Why You Should Go to a Book Festival and How to Choose One

No matter the size or scope or location, I adore going to book conventions and festivals. If I could find a way to make a career out of going to book conventions, I would go to one every week of the year. I know that’s extreme, but I do think all book lovers should attend festivals and cons if they’re able.

Reading is usually such a solitary endeavor and I know many readers find themselves surrounded by non-readers in their daily lives. (I still shudder when I think of multiple coworkers not knowing who Ray Bradbury was.) Festivals not only give you the chance to connect with your favorite authors, but also readers who care about books as much as you do. There is a magic in being surrounded by people who have read your favorite books and can recommend your next favorite book.

Every time I go to a book convention, I feel at home. I’m inspired by the passion and energy of the place—the squeals of excitement when a favorite book or pairing is mentioned. You can talk about your favorite books online, but there’s nothing like having an IRL conversation with several readers and seeing their expressions, whether it’s elation or that grimace when a certain plot line is brought up. It’s a tangible feeling I can’t get anywhere else. I grieve its loss when I return home.

If you’re thinking about attending a book festival or convention, there are a lot of factors to consider to make sure you have the best experience possible. The first, unfortunately, is budget. Some of these conventions can be pretty expensive, especially when you factor in hotel and travel costs. For me, they are often the only vacation I take so that I can afford some of my favorites. I put money away each month so that I don’t go into debt when the time comes. Also, as an author, I can often arrange it so that it’s tax deductible, which helps a bit. If bigger conventions in far-away places don’t fit your budget, you can still probably find a local festival that will scratch that itch.

The second factor you want to look at is: what do you want to get out of the event? Do you want to see big-time authors speak about their books, even if it means you won’t get any 1-on-1 time with them? Would you rather have a smaller reader-to-author ratio? Is your main goal to get as many books signed as possible? Do you prefer mostly sitting in the audience of a panel or more interactive activities?

One of those magical downtime moments on the beach with authors and readers at Coastal Magic Convention 2019.

For example, I adore the Coastal Magic Convention because it has a low reader-to-author ratio with a nice mix of panels and interactive activities, but it also has a lot of down time where authors and readers can mingle and chat in a low-key setting. It has a signing, but it’s not the focus of the event, which is great for someone like me who tries to minimize my physical book collection but I still have a few faves I can’t resist a signed book from (Beverly Jenkins is going to be there this year and I am upping my book-buying budget!). You can probably surmise that the festivals that are just big, long signings with maybe one social event in the evening aren’t for someone like me, even though I know many people who love them.

Start looking for events that fit your criteria. I don’t know why it can be so hard to find out about these events, but I want to give you a fair warning that it can be. Check out Goodreads events, Facebook events, Eventbrite, event listings on your favorite authors’ websites, and social media. Check out Book Riot’s lists of Best Bookish Events or my list of Awesome Book Events in Every State. If you’re looking local, check out local arts publications, Meetup, and your local library system or literary organizations.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, reach on social media and ask about previous attendees’ experiences. Ask them what they enjoyed the most, what was the biggest negative, if there’s anything you should know before making the commitment.

After taking the plunge and buying the tickets or requesting the days off work, seek out as much info as you can. If you’re anything like me, knowing as much as possible ahead of time can help reduce stress and anxiety. I always like to look at pictures of past events to discern the dress code. Many long-running conventions will have Facebook groups for attendees where you can ask questions and gather additional information.

Finally, when it’s time for the event, have fun! It can be so easy to get caught up in schedules and planning, but if you’re able to let go and go with the flow while you’re there, you’ll probably enjoy yourself more. I started having way more fun at DragonCon once I decided to choose one or two large panels to make it to all weekend, and spend the rest of the time attending smaller events with not as much demand. I’ve found that something I expected to be the main draw of an event for me could turn out to be a dud, but another activity I had no idea about became the highlight and the reason I keep returning.

If you’ve never been to a book festival or convention before, I urge you to give it a try. It’s another level of book fandom that I’ve found highly enjoyable and rewarding. If there’s a book event you’ve really enjoyed, I hope you’ll reach out and let me know about it.

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