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Making the Most of a Book Festival

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49905065811_7be79d4094_c-1.jpg?resize=72The timing for my Writer Unboxed deadline was perfect this month: I just got back from the Texas Book Festival, held this past weekend in Austin, Texas. Much like other book festivals I’ve been to, it was well-attended, well-run, and over too quickly — I would’ve loved to spend several more days meeting readers, hanging out with other authors, and attending panels from both sides of the microphone. But the two days I did get to spend in Austin were very enjoyable. I’d recommend the festival to any author looking to participate.

Attending book festivals can be one of the most enjoyable parts of being an author, but they can also be overwhelming and not always satisfying, even if they’re well-run. I’ve started to keep a few principles in mind as I attend, and figured I’d share them with Writer Unboxed authors looking to make the most of their attendance at similar festivals, wherever they may be located. In this case I’m talking about book festivals aimed primarily at readers, not writers’ conferences. That’s a whole different ball game.

Here are just a few tips to try:

Make a plan. Not only do many book festivals have hundreds or even thousands of readers in attendance, but some also have hundreds of authors, with panels running simultaneously. Obviously you need to attend your own panel or speaking slot, but what else will you do while you’re there? Will you steal some time to work on your own writing? Sleep in to take advantage of the vacation? Make plans to re-connect with friends? Attend talks by authors you admire? You’ll probably deviate from your plan, but if you don’t make one, you may end up not really succeeding at any goal in particular.

Author Greer Macallister holding a playing card showing the cover of her book Scorpica.Pack a copy of your book. If you’re traditionally published and your book is for sale at the festival, your publisher will generally take care of sending those books, but there are plenty of reasons to bring your own copy. First and foremost, you should have in front of you whenever you’re speaking, either solo or on a panel. It’s also handy to hold up if you’re having your picture taken. Full disclosure: I frequently forget this, and did not in fact have a copy of Scorpica with me in Austin. The moderator of our panel had her own copies on hand to display, thank goodness, but it’s best not to count on anyone else saving our authorly bacon. And if there’s a chance you might be asked to read from your book, you’ll certainly want to have one.

Take something to sign that isn’t your book. You’re going to be meeting lots of people, both authors and readers. You might have business cards or bookmarks, both of which are great; don’t forget to put them in your luggage. (Again, inspired by personal experience here, when I showed up at New York Comic Con last month 100% swag-free.) Having something to hand out can be very helpful if you’re signing next to a more popular author, if the festival runs out of your books, or if you have a conversation with someone and just want to give them a chance to remember you. I threw a pack of playing cards with my book cover on them into my luggage, and they came in handy for all these reasons. I also tucked one into each book I signed, and who knows where they’ll end up?

Make sure you meet other authors. I feel like this goes without saying at writers’ conferences, but at book festivals, you might be focused on meeting readers. But especially when there are a large number of authors in attendance, there are often author-only events and/or an author “green room” for before or after your other commitments. Don’t be shy about attending these and introducing yourself. It’s one of the best ways to connect with other writers, in your genre and beyond.

Q: Have you attended a book festival as an author? Any other helpful tips you’d suggest?



About Greer Macallister

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her historical novels have been named Book of the Month, Indie Next, LibraryReads, Target Book Club, and Amazon Best Book of the Month picks and optioned for film and television. Her upcoming book, SCORPICA (as G.R. Macallister), is the first in the Five Queendoms series and her epic fantasy debut. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. www.greermacallister.com

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