Booking Agent Interview: Jean Dayton of Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions

Learn more about Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions.

Could you offer a brief professional bio?

My experience working with books began in the Geneva, Illinois Public Library where I worked from middle school on through college. I began by typing (typing!) catalog cards. I particularly loved being in the children’s section where I often hosted story hour. Over the years, I worked in academic libraries and book stores.

After having three boys, I took a decade off from working outside the house. When my boys were all settled in elementary school, I took a job as Community Relations Manager at a Barnes & Noble in Shreveport, Louisiana.

As a result of connections made through that job, I started my agency in 1999.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I have always loved children’s books, but I confess that when I began my agency, I specialized in children’s authors largely because I wanted my work year to reflect my boys’ school year.

I have enjoyed many of the same benefits as teachers because my work load tends to be much lighter during the summer months. Now, even though my children are grown, I still enjoy the low volume of work during summertime!

Could you give us a brief history of Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions?

As mentioned in the biography section, I began the agency in 1999 with one client (Kimberly Willis Holt). To this day, I am so grateful to Kimberly for offering me a start in what has become a wonderful career.

Through word of mouth, my client roster has grown to over 35 talented authors. I’ve made connections with teachers and librarians around the world as I have booked my authors into various venues. I celebrated the agency’s 10th anniversary in January 2009.

What makes Dayton Bookings unique among event agencies?

The most important thing to me in accepting a client is their ability to speak eloquently and to connect with their audience. As all of us know, not all fine authors are equally fine speakers. So I work hard to ensure that all of the folks that I represent are both!

What was the inspiration for founding the agency?

I have always enjoyed the process of planning and organization and was able to combine that with my love of books and reading.

A lot of authors enjoy the opportunity to speak to students and readers, but really don’t like the time that it takes to work through all of the details of a visit. I was happy to find a niche for my talents by assisting authors with the business and marketing so that they could use their time more effectively.

What is the scope of its activities?

I consider Dayton Bookings to be a “full service” agency. I take care of the initial contact, the contracting, the travel and itinerary details, and help to guide the contracting organization with book orders and anything else that they might need.

I try to make sure that both the author and the booking school or library have a positive experience by hyper-planning an event and trouble-shooting ahead of time.

Occasionally, I get involved in travel snafus (stormy weather, flight delays and cancellations), and then I just fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best!

How would you describe your client base? Could you list some of the folks you’re working with now?

I work with talented authors and wonderful people. My client roster is the best! I can provide schools with speakers who specialize in pre-K picture books clear up to speakers who can present to college students.

I work with a number of incredibly talented illustrators (Derek Anderson, Wendy Halperin, Loren Long, Ard Hoyt, Dan Yaccarino, Daniel Kirk) who can discuss process and draw on the spot for their audiences.

One of my clients, Jeff Stone, is a black-belt in kung fu and can bring students up on stage to learn and illustrate various fighting techniques.

Jane Kurtz brings international experience into the mix; she has lived in Africa and is active in a not-for-profit organization that continues to bring books to students in Ethiopia.

Many of my clients can do wonderful writing projects with students during their school visits.

I hate to mention just a few of my authors because each of them are unique and talented. I think that’s why many people come back each year to book another Dayton Bookings author!

What do you consider in taking on a new client?

The main thing that I focus on is an individual’s ability to speak eloquently and interestingly and to inspire students and adults.

How do you work? Do you field requests, make arrangements, negotiate contracts, follow-up, etc.?

Almost all of my authors have active websites and list me as the contact person for school, library and conference visits. I work the visit from contracting to completion and follow-up as necessary. It has been a happy occurrence that many of the schools and agencies that book one of my authors come back to inquire about visits from other clients. I feel like we’re all part of a sharing community and each benefit from and help the others.

Do you actively seek out speaking opportunities, and if so, how?

I really haven’t had to seek out speaking opportunities because word-of-mouth has kept both me and my authors quite busy.

Could you give us some idea of your rates and fee structure?

I charge a percentage of the author’s speaking honorarium as my fee for taking care of the business of a visit. The authors are paid directly by the booking entity for their work, and I bill them quarterly for my services.

What sorts of event planners do you work with? Folks coordinating school visits, public library visits, conferences, etc.?

Every school seems to have their own unique set-up for booking author visits. Sometimes I work with volunteers from the PTA. Other times, an experienced school librarian will take charge of the visit.

One of the things that I like best about what I do is that I have developed wonderful friendships with a number of the folks that I have met around the country as I work with them to bring authors into their communities.

Why is there a need for such services?

I think that a well-organized and planned visit makes all the difference when it comes to a good experience for both the author and the students. Most authors don’t have the time or inclination to spend the necessary time, so the services of a good booking agent can really help.

Also, it seems to be difficult for a lot of people to talk about money without feeling embarrassed. I have no problem whatsoever telling people what my authors charge and why they’re more than worth it!

Given the downturn in the economy, have you seen a decrease in speaking opportunities? Why or why not?

I have actually seen somewhat of an upturn in speaking opportunities for a number of my authors. I hope that this keeps up, but I have considered the possibility that a number of the schools want to use existing funds while they still have them.

At any rate, the recession has been kind so far to my agency.

What are your thoughts on the rise of online author events?

I do help to facilitate some online author events, but I continue to believe that a personal contact has more impact on students than an online visit.

There are some obvious cost benefits to an online visit and, just like the Kindle fills some reader’s needs in book procurement, I think that online visits will continue to fill some school and store needs in terms of author visits.

What should a prospective speaker consider in signing with a booking agency?

I think it’s important to look at the other clients represented by any agency. You are judged by the company that you keep, so you’ll want to be sure that the agency represents quality speakers in a professional manner before signing on.

Why does it make sense for event planners to work with booking agencies?

Event planners get the benefit of professional services and experience at no additional cost. Also, I think it’s a little easier to communicate with booking agents than it is to try to track down authors.

Recently, a planner told me she’d be reluctant to work with a “represented” author on the theory that there would be an extra charge. Is her assumption valid or not?

I can’t speak to the way that other agencies charge, but there is no extra charge for working with my agency. Actually, it’s a wonderful benefit for the groups that book my authors because the booking comes with built-in service and assistance from my agency.

What, in your opinion, is the number one key to a successful author event and why?

I think that the key to a truly successful event is planning and preparation. If the students have read the books and studied the author ahead of time, it feels as though they are being re-introduced to a good friend when an author arrives at a school.

There is also a lot to be said for building excitement and anticipation prior to the visit.

Some of my authors have visited schools that have done art projects and writing projects based on their books. The sense of enthusiasm is palpable, and they know that they’re in for a wonderful experience.

Cynsational Notes

See Tips for Planning a Great Visit from Dayton Bookings. See also Dayton’s author list, information on booking an author, and information for prospective clients.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is available for 2010-2011 non-publisher-sponsored events through Dayton Bookings.