Ann Evans on the Tuscon Festival of Books

Ann Evans and I first met while teaching at Montclair State University. She is a writer, a linguist and a teacher.  Here she writes about her time, earlier this year, as a presenter at the Tucson Festival of Books, and explains how we all might consider presenting there next year.AnnEvans1     It seemed illogical that lil ol’ me was going to be appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books, one of the largest book events in the country, with 130,000 or so visitors and 400 authors presenting.

Sitting in the Author’s Lounge, waiting to go to our presentation, Joan Price (author of Naked at Our Age and The Ultimate Guide to Sex Over 50) and I were looking around a group of people who looked ordinary – a lot of khakis and blue jeans, all ages, races, degrees of attractiveness, and sizes. We realized that some of these people were famous authors, but we didn’t recognize them even after learning the names of their books. There were cowboy writers, tattooed poets, little old ladies (Hah! I should talk!), a few glamor pusses, and some people who looked way too young to have warranted an invitation to TFOB. Many of them had the look of people stunned to find themselves in the company of so many people who do the same solitary work that they do.

You don’t have to be a famous author to appear at TFOB. You propose a subject and a couple of workshops which the organizers can put together into an interesting program. If you can suggest a pairing with another author who can address the same issue, so much the better. Keep an eye on their website, and the application form for next year will eventually appear.

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The festival is organized by Tucson volunteers who have known each other for years. The event itself is well organized, but my co-presenters and I were uneasy at times because we wanted to make plans well in advance, yet details were haphazardly provided, as if our contacts were waiting until they ran into us in the supermarket to give us the information we needed.

Authors like Amy Tan and Dave Barry are sponsored by their publishers, I am told, but the rest of us pay our way, grateful for the addition to our resumes, and the bump in sales that might result. The festival doesn’t pay airfare, but sets aside a certain number of hotel rooms for mid-level authors. Ask and you might receive.

Among the hundreds of white tents blanketing the outdoor walkways and malls of the University of Arizona, I passed a few long lines of readers clutching books to be autographed. They were awaiting their star moment with an author who sells books by the dozen or by the hundred. If my observation is correct, these are usually people who write in a favored niche – fantasy, westerns, spy novels, or romances. Most of the 400 authors there, however, were nursing along books which had sold in the low- to mid-hundreds.

For that day, we were experts on a subject chosen for its appeal to the TFOB audience –nascent writers and avid readers. I shared my experiences getting published on the panel called “SheWrites.” I live this story, so it seems a worn-out tale to me, but everything I said was news to the 50 or so attendees. It was healthy to realize the worth of my experience. The second panel (picture above) was called “Never Too Late to Date,” and my fellow presenter was Joan Price, a nationally acknowledged “senior sexpert.”

Most people buy a book after hearing about it 4 or 5 times. Appearing at TBOB introduced my name and my book to tens of thousands of people. The immediate bump was modest, and my goal now is to find a way for them to hear of me several more times, so that sales go up.

With the exception of the stars, we all wondered how we had landed in this place, with ID cards hanging around our necks saying “AUTHOR,” basking in giggles and “oooohs” from the people we met. I think we felt for a whole weekend the romance of being a writer. It was worth the ten thousand hours we had spent looking at our computer screens alone. I’m going to try for next year.


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