Monday, July 27, 2015

Marketing & School Appearances: Interview with Catherine Balkin of Balkin Buddies

Today, we're continuing our focus on marketing and school appearances, in a conversation with Catherine Balkin, President of Balkin Buddies, a company that books authors into school and libraries for appearances, as well as provides other general information about publishing.  We're so glad to have Catherine with us today!

Catherine, you're the President of Balkin Buddies.  Can you tell us a bit about what you do, and how you came to create your company?
As you know, I worked at HarperCollins for 15 years. When I left, a lot of the authors I had worked with asked me to continue setting up school visits for them. Some librarian friends suggested I build an author appearance website (librarians always have the right answers!). After that, other authors and illustrators approached me to work with them as well, so now I work with quite a number of them in various capacities. I promote all those I work with via social media. I have a blog; I tumble on Tumblr, pin on Pinterest, tweet and listen in on various educational listservs to see if any schools are looking for author visits. I also promote the authors at library and educational conferences and occasionally give talks on the subject.

What impact can school appearances have on an author's career?  How are they different than bookstore appearances?
Once a school has had an author come to their school, the author’s books live on in their library for several years because the kids remember their presentations and continue to request their books. A good school also promotes the author visit in local newspapers so they get local attention in area libraries and bookstores. The more attention authors get, the better it is for their books. Authors also get paid an honorarium for school visits, which helps their budget and gives them writing time that they wouldn’t have if they had to have full time jobs. Several authors have also mentioned that school visits help them to stay in tune with their audience, too. They get story ideas from the kids they talk to. Bookstore appearances are different in that they don’t pay the authors an honorarium. Publishers pay the author’s expenses and arrange book tours at a number of bookstores. Also, in bookstores, authors may give readings but they never give full length presentations, as they do in schools.

How can a debut writer get started making school appearances?
I always recommend that a new writer start locally, contacting schools in their own town. I also suggest they create a flyer for their book and add information about their school presentation and honorarium, which should be on the low side. I know some new authors will do free school visits, but I wouldn’t suggest doing very many. In my experience, people think they get what they pay for and that if they’re not paying, they’re not getting anything. The only exception might be the school the author’s children are attending. Authors can also talk to bookstores, especially independents, and ask them to let schools know about their books and that they’re available for school visits. Bookstores might be willing to put out the author’s promotional flyers for people to take. Also, of course, they should have a website (see more about this below).

Does it make sense for writers to make school appearances before they have a book published?
No. Schools expect a professional writer, and if the writer doesn’t have a book out, they won’t be taken as seriously. If the author is expecting the book to be out shortly, I would still suggest not scheduling a visit until after the pub date. Authors usually autograph books during school visits. The schools order books from the publisher, the local bookstore or online, so the author should want to make sure the book is not only in the warehouse but has time to be distributed.

How important is a website for authors?  How can writers use their site to promote their school visits?
Most schools learn about children’s book authors and illustrators by searching the internet and finding out about their books. So a website is very important. Information they ought to include on their website is some biographical information; any and all books awards; a list of their books in print; links to places people can order books or learn more about them, such as Amazon or; descriptions of a couple of their school programs; an honorarium range (for example, $500 to $1,000 plus expenses depending on location, group size, etc.); and contact information. I’d also suggest they put their website address on their business cards and any promotional material they create.

I would also suggest authors and illustrators put information about themselves, their books their programs and their contact information on other sites as well, such as and

When does it make sense for writers to hire a booker, such as yourself? 
Authors should be somewhat established before they hire a booking agent. They don’t have to be famous, just know what they’re doing by then. Authors frequently expect booking agents to get a lot more author visits for them, but that’s not necessarily the case. Having a booking agent might get them a few more schools, but there’s usually a lot more to it than that. Just promoting authors and their books is a full time job but that’s only one aspect of a booking agent’s job. The booking agent often does most of the paperwork, such as writing the contract for the visit, sending invoices to the schools and filling out forms that the schools or school districts may require.  It’s also easier for a booking agent to negotiate the honorarium for the author. As mentioned previously, I recommend an honorarium range be added to the author’s website, but depending on what the school wants the author to do, I try to get the maximum of the range. If authors don’t like negotiating or are wary of charging the maximum, a booking agent is good to have, because most of us are far from reluctant to charging the most we can get.

What do you recommend that writers charge for their honorarium?
For a new writer, I’d say $300 to $600 plus expenses is a good range. As they and their books get better known, I’d recommend they raise it. If they win a major award – a Newbery Honor or Newbery Award, for example – they can start charging $2,000 plus expenses, maybe even more.

Any other advice on school appearances, or marketing, for writers?

I’d suggest new writers and even established writers looking to refresh their school visits go to conferences. They might start with their own state or regional reading or library conferences which can easily be found on the internet. Then be sure to bring lots of promotional flyers and business cards and engage the teachers and librarians you meet on the exhibit floor, in autographing lines, at meal functions or even in the coffee line. I’d suggest keeping it short, but don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, talk about your book for a couple of minutes, and give out your flyer. Conference goers don’t bite and love books. Take advantage of it.

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