Recently, I hit up the amazing GET LIT! Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. A few reasons why it was wonderful: It happens in a gorgeous old church that is also a brewery, so that was a great start to the day. Secondly, it featured various independent publishers and other literary-adjacent small businesses. In the beautiful space that was formerly the sanctuary of the church, those who wanted to read could use the open mic. I enjoyed my afternoon at the indie book festival. It made me realize that there were a few things I wish I’d known before I went. I will make an even better effort at my next indie book festival. I especially want to support creatives, enjoy conversations, and learn a ton.
What to do at your Indie Book Festival
Talk to people
I thought for some reason, when going in to this festival, that the space would fill up the way a Comic convention often does. I assumed that I could move around in my introvert bubble, looking at things but mostly not interacting. At a small indie book festival, it’s good to prepare to be sociable; no one expects that you’d buy a book at every spot, so you can safely engage without expecting an intense sell process. Also, many people are really proud of the work their indie publishing company does, so letting them share can be a great strategy.
Buy books; they are usually on sale!
You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy books because you are talking to the exhibitors. However, you may actually want to buy books just b/c this is a great time to buy books! All your indie publishers under one roof often put up a sale price for the festival. Each tome you choose right there will help them make the choice to exhibit in the future. Let’s face it, indie book festivals are a good time! We want it to be worth the publisher’s while to come. You don’t have to go crazy buying books. Before you leave, think about which books you might end up buying when you get home via online shops. That way, you can just buy them in person instead.
Listen to writing that isn’t usually your style
Readings are a big part of the independent book festival experience, and chances are that at the smaller festivals you won’t get your pick of a lot of different reading options. Instead, use this as a chance to listen to writers you might never discover otherwise. For instance, the indie book festival I recently attended had a distinct supernatural and horror bent, even though I don’t read a lot in those genres. It pushed me to note how the things I love best in other genres also appear in horror and supernatural writing.
Bring a friend
While I do think that a person walking through a festival can have a great time solo, there are a few good reasons to bring a friend. With a friend, you can decompress (at some festivals, with a beer!) and talk through your favorite parts of the festival. They can also be your companion in socializing with different exhibitors and choosing books you may want to buy. It’s also just nice to have twice as many book-related connections. If this table is devoted to steampunk-themed literature, maybe you don’t have a background in it, but your friend does! Lastly, indie book festivals can always use a little extra love in the form of the friends you bring.
If the organizers have enabled a survey to talk about what you liked, fill it out. If you wished there were more exhibitors of fandom-based headbands and toothbrushes, let them know. Often, organizers are regular folks who run small presses, so they may be getting into the event-planning scene very recently. Your kind but thoughtful advice can make the next edition of the festival even better.
Overall, the best advice, especially for FREE indie book festivals, is to just go. Whether you loiter among the books for a whole day or breeze through in half an hour to pick out some presents for friends, you’ll be glad you made the effort to support your local lit community.