Highlights from the 2012 Fall for the Book Festival

FallfortheBook_logoIn case you still haven’t made up your mind about attending this year’s Fall for the Book Festival, here are some of the things I learned last year.

I was drawn to two panel discussions that had to do with genre fiction (which includes historical fiction).

From the festival’s first-ever panel on romance writing, with Diana Cosby, Tina Glasneck, Nara Malone, Laurin Wittig and Leah St. James:

  • Romance writers sold $1.4 billion worth of books in 2011. And they are among the friendliest, most down-to-earth and marketing-savvy writers you are ever likely to meet.
  • E-books don’t categorize writers as narrowly as printed books because they use keywords and tags instead of assigning one label or genre—and Amazon’s e-books were the most flexible.
  • Good advice for writers in any genre: Go to a big bookstore and describe the book you’re writing to a salesperson. See where he or she takes you and imagine putting your book on the shelf in the appropriate (alphabetical) place. Look at the five books to the left and right of where your book would go and note the publisher, agent and editor of those books.

From a panel on genre vs. literary fiction, with Louis Bayard, Julianna Baggott, Alma Katsu and Mark Athitakis:

  • Since the 1940s, there has been a wall between literary and genre fiction that is difficult for books to break through. However, in the past 10 years, that wall has started to crumble a bit. Among the examples the panelists cited: China Miéville’s “Railsea,” a sci-fi take on “Moby-Dick”; Colson Whitehead’s zombie book “Zone One”; and Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins.”
  • Literary fiction is illuminating or offers a revelation about life, while genre fiction offers an escape from life.
  • Julianna Baggott said writing any kind of novel has its challenges and burdens, like carrying a sack of stones: “The weight of the stones is the same whether you’re writing literary or genre fiction.” For her, writing is like whispering the story in one person’s ear, and it’s all about the urgency of the telling.
  • Louis Bayard said readers want story, they want to go on a journey. Genre writing “frees me from ponderousness,” he added.
  • And this one really stuck in my head: Baggott said that rather than looking for genre fiction that transcends its genre (a favorite refrain of reviewers), she is looking for literary fiction that transcends its genre.

Almost all of the events offer you the opportunity to talk to the writers afterward, and the smaller sessions are especially conducive to informal chats. In my experience, everyone has been very approachable.

You never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet. Check out this year’s program and maybe I’ll see you there!

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