How do I love book festivals? Let me count the ways.
1. Book festivals introduce us to authors and books we may otherwise miss.
Since attending my first festival in 2016, I have had the opportunity to meet or at least hear several outstanding writers who I may have otherwise missed. These six authors have specifically inspired me in my own writing journey.
Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie (and so many others)
We heard her speak in 2016 at the Mississippi Book Festival. She gave the opening presentation, and I found myself in tears more than once. I had recently resolved to launch out, full steam ahead, on this journey toward becoming an author. Listening to Kate share why she writes confirmed my dreams and fueled my desires.
Tim Gautreaux, Signals (as well as other short story collections and several novels)
Mr. Gautreaux’s words and kindness profoundly influenced me, and I hope to have the opportunity to tell him that in person if I see him at another festival. I first heard him speak on a panel at the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival. Listening to his stories behind the tales he’d written, I knew I had to read some of his work. I was not disappointed. Mr. Gautreaux writes slice-of-life stories; tales of the everyman. Listening to him and reading his works reminded me of the types of stories I want to write and helped me find my writing focus.
My dear writer bestie, Mea Smith, and I saw Mr. Gautreaux browsing in the Lemuria Bookstore tent after his panel. Total honesty—she and I had an extreme fangirl moment. (And, yes, I do realize that is likely a term our literary hero may not think too highly of, but that’s what happened.)
Mea got up the courage to go and speak with him.
I was a stuttering mess.
He kindly entertained our questions and signed Mea’s book with a smile.
I forgot what words were for.
Flash forward to the Louisiana Book Festival a couple months later. In that time I had read more of his work and had his lecture marked as my top priority event to attend. It was outstanding. I learned a great deal about humility in writing and the art of storytelling from his words that day. Later, I saw him again, browsing in the book tent. My husband, Tony, and our kiddos were standing in line, so I was on my own this time. I smiled from a distance. I worked up my nerve and walked toward him … until I took a sharp swerve in the opposite direction at the last minute.
Anyway, here’s hoping if I get another opportunity to speak to Mr. Gautreaux, I won’t chicken out and I’ll utter at least one coherent sentence.
Daren Wang, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires
I sat in on a historical fiction panel last year at the Mississippi Book Festival. That’s where I was introduced to Mr. Wang and his debut novel set for release later in the month. After hearing the story behind his book, I quickly added it to my “want-to-read” shelf. His book was the catalyst to push me toward a focus on literary fiction. His words, coupled with Mr. Gautreaux’s, reminded me why I write in the first place and of the stories that are closest to my heart.
Quick sidenote: more than a decade ago, Mr. Wang launched what is now the largest independent book festival, the Decatur Book Festival, near Atlanta. One day I hope to make it to that one, though crowds of 90,000 sound rather intimidating!
These two ladies are a hoot and a half! I first heard them on a panel together with a few other middle grade fiction writers at the Mississippi Book Festival. Then, I got to hear the two of them share about their friendship and the role of friendships in their books with Tony and the kids at the Louisiana Book Festival.
Seeing their friendship warmed my heart, and I think of them every time I connect with the simply incredible writer friends I’ve discovered around the world. Stories bring writers and readers together … and that’s a beautiful thing.
B.M. Simpson, Island Dogs
This spring, I got to attend the Alabama Book Festival with my incredibly supportive sister, Jane Sims. We had a blast together, plus I learned a great deal from each of the panels we attended. The author that sticks out to me had a booth set up. He and his daughter were selling his book, Island Dogs. This book had my sister’s name written all over it, since she’s an island girl herself! We got to chatting, and then he shared some great tips and advice from one Indie Author to an aspiring one. I appreciated the time he took to answer my questions and to share some of the details he’s learned along the way.
2. Book festivals give us the opportunity to get to know authors.
Just like with Mr. Wang’s story behind The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, each author featured in a panel shares details of their book journeys. Some have stories, others inspiration or writing process. All of them reveal bits of writing truth that readers can appreciate and writers can learn from.
Through lectures, panels, signings and booths, readers find the opportunity to meet the writers of the stories they enjoy. Likewise, authors get to greet their readers and see how their words have been received.
3. Book festivals inspire.
Mea and I will be at the 2018 Mississippi Book Festival in a couple of days. (Leave me a comment and let me know if you’re going to be there. We’d love to say hello!) This will be our third trip of—I hope—many, many more to come.
Looking back at each trip reminds me just how far I’ve come already on my writing journey.
In 2016, I had just cast off the excuses and doubts and fears to finally pursue this dream full throttle.
In 2017, the long car ride gave us time to brainstorm. Mea helped me talk through my long list of to-be-writtens until we came up with the plan that I put into place once I got home.
This year, I have two books, a novella, several short stories and an award under my belt. Not too shabby for one year of work!
Next year, I will attend—fingers crossed—with a few ARCs in hand of my debut literary fiction novel. I can’t help but wonder how many more exciting milestones this Festival will mark for me.
Each year I find myself more inspired by not only the authors but also the community of people who flock to celebrate the written word. These are the people I write for and the readers I hope to touch one day. I only hope that when I get to that point, I can be an inspiration for other writers, just like the authors I mentioned above and so many more have been for me.
Seeing the excitement in people’s faces over new books and the stories they contain and seeing those same people leading young children by the hand through the book store tent to pick out a new treasure reminds me that, in this world of constant change, books will remain. As long as humans draw breath, they will ask for a story.
And writers will be there to grant their wish.
4. Book festivals bring the literary community together.
My People—the Bookish Sort
I’ll never forget the first time I walked up to the Literary Lawn Party in Jackson, Miss. I took in all the tents packed with books and all the people sporting clothes, accessories and bags with literary sayings and turned to Mea—or maybe she turned to me or we both said at the same time—”These are our people!”
Now, not to sound arrogant, but … there are book people and there are not book people. The difference is significant. I’m sure the other group would use words like odd and eccentric and absent-minded to describe us bookish types. No jab at the non-bookish sorts, but I don’t feel quite the same draw to them as I do to people who talk about Jane and Mr. Rochester and Bilbo and Frodo and Sam and Frog and Toad like they really exist … because, of course, they do … in our imaginations.
Book festivals unite us bookish folk and encourage us to come out from behind the covers of our current read long enough to chat about Heathcliff and Catherine and Anne and Gilbert.
More and more, literary gatherings, bookstores and reading groups are recognizing and embracing the incredibly talented Indie Authors working hard to make their stories seen. Thanks to the hard work of so many talented, passionate and professional writers, the concept that self-published = rubbish has changed.
Already I am noticing more Indie Authors on festival panels, and I believe those numbers will continue to rise. As long as we strive for excellence in the work we produce, we can hold our own at the literary table with all the best the Big 5 have to offer.
Who are the biggest winners of this merger?
Family and Friends
As you may have noticed, I don’t go to festivals alone. In addition to being an opportunity to have my literary batteries recharged, these festivals have become events I share with some of the most precious people in my life, the ones who support my writing most closely. Mississippi is for Mea and me; Louisiana is for my hubby and kiddos and me; and Alabama is for my sister and me.
Representatives of Every Piece of the Literary Community
Nowhere else will you find large publishers, small publishers, traditional authors, Indie authors, hybrid authors, seasoned authors, debut authors, aspiring authors, Indie bookstores, book bloggers, book reviewers, literary agents, adult readers, kid readers and everyone in between all together in one central location on one special day. It’s a beautiful sight to behold!
How do I love book festivals? Let me count the ways.
What about you? Have you ever been to a book festival? If so, which one and what did you think? Do you plan to return? If you haven’t been to one, is there one near you that you can put on your calendar?