Monday, November 14, 2011

Book It: How Book Festivals Can Help a Writer Out

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Book festivals are a great tool and resource for writers. Not only do you get to meet fans and fellow book lovers, but other authors and writers at every stage and genre.

This diversity is important, and offers all kinds of opportunity to grow as a writer—and a reader. And help others grow as well.

Thinking Outside the Book
It’s not uncommon for folks to read in only one or two genres or markets. My To-Read pile is mostly YA and science fiction and fantasy. But every time I go to a festival I meet authors and hear about books I’d never have picked up in a bookstore. It’s important as a writer to read outside your genre and market once in a while, because inspiration and ideas come from everywhere. You can learn to plot better suspense by reading thrillers or mysteries. Up your sizzle factor by reading romance, or add a little fun by reading humor. See what else it out there and take the best to apply to your own work (metaphorically speaking).

At the Dahlonega Literary Festival, I picked up The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, a historical with literary flair that just sounded fascinating. It’s 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic is sweeping the nation and a town decides to protect itself by sealing off the roads. One day, a potentially sick visitor arrives pleading for help, and the two guards have to decide to let him in or shoot him to protect the town. Their decision shapes the town and the rest of the book. I also grabbed Silent in the Grave, the first of the Lady Julia Gray series by Deanna Rayborn. Victorian mysteries with dashes of history and romance, and Deanna made them sound like so much fun. (And I discovered that Deanna makes just about everything fun, so I can’t wait to see how her personality translates to her writing).

I bought other books as well (Staked by J.F. Lewis, and The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver), very much in line with what I read (fantasy and YA). But I’ll also enjoy them more because I heard the authors talk about them, and got to know them a little.

Making Connections
As an author, panels are a lot of fun because you get to meet several other authors in your genre. Hearing other authors talk about their books and the writing process gives you insights into your own writing. Moderators ask the panelists questions, and it can be helpful (and fun) to think about how you’d answer that if you were on the other side of the table. This can get you thinking about deeper meanings or other angles for your book you might not have considered before. Talking to other writers and book lovers also helps you feel connected to the community. That connection can get you through the rough patches we all face. And from a purely selfish marketing angle, the authors you meet might just be the ones to give you that great blurb for your novel one day, or tweet about your book, or any number of things that could give you that extra buzz just when you need it. (And vice versa. You might be the right person to help them one day)

Getting Inspired
I once had a delightful conversation with a fellow writer, and I was telling the story of how I got my agent and sold my novel. Hearing how it took me ten years and four books actually helped her with her own current submission frustrations. My experience let her know that sometimes it takes time, and if it does, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there. This time I got to inspire someone, but let me tell you, I’ve been to plenty of festivals where I was the one being inspired by my fellow authors. Every author has a personal story of how they got there, and if your path is similar, it gives you hope that you’ll get there too.

Book festivals happen all year long, so check out what’s close to you and make a note when the next one is. They’re great reminders as to why we write, and why we share that dream of seeing our name in print. And they’re fun to boot.

Do you attend literary festivals? What ones are in your area? How do you feel about them?


  1. You've made some great points about why it's good to attend festivals. And it's good to read outside your genre. So true.

    I've gone to a few festivals. It's just been crazy with mom duties but I hope to go more in a few years when my daughter graduates.

  2. I'm glad you had a good time! :) e

  3. We just had the Rochester Children's Book Festival earlier this month. This year, I brought my 12- and 9-year olds. A highlight for my 9-year old was meeting Mary Downing Hahn, a new favorite for her. And my 12-year old had a rather lengthy conversation with Bruce Coville - she happened to get over to him at just the right time when he wasn't too busy.

    We also have a Teen Book Festival in May, but I haven't been there yet. My 12-year old recognizes more and more authors every year, so perhaps we'll get there this year!

    I don't ever mention to anyone that I write though - I think it's mostly because I don't feel it's the right time for me yet. And I don't have specific questions when I go; I should work on that!

    How do other writers approach you and let you know that they write, too, without it being awkward?!?

  4. Natalie, they're fun, but not something you HAVE to do :) Family comes first!

    Elizabeth, thanks! Robyn and I had great fun. I finally got to see a little of her wolf presentation.

    Khanada, that's awesome you have so many near you. It usually comes up pretty naturally. I either ask or they just say "I write X" or "I"m a writer, too." Or "I'm working on a book right now" which leads to "Oh, what do you write?" I've never had an awkward moment there actually. Just don't ask a writer to read your stuff or recommend you to their editor or agent :) That's awkward.

  5. I love festivals because it's so much more meaningful to me to get a book when I've met the author -- and of course to have my book signed. Our local festival is the Central Coast Book and Author Festival which is paired with the Central Coast Writers' Conference every year in mid-September.

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