in mass-market books, shrinking shelf lives in bookstores, disappearing book review sections, and the brief attention span of a media audience hooked on celebrity sound bites and Hollywood entertainment may be somewhat addressed with this initiative - for now that is.
Remuneration pattern
HarperCollins recently sent James L. Swanson, author of "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer," to Frederick, Md., to participate in the city's Frederick Reads program (his book sold 1,000 copies there). And it arranged for the restaurateur Danny Meyer, author of "Setting the Table," about business hospitality, to speak in Philadelphia to 350 executives of Campbell Soup.
Corporate clients tend to pay higher honorariums than institutions like schools and libraries, publishing executives say. If a group cannot afford the standard fee, which ranges from $5,000 to $7,500, sometimes the publisher will offer a discount based on a guarantee of a certain number of book sales.
A middle-tier author might make $15,000 to $35,000 a year in speaking fees, depending on the demand for his or her services and how many engagements he or she is willing to take on, according to the executives. The speakers bureau's commission tends to be 20 percent.
Bookstores are frequently enlisted to do the bookselling at events, which helps them share in the benefits of an author's coming to town. Paul Bogaards, who started the Knopf Speakers Bureau, said, "We want booksellers to become co-brokers -- if they find business for us locally, we will split the commission with them."
According to estimates, best-selling Random House author, Anna Quindlen has been paid $35,000 a lecture.
A speakers bureau "goes beyond the traditional marketing opportunities," said Jamie Brickhouse, who heads the HarperCollins enterprise. "It's a way for authors to continue to raise their profiles and reach new audiences. It's great for the frontlist and for the backlist and has brought new life to authors who don't have an ongoing book push."
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First Published: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 12 38 PM IST