Yesterday I hopped on the Greyhound bus to head up to Albany for the first ever Empire State Book Festival. My buddies Hope Tarr and Lisa Dale were going to be on a panel about romance moderated by the awesome Ron Hogan, and I wanted to be there to show my support. There were also a couple of other panels I wanted to attend, including one on writing memoirs, one on women's fiction and two that are definitely close to my heart, going from Blog to Book and Scandalous Women. There were other panels that I wanted to see but they conflicted and I didn't want to be one of those people who runs in and out of panels. I was amazed by the talented writers who came all the way up to Albany for the festival. Some of the authors were local to upstate New York but many of them came from the city. There were so many amazing writers and books that I had to restrain myself otherwise I would have been broke. That brings me to my next thought, how the organizers can make next year's book festival better.
The first thing I would suggest is having banners posted along the Empire State Plaza so that people know where the event is taking place. If Hope hadn't told me that it was actually in the EGG, I wouldn't have known where the festival was. Also the EGG is not the nicest venue that I have ever seen, but unless they move the event to the Crown Plaza Hotel, the EGG is probably where it's going to be. However, they need to do something to the space to make it look less like a high school lobby. Also, I'm amazed that the vendors who have shops etc. in the concourse were not open on Saturday to take advantage of the traffic of the book festival. The only good options at the festival were hot dogs and pizza because nothing else was open.
Another idea is to think about recording all the sessions so that vistors who miss one panel can later buy it on DVD to listen to at home, the way that RWA does with its workshops and panels at National. I would have loved to have been able to hear some of the panels on writing historical fiction, and also writing young adult fiction, but I couldn't because they conflicted with other panels.
And finally, although I didn't go to the gala on Friday because I couldn't afford the $75, I would suggest that next year, instead of a cash bar, that they find someway to get local New York state wineries to donate wine for the event. There are tons of wineries in the Fingerlakes region, Long Island also around New Paltz. Perhaps they could also persuade some liquor merchants to donate the hard stuff as well. They also need to find some way to promote the festival beyond the confines of just the local area. I only knew about the festival because Hope told me about it. There was nothing about it at all in Time Out or New York Magazine or any where else.
The Empire State Book Festival is an amazing idea, and can hopefully generate money for the city, which needs it, it just needs a bit of tweaking to make it the fantastic event that I know it will be in the coming years.