I just attended my first book festival, and it was amazing. It wasn’t just the talk by R. L. Stine or the reading by Roxanne Gay that made Green Bay’s UntitledTown Book and Author Festival this past weekend’s “place to be” for readers and writers.
It was the conversations, the collaboration, and the commiseration shared by the thousands of published authors, want-to-be writers, and book enthusiasts who flooded the streets of Green Bay and chatted excitedly in the lobbies and hallways between sessions.
Having moved to Green Bay less than six months ago and being excited to improve my own writing, I found myself in the optimal position to get caught up in the excitement and opportunity the Festival provided. I was among “my people” in the city that I already love.
For weeks leading up to the Festival, I tracked the printed and digital promotion of the event. I reserved tickets to hear the headlining authors speak, and I planned a schedule that allowed me to glean industry information from poets and literary agents, published authors and screenwriters, essayists and novelists. And none of it cost me (or anyone) a single dime. Yet, each presenter held this or that little secret to achieving my dream, and they gave them over warmly and generously.
That information, that opportunity for growth, was the real jewel of the Festival for me. Like many of you, I’m a writer with a lot to learn and with many things I want to accomplish. But, in a lot of practical ways, I’m not exactly sure how to go about that.
This book and author festival was the exact remedy for that. I attended a panel discussion on how to get published, and then one on how to effectively freelance. On the second morning, I had coffee with a literary agent who graciously answered specific questions about the type of work that he accepts and the type on which he passes. Most of the time it’s hard for writers to even get form letter rejections from literary agents, and yet I found myself openly picking one’s brain while chomping on my scone.
I attended talks on how to promote oneself as an author in the digital age and on writing in forms and genres with which I am inexperienced and/or unfamiliar. I sat on a panel next to a screenwriter who’d previously worked on the television show House, and I learned how different screenwriting is from anything I’ve written.
It was empowering, all of this information. And it was generous. The people participating in the panels and lectures and readings and after-session chats weren’t selling me a bill of goods with an overblown headline in order to steal some virtual clicks. They were offering genuine advice backed by real meaning.
While the information I gathered was the single most valuable commodity with which I came away from the Festival, it is not the only one. I also benefited greatly from a sense of community and camaraderie for which I’ve been hungry.
While Green Bay’s blue collar roots and hometown, hardscrabble attitude do appeal to my own Rust Belt upbringing, they also mean that a significant portion of its population can seem less interested in reading novels or in writing essays than I happen to be. None of my coworkers at my day job, for instance, have much interest in discussing literature or composition.
The UntitledTown Book and Author Festival provided me not only with the company of people who love and revere books and writing, but also with their support. No one treated me or anyone I knew or saw as a competitor or a lesser regardless of their respective levels of writing success. Those who seemed to have found a better way to accomplish this or that shared their ideas with compassion and enthusiasm, never seeming patronizing or cynical about the prospects of someone else’s future success.
A writing festival creates an atmosphere that I don’t think can be precisely recreated without meeting face-to-face. That being said, I think it’s still worth trying our best to approach it in the online communities in which we write. So, support your fellow writers! Encourage them, and lend them constructive advice when you have it to lend. Applaud their efforts and use your positive feedback to help guide them to the success from which we all can benefit.