2010 AJC - Decatur Book Festival
dreading the thirteen-hour drive, and last year's dismal
showing (pulling in less than $200), I was looking forward
to attending our second Decatur Book Festival.
as "The Largest Independent Book Festival in the Nation,"
the DBF actually ranks sixth in size from this exhibitor's
point of view (see list below).
course, we haven't been to the top five, yet (we were hoping
to make it to Tucson this year, but Arizona tax laws are
confusing, and exhibitors aren't allowed in DC), so I can't
compare the DBF to the other big festivals. But, in my opinion,
if you want to know how to run a book festival, come visit
Decatur during Labor Day weekend.
organizers really love their festival. It's apparent in
the preparation and the presentation. And though a few of
the organizers and volunteers were, at times, a little tightly
wound, a gentle jest was all that was needed to break the
tension. (It's okay to be stressed, but it's a festival,
people. Have some fun.)
the preparation in the world can't create the perfect festival;
it also helps to have beautiful weather. The weekend was
sunny, with temps in the mid-80s and a nice, but infrequent,
breeze. And though the Atlanta area also hosts DragonCon
on the same weekend (we even had our own little patrol of
stormtroopers and Jedi knights parade by on Sunday), people
packed downtown Decatur. Whereas last year, we could go
an hour or more without someone stopping by the booth, we
saw a healthy, continuous flow of customers this year.
the increased traffic translate into more cash? Yes. Was
it enough? No. Do we care? Not really.
let's talk location. We were in the same booth as last year,
what I felt was prime real estate next to the food (though
the booths on Ponce de Leon did benefit from the shade trees).
Our neighbors were the Jewish Believers in Jesus (again)
and Agnes Scott College. Charis Bookstore and someone selling
jewelry were directly across from us.
didn't hear much from Agnes Scott on Saturday, but they
got rowdy on Sunday. Don't know what the excitement was
all about, but they were having fun.
Jewish Believers in Jesus were nice. A daughter of one of
the exhibitors set up a face painting table, and there was
usually a line five kids deep waiting to be transformed
into a butterfly or Spiderman. Although you would think
the parental spillover would be good for us, it wasn't our
crowd. The JBJs did a good job of making sure the parents
didn't line up in front of our booth.
crowds on Saturday were excellent, but it made it difficult
for me to check on the other booths or attend any readings.
I did get to walk around some, but I never had the chance
to stop and chat. Robin did stop by and talk with the fine
folks at Five
Points literary journal, and she took the kids to see
their new favorite author (Dr.
Cuthbert Soup), but they didn't care to see anyone else.
were brisk on Saturday. We were new for most people, but
a surprisingly large number of people not only knew of us,
they had submitted stories before.
help draw people in, Robin made some earrings out of old
travel Scrabble tiles and PEZ. The display did attract attention
(mostly from the younger set), and she sold several pairs.
But the biggest draw to our booth was Overtime 4. Inconspicuously
sitting among the other Overtimes, Tyler McMahon's
story "A Pocket Guide to Male Prostitution" caught
the attention of more than a couple of passersby. It was,
in fact, our biggest seller (one copy was even stolen by
a young reader).
closed up the booth Saturday evening, tired but happy. Though
we hadn't sold as much as we hoped, we had already surpassed
last year's take.
began as another beautiful day, and the crowds were out
early. The festival was supposed to "open" at
noon, but we had people perusing our books before we even
had a chance to set everything up.
nothing. For a full hour, people passed by the booth, but
no one stopped. I was ready to pack up and head home, but
a curious thing happened. An older gentleman, carrying a
funnel cake, stopped in front of our booth, looked us over,
and asked Robin to explain who we were. Robin put on her
salesperson smile and launched into her spiel. (My daughter
once asked, "Don't you get tired of saying the same
thing all day long?")
she finished, the potential customer nodded, paused for
a moment, then asked in a condescending tone if she felt
electronic publishing was the biggest thing since the invention
of the Gutenberg press.
was my cue to jump in. Robin will talk to most anyone. She
will listen sympathetically to beginning writers talk about
their unfinished plots, and she will pin a button on a homeless
man while he tells her his life story. What she doesn't
tolerate are haters - holier-than-thou types who feel the
need to criticize and tear down especially when they have
a captured audience.
on the other hand, love to hate the haters, so I tagged
a thankful Robin, and dove into the ring.
the next forty-five minutes, this gentleman and I discussed
everything from literature to religion to Decatur's secret
societies, all while he slowly ate his funnel cake. And
though I felt like I was defending my master's thesis, the
conversation was interesting and genial. In the end, he
bought one copy of The First Line and an Overtime.
A small four-dollar victory.
while all of this was going on, managed to sell quite a
bit more. Either our friend made other people feel comfortable
approaching our booth, or the crowds had finally picked
up. Whatever the cause, we didn't sit down for the rest
of the day.
the end, we almost made enough money to cover the cost of
the booth. Not a lot, but it was more than double last year's
take. Part of it is our fault. We sold a good number of
books - over sixty TFLs, forty WW!s, and twenty
Overtimes - we just don't charge a lot.
has never been about making money. It's about getting good
writing out there to people who wouldn't ordinarily pick
up a literary magazine. It's about creating readers.
of the oddest questions we heard was: "Who can read
this?" Amazingly, we heard this several times, as if
people had been told by other exhibitors they weren't allowed
to read their books. Or maybe because we had a sign up that
read, in part, "Literary Journals," they felt
they wouldn't find anything they would enjoy or relate to.
good friend of mine once said to me: "Literature is
what you read because you have to. Fiction is what you read
because you want to."
what we call ourselves (or what others may call us), what
we publish should be for everyone, and if we can get a few
literary or fiction readers, or even 'nonreaders', to give
our writers a chance, we're happy.
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a larger picture.
just how much does it cost for a booth at the top book festivals?
I'm glad you asked. I happen to have the numbers right here
for 2010. Some are excellent deals. These are just the costs
for a booth or table. Most festivals charge $100 - $200
extra for electricity. Extra tables, chairs, corner positions,
and late registration also will cost you more. (Attendee
numbers are stolen from the BIO5 Institute at the University
of Arizona. The rankings are my own.)
Miami Book Festival International
(returning vendors): $500 for a 12'x12' booth
with 3 tables | $300 for half a booth with 2
Normal: $650 for a 12'x12' booth with 3 tables
$400 for half a booth with 2 tables
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
for a 10'x10' covered space with 1 table
$2,300 for a 10'x20' covered space with 2 tables
National Book Festival
exhibitors allowed (shouldn't really be ranked)
Chicago's Printers Row
for 1 8'x30" uncovered table
$500 for 2 8'x30" uncovered tables
$800 ¼ 20'x20' tent with 2 tables
$1350 ½ 20'x20' tent with 4 tables
$2300 full 20'x20' tent with 8 tables
Tucson Festival of Books
$400 for a 10'x10' booth with 1 table
Normal: $500 for a 10'x10' booth with 1 table
AJC Decatur Book Festival
for a 10'x10' booth with 1 table
Brooklyn Heights Book Festival
for 1 uncovered table
$400 for a 10'x10' covered space with 1 table
Texas Book Festival
$600 for a 10'x10' booth with 1 table
Normal: $725 for a 10'x10' booth with 1 table
Philadelphia Book Festival
for a 10'x10' covered space with 1 table
Louisiana Book Festival
festival canceled (no state funds)
2010 Texas Book Festival Update - June 1
we missed the deadline for early registration for the Texas
Book Festival. Not by choice, mind you.
standard fee for a table at the TBF is an outrageous $725.
However, if you get your application in by June 1, the price
goes down to an only absurd $600. We couldn't scrape together
the fee by the first, and we knew we would never be able
to come up with the "standard" fee, so we contacted
the organizers to see if we could work something out. Our
idea wasn't radical, and it could have made more money for
never heard from them.
I'm sure we'll receive an e-mail in Oct "reminding"
us of the great opportunity exhibiting at the TBF is (we
did last year because their numbers were down), but I'm
not paying the surreal $875 late fee.
can't figure out this festival. I believe they want to include
small presses, especially those from their own state, yet
they make it difficult to participate. I talked to several
publishers at the Houston festival who would love to show
up in Austin but can't afford the fee.
do offer a pretty good fee for nonprofit organizations ($375),
but that just means more historical societies and pet shelters
can grab booths. Small presses that can't get, or don't
want to be hampered by, nonprofit status, are left out of
TBF is mostly a corporate bookstore sponsored event. You
can only buy participating authors' books in the B&N
tents. There needs to be a fairer fee for small presses
who can't get their books in the B&N tents, but still
have something to offer to the literary landscape.
would think Texas is big enough for all of us.
2010 Houston Indie Book Festival
you follow our adventures on the book festival circuit,
you know how much we enjoyed last year's Houston Indie Book
Festival (and if you don't, just scroll down a bit and give
it a read).
year, the festival moved to The Menil Collection, a fantastic
art museum tucked away in a quaint neighborhood near the
University of St. Thomas. The festival was, again, sponsored/hosted
Fiction and Gulf
Coast, and they couldn't have done a better job.
year, maybe twenty small presses and bookstores from the
Houston area showed up. This year, over forty publishers,
magazines, and bookstores were on hand. It was the first
year they charged a fee for exhibitors -- $15 -- but, if
you traveled more than three hours to the event, your table
were all excited about returning to Houston, but it wouldn't
be a book festival if I didn't obsessively worry about something.
And this time it was the CLMP $2 Table.
don't get me wrong. I love the CLMP. The lit fair they hold
for Housing Works in NY is laudable. Publishers from all
over the country send the CLMP journals that they then sell
for two bucks a pop, with all of the proceeds going to Housing
Works -- a nonprofit that works with homeless people who
have AIDS. Nice, right?
$2 table is a fantastic idea (one that we've participated
in and have shamelessly borrowed). However, I didn't like
the idea of having to compete against that table at a book
festival. It's like inviting Wal-Mart to set up shop on
Main Street. Sure, it may bring customers, but if everyone
is spending money at their table, there's nothing left for
the rest of us.
disclosure: We are not members of the CLMP. They rejected
our application for membership when we were first starting
out. I won't go into the reason(s) here, but you would think
their mission would be to help new, small publications succeed.
Twelve years later, we're doing fine. I could reapply, but
there's really not much they can offer us that would justify
their annual fee. I'm not bitter. Really. [Why do I sound
like a jilted lover? We didn't even sleep together.])
was my only concern -- losing money to the CLMP. Usually
I worry about no one showing up (or those who do, passing
by with turned-up noses). But I've been around enough to
let the crowds, or lack thereof, go, and with a free table,
a great location, and the prospects of a sunny day hanging
out with like-minded people, I was still looking forward
to the trip.
arrived at the museum early Saturday morning, and a good
crowd of exhibitors were already setting up. Most of the
tables were placed on the east side of the museum, facing
a small neighborhood park. The sun was already beating down
on us, but in a few hours, it disappeared behind the museum.
found we'd been given two tables, and our location was fantastic.
We were on a corner that allowed traffic to pass freely
around us. Our neighbors consisted of a self-published author
on one side (it wasn't really his crowd, and he bugged out
a few hours into the festival), and across a makeshift walkway
was the Light of Islam Bookstore, which we found wonderfully
poetic (see the Decatur Book Festival write-up, below).
Facing us was a small bookstore from the Woodlands, the
local chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Glass
Mountain, the undergraduate lit journal from the University
had only planned for one table, so our usual M.A.S.H.-like
setup routine was thrown off. But the extra space was perfect.
We used it to spread out enough so Robin could help people
pick out books without having to reach over the tops of
the racks. We also used the space to hold our new credit
card machine (I'll get to that in a minute).
weather was beautiful (save for the floating clouds of pollen
-- seriously, it was like we were in some bad sci-fi movie)
and the crowds were surprising.
the moment we set up, until about 4:30, the place was packed.
The walkway between the rows of tables was a little cramped,
giving the festival a nice outdoor market feel. It also
made it seem like more people were there than may have actually
shown up. We usually gauge crowd size by the amount of postcards
we pass out. We brought 400 to the event, and we ran out
before three. Those are great numbers for a small festival.
(Those are great numbers for a mid-sized festival, to be
gauge is book sales. Using last year's numbers, I calculated
how many books, journals, and t-shirts to bring. I was overly
conservative, and that may have hurt us. We had sold most
of our copies of Workers Write! and Overtime
by two, and the newer TFLs were gone by three. This
year, we released a CD with all thirty episodes of TFL
on Tape. I brought five to the festival, thinking one or
two might sell. All five copies were gone by noon. (Though
the t-shirts received several kind comments, not one was
sold, but I only brought a few. Yea. Score one for me.)
was a great, laid-back atmosphere to this festival. The
crowd was young and friendly. Lots of people hung out at
the park or under the trees listening to local authors read
from their works. Last year, the readings were a little
distracting, from an exhibitor's point of view. But this
year, the reading area was behind us, which made it easy
to talk to the people who came by our table, and still allowed
us to listen in between customers.
really wanted to go around this year and chat it up with
some of the smaller presses, but our kids and the crowds
made it difficult.
is still at the age where she would like to be entertained
(maybe that's just a girl thing?), but Gabe was content
sitting in the shade listening to his music. Olivia and
I walked around the museum a couple of times. She loved
it, and though I had a great time, I was itching to get
back to help Robin or just walk around and visit with people.
the kids were occupied with themselves, the crowds were
so large, I didn't want to bug other exhibitors and get
in the way of potentially paying customers. There was really
no downtime. (I did get a chance to talk with Chuck Taylor
Press. A professor at Texas A&M who started a small
press almost forty years ago, Dr. Taylor had submitted some
writing to us over the past year. It was nice to finally
meet him and share stories.)
each book festival, we try to shake things up to help sales.
We kept it simple for this festival; however, we did finally
spring for a credit card machine. It was actually easier
than I thought -- cheaper, too, because we didn't buy the
machine, we just rented it. And, because electricity wasn't
available, we sprung for a portable battery, which worked
perfectly. (Most book festivals charge between $100 and
$150 extra, if you would like electricity in your booth.
The battery was eighty bucks, and we should be able to use
it for a few years.)
was so happy to have the machine -- she didn't have to turn
away anyone (well, except for the guy who asked her to break
a hundred dollar bill), and the machine paid for itself.
how did we do? We did so well, we made enough money to cover
all of our expenses, with a little left over for some desert
at the House of Pies. We made more money in one day at a
"small" festival, than we've ever made at any
two-day "major" book festival.
From top to bottom, this is a great book festival. Even
if we hadn't made a dime, I would come every year just for
the atmosphere. Houston has a wonderfully vibrant literary
community, and even as this festival grows, I don't see
it losing its indie roots. We need more book festivals like
the way, I did buy a few $2 journals from the CLMP table.
I shop at Wal-Mart sometimes, too.
We're finalizing plans to attend the Texas Book Festival
this year. Much to our surprise, the festival was moved
up two weeks (Oct 16 - 17), which fits perfectly with our
schedule. (It is, after all, all about us.) We are also
trying, again, to participate in the festival other than
just as an exhibitor. The summer issue of TFL is
our 50th, and we wanted to celebrate that accomplishment
with the book festival. We've put in our application for
a session, but our track record hasn't been that good. We
will keep you up to date.
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a larger picture.
See more pictures at the offical
2009 AJC - Decatur Book Festival
a small press while raising young children is a fun but
challenging task. It seems the older the kids get, the harder
it is to just "flit away" to a weekend book festival.
We're fortunate to live close to several mid-sized festivals,
but traveling to LA or Miami, or even DC -- as much as we
would love to -- is becoming more and more difficult.
on the other hand, is just a day's drive, and with the Decatur
Book Festival falling on Labor Day Weekend, an affordable
booth fee, and a babysitter and a free place to stay (thanks,
sis!), we had another one of those 'Why not?' moments.
a long day's drive on Friday, David and I got up early Saturday
morning and headed over to Decatur. We arrived two hours
before the festival's official opening, and the organizers
get high marks for having volunteers on hand to help unload
our boxes and carry them to our tent. However, when we arrived
at our tent, we found only one table, and we had ordered
checked in at the exhibitor welcome tent to pick up our
information packet, and the volunteers were very apologetic
about the missing table.
starting setting up, but after an hour, we still looked
half moved in. Finally, a pickup truck carrying the missing
tables appeared, and we were up and running with minutes
the festivals we've attended, the DBF has been the best
in terms of layout. Decatur is a quaint Southern town, complete
with a courthouse on the square surrounded by shops, restaurants,
and the ever-present Starbucks. There's even a band-sized
gazebo that was used for readings during the festival.
exhibitors' tents were set up so that no matter which way
you approached the festival, you would encounter booksellers.
Unlike some festivals, where exhibitors are packed together
in one place, everyone had their own tent. Having your own
tent is great. You can make it a more intimate setting,
allowing people to walk in and browse through your books.
You can talk to people without the overwhelming noise of
the festival, but you could still chat with your fellow
exhibitors during the down times.
tent was in an excellent location, right next to the courthouse,
and a few feet from the food. However, our placement also
left us wondering about the festival organizers' sense of
humor. On our left were the Jewish Believers in Jesus, on
the right was an author who wrote a book about how his Jewish
mother hid from the Nazis during WWII by playing piano for
them, and directly across from us was the Buddhist tent,
covered in Tibetan prayer flags. (Muslims for the Messiah
were down a different road.)
festival kicked off at 10:00 with a small parade that marched
right by our tent, and then it promptly started to rain
-- sort of. (I overheard some say, 'It's just a spranklin.')
It spit on and off for about thirty minutes, but that didn't
stop the crowds from coming.
the first few hours, a steady stream of people passed by
our tent, most of them families with young children. We
made a couple of sales, and though the crowds picked up
a bit after lunch, not many people stopped to check us out.
the hopes of drawing people in, we ran a first line contest.
We asked festival-goers to bring us their original first
lines, and we would pick our favorite to be the first line
for the Spring 2010 issue. After the first day, we had just
a few entries. We also had free postcards that explained
who we were, and of the 1,000 we brought with us, less than
100 had been handed out. As for sales, they were weak, to
put it kindly.
was in a foul mood on Sunday, and I kicked him out of the
tent several times because he was pacing. He spent most
of the day wandering around the festival, checking out other
booths, and listening to children's authors, and I put him
in charge of getting books signed for friends, so that kept
crowds were surprisingly heavy on Sunday; however, I noticed
many familiar faces. Unfortunately, none of those repeat
festival-goers stopped by our booth. We did get more entries
for our contest, and sales picked up a little.
were told to pack up at 6:00 so the streets could be reopened
by 6:30. We boxed up our books and were in the car by 6:15.
Although we had to go find them, it was nice to have volunteers
help carry everything out for us. We had hoped to leave
with fewer boxes, but we were only down by one when all
was said and done.
DBF touts themselves as "the largest independent book
festival in the country," drawing an estimated 40,000
people. I was very impressed with the crowds, especially
since Atlanta was hosting several large events over the
weekend (DragonCon, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, NASCAR,
and Black Gay Pride).
afraid we lost the younger crowd to DragonCon, but it was
nice to see football fans wandering the festival in their
school colors before the big game (if being back in the
South wasn't bad enough, all that Alabama crimson and white
made me even more homesick).
main demographic of this festival, though, seemed to be
young stroller-pushing couples. I will say the festival
had an excellent turnout of children's authors like John
Scieska, Judy Schachner, Jarrett Krosoczka, and Kate Di
Camillo. And the kid's reading tent was always packed. With
the children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories, right
there on the square, and the bookseller for the children's
area, this festival could easily turn its focus to children
only, and I don't think the crowds would shrink much.
for the rest of the authors in attendance, we never ventured
to the young adult tent, but if you were a vampire-loving
book reader, you probably had a good time. The adult lineup
was okay, and David went to a few readings, which he enjoyed.
the end, we figured a little over 150 people stopped by
the tent, about half were interested in learning more about
us, and half of those people actually bought a book or journal.
We didn't make enough money to cover the cost of the table,
but we did receive over fifty entries to the first line
dearth of interested people was discouraging, but we are
beginning to realize that our press, which focuses on writers
(I mean, it says it right there in our tagline: 'Supporting
writers trapped in the daily grind'), may not be cut out
for mainstream book festivals. Sure, we attract wannabe
writers like flies at these events, but most of those people
have books they are trying to peddle. As for the average
book lover, they are satisfied with the used book tents,
and few read anything new or outside their comfort zones.
five of these under our belts, I knew what to expect, but
David was still hopeful (at least on Saturday). Despite
the monetary loss, I was glad we came. We're in only one
store in the Deep South (Criminal Records in Atlanta), so
this was a chance to at least spread the word about the
press. It was also the perfect excuse to go home and visit
family and old friends.
last note: Exhibitors, in general, are the stepchildren
of book festivals. We are tolerated, looked upon as a necessary
evil. Sponsors bring in authors, authors bring in the crowds,
and crowds bring in money. The money we bring in barely
covers the expense of housing and security. We are rarely,
if ever, thanked for participating.
most festivals, volunteers come by to see if we need water
and usually check in once during the weekend to see how
things are going. However, exhibitors are the last to find
out if and when there are changes in the schedule, and we
are sometimes left to our own devices when it comes to setting
up and closing down.
I would like to say this about the Decatur Book Festival:
In the months leading up to the event, the organizers were
very helpful, went out of their way to make sure we had
everything in order, communicated with us frequently, and
even spread the word about our contest. They had volunteers
on hand to help unload and load our boxes, and after we
got home, they sent out a survey, asking questions about
how to improve the exhibitor experience. That was an excellent
touch, one that more festivals should adopt.
they did a great job, and for that, they have our thanks.
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a larger picture. ____________________________________________________________________
2009 Houston Indie Book Festival
was looking forward to going home for this year's Alabama
Book Festival, but a confluence of personal and professional
obligations kept us away.
admit, I was a little disappointed. As much as I complain
about the suck on finances that is the Book Festival, I
do enjoy getting out of town, spreading the word about the
press, and meeting like-minded fools. Then I received an
e-mail from the CLMP about a one-day book festival down
in Houston - free for exhibitors.
contacted Sean, managing editor of Gulf Coast literary journal,
who, along with Domy Books and NANO Fiction, was sponsoring
the 2nd Annual Houston Indie Book Festival on Mother's Day.
were expecting five to eight presses, as well as five to
eight bookstores. Tables were free, and Sean suggested we
mark down our books to help encourage sales. We're already
a bargain, so we didn't need to cut prices. We sold TFL
at its regular price ($3), and we usually sell WW!
for five bucks at book festivals. This year, we wanted to
feature Overtime, but I decided to sell them for
two dollars instead of the low low price of a dollar a pop
(we should have gone with the dollar deal).
few days before the festival, I contacted Sean, just to
see if it was still a go. Houston was in the grip of the
recent flu scare, and I wondered how the city was reacting.
No sense making the trip, if everyone was staying home.
Sean told me the festival was on, and that they were now
expecting twenty-five exhibitors. Impressive.
got to Domy Books a little before ten, Sunday morning. Domy
reminds me of Atomic Books in Maryland - very cool, very
indie. It's in a cute neighborhood surrounded by quaint
houses, tattoo shops, clothing resale stores, and food marts.
Next door to Domy is Brasil, a wonderful restaurant.
we were one of the first exhibitors to arrive, Robin, in
all her redheaded splendor, was able to negotiate a table
in the shade. At first, I was a little upset about her choice,
but then I was already a little upset at the overall setup.
three sponsors of the event got prime tables in the front
yard of the bookstore. The rest of us were behind the store.
We occupied tables that surrounded the patio where customers
from Brasil dined on banana walnut waffles and iced coffees.
Robin snagged us a table on the far side of the patio. That
meant we were the last table festival goers would pass,
if they made it back that far.
out, it was one of the best spots. Most everyone else, especially
those sitting at the tables out front, spent the day melting
under the sun. With temps in the low 90s, those folks cooked.
Several exhibitors spent most of the time standing in the
shade across from their tables. We were hot, but we didn't
have to contend with the sun.
also were in the perfect spot for the entertainment. At
the top of every hour, local poets and writers regaled us
with their words. As an attendee, I would have liked to
hear readings every half hour; as a bookseller, the readings
put a crimp on sales because everyone politely stopped chatting
and handing over the cash while people were on stage.
did have one complaint about our placement. As much as I
loved having the book festival near a popular restaurant,
I was a bit annoyed with the birds, the flies, and the cigarette
smoke. Plates weren't cleaned off tables as quickly as they
should have been, and the crows and flies became tiresome.
festival lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though we started
packing up a little after four, and were on the road by
five (it is a four-hour trip home, and the kids had school
the next day).
had a great time. I spent most of the festival behind the
table. I had fun talking to the students from Rice's undergrad
lit journal, and I enjoyed meeting the people who were attracted
to this festival. I felt like we were in our element.
really wasn't a book festival to drag the kids to, but they
had fun shopping in the second-hand clothes stores, and
they spent a good amount of time in Brasil, eating and people
how did we do? Despite the fact that it was Mother's Day
and that there were so many other things to do in Houston
- the Rockets were in town for game four of their playoff
series with LA, the Astros were in the middle of a home
series with San Diego, and America's Got Talent was
holding auditions downtown - there was a nice size crowd
for this little-advertised event. If I had to guess, I'd
say about 200 people passed by our table. (We ran out of
writers' guidelines around three p.m., but we only brought
150.) Two hundred people came by in six and a half hours,
and we made $160.
was pleasantly surprised. Consider this: We made $160 dollars
in two days at Arkansas. And the Houston table was free.
year, there's talk of a venue change, and we may have to
pay a few bucks for our table. That's perfectly fine. This
is a good festival, and, given some time, it could become
a great festival. I'd love to be around to see that.
note: We received an exhibitor packet for the 2009 Miami
Book Fair. For the base price of $650 dollars, exhibitors
get their own 12' by 12' tent with three tables (it's only
$500 if you are a returning exhibitor), and you can expect
"hundreds of thousands of booklovers" to pass
by your tent.
comparison, the Texas Book Festival is still charging $600
dollars ($725 after June 1) for a 10' by 10' booth with
one table. You can hope thousands of people pass by your
booth in Austin.
everything is bigger in Texas.
yeah, to participate in the Miami festival, you have to
be a bookseller, sell book-related products, or promote
a literacy program. No travel agencies, news radio stations,
or animal shelters. Nice.
Click a thumbnail to see
a larger picture. ____________________________________________________________________
2008 Texas Book Festival
was no secret around the water cooler (and by water cooler,
I mean the Pur water filter attached to our kitchen sink),
that I was not looking forward to this year's Texas Book
Festival. Dreading would be the appropriate word.
aside my usual complaints (high table cost, low return,
away game football weekend), this year we were dealing with
a global recession, a contentious and historic national
election, and a striking lack of literary stars on the festival's
lineup. No one was paying attention, no one was going to
come, and the few who would show up wouldn't have any money
first of all, we already paid for the booth. In fact, in
order to get the 'discount' rate, we had to buy our booth
by June 1st, almost half a year before the festival, months
before the author lineup was announced. Waiting until September
would have cost us an extra $275 dollars. Not cool.
Robin loves the festival atmosphere. She enjoys standing
behind a table for eight hours in a sweltering tent, talking
to writers, readers, and other publishers. She really does
for the kids, any excuse to get out of town for the weekend
gets them excited. They don't care much about the book biz,
but they love to explore (more on that later).
usual, I was out voted; so, I sucked it up, and we headed
tried something new this year. Instead of coming in on Friday
night, we decided to get up early Saturday morning, drive
the three and a half hours from our house, and set up right
before the tents opened to the crowds.
did this for several reasons: it saved us $150 dollars for
an extra hotel night, and, more importantly, the night before
the festival was Halloween. Halloween is still a big deal
around our house. Dress up and free candy? Come on.
I wasn't worried about needing extra time to set up our
table. We've been to enough book festivals now that we can
get in, set up, and be ready to sell in under ten minutes.
We're like a MASH unit.
we got up Saturday morning and headed south, making it to
the festival with time to spare.
we unloaded the boxes, the kids and I left Robin to put
out the journals while we headed to the hospitality tent
to get our badges and some Krispy Kremes. It was a partly
cloudy morning, the temperature hovering in the sixties,
on its way to the low eighties for the afternoon. Both days,
in fact, were perfect. You couldn't ask for better weather.
for our tent and table location, I was pleasantly surprised.
We were right across from KLRU-TV, Austin's public television
station. On our right was the Austin Dog Alliance, and to
our left was the Texas State Library & Archives Commission.
Two tables down on the left was Hank the Cowdog, and two
tables to our right was the University of Texas Press. By
chance or by design, the organizers did an excellent job
placing selling booths next to information booths, allowing
some of the smaller presses the chance to been seen and
not get lost in the larger presses' shadows.
booths in our tent included: Texas Tech University Press,
Book Woman (an independent bookstore), Book TV on C-SPAN2,
and Cinco Puntos Press.
note: By my count, the festival was down 20 booths this
year, one full tent. At $600 dollars a booth, that's a shortage
of $12,000. Was this a reflection of the shrinking economy,
the lack of literary stars, or a statement on the high booth
cost? Does this mean it's going to cost even more to rent
a both next year?)
quick note about one of the presses. As we were setting
up, Robin struck up a conversation with Lee Byrd, co-publisher
and senior editor of Cinco
Puntos Press. Lee started the press, which publishes
"literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and books
for kids) from the U.S./Mexico border, Mexico and the American
Southwest," with her husband in 1985. Back in the early
days, they dragged their children to book festivals and
conferences. Now, their son, John, is the marketing director
and CFO of the press. Lee remarked that seeing us was like
looking at her past. We can only hope to be around as long
as Cinco Puntos.
the festival got under way, the kids and I left Robin at
the table and went to the capitol building to do some exploring.
We had a blast. We took a walking tour of the capitol; spent
two hours in the Capitol Visitors Center, housed in the
restored General Land Office building; and took silly pictures
of each other with the monuments.
lunch, Robin took the kids to see Laurie Keller, author
of The Scrambled State of America. In the three years
we've been to this festival, this was the first time Robin
stepped away from the table to go hear an author speak.
She missed Mo Willems last year (I won the coin flip), but
she wasn't going to miss Laurie. The Scrambled State
of America and Open Wide, Tooth School Inside,
are two of our favorite books.
was my turn at the table, and I was immediately impressed
by the crowds. Last year, we could go thirty minutes without
someone dropping by the booth. This year, the tents were
packed with people. At times, the aisles were so crowded,
no one moved. Unfortunately, many people never turned their
heads or stopped to look at any of the booths. They simply
shuffled along, eyes straight ahead, as if the tents just
happened to be in the way of their Saturday afternoon walk.
people did stop, and some remembered us from last year.
And some talked about what they were writing, and some actually
bought a few journals.
through table duties, though, I learned my first lesson
of the trip: I'm too old to get up at 3:30 in the morning,
drive three and a half hours, and man a booth at a book
festival. By 2:00, I hit the wall. I was exhausted. My legs
were killing me from walking around with the kids, but I
was afraid if I sat down, I'd fall asleep. I tried my hardest
to be 'shopkeeper pleasant,' but I felt terrible.
Robin and the kids returned before I collapsed, and I took
the kids to check into the hotel. I was able to get some
rest before we returned to get Robin at the end of the day.
felt much better on Sunday (having an extra hour to sleep
because of the time change didn't hurt), and after a few
more donuts, the kids and I went to explore downtown Austin
and ended up at the Texas State Museum. Though not a native
Texan (only Olivia can make that claim), I was impressed
with the museum. Three floors of interactive history kept
me and the kids busy for several hours. (Yes, we are a family
of history geeks.)
had fun at the booth, as usual. The crowd wasn't as large
as Saturday's, but it was still respectable. The day passed
quickly, and we were packed and on the road home by five
couple of quick observations:
festival volunteers did an excellent job this year coming
around with water and cookies and just to check on us to
see if everything was all right. That said, the festival
organizers misspelled our name on our sign, which we luckily
realized before the festival started (see photo below).
love book festival posters, but I'm beginning to think the
Texas Book Festival prides itself on creating posters that
have little to do with books. Last year's poster, a picture
of cowboys crossing a river, was a nod to Lonesome Dove,
I think. But this year's poster was an abstract painting
of flowers. I missed the significance of that. (Though I
will admit their t-shirts were much better this year.)
crowd was, for the most part, pleasant. Fortunately, there
was a lack of grumpy old men this year. Usually, we can
count on three or four retired professor types who, unsatisfied
with their lot in life, feel the need to tear down other
people. It is no fun standing idly by while these characters
make all types of barnyard noises as they leaf through the
pages of our journal. This is why I am no good behind the
table. In these situations, Robin remains disarmingly pleasant
and charming, while I have a hard time stifling the urge
to hop the table and beat them about the head and shoulders
with our cash box.
what we lacked in ivory tower pomp, we more than made up
for with young punk ignorance. Too often, during my short
stints at the table, I observed college students pick up
literary journals they had never heard of and immediately
flip to the back or straight to the contributors page to
see if they recognized any of writers. One person actually
remarked to a friend: "I've never heard of any of these
people," before putting the journal back down. Never
mind the fact that the journal has been around for thirty
years, this guy - a kid whose reading level is a just few
years removed from Hop on Pop - didn't recognize
any of the writers, so he dismissed the entire collection
as unworthy of his time. Brilliant.
enough of the rants. Let's get to the big questions:
this worth it? Monetarily: No. Last year, we put everything
on sale. Few people showed up, but they bought more journals.
This year, we decided that we would keep everything priced
as is (which, to be honest, is still very cheap). We didn't
sell as many journals as the year before, but we made the
same amount of money, which was discouraging because, as
I noted earlier, more people came through the tents this
year. The only reason we didn't lose as much money as the
year before was because we only stayed one night in town.
we have fun? The kids and I had a great time - away from
the festival. Robin enjoyed working the booth, but she is
weird that way.
we go back? Probably not for a few years. I'm looking forward
to heading home to Alabama for their book festival in April,
and I'm trying to convince the family to head out to Georgia
for the Decatur Book Festival next fall. With family and
friends in both places, we should be able to save money
on lodging, and added together, booths at both festivals
still cost less than one booth in Austin.
Click a thumbnail to see
a larger picture. ____________________________________________________________________
2008 Arkansas Literary Festival
we told people we were going to the Arkansas Literary Festival,
the most common response was: "Why?"
we explained why - a chance to spread the word, sell some
books, meet some new people - the next question we heard
was: "Yeah, but why Arkansas?"
It's close. Little Rock is only five hours away. Two: It's
reasonably priced. The cost for a table was $170. With hotel,
food, and gas, we were looking at spending six to seven
hundred dollars (that's the cost of just the table at our
own book festival). We could make that back. Right?
got to Little Rock Friday evening, around five. It was too
late to set up our table (inexplicably, hours for setup
were between 2:00 and 4:00), but we had plenty of time to
set up in the morning.
exhibitors were located in an outdoor pavilion behind the
River Market, which normally has a great view of the river
and North Little Rock, but they had to keep the canvas walls
up because it was windy and so brutally cold.
actual table itself was a little beat up. The festival didn't
provide covers, and we thought about bringing one, but I
told Robin we would be fine. We cover most of our table
with books anyway.
I didn't know the table would be so old. When one of the
event organizers said, "Oh, you didn't bring a cover?"
Robin responded (a little briskly, she's quick to admit),
"We though the tables would be from this century."
Luckily, we had a piece of blue fabric and our sign to help
make our table look presentable.
addition to our normal display of books, journals, and t-shirts,
we added a newish feature to our table for this festival.
we went to the Texas Book Festival last fall, I brought
a box of literary journals I had collected over the years.
I put the box out with a sign advertising them for three
bucks a piece, and almost all of them sold. The box did
exactly what I hoped. It pulled in the casual viewer, who,
after seeing the great price, would buy a copy or two, and
then, oftentimes, pick up a copy of The First Line.
Arkansas, I wanted to do it up right, so I contacted about
thirty editors of my favorite journals (independent presses
only), and asked them if they would be interested in donating
extra copies. I told them I would sell them for two dollars
a piece, and the proceeds would go to the Arkansas Literacy
Foundation. Lit(erature) for Lit(eracy), we called it. (Cheesy,
sure, but effective.)
the way, yes, I stole the idea from a certain organization,
a 'council,' if you will. However, I didn't charge any of
the journal editors ten to thirty dollars for the privilege
of sitting on our table.)
the response from the editors was better than I expected.
We received over 100 issues of some excellent journals.
It just goes to prove my assumption that if we could, most
editors would give our publications away for free (just
ask Fence magazine).
for Lit(eracy) did pretty good, considering the crowd was
so light. Most people who stopped by to look already knew
about many of the journals on display, and I had fun selling
some of the lesser-known publications.
the first hour of the festival, only a few people entered
the pavilion, and I sold only two literary journals. After
that, Robin took over while I took the kids to one of the
featured children's writer's reading.
for the exhibitors, the reading venues were held in several
different locations (the historical museum, the main library,
and a book store) several blocks away from the River Market
pavilion. A few of the authors came by our booth on their
time off, but if you didn't look at a schedule, you wouldn't
have known there were readings.
the rest of the day, Robin and I alternated working the
booth - the morning was really slow, but the afternoon picked
up. We weren't sure if it was the weather, the location,
or the lack of local enthusiasm. I heard that last year,
the festival coincided with the opening of the Farmer's
Market, and there were people standing in line to get into
the book festival pavilion. There seemed to be a smaller
version of the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, but
no one was waiting to get into the book festival.
usual, we scared some people. We got more than a few puzzled
looks followed by my favorite question: "What's this
about?" It's fun to watch the faces go from skeptical
to pleasantly surprised after I do our spiel, and it's even
better when we make a sale. Every once in a while, someone
would come by and say, "I know you guys," and
I'll admit it, that's a bit of a thrill.
neighbors on the right and left were an author self-promoting
her book and a local writer's group, respectively. A couple
across the aisle from us created personalized children's
books, and next to them, an elderly couple sold used books
for a community center. Directly behind us was another writer
selling his book. He shared with us that he wasn't selling
much either, and he decided not to come back on Sunday.
In fact, several exhibitors didn't return on Sunday, and
one - a book publisher - left after two hours.
was great to see Oxford Magazine at the table behind
us. They seemed to be doing okay - they were offering back
issues at three for ten dollars, which was a great deal
- and we talked with the people from the University of Arkansas
Press for a bit, but I don't know how well they did.
the end, we made a little over one hundred dollars on Saturday,
which I thought was great for such a slow day.
last note about Saturday: We wanted to attend Pub or Perish
on Saturday night - it was billed as a reading of festival
authors with some open mic time. Robin planned to read a
short story from the spring issue, but the venue changed.
Instead of taking place in the Peabody hotel, it was moved
to Sticky Fingerz, a restaurant/bar next to our hotel. Known
for their chicken fingers, the kids and I were excited,
until we stopped by to check it out and learned that no
one under 21 was allowed because of the smoking ordinance.
Robin called the person in charge of the event, asked the
manager at Sticky Fingers, and even asked the head honchos
at the festival, only to be told that they hadn't really
thought about the ordinance. In the end, they all apologized
but said: no dice for anyone under 21. For such an fun event,
it seemed like very poor planning.
say Sunday was slow would imply there was some movement.
We sold thirty dollars worth of merchandise in four and
a half hours - and six dollars of that was from a return
customer (a young lady who came back to buy a couple of
wasn't as cold as Saturday, but I think the lack of events
(only a few author-led groups and NO children's activities
or author readings), and the fact that the few events they
did have were several blocks away, kept people away.
spent the entire time at the booth, which allowed Robin
to take the kids to the Clinton Museum and go on a tour
of old town Little Rock. They actually had a great time.
highlight of my day was when John Vanderslice dropped by.
John is an assistant professor of writing at the University
of Central Arkansas. We've published two of his stories,
including "Proof," which was included in our current
anthology. John came down to moderate one of the Sunday
events, and he dropped by the table. It was nice to meet
one of our writers.
were supposed to stay until five, but by four, half the
exhibitors had started to pack up. We joined them at four
thirty, and we were in the car, heading back to Texas by
we have fun? I had a great time at Kimberly Willis Holt's
reading; although, I would have liked to have seen another
children's author or two. The festival organizers were very
friendly and helpful, our fellow exhibitors were nice and
fun to talk with, and it was great to get out of the state,
even for just a weekend.
it worth it? We spent a little over six hundred dollars
on this festival. We ended up selling $160 dollars worth
of merchandise, which included the fifteen Lit(erature)
for Lit(eracy) journals we sold. That put a hurt on the
old bank account.
we go back? There was a rumor floating around that the next
year's festival will be run by the library. It would be
interesting to see the differences, but I'd like to give
them a year to iron out the kinks before we come back. Besides,
several other states hold their book festivals in April.
So, next year, we'll probably drag the kids somewhere else.
Click a thumbnail to see
a larger picture. ____________________________________________________________________
2007 Texas Book Festival
we survived our second Texas Book Festival. I don't mean
that to sound bad, but as I've mention before, I was hesitant
to spend the time, effort, and especially money on an enterprise
that seemed to be light on return. Sure, we did our part
to raise money for Texas libraries and the kids and I really
enjoyed attending the free readings and activities, but
as an exhibitor, let's just say, there were flaws.
Attendee's Point of View (David and the kids)
let's start with the positives. As festival attendees, there
was very little to complain about. Sure, there weren't as
many big names as in the past (Obama and Amy Sedaris last
year, Clinton and Daniel Handler - Lemony Snicket - two
years before), but there were plenty of authors to suit
differing tastes, and the children's author selection was
weather was incredible. Mid-70s on Saturday, and I think
it made it to the 80s on Sunday, with a light breeze. People
were out on the grounds of the Capital, lounging in the
grass, listening to the bands, reading books, and eating
corn dogs - it was a gorgeous weekend.
Olivia, and I got to meet several authors:
Gore (Author of Sammy's Hill, Futurama writer
- She's a smart funny writer and is hot? Sorry Tina Fey,
you just moved down a spot on my list.)
Kinney (Author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Gabe read
the book waiting to get it signed and couldn't stop laughing.)
Willems (Author of Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle
Bunny Too - Best reading of the festival. Seriously,
I've got the tape to prove it.)
Cook (Author of Hey Batter, Batter Swing! - She
called Gabe a "crank." He was touched.)
Kidd (Author of the Young Jack Sparrow young adult
novel series - Gabe and I were interested, Olivia wanted
to abandon ship.)
made crafts in the children's activities tent, learned some
magic tricks, ate junk food, and played football on the
I was impressed with how the festival was run. The volunteers
were courteous and prepared. We had a great time.
Exhibitor's Point of View (Robin)
first of all, who plans a book festival on the same weekend
as the Komen Race for the Cure? But we'll get to that in
arrived Friday afternoon to set up and were pleasantly surprised
with our location. We were in tent 400, right next to the
Texas A&M Press tent, near the Entertainment tent, with
easy access to the street. Our booth was between a one-book
author and the Texas General Land Office.
arrived early Saturday morning to finish setting up, and
then we waited for the crowds to show. Last year, we were
so busy, I didn't get a chance to sit down for the first
four hours, and we brought a friend along to help. In fact,
I was so swamped with inquiring minds last year, I didn't
have a chance to relax the entire festival.
year, the tent was noticeably empty. People wandered in
and out, but very few stopped by any of the booths Saturday
morning; we didn't sell anything until 10:30. (Last year,
our first sale was at 8:30 - thirty minutes before we we
were technically open.)
estimates from the organizers put the festival's attendance
at 40,000 - about the same as last year. Maybe, but 40,000
people didn't come through the exhibitors' tents.
who did were, for the most part, supportive and kind. We
still got a lot of double takes, not as many as last year,
but the most oft spoken comment we heard after we were asked
to give our spiel was: "How cool."
had writers, readers, booksellers, and editors drop by and
say hi. We even had an author drop by and visit who we had
rejected but who was able to sell the story to another magazine.
I had a great time talking to everyone. Even David, who,
as a general rule, doesn't like people, admitted to having
fun during the twenty minutes he was in charge of the booth.
neighbors were nice. On Saturday, one of the men at the
Texas General Land Office booth bought a copy of The First
Line to read during the lulls. He liked it so much, he bought
several more issues on Sunday. That right there made the
entire weekend worth it.
we satisfied with the festival organizers? For the most
part, yes. We enjoyed the donuts and cookies. Communication
could have been better. The tents were supposed to be closed
at 5:00 on Saturday, but the festival organizers decided
to keep them open until 6:00 because of a concert on the
Capital steps. We weren't told. At least not anyone at our
end of the tent - and we were right next to the organizers'
tent. We heard about it from another exhibitor, but they
thought it was a rumor. I had to go ask the organizers if
it was true. Someone should have sent a volunteer around
to tell us.
did the festival start so late on Sunday (11 instead of
10 the year before)? Was it because the Komen Race for the
Cure? It was cool to watch the race wind through the city
streets from our hotel room Sunday morning; it was a nightmare
to try to get to our booth with most of the streets surrounding
the festival closed off. We had to break several traffic
laws and cross a couple of barriers just to get to the festival
in time to set up. Terrible planning.
the way, Austin is a football town. Why is this not in the
in Texas is a great time to have an outdoor book festival.
However, you don't expect it to be in the high 70s / low
80s. By 4:00, the inside of the tent was stifling. It didn't
help that there were huge lights in our tent, adding more
heat to the mix.
the organizers can't control the weather, but they can try
to make the tents more comfortable. By Sunday afternoon,
it got so hot, some exhibitors were pulling out fans and
raising the sides of the tent to let in air. We did appreciate
that the volunteers came by every once and a while with
cold water. That was nice.
we make money? No. This is an expensive book festival for
a small press to attend, especially in relation to the costs
and number of people who attend the bigger festivals (LA,
Miami, and Chicago). Last year we sold enough to cover half
our costs. This year, the festival costs rose, but we made
only half last year's number. (Was attendance down or was
it that the same people showed up as last year, and they
already had our books?)
compared to most of our neighbors, we did great. We had
a small but steady stream of people file by. Some of our
neighbors went thirty minutes without anyone stopping just
to chat. (Surprisingly, the Texas General Land Office, which
sold maps, seemed to do great business. I was amazed at
the number of people who bought maps.)
just my two cents, but they need a better - fairer - pricing
structure. I know some festivals charge lower rates for
small presses and individual authors, and some charge lower
rates across the board, but ask for ten percent of the sales.
True exhibitors, like the Texas Folklore Society and one-book
authors, shouldn't have to pay as much as a small press,
and a small press shouldn't have to pay as much as a university
press or an independent bookstore. At least this year, the
festival allowed people to share a booth.
Barnes and Noble's book sales are the measuring stick for
the success of the festival, but that's only because they
have a monopoly on selling the attending authors' books.
How much do they pay for their tents? Do they get a discount
because they give a percentage of their sales to the festival?
What is that percentage? And where was Austin's own Book
People? Or Borders? Even faux indie Intellectual Property
made it to the party. (In
truth, we don't expect or want special treatment. We thrive
on trying to survive in a time when books seem to be losing
we come back? Ever year we can. We love that there is a
book festival in Texas. I love meeting new people, talking
to authors and readers, and the whole experience is worth
it. Even if only one kid gets to go to college.
Click a thumbnail to see
a larger picture.