Book Festivals: Are They Worth the Time and Travel?

Photo by Laura Hays Hoover

Take a look at that picture. There’s a lot happening there. A lot. It was taken at the annual Ohioana Book Festival, held each April in Columbus, Ohio. Featuring 150 authors from all genres, it’s a flurry of literary hoopla.

Book festivals happen in major cities and small towns across the country each year. Fall seems to be a particularly popular season for book festivals, so I decided to devote a few minutes to dissecting the costs and benefits of book festivals – for authors and consumers alike.

So what’s in a book festival for…

Teachers and Librarians?  Uh, well, books!  It’s no secret that teachers and librarians love books. They love to read and collect them, and they, above all others, are usually interested in learning what’s new in world of literature. In order to remain fresh and interesting, most book festivals only offer slots to authors who have a new book, released within the past year, or sometimes two. Book festivals are a great way to see, hold, and peruse the newest releases.

Teachers and librarians who are looking to hire authors to speak at their venues can do a little reconnaissance at a book festival. Talking face-to-face with a potential speaker can provide lots of good information about their enthusiasm and their potential to captivate with your audience – something that’s hard to gauge from a website.  Sometimes, teachers and librarians might connect in person with an author they already know via social media. It was great to meet the real Ms. Yingling from Ms. Yingling Reads, a favorite middle-grade book blog, which you can find HERE.

Can you see the mutual admiration?

Parents and Families?  Most book festivals are family friendly, with kids corners and teen scenes and reading rooms and roaming storybook characters and face painting and food – of course, there must be food. I love watching families come by my table. I eavesdrop and hear young readers tell their parents “I read that at school” or “I love that author!” I hear families talking about what books to read together and what books to add to wish lists. I see parents getting a better understanding of their child’s likes and dislikes when it comes to reading. And I see lots of tigers, butterflies, and dragons on faces where the smile didn’t need to be painted.

Young readers get artsy making thaumatropes at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio.

Authors and Illustrators? While attending a book festival is usually free for consumers, the cost of participation may vary for authors and illustrators.  Most book festivals don’t charge authors a fee, but participating authors are carefully selected by the organizers in order to reflect a wide variety of genres. Authors and illustrators are sometimes invited and sometimes they apply. If invited or accepted, authors must consider the cost of an entire day away from their work and travel and, sometimes, lodging near the venue. Some authors find that only a handful of their books were sold after hours of sitting behind a table, engaging in lively conversation with potential consumers. It can be exhausting. But, creators must consider the benefits of attending a large book festival, and there are many. Authors and illustrators often work alone. It’s good to get out of writing caves and interact with the very people for whom we write.  Meeting our audience gives us connection and puts faces to the vague terms “readers” and “middle-graders” and “consumers.” I also have to say that connecting with fellow authors is inspiring and refreshing. I look forward to several festivals a year because I know I will see other authors. Finally, I’ve been invited to many a school or library after meeting a teacher or librarian at a book festival, so often the benefits more than outweigh the cost of travel and lodging.

Nancy Roe Pimm, Julie K. Rubini, Cynthia A. Crane, and Michelle Houts participate in a Middle-Grade Biographies Panel Discussion at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival

Catching up with children’s nonfiction author Mary Kay Carson at Books By the Banks in Cincinnati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would be impossible to list every great book festival in the U.S. here, but I’ll start us off with a few that I’ve attended or hope to attend someday. In the comments below, please add more! And whether you’re a teacher, librarian, parent, author, or illustrator, I hope you’ll consider spending a day at a book festival near you. You just never know who you’ll meet!

Who knew Darth Vader was a Charley Harper fan?

A Short List of Book Festivals – add more in the comments below!

Ohioana Book Festival –  April – Columbus, OH

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – April – Bowling Green, KY

Hudson Children’s Book Festival – May – Hudson, NY

Claire’s Day – May – Toledo/Maumee, OH

Chesapeake Bay Children’s Book Festival – June – Easton, MD

Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival – September – Sheboygan, WI

Princeton Children’s Book Festival – September – Princeton, NJ

Books by the Banks – October – Cincinnati, OH

Warwick Children’s Book Festival – October – Warwick, NY

Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival – October – Chappaqua, NY

Texas Book Festival – October – Austin, TX

Twin Cities Book Festival – October – St. Paul, MN

Buckeye Book Fair – November – Wooster, OH

Kentucky Book Fair – November – Lexington, KY

Rochester Children’s Book Festival – November – Rochester, NY

Wordstock – November – Portland, OR

Western New York Children’s Book Expo – November – Buffalo, NY

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Michelle Houts
Michelle Houts writes middle-grade, chapter books, and picture books from a restored one-room schoolhouse near her home. She loves reading, mail, farming, and birds. Michelle visits schools and libraries to share writing excitement with future authors. To find out more and to learn about Michelle's 52Letters Challenge, visit www.michellehouts.com