My Day at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2017
Sunday, September 17, was one of my favorite days of the entire year so far.
The annual Brooklyn Book Festival takes place every year just a short walk from my apartment, at Borough Hall and Cadman Plaza. This year, the festival opened officially at 10 am, but tents were being set up long before that, so I was out among them by 9:50. My plan was to walk through all of the tents before the first event I wanted to see at 11. When I had only gone through one small section of the southern tip of Borough Plaza by 10:45, I knew it was going to be a long day.
1. Literati: A comedy show
The first presentation I attended was a live comedy show called Literati, which got its start at Union Hall in Brooklyn. It was a lineup of comedians talking about writing and books. I was happy to see Aparna Nancherla, easily one of the funniest people on Twitter, tell three stories about the ways books and libraries shaped her adolescence. But since I was hoping more for a panel about how to write comedy, I left after she read.
2. The National Book Awards
My next stop was back at the Main Stage, where I saw a panel of National Book Award-winning authors interviewed by Lisa Lucas, the president of the National Book Foundation. I went mainly to see Ibram X. Kendi, who took home the nonfiction prize last year for his staggering work Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. I've been slowly devouring Stamped for most of this year, and it is truly an amazing piece of writing. As Laurie Halse Anderson, who was also on the panel, said, "If you buy only one book today, buy Stamped from the Beginning. And when you're done with it, loan it to a friend." Hear, hear.
3. The importance of strong female representation
After that, I booked it (pun intended) to another panel called Telling Her Own Story, in which YA authors Tracey Baptiste, Meg Medina, and Renée Watson had an excellent discussion with Dhonielle Clayton about writing realistic, strong female characters. It's always refreshing to hear another person's perspective about what it's like to live in the world, and especially how they translate their experiences into their stories. This panel was especially helpful for me as I struggle to write strong female characters in my own novel. I tend to shy away from female characters since I personally don't know what it's like to be a woman. But this isn't an excuse to not represent a wide variety of people and perspectives in my work. I need to do better at this!
4. How to reach an audience as a writer
After an hour or so of walking through the rest of the tents, picking up a ton of materials from literary journals and MFA programs (who knows? Maybe one day?), I went to two final panels: one was a repeat of last year's Your Expert Nation panel on how to reach an audience as a writer. Chock-full of tips for social media and other public relations strategies, their biggest piece of advice is that for writers, your marketing strategy needs to begin when you start writing your book, not after.
This year there was an interesting addition to their marketing advice: the importance of audio in self-promotion. Audio is everywhere, they said, and so a new trend for writers is to make a free SoundCloud account and upload audio clips of yourself or someone else reading excerpts from your book. You can then easily send these clips to podcasts or radio programs that your target audience listens to.
Audio is definitely something I'd never considered using before, and I'm excited to have one more tool in my arsenal and experiment with this strategy.
Finally, as the last stop in a very long day, I got to hear Alice Sola Kim, Fiona Maazel, N.K. Jemisin, and Daniel José Older talk about world building in science fiction and fantasy. When I attended the festival last weekend, I was still reading Jemisin's excellent second novel in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Obelisk Gate. Each of these authors talked about how they inject their own philosophical and political beliefs into their fantasy worlds. I especially appreciated Jemisin pointing out that science fiction novels that get too wrapped up in getting science right but miss out on portraying the human condition in an accurate way entirely miss the point. It's a great reminder for those of us that write speculative fiction that our job is no less important than those who write literary fiction.
All told, it was a fun, full, and exhausting day. You can tell just by how much stuff I brought home, much to Katelyn's consternation: