Why Hiring A Booking Agent is the Biggest Mistake for Kidlit


It happened two years ago. I met this young & talented, up & coming kidlit author through a mutual friend.

I was invited to see Jess at an event and it was apparent how charismatic she was. Jess came over to where I was standing and said hello. She was so bubbly. The kids listened to her every word. And the adults, well they were just as star struck!

It was the normal back and forth of hi I’m so and so, it’s nice to meet you. Then we agreed to meet for coffee the next morning to really get to know one another.

We spent 4 hrs talking about the picture book industry. It was all so interesting to me. Jess mentioned that her debut picture book launched. Her marketing plan included a book tour. And one without the help of her publisher!

She managed to organize her own author event at festivals, conferences, & schools. You see, Jess had leveraged social media over the last few years to build a strong personal brand.

She created content that was relevant to her audience and expanded her reach beyond her peers, family, & friends. Jess’ dream readers, paying readers -teachers, librarians, students, & parents – were all paying attention!

I thought WOW! This girl is one marketing genius! So why was she talking to me?

Well, it just so happened that Jess needed a booking agent. Someone to help with scheduling, managing the visit details, and negotiating fees. She figured my combo of being a well-organized mom and my understanding of business and marketing were the perfect mix.

I worked as Jess’ booking agent for a year. And within that year I learned the good, the bad, and the ugly about having a picture book business. My learning curve was steep, but I loved every minute!

Fortunately for Jess, I am not one to stay within the lanes of my job description. I started analyzing parts of her picture book business and was surprised at the amount of money she was spending on employees.

Now, you might think kidlit authors & illustrators are self-employed. Well, you are. But during your career, you might employ a few individuals. For instance,

~ a literary agent - 20% commission

~ a booking agent - 15 to 20% commission

~ a PR consultant – you pay a one-time fee

~ and an entertainment agent - another 20%.

And before you know it, your honorarium fee has dwindled down to nothing!

I knew Jess had spent a considerable amount of time and energy making her picture book business. I felt she deserved to keep as much of it as possible. So, we worked out an agreement and over the year, I taught her some business and marketing strategies so she could manage her own author event.

Here are the 3 biggest lessons Jess learned during her year with me:

#1 Avoid losing a percentage of your honorarium fee as payment to a booking agent.

It’s true that booking agents are the ones to call on your behalf to schools, libraries or event organizers. They also are the ones who painstakingly coordinate the details and negotiate fees.

But, unless you are strapped for time due to numerous projects, the likelihood that you have a schedule that’s not manageable by you is slim.

There’s even a myth that you could command a higher price if you hired a booking agent. I’m sorry to tell you that just isn’t true! In fact, Jess was able to increase her honorarium fee a year after we parted ways!

The take away – it’s best to manage your own appearances to avoid paying a percentage of your honorarium fee. And it’s not true that a booking agent can get you a higher fee. Instead, you’ll develop a personal relationship with the coordinators. You’ll understand what a successful visit entails. And you’ll realize how sensitive your audience is about pricing.

#2 Commit to cultivating long lasting relationships with your biggest fans!

It’s no secret that teachers, librarians, and event organizers are some of the biggest kidlit fans. They make it their job to know which picture books are a hit with their students.

They are the decision makers or influencers of who is invited for a school visit. So why would you want to hand over the responsibility of cultivating such an important relationship to a booking agent?

I get it. You may not feel confident or comfortable about pitching yourself for an author visit. But those schools, libraries or event organizers aren’t always keen to talk to a third person. Instead, they are dying to connect with YOU.

The take away – coordinate and negotiate your own appearances so you can connect personally to your ideal readers. You encourage long lasting relationships that create diehard fans. Fans that aren’t tied to booking agents. But instead are tied to YOU and your picture book journey.

#3 Gain insight into your target audience.

The biggest challenge you will face for author events is to know what to present and how to price your presentations.

You most likely will look to others who are pros. However, what works for one will not necessarily work for another.

That’s why it’s best to fully understand your target audience and tailor your offering to get the most success.

If you hire a booking agent, you’ll lose this critical piece of information. You’ll most likely design a presentation that is similar to others. BORING! And price your visit fee either too low or too high.

The take away - manage your own bookings. You’ll see what tweaks are needed to design an interactive, engaging presentation with appropriate pricing to knock it out of the park.

I hope my story about how I spent a year with Jess as her booking agent along with some lessons learned was useful. If you have any other questions or want to learn more about how to prepare for school visits, don’t hesitate to reach out. Sharing insight and teaching kidlits like you is my jam!

Oanh JordanComment