8 Types You’ll Always Find at Book Festivals

  • By Tara Laskowski
  • September 28, 2015

Beware your "number-one fan."


For many people, autumn means the start of football, school, sweater weather, pumpkin-flavored junk — for me, it means book festivals. Particularly, Fall for the Book, which started yesterday and runs through Saturday, Oct. 3rd at George Mason University and other parts of the Washington, DC, region. I get giddy about the fact that so many writers descend upon Northern Virginia this time of the year, just waiting for me to stalk them.

I mean, attend their readings.

In addition to those writers you're dying to see, there are also other types of people you're sure to run into at book festivals and writer conferences and workshops. The bingo card has been done before, but it never ceases to be amusing. So next time you’re at a book festival, slap these people types below on a card or a checklist and go to town. It's almost soothing in its predictability.

  1. The writer you're geeking out to see. This is the person on the list of participants whose name makes you gasp when you read it. Because you read her book last summer and it totally changed your freaking life and oh my god you have to go to hear her read. You'll spend embarrassing amounts of time practicing what you'll say when you hand her your book to sign, and then forget everything you rehearsed and just ask for a selfie. Which is fine, as long as you don't become…
  2. The person in the book signing line who decides to tell the writer his life story. You know the scene: The line for autographs is about 154 people deep, and there's the guy up in front who has been with the writer for 20 minutes now discussing all the failed novels he's written and how many people he knows that the writer also knows. We admire his gumption, sure, but if glares were daggers, the guy would be toast.
  3. The writer that you've never heard of who blows your socks off. You're like, "I've got 45 minutes to kill before I meet my friend at the young adult writers reception, so I guess I'll just pop into this reading until then." Only to find that the reading you just happened upon is insanely interesting, and the writer fascinates you with his prose and you can't help but buy his book and everything else he's ever published. (You are, by the way, in this example, every writer's dream.)
  4. The person who asks a really long question that's not really a question, but is instead a five-minute monologue about what she had for breakfast this morning, her political beliefs, and her theory on what a minor character in a long-ago published book should've done instead of what they did do. Leaving the poor author at the front of the room to just say, "Okay, good. Next question?"
  5. The person who asks writers how they get their ideas. Or whether they write in the morning or at night. Or do they use pen, pencil, or computer.
  6. The writer who you're pretty sure, if you lived next door, to you'd be BFFs. For me, that would be Jennifer Egan. I had the good fortune one year of driving her to an event at George Mason's campus, and she was really gracious despite us running very late for her reading because of DC traffic. If we lived in the same neighborhood, I'm guessing we would watch disturbing movies together, and bitch about the PTO at our kids' schools, and swap pasta recipes. A generous, kind writer is one who gains fans quickly.
  7. The kind-of creepy but also endearing “number 1 fan.” This is the person who makes her own T-shirt with the writer's face on it. And carries around a backpack stuffed with first editions and out-of-print collectibles and will quiz you grumpily on obscure trivia to prove she's the bigger fan. She'll sit in the front row, but she won't ask any questions because she already knows everything there is to know. You kind of admire her, though you're also a little scared to get too close.
  8. The member of the audience who laughs and gasps and cries at all the right times. Another blessing for writers everywhere, this is the person in the audience who lets the author know people are actually listening to the reading or presentation. There's nothing worse than talking into dead, blank silence. The audience member with the large, ready chuckle at your attempts to be funny — he deserves a medal.

So, go forth to your book events! Writing and reading are usually such solitary acts — we all deserve a little mingling now and then. Just remember to be on your best behavior. And forgive me for my selfies, please.

Tara Laskowski is the author of Bystanders (forthcoming Spring 2016) and Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons. She is the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and is a senior editor for the Council of Advancement and Support of Education.

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