Generating Income with Public Lectures

Recording at VPR's Upper Valley Studio.

Recording at VPR’s Upper Valley Studio.

Writers can generate income by activities other than putting words on the page; one of my favorites is giving public lectures. Never shy about sharing my knowledge or opinions, I’m happy to talk when asked. In fact, it’s a direct outgrowth of my work as an editorial commentator for Vermont Public Radio, the Rutland Herald and other newspapers, as well as my blog. They are part of my mission of “advancing issues through narrative and telling stories to create change.” Challenging my audiences to think about current problems in new ways is one of the reasons I’m a writer.

Speaking at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.

Speaking at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.

I’m also a scholar and educator, and lecturing gives me an opportunity to talk about what I’ve learned, so I’m pleased to be on the Vermont Humanities Council’s Speakers Bureau and to lecture for Vermont’s Osher Life Long Learning Institute, among others.

The Speakers Bureau helps match libraries and lechistorical societies seeking programming with speakers who can provide it. For the Speakers Bureau, I’ve prepared and delivered a talk about the political and cultural changes that occurred in Vermont in 1964, a subject about which I learned a great deal while researching Into the Wilderness, my novel set in that time and place. Lecturing about that time allows me to use this knowledge again and to extend it to those who maybe haven’t read my book and who now might – or who maybe never will.

I’m currently preparing a Speakers Bureau talk about the history of transportation in Vermont, an outgrowth of research I did for Elegy for a Girl, a novel set in 1958, when Vermont’s interstates were being built. I have contracts to give the lecture twice so far, which allows me to reuse the research I did when writing the book. But for the lecture, I’m extending my research as far back as Indian trails, military roads, canals and trains, all of which I find highly interesting. And who knows: I may stumble across a story to tell in the process.

The Bernard Osher Foundation supports “lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults.” Vermont has the second oldest population in the US, and one of the most literate. I’ve delivered lectures on Jane Austen at different Osher locations around the state, and I’m looking forward to preparing a series on Virginia Woolf next year. As a seasoned adult myself, I often enjoy attending these lively and informative lectures, too.

Occasionally, I’m asked to speak at a local event, such as the elementary school’s farm-to-table annual dinner. These are good-will talks for which I charge no fee; they’re a part of being an engaged citizen in my community.

On book tour with my first novel. Photo courtesy of Phillis Groner

On book tour with my first novel. Photo courtesy of Phillis Groner

I’m also still asked to address organizations about my novel, even though I gave more than forty public readings the year Into the Wilderness came out. Indeed, every speaking opportunity is an organic marketing opportunity and another reason it’s good for a writer to get dressed and get out.

As with any free-lance opportunity, there are some guidelines to follow:

  • Clarify expectations with whoever is hiring you.
  • Write them down! Some organizations have contracts, which I read carefully before I sign; with others, I send a letter of agreement.
  • Be clear about what they want and be sure that’s what you deliver.
  • Show up on time and prepared; stay on topic; speak for the contracted time period; answer questions; say thank you and stop.
  • Likewise, be clear about what you expect in return.
  • In addition to a speaker’s fee, this can include a projector and screen, a microphone, and clarity about who the audience is and how many they’ll be.
  • It’s also good to be clear about marketing expectations for the event to ensure that an audience shows up. Even when the host takes on this responsibility, I always offer my headshot and bio, and I ask if they want me to broadcast the event through my media and social media outlets.

Do you have other guidelines to add to this list? Have you ever given a public lecture? What was it like?

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator, as well as a pen-for-hire. Sign up for her blog, published Wednesdays, at

8 thoughts on “Generating Income with Public Lectures

  1. I’ve never been the speaker, but I used to hire them for The American Museum of Natural History in New York. You covered it well. Put it in writing. I like the point about sending the LOA if they don’t provide a contract. Never assume anything. If you need a green a laser pointer, write it down.

  2. Oh, and don’t forget to ask about comp tickets if you have family and friends attending. Some organizations will let them in, but some require they be ticketed even if a fee is not paid. Please don’t agree about this, there are always reasons for it.

    • Yes! Especially when seating is limited and/or there’s a meal involved. Never assume, and thank the host for including a guest when one is invited along!

    • Great! I’m working on a power point now. What an excellent tool for engaging an audience. And sharing other people’s knowledge is a terrific way to bolster your own credibility. Thanks for your comment.

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