Mark Terry

Monday, October 02, 2006

National Book Festival

October 2, 2006
As mentioned earlier, I was in Washington DC the last few days. I had plans to go to Bouchercon in Madison, WI, but a client was hosting a conference in DC and since at the moment I make more money from them than I do my novels, off I went to DC, family in tow. I took 3 copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, thinking I might offer them to booksellers as a hey-here-I-am, or to somebody who asked me what was going on with the books.

Then I found out there was the National Book Festival, or Festival of the Book, and I thought it might be possible to talk to the booksellers there or...

The NBF took place on Saturday, September 30 from 10:00 AM to I believe 6:00 PM. There were a bunch of big white tents set up on the Mall between basically the Capitol and the Washington Monument. That's in between the Smithsonian Castle and the Air & Space Museum on one side and the National Museum of Natural History on the other side. There was a big tent for Mysteries/Thrillers where guest speakers were going to speak and sign books. The guests were Harlan Coben, Vince Flynn, Scott Turow, Michael Connelly, Kathy Reich and others. Each of them had a 50 minute scheduled appearance.

There were other tents: Childrens, History, Teens/Young Adult, Fiction & Fantasy, etc. Each had their own guest speakers scheduled to talk and sign books. There was a big tent for book sales, which is where I made the initial approach, only to find it un-opened. There were, however, 3--coincidence?--readers/book buyers waiting at the front. It was clear to me by this point that there was no way I was going to get to the booksellers here, busy as they were, and it wasn't even clear to me that those present were even booksellers, but volunteers who knew how to run a cash register. Anyway, I turned to the three people, introduced myself, showed them the book and asked them if they would be interested in a free book. They were, so I signed copies of Pitchfork for them, chatted a minute, and went about my tourist-y way. Good karma, at the least, I hope.

Now, later on in the day, when we had trooped from the Capitol to the White House to the Washington, WWII and Lincoln Memorials and into various museums, we wrapped up our day by slipping into the book sales tent.

What I discovered immediately was that the books for sale were exclusively those published by the invited speakers. In most cases, they were only the current books by those authors. For instance, they had Michael Connelly's "Crime Beat" and "The Lincoln Lawyer," but there weren't any of his other books, like "The Black Echo."

Now, I think the idea of a NBF is probably a good idea, and there were certainly a fair number of folks down at the Mall checking things out. How many? Well, a lot, though to be honest, I was expecting larger crowds. I've seen bigger crowds at county fairs and significantly bigger crowds at rock concerts and sporting events. Still, thousands of people showed up over an 8-hour period to be around authors and books, and that's a positive thing.

I was dismayed to find that the only books being sold in the book sales tent were by guest authors. And that's not sour grapes by someone who wasn't invited and may never be. It seems like a massive lost opportunity and a disconcerting promotional plum for people who are already selling more books than anybody else anyway. Yes, if you're going to draw a crowd, you need big, brand name authors. But still...

I was also thinking how damned cerebral this thing was in many ways. C-SPAN's Book TV was there handing out book bags and bottles of water, and the Magic School Bus was there and they had a merry-go-round, but what I thought they needed was a rock band, and not the Rock Bottomed Remainders, but somebody good to bring in another 10,000 people, some of whom might wander over to the books.

I note that Janet Evanovich turns her signings into a party with caterers and a band, clearly wanting the word "fun" to be associated with the name "Janet Evanovich."

And where the hell was the food? There are cafes in the museums and a couple blocks further out there are restaurants, but we only saw one tent offering "Chinese Fare," as well as the usual snack trucks around. What? They needed another big tent tied into cookbooks and food books that was like a taste festival.

So it was interesting. But it seems to me that it was aimed so clearly at book lovers, that it missed an opportunity to create book lovers out of people who might have come for the fun and stayed for the books.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I think with books, you either "get it" or you don't. You love them when you first start to read or you never will. If you don't take to books when you're a kid and suddenly realize the amazing worlds that are there to be explored in the form of words, nothing in later life will open your eyes.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

In general I agree with you, except my brother-in-law really wasn't a reader until much later in life and he's a voracious reader. I find his choices interesting, because he seems to go to his local library and just get whatever's new, fiction or nonfiction, so his reading is amazingly varied.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

My dad never read fiction, but in the last years of his life he got hooked on Tony Hillerman. (Indian culture fascinated him) So, you'r right. It happens.

6:46 PM  
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