Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Brooklyn Book Festival

Elizabeth Zelvin

I spent last Sunday at the Brooklyn Book Festival, an ambitious annual event that describes itself as follows:

The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York City presenting an array of literary stars and emerging authors who represent the exciting world of literature today. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart, diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages.

This year’s luminaries included Larry McMurtry, Terry McMillan, Jennifer Egan, John Sayles, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Jean Valentine, Jules Feiffer, and Pete Hamill. But I didn’t hear any of them speak. The New York chapters of both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime had tables. Between the two, I was on my feet for several hours, schmoozing with both the passing book lovers and my fellow writers. I handed out at least a hundred bookmarks for Death Will Extend Your Vacation, my new book, which won’t be out till next spring. I even sold a decent number of my already published books.

Typically, given New York’s increasingly fickle weather (global warming doesn’t mean it’s always hot—it increases extremes), the day started out gray and blustery and gradually became one of those clear, sparkling fall afternoons for which New York is famous.

At the Sisters in Crime booth, the hot ticket item was Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, an anthology of crime stories by chapter members, each set in a part of New York City (within the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) that probably doesn’t appear in any tourist guide. My story’s setting, the church basements of AA throughout the city, certainly doesn’t. Though a lifelong New Yorker, I had never heard of the Morbid Anatomy Library. One formerly well-kept secret, the High Line, is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction. Since its stunning renovation as a block-wide “mile-and-a-half-long elevated park, running through the West Side neighborhoods of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell's Kitchen,” it’s rapidly becoming a favorite of both locals and visitors. Every guest I’ve had from out of town or another country in the past year has been eager to see it. Anyhow, the settings have quite a range, and the anthology, which actually debuted at the Festival, sold briskly at a special event price.

Rock bottom bargains were the order of the day at the MWA table too, where my fellow authors included Rosemary Harris, Charles Salzberg, and Sheila York. There’s no doubt in my mind that thanks to Amazon, the amount people will pay for a book, especially a hardcover, has been permanently lowered. But as veteran self-promoting authors (and that means all of us) know, selling books is not necessarily the most important item on the agenda at a book event. We’re building readership every time we hand out a bookmark or encourage someone who says, “I’ll get it at the library” or “I’ll get it for my Kindle.” I had a chance to catch up with author Grace F. Edwards, who I wish still came regularly to MWA and SinC meetings. Rosemary had a productive chat on behalf of MWA with the author of the book publishing guide on Sheila got to meet a fan who squealed with delight to find that she could finally read the sequel to the first book in Sheila’s series, which she adored. That’s a peak experience for any author, on top of the pleasure of an afternoon in the sun, schmoozing with fellow writers and people who love books.

Larry McMurtry, Susan Isaacs, and me
I just learned this morning that my picture appears in illustrious company in an article about the Festival on


Sheila Connolly said...

For the first time, Sisters in Crime New England will have a booth at the Boston Book Festival next month. The event is now in its third year, and claims to attract 25,000 people in the center of Boston. Should be interesting!

Julia Buckley said...

Huzzah for book festivals! You're right, Liz--there's much more to them than sales.

Sandra Parshall said...

Bouchercon is tiny compared to a book festival, and I'm glad both SinC and MWA have a presence at most of them. Loved your account, Liz, and the article and pictures on

jenny milchman said...

Oh does this sound great, Liz. I hope to be there so much when my book comes out (or even before)! Thanks for the report!

Leslie Budewitz said...

Love the picture, Liz!