This Saturday I attended the first annual Boston Book Festival. There were a series of events with a huge variety of authors talking about their books, as well as about writing, publishing, online promotion, and all sorts of other literature-related stuff. All of the daytime events were free of charge, and there were tents set up in Copley Square where publishers, literary journals, newspapers and local organizations (like the wonderful Grub Street Inc.) set up their wares. As if a day spent talking about books with fellow book-lovers wasn’t enough, Brigham’s was giving out free samples of Paul Revere’s Rocky Ride ice cream (yum!) and Legal Seafoods was giving away free chowder.
The day was absolutely wonderful, and I’m thrilled that Boston finally has an annual book festival – this state is so packed with writers it seems crazy not to have one. In spite of the rainy weather there still seemed to be a good turnout. My only critique is that, while the work of adult and children’s authors were celebrated throughout the day, young adult fiction was sorely overlooked. Here’s hoping they remedy this at next year’s festival.
Some of my favorite talks included a discussion with John Hodgman (otherwise known as PC from the Mac commercials) author of a book of fake trivia, The Areas of My Expertise and Tom Perotta who wrote the novels Election and Little Children, among others. These two were hilarious. I also loved hearing R. Sikoryak talk about his book, Masterpiece Comics, a compilation of his comics of literary classics. His stuff was amazing and if you like comics (or classics, for that matter) I encourage you to check it out: http://www.rsikoryak.com/index.html.
The last session I attended was “Writer Idol” for which writers were invited to submit the first 250 words of an unpublished work. The submissions were then read (anonymously) by an actress and a panel of four agents (including mine, as it happens) raised their hands to indicate when they would have stopped reading the submission. I thought the agents did a great job of being honest and helpful in their critique. Agents get inundated with so many submissions, you really have to hook them! Here were some useful ideas I picked up from their critiques (and yes, I’ve totally made at least one of these mistakes, without a doubt):
- Beware of being too stuck in your main character’s head in the opening (“I thought this…then I thought that…then I wondered…”). It can feel very claustrophobic for the reader.
- Avoid having your character look in a mirror and describe what she sees. This is too common and there are other, unique ways to share these details.
- Avoid too-vivid descriptions of bodily functions – especially in your opening.
While these sound really basic, I think they are useful. There are an awfully lot of things to keep in mind when writing a book – but it’s such a worthwhile endeavor, and the Book Festival was a great way to celebrate literature.