Friday, September 17, 2010

Bookmarks Festival 2010

Yes - no blog yesterday.  We had a day-job picnic and then a really good friend came to visit.  We played chess all night.  So, I'll do yesterday's blog today and today's blog tomorrow, thus ending my week-long blitz introduction.

Last Saturday I attended my first book festival seminar ever.  Or is it better called a session?  Or an author meet and greet?  See - I don't know the terminology.  I don't know what I'm doing!  I'm only an aspiring writer.  That means I just want to write and write and let the world discover me.  (If only it worked like that.)

First off, let me clarify: The Bookmarks Festival of Books is not a full fledged writers conference where you try to network with real writers and agents.  (That's something else I plan to attend in a couple of months - later blog on that.)  Rather, this was a festival - a more laid back event geared more toward readers and novice aspiring writers.  Let's see what their website says: "Novice writers and readers of all ages are inspired by and learn from authors, illustrators, storytellers and chefs through readings, workshops, panel discussions, cooking demonstrations, and creative and interactive activities for children and teens."

Oh, that's the word I was looking for earlier: workshops!  I attended two "workshops."

Workshop #1: Ursula Vernon was someone I had never heard of before.  Out of 44 presentations, I chose her's because: a) it was after 12 PM - we had a morning conflict; b) she does children's books - something I'm interested in; c) she does graphic novels - my daughter is a budding aspiring writer and also an aspiring illustrator - so I thought this would inspire her - I also brought my budding aspiring writer son; d) one of her series is called "Dragonbreath" - oh I was so hooked.

We were running late.  I said, "Get in the van, kids!  I don't want to miss this."  You should have seen me driving.  We were still a couple minutes late.

Now, let me remind you that I've never been to one of these workshops.  We were sent to the basement of the Millennium Center, which translates into "dusty old building."  They had set up a "red room" which was really one side of the basement next to the billiard tables.  It was set apart by hanging curtains.  It was an adhoc-y set up - just like in the movies.  Cool!

Ursula was already talking.  I could tell right away that she was an introvert, just like me.  She wasn't a smashing orator.  My kids looked at me saying, "Really?" with their eyes.  After a couple of minutes, we actually started listening to her.  She was telling a few stories about how she came to being an author/illustrator.  It was really interesting stuff.  I could see that my kids became captivated as well.

Take note: Authors may not be great speakers, but they certainly have a lot to say - and it really is interesting!

Here are some of my observations of Ursula.  She's gone past "aspiring writer" and is now "little known author" on the way to "boo-yah author."  All she wants to do is write and write and illustrate and let her agent take care of everything else.  (He was in the room - a real life agent in the room!)  She related all the silly things publishers have to worry about - like when in the year a book needs to be sold - what colors are cheaper to work with - etc.  All interesting stuff, I tell you.

Then there was the fan.  She sat right behind me, and when she asked her "question," she was jumping up and down with excitement.  When Ursula mentioned her new book coming out this week, the fan held it up and said, "I have one!"  At the end of the workshop, the fan jumped up and gave Ursula a big hug.

Take note: if I ever become even a "little known author," I will probably have complete strangers jumping up to hug me.

I would have liked to stick around and actually meet Ursula, but I didn't want to miss the next workshop on our list.  We left.

Workshop #2: How to Get Published.  This was another adhoc-y setting.  We met inside an art store, and all the seats up front were taken.  There was no microphone.  My kids and I had to stand up.

Judith Geary, an editor at Ingalls Publishing, gave all kinds of good advice on how to get published.  The most helpful (and depressing) advice she gave was this: If you want to get published, you need an agent; and the only way you can find an agent is if you know one or you know someone who knows one.

My first reaction: but I read on the internet that if you really, really, really want to write, and you're good enough, you will get published - even if you don't know anybody.  I didn't want to hear anything else Judith wanted to say.  But I kept listening, and I realized: if you really, really, really want to write, you'll find a way to know an agent or know someone who needs an agent through a process called "networking."

Now, I have no idea how to do this.  I'm an introvert!  And all I want to do is write!  Why won't the agents come to me?

Judith suggested to build up your internet presence.  She's the one who told us the suggestion to Google your name and see what comes up.

Thus you see the inspiration for my beginning this blog.  I know hardly anybody is reading this now, but perhaps one day... we'll see.  I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm doing it.  I'm tired of waiting to be discovered.  I'm going to try all kinds of different paths to getting published, and I only need one path to work.

After the Workshops: Then I decided to hit the festival booths with my kids.  It was raining, so we had fun to dodging the raindrops.  I met a director of the Winston-Salem Writers Group - I'll have to check them out further.  I tried to find a representative of the NC Writer's Network, but couldn't seem to find any.  I met Steve Kirk, the editor-in-chief of John F. Blair.  He was a nice man who was happy to talk about their books.  He gave me a catalog.

Take note: Editors are normal people - just like aspiring writers.

Lastly, we hit the WFU book selling tent.  There, they sold books from all the visiting authors.  I wanted to see what Ursula Vernon's "Dragonbreath" looked like.  At the request of my son, I ended up buying Book #1.  Of course, I wanted book #3, which featured Were-Wieners (the hot dog has teeth!), but my boy's a purest - we had to start with book #1.

I bought the book thinking we could have it signed by Ursula herself.  I've never had a book signed by anyone!  The book signing tent was conveniently located next to the bookstore tent.  But when we got to the tent, Ursula was gone.  A staff member said, "They're only here for an hour at most, and then they have to leave."

Take note: if you really want to get an author's signature, you have to actually follow the author after their workshop.  Next time - I'll be ready.

On the way home, my two boys were fighting over the book.  All week long they've been taking turns reading it.  My older daughter read it when I wasn't looking.  My kids are eating up the stuff, and they want the next book.  Problem is: we aspiring writers usually don't have extra money lying around.  Also, our county library doesn't carry the Dragonbreath series.  Bummer.

I had to see what the hubbub was about, so I started reading.  It starts with pirates.  "Arr" and "avast," etc.  I kept reading.  It's different.  It's cute.  It's funny.  Then I told myself, "This little-known author needs to become a boo-yah author."  So, look it up.  Check out the Dragonbreath series.  Heck - check out any of her books and see what it's about.  I think next time I see her, I may be jumping up and down with excitement.

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