from the 2013 Houston Indie Book Festival
always a bit nervous before attending a book festival.
What will the weather be like? Where will our table be?
Who else is coming? Will people show up? Did we pack everything?
Do we have enough copies? Do we have too many? It can
be a little nerve-racking, even when we've been coming
to a particular book festival for years.
was our fifth trip to the Houston Indie Book Festival,
and I still get anxious in the days and moments leading
up to the event. This was especially true for this year
because there were a few major changes.
the way, this year is technically the sixth HIBF; however,
there's no record of the 2008 festival, which, if it was
smaller than the 2009 festival--our first year--it must
have been in someone's garage.)
longtime organizer Nano Fiction took a step back
and Gulf Coast took over all of the planning. Second,
the cost of one table climbed to $50. That's not much
in the grand scheme of things, but last year, we got two
tables for $35, and the year before, we got two tables
for free because we came down from Dallas. Third, the
book festival joined with the Menil Community Arts to
create the 2013 Menil Community Arts & Houston Indie
first concern about this year's festival was the weather.
Apparently, Houston is notorious for its bad weather,
but our experiences have always been pleasant, and this
year was no exception. The weather was perfect: sunny
and 72 degrees, with a slight breeze and almost no humidity.
Couldn't ask for anything better.
second concern was table size and placement. For the past
three years, the book festival has been on the grounds
of the fantastic Menil Museum, and for the past two years
our table has been in the sweetest spot, on the north
side of the museum, near the front doors (out of the sun).
arrived at the museum at the requested time, a little
before ten, and the place was already hopping with exhibitors
setting up their tables. We walked around, looking for
our table, and I noticed that there were no signs. As
I feared, it was first come first serve. One of the young
ladies from Gulf Coast told me it was 'pretty laid
back, just pick a table.' Luckily, there was one open
table on the north side, and we snagged it. But Robin
it's just me, but I would think half the fun of organizing
a festival would be arranging the exhibitors in a way
that would highlight every table.)
we had almost a full hour before the festival opened,
Robin and I set up the table in record time. It also helped
that Robin was not in a chatty mood. Still fuming about
the laissez-faire attitude toward setup, she ignored early
morning lookie-loos and our neighbors. In fact, she was
even more upset about our neighbors.
each exhibitor has one table. For some reason, the two
tables surrounding us were each shared by two exhibitors:
stage left was a table with two authors, one had a book
about travels in India and the other had a book about
immigration. The table on the other side was occupied
by an author who had a book about traveling in India and
a woman who made cool bookmarks.
one-book authors purchase a single table so they can spread
out and show their babies. Now, there's no reason not
to share a table, but these tables were small (six-foot)
so each exhibitor had three feet of real estate. Not only
that, but for eight hours, you are practically sitting
on top of someone you may not get along with, and you
have to fight with that person for customers. That's right,
as much as we'd like to think book festivals are kumbaya
get-togethers filled with touchy-feely book people, they
are competitions. Sure it's crass, but most people come
to book festivals with a set amount of cash to spend,
or at least an idea, and every dollar I take away from
a customer is one less dollar you get. Sharing a cramped
table with the competition doesn't make sense.
we got the table in order, Robin relaxed a bit and moved
into hostess mode. I, on the other hand, started getting
jumpy. I paced in front of the table. I fiddled with the
books. I bugged the kids. Finally, just before the official
opening of the festival, Robin told me to go find something
to do. So I decided to take Gabe to a record store.
only did the book festival fall on Gabe's birthday, but
it was also National Record Store Day. So, Gabe and I
walked down to Soundwaves, a surf/music store, to see
what they had. For the first thirty minutes we were gone,
Robin didn't talk to one person, but by the time we got
back, the festival was in full swing.
And the kids were hungry.
year, the food trucks were off the streets and in the
Menil parking lot, out of sight of the festival. This
was a brilliant move. They were close enough that everyone
could get to them, but we didn't have to listen to the
constant hum of their generators. And the selection was
excellent. Liv got a pulled pork sandwich, which she said
was like 'eating happiness.' Gabe got a Chicago dog, and
Robin got a grilled peanut butter and strawberry sandwich
from the Monster PB&J truck.
lunch, the kids and I went into the Menil to see if there
were any cool new collections. Unfortunately, there weren't.
And some of the pieces we have enjoyed in years past were
gone (either out on loan or back to their owners, I guess).
It was a bit of a letdown, but the pairing of the book
festival with the Menil Community Arts Festival wasn't.
entire day was filled with fun, artsy activities, all
of which were spelled out in their well-designed full-color
program. The Thomas Hulten Hot Viking Dixieland Band kicked
off the festival, and though I thought having a band near
our table would be a problem, Robin said the music was
great, not too loud, and pulled in a lot of people.
the Dixieland Band was not as popular as Writers in the
Schools. WITS, an organization that brings the love of
reading and writing to students, held their annual Young
Writers Reading in front of the Menil at noon, and the
place was packed with kids and their parents. Young writers
from all over Houston read their works. It was fantastic.
The kids were inspiring, and the crowd was enthusiastic.
It actually felt like a literary festival.
one issue was with the music at the end of the day. Around
three o'clock, a U-Haul truck started unloading drum cases
on the lawn in front of the museum doors. An hour and
a half later, line upon line percussion began playing
Hugues DuFourt's Erewhon.
was an impressive setup: six guys playing various bangable
instruments for over an hour. But it was six guys hitting
things for over an hour. At points, it was difficult
to talk to each other, much less the people who wanted
to learn more about us.
the day was a success. There was always a steady stream
of people, many who were happy to see us again, and lots
who were happy to see us for the first time.
was one particularly memorable festivalgoer. I was in
charge of the table while Robin and Liv walked around,
and a spry young lady approached and asked about The
First Line. Her eyes lit up when I explained what
we did and she said, "We used to do that all the
time in school." She went on to explain that her
teachers would pull phrases from a popular book of the
time and have the students write stories that started
with those phrases (she thought it was called Farthingale
Books, back in the 1920s and 30s).
remembers one particular writing assignment in the fourth
grade. Her teacher wrote on the board "Little dog
laughed." It was a reference to the famous poem "Hey
Diddle Diddle," but she didn't get the reference,
and while most of her classmates wrote a story about a
laughing dog, she wrote a story about an Indian boy named
Little Dog and why he laughed.
loved it. That's what The First Line is about.
Our favorite stories are the ones where someone sees something
unexpected in the first line and runs with it. It's those
moments, talking about writing with people, that make
book festivals fun for me.
also had fun checking out the other exhibitors. The press
has been doing well this year, so I decided to take some
of our profits (ha!) and pump them back into the community.
I started with the CLMP table, but I noticed it wasn't
as stocked as it had been in previous years. Sure, they
had two tables full of literary journals for $2 and $3
each, but the selection was limited to several issues
of a few bigger-named journals. I don't know if it's because
smaller journals are dying out or because they realize
sending free samples for the CLMP to sell doesn't really
do much for their publications.
was happy to see a brand new indie journal, Houston
& Nomadic Voices. This was their first issue,
so I snagged a copy. I also bought a copy of the Houston
Zine Fest publication (and left them a copy of Bookstores
and Baseball). I bought some zines from Encyclopedia
Destructica. Jasdeep Khaira, a book artist based out of
Pittsburgh, runs the press, and she came down for the
of the presses and journals that were here last year didn't
come back, and Domy books, which has always been a mainstay
at this festival, was absent, though we were told they
are going through some changes (including closing down
their Austin store).
did get to meet the editor of the other indie literary
journal in Dallas, Carve. Matthew Limpede came
down for the festival to sell some issues of the print
edition of his magazine. We didn't get a chance to talk
until we were packing up, but among the things we discussed
was setting up something like this in Dallas. Maybe someday.
how did we do? We did well, thanks to everyone who came
out. After expenses (gas, hotel, and food), we came out
seventy-five dollars ahead. Of course, if you count the
money spent on the press stuff (book printing, author
royalties, and advertising), we lost a few dollars. But
that's why we don't count that stuff. It helps us feel
better about our choices in life.
Click a thumbnail to see
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from the 2012 Houston Indie Book Festival
Indie Book Festival came to a close, I commented to
Robin that we might not be back for a few years. You see,
there comes a time in every book festival adventure when
you realize you may have overstayed your welcome, when you've
been so many times, you are no longer new and interesting.
Everybody knows your name and sales plummet. We've seen
it happen at the Decatur Book Festival and our own "hometown"
Texas Book Festival. But I always thought the HIBF would
be a yearly fixture for us, until we started packing up,
and I realized it might be time to take a break.
let's begin at the beginning . . .
were happy to learn that this year's HIBF fell on a weekend
that wasn't crowded with events (for one, we were able to
get a hotel close to the Menil). Also, I was excited to
see the organizers (NANO
Fiction and Gulf
Coast) expand the festival. This year, they included
some children's activities and writers' panels, and I was
invited to participate in a discussion of self-publishing.
arrived at the Menil an hour before the festival's planned
opening time, and people were already set up. We found our
tables in the same spot as last year - north side of the
museum near the front doors - though this year we were bookended
by Houston Poets and the Houston Public Library. Other tables
on our side of the museum included a few children's book
authors, the CLMP table, a tea vendor, and a crepe maker.
was small children's tent set up on the lawn near the CLMP
table, and throughout the day, one of the volunteers would
come by the table and ask Olivia if she would like to participate
in the activities. Olivia felt she was a little too old
for the tent, so she politely declined the invitations.
took our time setting up the tables, and then Olivia and
I abandoned Gabe and Robin for the museum. Always a joy
to visit, the Menil has some excellent permanent pieces,
and it usually has a new collection or two that's fun to
explore. (The room of Danny Lyon photos was excellent, but
the Richard Serra drawing retrospective was discouragingly
we came out of the museum, we took a walk through the festival.
There were about two dozen exhibitors set up on the east
and south sides of the museum. Interestingly, the tables
were set facing each other, like they were two years ago.
It put a lot of people in the sun for the first few hours
of the day, and it made the walkway between the exhibitors
a little difficult to navigate during the height of the
afternoon. I know there's a reason the museum doesn't allow
the festival to ring the building with tables, I just can't
remember what it is, but it would be nice to allow the festival
to spread out to the other half of the building. The west
side of the museum is shaded by some nice trees, so the
afternoon sun wouldn't be an issue.
of the weather, it was another perfect day for a festival:
partly sunny and not too hot. It was a little windy in the
early afternoon, and I know that caused some problems for
exhibitors on the south and east sides of the building,
but us northerners were protected from the wind and sun.
and I got back to the table in time to get something for
lunch. Last year, I spent over forty-five minutes trying
to find a parking space after lunch. This year, I warned
the kids that we were not leaving the festival. We brought
snacks and drinks, but luckily, everyone was able to find
something from the food trucks: the girls had some fantastic
pocket pies and Gabe had an Asian-inspired hot dog. I don't
eat before presenting in front of a live audience, so I
just watered up and headed over to the panel/reading tent.
Call was the moderator of our discussion. For thirty
minutes, an indie author (Missy
Jane), a writer and small press publisher (Brian
Allen Carr), and I talked about what it's like to publish
with a small press. I was afraid no one would show up, but
a few minutes into the talk, the tent was almost full.
think it went well. It was interesting to hear similar stories
from the other panelists, and there were some good questions
from the audience. (I'll admit I was nervous; at one point
I didn't hold the microphone close enough to my mouth and
I was talking to myself, but Olivia said I did okay after
that.) Overall, it was a great experience and a nice addition
to the festival.
the panel discussion, I spotted Robin for thirty minutes
at the table while she took a break and walked around the
festival. It usually takes me a bit to warm up when I'm
behind the table. Robin slides into salesperson/hostess
mode so easily, and as I've said before, I just want to
give everything away, so my seeming aloofness is just my
internal struggle to not succumb to my desire to hand out
free books. But after Robin left, a guy was walking by the
table with his friend and he stopped and said: "Hey!
The First Line. I know you guys. I saw a display
of your books in a bookstore in Boise this summer."
Park Books," I said, excited by the connection. We
proceeded to talk for a few minutes about Boise (his girlfriend
is going to the school I escaped from, but that's another
Robin returned, I bugged out to talk to some exhibitors.
Earlier in the day, I had introduced myself to David Duhr.
David (with Justine Tal Goldberg) runs Austin's Write
By Night, and he and I had shared book review space
in the Dallas Morning News the week before. I also
went by to trade journals with the editor of Unstuck,
the new literary journal out of Austin, and I dropped by
Slough Press to say hey to Dr. Taylor.
in the afternoon, I went to hear a panel (also moderated
by Ryan) of several lit mag editors discussing the submission
process. After the panel, I headed back to the table and
hung out with the kids for the last hour of the day.
4:30, people started packing up. We were in no rush to get
anywhere, so even though the crowd had thinned considerably,
we stuck around until the bitter end.
filled me in on the rest of her day. She told me how easy
our new credit card swiper was. Before we came to the festival,
we learned that our bank had started charging a hefty fee
to rent credit card machines. We found a credit card reader
that attaches to your phone and doesn't have any monthly
fees. I saw several exhibitors using phone swipers this
year. Robin said it was perfect.
also told me about the interesting and creative people she
met, like the girls with henna tattoos and hula hoops and
Lee Steiner from Domestic
Papers. She told me about the couple who came by last
year and purchased a copy of our Bookstores and Baseball
zine to give to their son. A Mets' fan living in LA, he
used our zine as a travel guide while he drove from California
to NY to see the Mets play. They showed up to the festival
this year and were excited to find we had two new issues
of the zine out and bought them for their son. She also
told me about how much Literary Bling she sold. She had
a great day.
as we were packing up, I noticed something was wrong - there
were a lot of books left on the racks. Normally, at this
event, we can count on running out of several issues of
TFL and WW!, and though we did leave with
less than what we brought, it wasn't much less.
didn't make as much money as we usually do; in fact, if
it weren't for Robin's jewelry, we would have done significantly
worse. I was sure we had overstayed our welcome.
Robin was quick to point out that it just didn't feel like
a lot of people came out today. She had time to sit down
and talk to Gabe. She never felt like she was ignoring one
person while she was helping another. And for the first
time since the first year we showed up, she even had a few
moments to eat lunch.
counted our postcards, and we handed out a little more than
100, less than half of what we handed out last year, and
a third of what we handed out the year before that. And
then I looked through Olivia's pictures. She snapped some
shots of the festival throughout the day. Other than the
early afternoon, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming
number of people at this year's festival, at least through
it wasn't us. Maybe it was just an off day. We'll just have
to go back next year and see.