The Broward County Library Foundation's "Literary Feast," the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., organization's three-day fund-raiser, kicked-off on March 1, but the foundation and the local Barnes & Noble in Plantation, Fla., started planning months beforehand for the gala event. Featuring established authors from around the country and a weekend packed with literary events and book sales for thousands of guests, the Feast takes an extraordinary amount of planning and teamwork.
"It's a big effort, and it requires a lot of support," said Pat Smith, who co-chaired the Feast this year. "It's a coordinated effort but really fun to do, and I think everybody who works on the event really enjoys it."
The Feast began on Thursday night with a "meeting of the minds," an invitation-only reception and dinner welcoming a distinguished group of 26 guest authors to a private home on the waterways of Fort Lauderdale. This year's authors included Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III, HCI), Brad Meltzer (First Counsel, Warner) and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera (Havana Heat, Morrow). Lecture sessions with David Gergen (Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton, S&S) and Marsha Mason (Journey: A Personal Odyssey, S&S) were completely sold out.
Novel Day, an education outreach program in which authors visit high schools or universities to discuss their life and work, followed on Friday. Students study the authors' works before the visits, and a writing contest to encourage young writers is held where more than 1,500 students' works are judged. That evening, "Night of Literary Feasts" began. The event featured a cocktail reception and book signing at the Main Library in Fort Lauderdale, followed by a series of dinner parties hosted in private homes. Guests select the authors they want to meet and pay $150 to $300 to attend the dinners where those authors will be. This year more than 600 people paid for the chance to dine with favorite authors.
The weekend was capped off on Saturday with a series of panel discussions, lectures and book signings, where the authors met more than 2,500 readers from throughout the area and signed books that were available for purchase.
"Barnes & Noble plays a big part in all this," Smith told PW. "They make these books available. Once people have gone to the dinners and lectures, they can purchase the books of the authors they just met or heard. The store brings the books in, sells them for us at the cocktail party and Novel Day and relieves us of that burden. And they give us some of the profit."
Barnes & Noble not only gives 25% of the profits from the book sales to the foundation, it is also involved in most of the pre-event planning meetings. It's a long and arduous process.
"The bulk of my work comes after the author list is finalized, when we research and order books," said Susan Boyd, who heads the B&N effort. "First-time authors have only one book. For the other authors, we order their current title and one backlist, generally their most recent unless they request a specific title. We usually order a hundred copies of frontlist titles and 50 to 75 for backlist, depending on the author."
The bookstore also handles reviewing, storage, follow-up accounting and returning the books. They start the ordering program months in advance and fill them at the store. Problems do arise, however, when books are unavailable or not being released from publishers until late or just before the event. It entails a lot of follow-up, according to Boyd, to make sure all the titles have arrived in the proper quantity.
"We order the books around the end of January," Boyd told PW. "Since this all occurs during our holiday-season crush, we don't have any room to store them until after we've returned our extra holiday product."
Preparations are made and altered all the way up and through the event. Friday night provides the biggest sales. About 15 people from the store arrive early in the morning to set up. At the end of the evening, the staff box up all the unsold books and transport them Saturday morning to the appropriate locations for the authors' lectures, then set up again. Saturday evening, they repeat the process and bring the remaining books back to the store, where they ring everything into their system and produce a printed report on sales.
"After all of this, we advise the foundation of our donation to them," said Boyd. "Then, over the next week, I inventory everything, double-check it against sales and have my receivers get it all ready to be returned to the publishers. We also have numerous follow-up calls with the library and a large wrap-up meeting with everyone shortly after the Feast."
Barnes & Noble also helps in the recruiting of the authors. Last year, the foundation committee and the bookstore representatives got together and assembled a "wish list." The library pursued the authors on the list, using any contacts they had. Barnes & Noble did the same thing, including soliciting authors at store book signings.
"It's been a great pleasure to work with the library foundation, general staff and all the volunteers," said Boyd. "The event itself, the number of attendees and quality of authors and lectures just gets better and better each year. We began our partnership four years ago and did a pretty good job. But with practice, we've streamlined our operation, and last year nearly everything was flawless. It's a huge undertaking, and it takes a bit of practice to work out the bugs. We seem to be there now."
As for the future, Boyd said she'd like to see even more young people involved in the events. She also hopes the diversification and support base grow. Through it all, Barnes & Noble will be there.
"This is our number one event for community relations and supporting literacy and the arts," said Boyd. "It helps education, literacy and the library. It fits hand-in-glove with what our purpose is. We're also citizens of the community, and we're very proud of the library."