March came around again this year, and with it, the annual Virginia Festival of the Book – celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014.
I knew I wanted to attend “Pub Day” – Saturday’s all-day event featuring authors, agents, publishers, and other experts. Last year, the writer group I belong to presented a panel for Pub Day. This year, I looked forward to a lower-pressure kind of day, even if I would miss an invitation to the Saturday-evening cocktails for presenters.
Part of the fun was running into friends and acquaintances at odd moments. At lunchtime, I wandered down Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to Timberlake’s old-fashioned lunch counter, in search of a hot dog for a friend who couldn’t get away from her post, as an exhibitor in the Omni Hotel’s lobby. On my way back, I chatted with a colleague about how to host a BookFest panel of authors that really works. I thought to myself that could be fun to do one day. Another writer-group compatriot rode up, locked her bicycle to the rack, and walked with me back into the hotel, ready for some afternoon sessions.
Then there was the inadvertent eavesdropping. As I sat outside – in the oh-so-welcome sunshine! – for a few minutes to eat a sandwich, I realized the people clustered nearby were kibitzing about BookFest panels I had been to, or knew about. I remembered why these gatherings remind me of high school.
This year’s highlight event for me was at 10am on Pub Day, featuring Charlottesville’s own Jane Friedman on the topic of The Digital Publishing Landscape. I liked it for a few reasons. My husband joined me for this session. These days, he mostly stays away from all things literary, although (or because) he once lived the life in NYC. It was a pleasure to share the experience with him. Also, I was relieved that, because of my own adventures in publishing and author services over the past several years, I could follow what Friedman was saying. She said it well, in a relaxed, good-humored, confident manner, and with excellent slides to add visual impact.
A cautionary example of perils of unprotected literary works in the public domain, like Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books was the image of a digital bundle of three books from the series, its cover featuring a blonde (not copper-haired, not even green-haired) come-hither older teenager posed in a plaid farm shirt. Next to a bale of hay. I mean, really? On behalf of Lucy Maud, a distant relative of my grandfather, I was outraged.
Among the many topics Friedman covered in the allotted hour, she spoke empathetically to authors’ struggles with marketing their work. She recommended adopting what she calls “Lifecycle Marketing” for your publications, recognizing that books can sell long after they are launched, through an author’s ongoing direct engagement with readers and fans. One of her slides included a graphic in the familiar Keep Calm typeface and layout, exhorting authors in search of their market to “Keep Calm and Write More.” Translation: It often makes more economic sense to focus on writing more books to sell to your existing audience, rather than to expend your energies trying to expand your base. You’re probably a better writer than marketer, anyway.
I queued up after Friedman’s talk, for the chance to thank her and say hello. From time to time we’ve made contact on Twitter and Facebook, but I had never met her. It was a goofy thrill, when I extended my hand and introduced myself, to hear her say she recognized me from social media. What a lovely way for Pub Day to begin!