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2016 National Book Festival poster by Yuko Shimizu

Yesterday I had a fabulous day downtown at the National Book Festival 2016. I went with 4 friends, who are all kindred souls when it comes to love of words. We arrived downtown ready to look around the festival, hear a speaker or two, and do a little shopping. Amazingly, at least to me, within the space of a few hours we each heard three authors speak and had multiple signed books.

Keep reading for highlights of the day and lessons we learned!

Artist: Yuko Shimizu.  Downloadable pdf from loc.gov/bookfest

Highlights of the Day:

Stephen King, author of The Stand, Shawshank Redemption,… etc., etc.,

Just a few of my favorite things from his talk:

  • “Non-readers know only one life. Readers experience many.”
  • “The majority of people in our country don’t know famous American writers of our time. We are not a country that argues about books. We argue about celebrities and sports stars and talk shows.” – speaking on literacy
  • He presented a number of funny stories and spoke in such an engaging way that you realize, this is a great guy who loves his job and is a steady observer of people. These people no doubt make it into his books in some fashion or another, which in turn makes his characters so interesting.

Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale, Winter Garden, Firefly Lane….

A few of my favorites from her talk:

  • She gave some very touching memories of her Mother and said she appears in every single story she writes.
  • Her writing process: She comes up with a question or issue she is interested in, researches it, and then writes a historical draft first. She then moves the characters and story through the history. She writes multiple drafts. The Nightingale was initially only about Isabel. In another draft the sisters were even twins.
  • Message to aspiring writers: “writing is a journey of hope and the heart; you have to take it without knowing  if you are good…you only fail if you quit.”
  • “Writing is about what you have to say. It is never to late to start.”

Geraldine Brooks, author of People of the Book, Secret Chord, Calebs Crossing, Year of Wonders

A few of my favorites from her talk:

  • “A wrong word in a character’s mouth will pull a reader right out of the book.” She spends a lot of time getting the historical lingo correct because this attention to detail is what brings the story to life.
  • On her inspiration for story ideas: she searches for a true story from a historical record, but one that though true seems improbable and is not well known. She then builds her stories around this “skeleton of intriguing fact.” One of these is the Native American who graduated from Harvard in 1665. Yep you read that right, 1665.  This improbable true fact became Caleb’s Crossing.

One of us getting books signed by Geraldine Brooks!

Gene Luen Yang (graphic novelist), author of Secret Coders, Boxers and Saints, Shadow Hero….

  • Did not hear him speak, but met him. He was very personable and seems like he would be a fun and gifted speaker.

Justin Cronin, author of The Summer Guest, as well as a vampire trilogy consisting of The Passage, The Twelve and City of Mirrors.

  • I did not hear him speak, but the ones who did said he read a passage from one of his books. Ordinarily this would be fabulous, tremendous even, for a fan to hear the author read from their own book. However, in this case the passage was from the third book in his trilogy and was a spoiler as they had not read that one yet. Oops. That is something that should have been annotated somewhere on the schedule, but wasn’t.

Lessons we learned:

Pre-plan what is most important to each to accomplish and don’t be afraid to split up – divide and conquer. This was our first one, so we did not know what to expect and what things to watch for. We do now so we are looking forward to going next year as pros!

Be flexible. Some things we accomplished were simply targets of opportunity, and only were successful because of splitting up. Good communication and pre-planning might make this part easier on the group, but would anticipate that some flexibility will be required of each member of your group at some point during the day.

Maps – Now that we have the lay of the land I think we can do even better next year. There was a lot of running up and down the stairs to get places. Three of us only saw Kristin Hannah speak because of the graciousness of the other two/ they got us seats while we were getting G. Brooks signature. This may not be entirely avoidable, but we might be able to plan better for it. Also, at first had a hard time understanding the map and schedule. Once we understood it we were able to use it to our advantage.  

Check back if don’t score tickets or signed books.

  • Stephen King was sold out online weeks in advance. The two who had the tickets went in immediately after arriving. The three of us who did not asked no less than SIX staff member of that single event where we should wait for standby seating. Not one had an answer for us. We gave up and went shopping, bought chocolate croissants and coffee and then just because of a niggling feeling we checked back just before time for him to speak. Thank goodness we did. Only half the seats were filled. We all got in and it worked well for those of us who did not have tickets. In my oh so humble opinion, they really should just make this first come, first serve. It is our belief that scalpers bought the majority of tickets as there were a lot of these free tickets for sale on-line for $50-100.
  • One of the women won a signed copy of Stephen King (from the online reservation for seats). Again, much later in the day we checked at Poetry and Prose section and viola found TWO Stephen King signed copies under the pile of books. If we had known they were selling signed copies we would have checked back earlier so that all of us could have had one. Next year if a prominent author is not doing book signings, chances are they will have pre-signed books available for purchase.

Food – bring food. Multiple food kiosks, but the entire place ran out of sandwiches and lunch items by 12:30p. We checked multiple food stops in the building – every single one was sold out of lunch foods. There are restaurants nearby, but you will not have time to go sit down someplace and get back through security once you get going with your day.

Communications – Make sure everyone has their cell phone fully charged and are viewing them periodically for updates from the group. We were down to only two operational phones by the time we left. We also found that we had to be vigilant about checking for updates as we were turning off the ringers during the speeches.

Parking – Don’t prepay parking in DC. The price was cheaper at the garage than with the prepay option. Parking is not an issue if you get there at opening time.

Authors – The ones we heard speak were fabulous. Definitely feel enriched from hearing what they had to say about inspiration, things that are meaningful to them, and their writing process. See as many authors speak as you can! But do know this, most will give a speech about what inspires them, but some will do readings. You are now warned, the reading of passages from new books is not annotated anywhere.

Rally Point – have a check-in time and place in case everyone gets separated and are not able to link up electronically. This does not have to be used, unless you have lost communications, but is a good back up plan.

Quotes – we were given post it notes in the line so we could write what we wanted for the author to personalize in our books. Normally a very loquacious group, we were all tongue tied for what to put on our blank post its. Think through a few easy, quick things you might want an author to put in your book.

Books – Purchase books you want signed early in the day, or bring some from home. You will need to schlep them around, but you will need to have them ready to go when time to line up and may not have time to go back through purchase line first.

Pictures – I was so busy I only managed to get a few pictures. Have many souvenirs of the day but wish I had just a few more pictures to share and to have.

Team-mates – We were a great team! Pick your team well when you go. There is no chance we would have accomplished all we did without the group effort.


Happy with our first book signing and author meeting. Geraldine Brooks was very nice!  Sadly we did not get a group pic of all 5 of us

A Most Gratifying Day! ~ Kristin