In 1996, my husband and I took our four-year-old son to the first-ever Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The main draw for us was a chance for our son to get to meet some of the characters from his favorite PBS shows—none of us remember now which ones. The event, which the Times says was designed “to bring together the people who create books with the people who love to read them,” was small and not at all crowded. I recall seeing only a few dozen booths and a couple of stages.
This weekend I’ll be working at the 19th Festival of Books, which has grown to include more than 100 panel discussions with authors, hundreds of exhibitors, live bands, poetry readings, chef demos, author signings, food trucks, and so much more. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event.
As I recall, attendees at the first Festival of Books could choose one or two direct paths to reach the main event area. Look at a map of this weekend’s event, and you can quickly see that there is no easy way in or out of the festival—in fact there is no one spot to be. You could easily spend hours visiting booths, attending panels, meeting authors, listening to poets and bands, and see only a small portion of the participants at the Festival.
In many ways, I feel like the metamorphosis of the Festival of Books mirrors the changes that have occurred in the publishing world in the past couple of decades. In 1996, a would-be author could aspire to write books or for magazines or newspapers. The path to book publication almost always led through the office of an agent to a large publishing house.
Changing Landscape of Publishing World
Options for today’s would-be authors look more like today’s Festival of Books: diverse, crowded, often confusing. Writers can still look for an agent and a contract with a traditional publisher. Or they can self-publish. Or they can publish with an independent or small press. Or they can create blogs. Or write for other people’s blogs. They can create paper-and-ink publications or e-books or PDFs to be downloaded from a website, or some hybrid of all those forms.
The option seem endless, and many writers get confused and frustrated while trying to navigate through the crowds and the noise.
SPAWN as Navigator
That’s why I’m so excited about spending the weekend volunteering in the booth for the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network. SPAWN is just the type of organization that can help writers and artists navigate the changing landscape of today’s publishing world.
According to its website, SPAWN exists “to provide education, information, resources and a supportive networking environment for creative individuals and small business owners interested in the publishing process.” The website lists resources such as articles, books, lectures, events, contests, and opportunities. Members have access to discounts on publishing-related products, services and organizations; regular market updates; a monthly newsletter; audio files of seminars and workshops led by experienced professionals; and more.
Perhaps the most valuable tool is an email discussion list where members can share concerns about writing and publishing. It’s a wonderful forum to pose questions about where to find a cover designer or what to pay an editor or how to determine if a self-publishing company is reputable or why blog tours can be helpful promotion tools.
SPAWN members are generous with their time and wisdom and can help inexperienced writers navigate the confusing world of publishing—and often save them thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in the process.
Visit Booth 201
So, if you’re visiting the Festival of Books this weekend, enjoy the crowds, get some author autographs, buy some good books, get something to eat from a food truck, listen to a new band. And if you’re interested in writing and publishing in addition to buying and reading, then stop by Booth 201 and discover a group that can help you make that dream come true.