A View From Tracy's Point
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In 2009 I participated in my first book festival. It was the Times Festival of Reading, held in downtown St. Petersburg on the campus of the University of South Florida. I was very excited about the event as I had released my first novel, He Loves Me He Loves Me Not, earlier that year. By all accounts the event was a success, and a learning experience…selling books is hard work, especially when you’re selling to an unknown audience.
Book festivals have two types of authors, those who are invited (or featured) and given a platform; and those like me, who pay for booth space to sell their books. The following year, after learning the format of the event was changing (they would only feature Florida authors) I opted not to participate because I felt this would cause many people not to attend. Still, my daughter and I ventured downtown for the festival and the size was noticeably smaller, in both vendors and patrons. Last year I did not attend at all.
This year, at the last minute, I decided to go ahead and sign-up as a vendor. I figured since I have two more books out, it would be a good way to let the locals know that I am still doing my thing. The experience was different from my first time around. The festival seems to continue to shrink, although attendance seemed to be up from 2010 (but not as large as 2009). The featured author list was not recognizable to me, with the exception of Times columnist Eric Deggans. Those patronizing the event, by-in-large were older, and not very diverse.
That last point reminded me of why I didn’t bother to attend the year before. It saddens me as a reader and a writer that a newspaper with the reach of the Times, as well as a university like USF could put on a book festival that does not have something for everyone. Although the festival is held in the middle of a college campus, aside from volunteers, the 25 and under crowd was sparse, along with representation from the African-American population. I don’t recall hearing one ad on the radio, or seeing much advertising aside from the Times, itself. Something I heard several vendors mentioning as they packed up at the end of the day.
Is this a problem, I would think so since reading is a universal activity that crosses all boundaries. I’m not sure what the goal of the festival organizers is, if they are targeting their target audience, or what, but I do know that when I visit other festivals I feel more connected as a reader and a writer. It would be nice to view the list of featured authors and actually get excited about the line-up, because authors I have read or heard about are on the list. Or even if the invitees covered a wider spectrum culturally.
As for my personal experience at the event, I was wondering if there was a full moon the night before. A few people were in rare form, from authors invading my space (see my blog on authors behaving badly), to a religious zealot who chastised me about writing books on finding love, when I should be telling my readers about the love of God. But the most intriguing thing of the day, was witnessing a writer who only publishes eBooks attempt to draw people in and suggest they download her books. Whew!
The temperature was nice and the breeze rolling in off the bay a plus. It was simply a beautiful day, and as always I was extremely grateful for those who stopped by to ask about my books, and those that made purchases at the event and later via on-line orders. Some friends dropped by to say hi, and even a few people came over to introduce themselves because we are friends on social media or someone had told them about me.
Despite what my overall impression of the festival may be, at the end of the day it is the connections with readers that really matter.
Author of He Loves Me He Loves Me Not!, Love...Like Cnow in Floruda on a Hot Summer Day, and the Red Bear Society.
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