Monday, April 27, 2009

Emily's Highlights from the trenches of LA Lit Culture

From a bookseller's standpoint, the LA Times Festival of Books is a lot of work. You spend a few weeks gathering supplies and inventory, and it is one of those rare opportunities where you get to decide just what it is that will define your store to thousands of potential new customers and faithful regulars. Then you get up early several days in a row, carry lots of boxes, cover all of your beloved books with dew-repellent tarps, and hope for exactly the weather we got this weekend.

Because we really wanted our booth to have the same curated feel as our store, fine-tuning was essential. We brought signed copies from past events, books for upcoming events, edgy fiction and rare gems from small presses, a spinner of Hard Case Crime books, heady titles from university presses, and kids books that reflect our refined tastes. Interestingly, staff picks didn't seem to help or hurt -- what really mattered was the visual. People were looking at books all day in 100s and 100s of booths, and if you could catch their eye with something they hadn't seen before, they might stop by. The goal was to have a few titles they might come looking for, and lots that they won't see anywhere else.

One of my favorite quotes came before our booth was even open: as we were unpacking boxes, a finals-addled UCLA student asked, voice all full of awe and wonder, whether "ALL of the books in your store are like THIS?"

I only had the pleasure of attending one panel, Publishing 3.0, which was phenomenal. I haven't mentally distilled it quite yet, but let's just say that it had the potential to be everything the ill-fated SXSW publishing panel was not. They only true limitation was time.

Other highlights included the Granta party at Equator Books and a successful tweetup at the Skylight booth with my idol Richard Nash, formerly of Soft Skull and Counterpoint. And the icing on the cake, quite literally, was at the end of my last shift, when a coworker (whose father happens to be a bigshot fiction writer) gave me her VIP wrist band. I snuck into the VIP lounge and had the most amazing free brie, free mini sandwiches, and don't even get me started on the free chocolate cake. They sure know how to treat their VIPs!

I think that #LATFOB gives us an idea of what BEA might be like if it were open to the public. I'm a fan of opening up the final day of BEA. At the Publishing 3.0 panel, Richard Nash suggested that 20th century publishing was really about perfecting the art of supply. In order to survive this transition into the 21st century, Nash suggests that honing in on customer demand will be the key. To this relative rookie, it seems that BEA still falls more on the supply side: we are talking amongst ourselves, various points along the book supply chain, about how we can all work together -- an important and undoubtedly exciting task. But as booksellers, our role is really that of intermediary between authors/publishers/publicists on one hand and readers on the other. And unlike BEA, where we booksellers often have to be the voice of our customers, the Festival of Books brings all of these parties face to face.

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