Monday, March 16, 2009

Tucson Festvial of Books

by Ben Small

Sorry I was late in getting this up, but I'm exhausted from two days at the First Annual Tucson Festival of Books. And what a festival it was. The organizers could not have been more proud. They were hoping to draw 50,000 people over the course of the two day festival on the University of Arizona mall, and I think the actual crowds well exceeded that figure.

There were fans and authors (over 450 of them) from all over the country, and people were buying lots of books. There were well over a hundred exhibitors, everybody from book holding gadget manufacturers, bookstores, graphic artists and web designers, editors and publishing houses.

Numerous stages were set up around the mall for author programs, many seating well over two hundred, and the university used its auditorium and union building convention rooms. Several programs attracted more than a thousand attendees, and programs were stacked on the hour, about fifteen at a time. My program was opposite JA Jance, who drew well over a thousand to talk about her new book Cruel Intent, so I was a little worried nobody would show up to hear me. But my crowd was about a hundred strong. Additionally, Poet Laureate Billy Collins had a crowd of over a thousand for a reading of some of his poems.

The festival had the full support of the city, the university and the newspaper, and it was very well organized and promoted. Each author had a sponsor and a volunteer assigned, who directed the author to scheduled events, and the hospitality room, a large well furnished room for authors only was well stocked with munchies, cookies, pop and water. And there were freebies for authors and spouses: mostly hats and tee shirts.

I spoke to one of the organizers, an employee of the newspaper, who told me it was the desire of the city, the newspaper and the university to make this the best book festival in the United States. Well, they certainly got a good start. Everywhere I went, I met authors who were just stunned at the crowds and how well the festival was organized. Some of the best restaurants in town were set up in the food court, and there were musicians and bands sprinkled throughout, not so loud one couldn't speak or hear, but a nice attraction if one wanted a break from books for a while.

I spent much of my time at an independent book store stand, Mostly Books, a very popular local store, and the staff there was delighted with the crowds. I, too, was delighted at how many books I sold. And another bookstore, Old Pueblo Books, carried my books and did well, too. Barnes & Noble and the University of Arizona Bookstore both had large tents, but I'd avoided both of them, for fear they'd over-order and send back oodles of returns. Instead, I worked consignments with the two bookstores I'd lined up, and I had to restock both of them.

Oh, by the way, I met and got a chance to chat with JA Jance. What a nice woman, funny as hell, and very unself-absorbed. She brought in a baseball bat sized roll of caramel corn to the hospitality room, and then picked up paper plates and went from table to table offering treats. Her line was she promised herself she'd eat what was left of the caramel corn and she needed help or she wouldn't fit through the auditorium doors. She's a very large woman, fully six foot two, and she's got a natural smile and engages easily. No wonder she's such a hit everywhere she goes. She's just a genuinely pleasant personality, and quite striking in her appearance. She spends most of her time at her home in Tucson, but is quite active in promoting her books. I swear, the woman is everywhere in Arizona, seemingly at the same time. But she's so engaging, I don't think there's a single person in Arizona who doesn't like her.

So much for the bad economy. There was joy in Tucson among authors, fans and bookseller this week.

Next year, do yourself a favor and come to the Tucson Festival of Books. But make arrangements early. I understand most of the hotels were jammed, and many authors who, like me, had arranged for book consignments, ran out of books. And by late Sunday afternoon, many of the book stands, even the big ones, had depleted stacks.

This festival was good for the industry and especially good for authors and booksellers.

And I expect the festival will be even larger next year, as word spreads.


Morgan Mandel said...

Sounds like an author's dream. So many sales you run out of books!

Congratulations on your success at the festival.

Morgan Mandel

Ben Small said...

Thanks, Morgan. Yes, it was quite an event, and I think it will be even bigger next year, what with major leagure baseball pulling out. The city sees this as a better way to make money than paying for a monster baseball stadium that will only be used for two months. I think they're right.

And there was no admission fee, so everybody could attend. And they had special programs for children, so the whole family could come. And come they did!

Chester Campbell said...

Sounds like a great time was had by all. Too bad I couldn't make it. As the ball players say, wait till next year. Glad it turned out so well for you.

Beth Terrell said...

Ben, the festival sounds marvelous. I hope I can make it next year, even though the timing is terrible in our industry (but maybe a quick flight out and back...)

Your post has made me doubly excited about meeting J.A. this summer. She's this year's Guest of Honor at Killer Nashville!