Shopping for Authors: Book Festivals
Chris Watkins | November 03, 2008
Booking authors for programs is trickier than ordering their books because you’re looking for a good reader, besides a good read. You may occasionally decide to book a less than great speaker that thrills your audience with their very presence, but you at least want to know what you’re getting into if at all possible.
It’s great to be able to see authors in person before scheduling them for a library program, and while that’s not always possible, there are some tricks of the trade. With local authors, just make sure you see as many as you can, any chance you get—bookstores, other libraries, schools, literary festivals, etc. Keep track of their appearances as best you can, so you don’t wear out either audiences or authors.
But for authors from around the country, one of the best ways to check them out is by attending book festivals. There are at least 300 or so book festivals listed on the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, ranging from small to mammoth. The listing is alphabetical, so you can make some good guesses when search by location, and each entry as the month of the festival, as well as Web site and contact information.
My personal favorite is the Southern Festival of Books, held every October in Nashville and sponsored by Humanities Tennessee, the state humanities council. The author line-up is long and always excellent, the weather and setting are both beautiful, and Nashville is served by Southwest Airlines, so airfares tend to be reasonable. Add to that the chance for a little live music and good BBQ, and you’ve got a perfect excuse for a busman’s holiday.
Here’s a quick round-up of some of the larger festivals, organized to try to give a range of locations; they’ll be in the calendar as well.
Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival
September 25–28, 2008, Waterloo Village, NJ (locations vary from year to year)
Held every other year, this four-day festival has an extraordinary lineup of poets and programs. Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, describes it as "a kind of Bedouin camp of tents where, for four days, thousands of people navigate their way through … the largest poetry event in North America, and it is the most energetic, festive, and high-spirited celebration of poetry I have ever seen."
National Book Festival
September 27, 2008, National Mall, Washington, DC
The eighth annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Laura Bush, is free and open to the public. Salman Rushdie, Bob Schieffer, Daniel Schorr, Alexander McCall Smith, and Paul Theroux are among the seventy authors to be featured.
Southern Festival of Books
October 10–12, 2008, Nashville, TN
The 2008 lineup features more than two hundred authors, including Sherman Alexie, Madison Smartt Bell, Rick Bragg, Ann Patchett, Billie Letts, and Richard Price.
Litquake: San Francisco Literary Festival
October 3–11, 2008, San Francisco, CA
Lineup not yet announced for 2008, but 2007 headliners included Amistead Maupin, Ann Patchett, Jane Smiley, and Gail Tsukiayama.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
April, Los Angeles, CA
This is a HUGE affair, with more than 100,000 people attending and more than four hundred authors in 2008, when it was held on the last weekend in April. Watch the festival Web site for 2009 dates and info.
Miami Bookfair International
November 9–16, 2008, Miami, FL
Organized by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College and held annually on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the fair hosts a more than three hundred authors in dozens of events, as well as booksellers and publishers.
Printers Row Bookfair
June, Chicago, IL
Sponsored by the Chicago Tribune in association with the Chicago Public Library, the fair bills itself as the Midwest’s largest bookfair. Usually held on the first weekend in June, this began as largely a booksellers fair, but has grown to offer nearly one hundred readings and literary programs.
Texas Book Festival
November 1–12, 2008, Austin, TX
Begun by Laura Bush in 1995, this has grown into a blockbuster festival with A-list authors drawn from Texas and across the country.
Chris Watkins is Chicago-based consultant specializing in nonprofit fundraising.