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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Festival Aftermath

There's a thing my friend, Korry, and I do after every successful school event we put on  - the recap. It's a way to get each others' impressions of the event, to check our own assessments and interpretations, and just generally a way to download our experiences.

I got to recap the experience at the LA Times Festival of Books last Saturday with my friend, Elizabeth Hunter, on Saturday night as we sank into couches with a glass of wine and take-out Mexican food. We were both utterly exhausted in the way that seven hours of being "on" with people brings. The only other time I've been that peopled out was after a day of High School English class takeovers, during which I essentially taught six classes about all the reading and writing. Ever since then, my admiration and appreciation for the work teachers do is pretty much to the moon and back.

So, because I'd never been to the LA Times Festival of Books, even as a visitor, I'll share some of the highlights of our recap for any other authors or readers who might be intrigued.

1. Three was a perfect number of authors in our booth. There were originally six authors scheduled to share booth 132 that day, but only three of us turned up - myself, Elizabeth Hunter, and S.C. Ellington, who writes contemporary romance books. So we moved one eight-foot table to the front of the booth and split the space on it three ways. I took the side closest to the Scientology booth, because I'm the biggest and least intimidated by their personal-space-hogging ways, S.C. was in the middle, and Elizabeth took the other side. All of our books were equally visible to passersby, and having three of us there allowed us to slip away to grab food or drinks as necessary.

2. Sharing a booth with authors you like, whose work you admire, is KEY! To be fair, I haven't actually read anything S.C. has written, but I've known her for a couple of years from author events and she's lovely. Everyone knows how I feel about Elizabeth Hunter's books, and the fact that she's an awesome human being just compounds the love. But it wasn't just hanging out with cool chicks that was great - it was being able to genuinely pitch and sell EACH OTHER'S work that was so wonderful. Because there were three of us available to talk to festival-goers, we often had several people come up to the table at once. Each of us could talk about our own books, as well as give a pitch for the other two authors. And we had it down, too. My books were "time travel fantasy." S.C.s were "contemporary romance" and Elizabeth's were "paranormal fantasy." And somehow, that usually translated into something for everyone.

3. There was serendipitous genius in all three of us giving away a free e-book. Elizabeth and I each have a perma-free first book in our series, and S.C. was running a five-day free special. We all had cards with QR codes to hand out, and anytime I had the sense someone was interested, but wasn't really going to lay down the ten bucks for a paperback, I'd instantly hand them a card for the free book as my "gift." All of us did the same for each others' books when it seemed someone was intrigued, but not really sure, and it made us a very gifty bunch of authors.

4. The generosity with the public wasn't limited to conversations about our books. Because our booth was named "Indie Authors of LA," there were some people who came by looking for organizations that supported independent authors. After assuring people that we weren't a group, but rather just independent authors who had gotten together to pay for the booth, conversation tended to turn to independent publishing in general. Questions were asked, and answered graciously, and information was shared with generosity. It definitely made for a lot of high-traffic moments at our booth, often with three separate conversations happening at once. But that also generated interest in passersby - sort of a "I want what they're having" thing that served to draw attention to our books.

We talked about the possibility of doing this again next year - renting a booth, and staffing it with different authors to help cover the cost. But some of the things we would implement are: no more than three authors in the booth at a time, ideally authors who like each other and respect each others' work, and break the day into shifts of 2-3 hours each. That seven hour stretch of voluntary conversationalism was a killer, and by Sunday, I wasn't doing a whole lot of talking. But working for a couple of hours, and then being able to wander around the event for a couple of hours would have been an ideal way to experience the book festival. Then maybe I could have actually seen the conversation between John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton that my son would have paid money to see.

The LA Times Festival of Books is a fantastic event, and spending a day talking about books, at an event surrounded by books, was awesome.

Though if I never overhear another hard sell about Dianetics, it'll be too soon...

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