Once a book festival is over, it’s pretty much over for the regular attendees who consult their calendar to see what’s next. For festival organizers, booksellers, and authors, it’s a time to decompress, recover, do some bookkeeping, and, if they’re smart, evaluate what went right and what went wrong.
NAOMI’S QUICK OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE LAT FESTIVAL OF BOOKS
1) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The booth’s location and size make all the difference in the world. Sisters in Crime/Crime Time Books have prime real estate, right outside of Royce Hall, which holds 1,800. This year they had more space, which allowed people easier access to the books. Many authors sold out of stock and Crime Time Books says this year may have been their best.
2) TIME MATTERS: Book selling started early–hard-core enthusiasts were there even before the festival opened on Saturday and were purchasing books. But by the late afternoon on Sunday, buyers were weighed down with book purchases and credit card debt and were not as open to buy books by authors they were unfamiliar with. Note to authors: try to schedule as many booth signings on Saturday and early Sunday.
3) FESTIVAL IS DRAWING MORE OUT-OF-STATE PARTICIPANTS: Once I got off of the Vroman’s bus at 9:30 a.m on Saturday, I ran into power forward Reed Coleman, wearing his MWA T-shirt and black blazer, Peter Spiegelman, and Johnny Temple at the Akashic booth. Apparently New Yorker Coleman loves L.A. and Saturday, which broke out in sunshine, was a particular good day for an East Coaster to visit.
4) CONSISTENCY AND PERSISTENCE WIN OUT: San Francisco-based Cara Black, who was on the L.A. Times Bestseller List in March with MURDER IN MONTMATRE, credits much of her success on making the trek to the L.A. Times Festival of Books six consecutive years and also nurturing her relationship with Southern California booksellers in general. Of course, she also writes darn good mysteries and has a great hook: "a murder in Paris." Fellow blogger Pari Noskin Taichert is a masterful speaker (that’s why I identify myself as a former p.r. flak vs. p.r. professional) and easily convinced some L.A. teenagers to buy her first Agatha-nominated book, THE CLOVIS INCIDENT. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
5) SWEDES AND MANGA WERE HOT TOPICS IN THE PLAZA: Swedish mysteries were selling like hotcakes in the Book’em booth (an unnamed bookseller rhapsodized on how handsome Kjell Eriksson was. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but sorry, Simon, he looks tall in his author’s photo!!!) Sales of Japanese translated manga was burning up the grass at Kinokuniya, which also had a better location than previous years.
6) PICTURE BOOKS, MOVE OVER FOR CHAPTER BOOKS & Y.A.: Since I rode on a bus with the manager of Vroman’s children’s department, as well as signed with Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata, my eyes were newly opened to the power of chapter books for children. Well, if you think about it–Carl Hiaasen did it two times, Lois-Ann Yamanaka did it three times, Walter Mosley, Michele Serros, Clive Cussler, and Sherman Alexie all did it. Apparently with the Baby Boomer’s children aging into adolescence, the demand for YA has increased. So if you can think from a child’s or teenager’s perspective, this is your moment to pitch that story to that agent or publisher.
7) LACK OF A COHESIVE MYSTERY PRESENCE: Apparently the Mystery Bookstore Pre-Festival party was hopping Friday night. (I opted not to fight Friday night traffic–it’s an eastside/westside thing.) A lot of authors hung out the centrally located Mystery Bookstore booth during the weekend, but it would have been nice to see an even more cohesive presence at the festival itself. Perhaps a joint Sisters in Crime/MWA event with all the mystery vendors on Saturday evening (yes, to add to the madness), or some silly sticker that mystery fans could affix to their T-shirts or something. Mysterious Galaxy had a nice flyer with all their signing authors listed–it would have been helpful to have a comprehensive flyer with all the mystery booths and authors and have volunteers pass them out in the middle of Dickson Plaza. Or perhaps a pre-festival snail-mailing/e-mailing of all the signings to Sisters in Crime and MWA members.
Those who weren’t on a panel and just signed in booths were at a distinct disadvantage because their presence was largely unknown to the 120,000 folks visiting the event. I wasn’t on a panel, but two booths had put my name in under the author signings page, and that surely propelled sales. (I also had a new book that had come out that week.)
Of course, it’s easy to suggest these ideas, but quite another thing to come up with the labor and money to organize extra events and publicity efforts during such a hectic time. So to implement anything additional will require more workers. But just an observation from the peanut gallery.
ALL ABOARD: The "red" bus, the Vroman’s bus I hosted, was filled by 8:30 a.m. Before we left, I got to meet the authors of the debut novel, LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A., who were hosting the green bus. A total of four buses left Pasadena for Westwood.
AUTHORS REVISIT HISTORY: I was able to catch at least one panel on revisiting history with, from left to right, moderator Jonathan Kirsch, Luis Rodriguez, Jennifer Haigh, Harry Turtledove. Kirsch had some great questions, which covered the gammit from political correct language vs. language of the era, alternate history, etc. It was a nice mix of scholarly/street/sophisticated. I enjoyed it.
MR. HOLLYWOOD: Sean Doolittle blends right in with the L.A. crowd with a cell phone clamped to his ear. Crime Time owner Linda Bivens is on the right.
MY TWO NEW BEST FRIENDS (AT LEAST FROM 2 TO 4 ON SUNDAY): André Coleman, an editor with the Pasadena Weekly who has written a new book, A LIAR’S TALE, and the indomitable Cara Black, creator of the Aimée Leduc series. Cara’s soft spoken but she gets the promotional the job done and then some. The woman in pink in the back is Sister in Crime board member Susan Berry, who organized the author signings this year. Thanks, Susan!
SUNSHINE GALS: Ms. Chili Pepper herself, Pari, debut novelist Louise Ure (center), and Patricia Smiley. Patty, who gives the most articulate quotes, was on a panel and in the L.A. Times rundown of Sunday’s activities. And just to show you what a small world it truly is–Pari met the sister of a writer she knows back in Alburquerque, where she’s from, in the bathroom.
MS. NEWBERY: That’s me on the left and last year’s Newbery Winner Cynthia Kadohata on the right signing at the Heritage Source booth. It’s been so cool to watch Cynthia’s career skyrocket.
OTHER FACES OF L.A. MYSTERY
While authors are usually front and center, we all know the power of the biz lies in our precious booksellers and fans. Here are a few portraits.
HE ONCE WAS A COMRADE OF MAS: Bobby McCue, more often just referred to as "Bobby," is the manager of the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. He also once was in the landscaping biz, my character Mas’s field.
BOOK COLLECTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE: Michael Masliah is hooked on books. Usually pulling a suitcase on wheels, Masliah is a fixture at L.A.-based mystery conventions and, of course, the L.A. Festival of Books. He spends 24/7 on books, since he also works at a librarian at Culver City Julian Dixon Library, a County of Los Angeles Public Library, and serves on the board of this.
HE PIMPED BATMAN’S RIDE: Well, maybe not him literally, but his company. Whether it be Sisters in Crime meetings or mystery booths at book festivals, you’ll usually see the woolly head (when it’s not covered in one or two hats) of self-avowed feminist Don Cannon, passionately discussing his latest mystery book find. While he’s devoted to progressive causes, Cannon needs cold hard cash to finance those stacks of books that he buys. There’s where his company, Cannon Engineering, comes in. They design and manufacture automobile drive shafts in North Hollywood and provided the official drive shaft of the Batmobile!
For more photos, check out the blog of the Mystery Dawg himself, Aldo Calcagno. And other attendees–readers, authors, and booksellers–if you have your own observations, add them to the comment section, please!
SPAM FOR THE WEEK: Sue Bartle of Rockville, Maryland, writes: "Personally, I DETEST Spam. But, I had a friend in college who loved the stuff. She would make it during finals week. She would take a slice of Spam and add a slice of American cheese and encase it in Pillsbury biscuit dough. She would then bake it. What a waste of perfectly good cheese." Contribute your Spam memories to the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest. See my website for details.