With cooler weather comes anticipation of the fall season of literary festivals around the country. PW interviewed the bookseller partners at five of these (Wordstock Festival, Southern Festival of Books, Boston Book Festival, Texas Book Festival, and Miami Book Fair) to hear their take on the importance of literary festivals. Their unanimous response was that bringing authors, readers, and publishers together is invaluable in helping to promote reading and authors, and that despite whatever challenges may confront the publishing industry, community commitment to literary festivals grows stronger every year.
Roberta Dyer is co-owner of Broadway Books in Portland, Ore., one of the bookstore sponsors of this year’s eighth annual Wordstock Festival. “This is only our third time at Wordstock,” she said. “They approached us, and we were thrilled to be asked. The biggest reason we do it is to support the literary community in Portland and the authors.” Wordstock sells the books of authors who are appearing at the festival, which makes it easier for festival organizers to book authors since publishers know that their books will be sold, Dyer said. Wordstock has a commitment to poetry, and half of the 40 authors appearing at the festival will be poets, she noted.
“Portland is a city that reads, and the longevity of this festival speaks to that,” said Dyer. “They’ve done some really smart things. When they started, they had big plans, such as author suppers that people would pay to attend. But they’ve very smartly gotten rid of the things that didn’t work, and kept the things that did, [for instance,] they have a whole day of sessions for teachers only.”
For Dyer, participating in the festival is more than booking sales during the event: “We are a little neighborhood bookstore, 20 years old, and most of our customers come from our neighborhood. But I feel that the more events we get out to, the more new customers we get; so in the festival brochure, we put a coupon for our store. Plus, it fosters a good relationship with authors; they are more likely to do an event in our store in the future. It’s an affirmation of who we are and a way to grow our business.”
Southern Festival of Books
This is the first year that Parnassus Books, in Nashville, will be the bookseller for the author signings at this year’s 24th annual Southern Festival of Books—which takes place just a month shy of the store’s first anniversary. Parnassus opened in November 2011, and is co-owned by former Random House sales rep Karen Hayes and New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett.
Neither Hayes nor Parnassus, however, is a stranger to the festival. “I’ve lived in Nashville since the ’70s,” Hayes said, “and the festival is really a wonderful thing for this city.” Even before the store opened, Hayes added, Parnassus partnered with the book festival presenter, Humanities Tennessee, and the public library to bring authors to events.
Hayes sees the festival as “another venue for getting people excited about reading; it reinforces that Nashville is a good place for literature. It’s a great way to create excitement about reading and learning, and to expose people to new ideas and new authors. [And] you can see small publishers who would not normally get that kind of exposure.”
Boston Book Festival
Jeff Mayersohn, co-owner of Harvard Bookstore, in Cambridge, Mass., is one of the five partner booksellers at this year’s fourth annual Boston Book Festival. The others are Brookline Booksmith, Porter Square Books, Trident Booksellers, and Wellesley Books. “We’ve been participating in the book festival every year of its existence,” said Mayersohn, who is also on the festival’s board of directors. “Our primary role is to be responsible for the sale of books at the festival. Each bookseller is assigned a location where they bring books of those authors who are reading, and we sell the books there.”
Mayersohn appreciates that the festival relies on independent bookstores to do the selling each year. Being at the event “introduces stores to new customers and reinforces the importance of independent bookstores. It’s a commercial success for the bookstores,” he said. In addition, the tangible benefits and effects last more than the one day. “We see the benefit of our participation throughout the year,” Mayersohn said. “But it’s also an important event for the literary culture within the city of Boston. Boston has the reputation of being a literary city, but for many years we didn’t have a book festival. I think that literary culture suffered because there was no festival here.”
Texas Book Festival
Barnes & Noble, the bookseller sponsor at this year’s 17th annual Texas Book Festival, gives a percentage of its book sales back to the festival, according to Charley Carroll, community relations manager at the Arboretum Mall B&N in Austin. Barnes & Noble began as a festival vendor in 1996 and became the primary bookseller in 2000. All six B&N stores in Austin participate in the three event tents: adult/teen, cookbooks, and children’s. B&N also has booksellers at the six “literary crawls.” “The festival keeps growing in volume: each year there’s more authors and programs,” said Carroll. “We are not out in the community normally, so [at the festival] our regular customers get to see us, and we meet customers we may not have met before. It’s a chance to show them our customer service skills.”
Carroll also pointed out that the festival is an important opportunity to make the statement “that books are not going away. People may have heard that books are in danger. There’s new technology, yes, but that doesn’t mean that books will disappear. People still want books, and still love their authors.”
Miami Book Fair International
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, in Miami, is also cofounder, chairperson, and executive director of the Miami Book Fair International. “Our involvement with the fair from the very beginning has helped us carry out our mission, which is to be a community-based independent bookstore, and our presence at the fair highlights that mission,” said Kaplan. “Our bookstore has been open 30 years, and the Miami Book Fair is 29 years old. Miami is a very diverse community, and the book fair is a gigantic tent that displays that diversity. It speaks to the entire community, so the book fair has helped define Miami and also has helped Miami to discover itself.”
Kaplan offered a word of advice to publishers, urging them to do more than just provide authors. “I think they ought to re-evaluate their physical participation at festivals by taking booths. They used to do it a lot more, but they’ve pulled back. I think they should reconsider,” Kaplan said, observing, “For a very small amount of money, they can have a presence where they can show their lists to a very large segment of the reading public, very easily... fairs expose readers to books.”
Litquake (Oct. 5–13)
San Francisco, Calif.
New York Comic-Con (Oct. 11–14)
New York, N.Y.
Wordstock Festival (Oct. 11–14)
Southern Festival of Books (Oct. 12–14)
Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books & Authors (Oct. 13)
Twin Cities Book Festival (Oct. 13)
St. Paul, Minn.
West Virginia Book Festival (Oct. 13–14)
Concord Festival of Authors (Oct. 18–Nov. 4)
Omaha Lit Fest (Oct. 19–20)
Books by the Banks (Oct. 20)
Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading (Oct. 20)
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Boston Book Festival (Oct. 27)
Louisiana Book Festival (Oct. 27)
Baton Rouge, La.
Texas Book Festival (Oct. 27–28)
Vegas Valley Book Fest (Nov. 1–3)
Buckeye Book Fair (Nov. 3)
Wisconsin Book Festival (Nov. 7–11)
Kentucky Book Fair (Nov. 9–10)
Connecticut Children’s Book Fair (Nov. 10–11)
Miami Book Fair International (Nov. 11–18)