An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part II

Naomi Hirahara

Yesterday I wrote about the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books from largely a visitor’s perspective. Today I will look into the situation of vendors. I was aware that the rental of the booths was not cheap, and a conversation this week confirmed it–the cost, at least for this one vendor, was $2,000 for two 10 by 10 spaces (!). So why would booksellers and publishers, especially small, independent ones, decide to participate in the festival each year?

I, your intrepid reporter, questioned a few booksellers to get their answers.

My hometown mystery bookstore, Book’em Mysteries, has been involved from the very beginning. Count them–that’s 11 consecutive years. In fact, Barry Martin, who owns the bookstore with partner Mary Riley, was a founding participant in the event. Jean Utley, also of the bookstore, writes: "The first year, no one knew just how big or important an event it would be." Apparently one large national chain just brought a folding table, metal cash box, and some poetry listings in their 10 by 10 booth and only made a couple of hundred dollars the first day. Another chain with more foresight made $16,000 that weekend. You can bet that the former chain store made some changes the following year!

Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego-based mystery and fantasy bookstore, shares that she and her partner jumped in after the first year. "It’s a profitable venue and we always enjoy attending. It’s great to see so many thousands of people gathered to celebrate books and reading in a city not particularly known for being a book town."

Sherry Kanzer, who runs the English-language section of the L.A. branch of Kinokuniya, a Japanese book chain, states that the "Festival of Books is an excellent opportunity for us to introduce the ‘faraway’ downtown location of our specialty store to new customers, particularly on the westside." (For those unfamiliar with westside L.A., this area includes West Los Angeles, parts of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Culver City, Westwood, Santa Monica, etc. Just think of the movie, "Friends with Money.")

Both Kanzer and Book’em’s Utley express that the festival helps with exposure and name recognition. Writes Utley: "We use the opportunity to let people know where our store is located, the kind of books and service we provide, and introduce lots of authors to the community. There are a lot of people we see once a year at this event who return to our booth to buy more books based on our recommendations."

For Kinokuniya (Booth #312), stationery items are a big attraction. (Attention authors, if you need a signing pen, go to the Kinokuniya booth.) Discounted items as well as novelty titles (HAIKUS FOR JEWS) are apparently big sellers. I asked Kanzer whether she sees an increased interest in Japanese mysteries. "There seems to be a direct correlation between the number of Japanese mystery titles published [in original English and in translation] and the rise in interest. My conclusion is: we need more!" That observation should bode well for not only me, but her, her, her, and him.

Utley prides herself on handselling lots of literary mysteries, translations, local authors, historicals, and favorite books at the festival. They sell everything–hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and mass market books. Mysterious Galaxy tends to do better with books signed by authors who limit the number of formal signings they do at the festival.

The festival is a good place to test the waters and do informal market studies. Martin Burton, publisher of London Town Press (Booth #818), is doing precisely that with a reintroduction of the classic, PEDRO, THE ANGEL OF OLVERA STREET, by the legendary Leo Politi to the festival audience. I myself have vivid memories of Politi’s books and I’m planning to go by the London Town Press to purchase some Pedro books as holiday gifts. Burton, who founded his children’s publishing house with one title in 1998, has expanded to publish not only his own picture books, but also photo-nature books which are distributed by Publishers Group West (PGW). Burton explains that he’s had a booth since 2003 "to ‘stake my flag’ in the publishing world, to see and to been seen among publishing professionals, to interact with buyers of my books, and to expose my books to a wide range of buyers, and to test new products as well." Burton sells hundreds of books at each festival.

And finally, why would an out-of-town author spend his precious pennies on travel to the festival? Well, one of the mystery world’s rising stars, Sean Doolittle, is making the 1,500-mile trek from his home in Omaha to L.A. for his third LAT appearance. He writes, "I love this festival. It’s bright and vibrant and colorful, held outdoors during springtime in a city I love to visit. It’s inspiring to see the ‘personal hero’ authors who inevitably attend, it’s fun to hang out with the friends I’ve made in this business over the past five years, and it’s heartening to mingle with the thousands of strangers who turn out to celebrate books."

It’s also an opportunity for writers to network with L.A. booksellers all in one place. Doolittle is particularly indebted to the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, located close to the festival’s location. The store, which annually hosts a Pre-Festival of Books signing party on Friday evening and features a large signing lineup in its booth, has been extremely supportive of Doolittle’s books (I’ve witnessed this myself–I’ve seen a nice table display at the Mystery Bookstore’s promoting his third book, RAIN DOGS) as well as countless others. "When they say they have a slot for me at their booth, I’m there." See his website for where and when Sean will be during this weekend.

Speaking of out-of-state mystery authors at the festival, fellow blogger Pari Noskin Taichert will be traveling all the way from New Mexico. Yay! Check out my website and Pari’s website to get a full list of our signings during that weekend. Tell us what you’d like to see on Murderati and we might be able to comply. Also, in a very late development, I was approached last week to pinch hit for a mystery writer who had to cancel his engagement on the Vroman’s Book Bus. So I’ll be the host for one of the store’s mystery buses, holding 50 people captive during a 45-minute bus ride with a microphone in hand. Seriously, with the bagels, coffee, and trivia questions, I think we all will be in for a fun time.


(in alphabetical order)

Akashic Books #197

Book’em Mysteries #441

Crime Time Books/Sisters in Crime L.A. #221

Mysterious Galaxy/Tor/St. Martin’s Minotaur #601

Mystery Bookstore/MWA #411

Mystery Pier Books (signed collectibles) #612

General location: Book’em is on a corner facing Haines Hall. Mystery Bookstore/MWA is located along the main walkway in the middle of Dickson Plaza. Crime Time Books/Sisters in Crime faces the entrance to Royce Hall. Mysterious Galaxy and Mystery Pier Books are in a completely different section in Dickson Court North, also referred to as Zone F. And Akashic is even further away near the Culinary Stage. Make the trek down the Janss Steps and get a bite to eat while looking at the latest in the Noir series.

MYSTERY PAPERBACK ORIGINALS GLAM IT UP: I would have never imagined that my amateur sleuth, an aging Japanese American gardener, would ever be in a magazine with Tom Hanks on the cover. But yes, in the April 28/May 5 issue of Entertainment Weekly, there is a very nice review of my third mystery, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN. Grade was "B," which is above average, my very kind, sane, and balanced husband reminds me. Also reviewed was BUST, the paperback thriller cowritten by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. They received an excellent "A-." Congratulations, gentlemen!

PRE-EMPTED SPAM: Because of the length of these special Festival of Books posts, our weekly Spam contest entry has been pre-empted. But it will return next week, in addition to some (hopefully) pretty pictures from the Festival of Books.

19 thoughts on “An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part II

  1. Louise Ure

    Naomi, thanks for your additional remarks in reply to my post yesterday. Yes, I can chat up strangers. (Even the obviously drunk woman at one of my signings who kept asking, “But what was for lunch?”) I just hope that I’m as lucky with signing partners as you were.

    I’m only flying down to LA for the day (Sunday), but it’s a long day, and should allow plenty of time to try catching a panel or two as well doing my own signings.

    If you have a moment free, stop by and help out a first-timer! I’ll be at:

    Mystery Bookstore (Booth #411) at noonBook ‘Em (Booth #441) at 1:00 p.m.MWA (Booth #411) at 2:00 p.m.

  2. M_eHart

    Great articles on LATFB, Naomi! Can’t wait to see you there!

    BTW, thought of you this weekend while at my local Friends of the Library Book sale, when I picked up a copy of _Hawiian and Pacific Foods_ by Katherine Bazore, An Associate Professor of Home Ec. at the university of Hawaii from 1940 – 1942… 🙂

  3. Naomi


    That cookbook sounds totally cool! The Japanese American National Museum will be doing a food exhibition in the future, and I know that they will be relying on a lot of old cookbooks for research.

    I love those community cookbooks, created by churches and temples. They are the best. They tell you a lot about how communities of people were being influenced by other groups (i.e. the ever-popular tamale pie in Japanese American cookbooks in the 1970s), socio-economic standings, etc. Not to mention the recipes are usually good and doable. In fact, I guess cookbooks would be a great resource for mystery writers who are working on historical novels. In Burbank, there’s an used bookstore that just deals with cookbooks. I don’t know how far back they go, however.

  4. Naomi


    Well, I’ll definitely be seeing you at the Book’em booth, because we’ll be signing together, side by side. We’ll have a whole hour to chat and listen to each other repeat our loglines to passersby! Actually, since this weekend will be my first event for SNAKESKIN, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to say. Hmmm.

  5. Elaine

    Okay, you asked about my perfume, now I want to know about Sudokus.

    And hey! MaryElizabeth! How great to see you here! Wish I was going to be in L.A. with Naomi, Pari & Louise. Drat. But I can at least send you all a virtual hug and wishes for great sales!

  6. Carstairs38

    First piece of advice – Go! I skipped it the first year I heard about it and had to have my arm majorly twisted the second year. This will be my fifth year, and I’m hoping to go both days.

    Second – Set a strick budget. It’s way too easy to spend more then you can afford. Paper to jot down notes really helps with this. Then you know you will remember the titles later.

    Third – Pace yourself. There’s so much going on, you can wear yourself out fairly early. My friend and I usually take an hour break for lunch. Really helps us make it through the afternoon.

    Fourth – Have gobs and gobs of fun!


  7. Naomi


    Your third point is important. I’m a bit of a pack mule and camel–don’t need many breaks or much water, but it’s much healthier to take care of the old body.

    And “gobs”–do I detect some kind of Texas connection?


    I’m mathematically challenged, so I can’t explain Sudoku to you–only that it’s the biggest craze since crossword puzzles and mahjohnn.

  8. M_eHart


    I feel like I could use the cookbook as a starting point to be a culinary detective — because it was written by a professor, there are a bunch of other books cited in the back! Plus, a bonus … a previous owner inserted a 1969 Dole “how to have a Luau” panphlet. 🙂


    At least we’ll see each other at ThrillerFest!

  9. Pari

    Hey, Naomi,Thanks so much for these wonderful articles on the LATFOB. They have so much useful information; I just wish you’d written them two years ago.

    Thanks, also, for the mention in your blog. I hope to see some buddies at the Festival . . . and to make new friends.

    Hey! Congrats on the good review in EW! Wow. You’ve really arrived.

    Can’t wait to see you.


  10. Elaine

    Drat, darn and gosh golly! I forgot to congrat Naomi on the EW cover!!! Oh, what self-centered wretch that I am.

    MaryElizabeth!!! You’re going to ThrillerFest??? Yahoo! When are you getting in? I’ll bring the truffles! No, forget that. They’ll probably melt. The bar is a better idea.


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