What the Gaithersburg Book Festival Means to Writers

Authors weigh in on why this only-in-Maryland event is so special.

What the Gaithersburg Book Festival Means to Writers

There was no reason for me to be at the free Gaithersburg Book Festival back in 2014. My first book had come out earlier that year from a rather small (but kind) publisher to absolutely no acclaim. I had no idea how to do marketing. I barely knew any other writers. I sucked.

So sending my book to the folks at Gaithersburg was naïve and lofty, and I was dumbfounded when they accepted me as a featured writer. But that’s the thing with Gaithersburg — they look beyond a padded CV and take chances on writers who are just starting out.

People don’t realize what a risk that is.

For the festival, they’re bringing in someone relatively unknown, someone who may not attract a crowd or sell books, and this could hurt overall attendance — particularly when, like Gaithersburg, you have the cachet to get pretty much any bestselling writer you want (and they’ve brought in some fantastic names).

It’s a huge gamble, and it’s the reason most festivals only go with proven crowd favorites.

But GBF does both, and that goes to show you how deeply the festival organizers (led by Jud Ashman, who also serves as the town’s affable mayor) care about writing. The lovely little city of Gaithersburg, Maryland, opens its arms to writers. There’s an infectious enthusiasm at the festival, a sense of excitement and humor and community.

And that love is something I find in the city’s residents; the kind of love that comes from a fierce, earned community pride. It’s intoxicating to be a part of it, even if only for a day. I’ve made lifelong friends with those people (waves at Paul Stankus, Nicole Hertvik, and so many others), and I’ll attend every year, if not as a featured author, then as an excited fan.

I asked other writers who’ve appeared at GBF to share their thoughts on what the festival means to them. Read through the comments below, and then make a point of attending the festival this year. It’s their 10th anniversary and, as always, it’s going to be a special experience.


“The GBF is more than a simple book-lover’s conference…what makes this outdoor event special is that the entire community embraces it. Wandering the grounds, surrounded by avid readers and authors, one can spend a whole day in a happy fantasy world in which everyone really cares about books and their impact on our society.”

– Austin Camacho, The Lost Art Assignment


“Gaithersburg is one of the nicest book festivals I’ve ever been to. It’s an organized and welcoming event, which, as a writer, I very much appreciated. I recommend it to everyone — book lovers and writers!”

– Jen Conley, Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry


“For 10 years, the GBF has brought us the fun and adventures of literature up close and personal. Congratulations to GBF, from all of us.”

– James Grady, Condor - The Short Takes


“Gaithersburg is the best kind of festival you can have. The people who run it are incredibly nice…Everything is outside, so you can listen to interesting panels while getting fresh air. Doesn’t hurt that there are delicious food trucks right across the street.”

– Nik Korpon, Old Ghosts


“What I like best about GBF is that it’s a literary event with the power of the state behind it. Gaithersburg’s mayor, Jud Ashman, founded the event some years back when he was a city councilman. Now that he’s mayor, Gaithersburgians know better than not to attend.”

– Con Lehane, Murder in the Manuscript Room


“The GBF is one of my very favorite book events. I love the setup, where book lovers can wander the beautiful park, going from tent to tent, where world-class authors are discussing their stories. It’s a destination event with something for everyone. My husband always chats up the political writers, while my kids have ridden ponies, made crafts, and learned how to draw dragons.”

– Allison Leotta, The Last Good Girl


“The GBF is spectacular — one of my favorite book events of the year! The festival attracts a truly impressive variety of topnotch authors, poets, workshop presenters, and speakers (and did I mention musicians and food trucks and face-painting?). Jud Ashman and all the other dedicated organizers and volunteers make this the best-run festival I’ve ever participated in, and I’ve been lucky to be involved every year since its inception (except the year my son graduated from college, and even then, it was a tough call!).”

– Alan Orloff, Pray for the Innocent


“I have been to book festivals around the country, and I can say this with total authority: Gaithersburg not only has lovely organizers, enthusiastic attendees, and a festival-friendly venue, it has the best port-o-potties in the business.”

– Brad Parks, The Last Act


“This year will be my fourth GBF, one for each of my novels. I always have a wonderful time seeing all the passionate readers, fellow crime novelists, fascinating authors of every sort of book, and, of course, the indomitable Jud Ashman. For me, it just wouldn’t be a book tour without Gaithersburg.”

– Chris Pavone, The Paris Diversion


“We love everything about the GBF! During our appearances, we’ve gotten to rub elbows with authors we adore, grab a pinot grigio from the wine vendor to sip while we stroll the grounds, and — best of all — engage with smart, fun readers. Mayor Jud Ashman always makes us feel so welcome. We can’t wait to be back!”

– Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks, An Anonymous Girl


“I’ve been to 10 state fairs, three rodeos, and a pie-eating contest, and the GBF is the craziest goddamn time I’ve had in my entire life.”

– Eryk Pruitt, Townies, and Other Stories of Southern Mischief


“My favorite GBF memory is the pouring rain. Yes, fewer people come to the festival when it’s raining, but those who do need to find cover somewhere. That pretty much guaranteed a standing-room-only crowd inside the tent during my talk! Seriously, it’s the best local festival in the Washington, DC, area — a springtime treat for both writers and readers.”

– Colleen Shogan, K Street Killing


“It’s really cool to get invited to participate in a book festival that takes place in your own back yard. I’ve attended dozens of conventions and events over the years and participated on panels with well-known, bestselling authors…but most impressive to my DC-based family was appearing at the GBF.”

– Shawn Reilly Simmons, Murder with All the Trimmings


“The GBF has the best origin story ever: Jud Ashman was sitting on the National Mall at the National Book Festival and thought, “Hey, we could do this in Gaithersburg!” And here’s the crazy-cool part: He and all the great people in Gaithersburg did it!”

– David O. Stewart, The Babe Ruth Deception


“The GBF is one of my favorite events of the year. It is a welcoming, down-home environment where authors and fans can gather, and it has an equally welcoming mayor who is a serious book enthusiast.”

– David Swinson, Trigger

[Editor’s note: This column was adapted from an article that originally appeared in The Thrill Begins.]

E.A. Aymar will read from his most recent novel, The Unrepentant, during this year’s Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 18th in Olde Towne Gaithersburg, MD. Admission and parking are free. Click here for a full schedule of the day’s events. (And don’t forget to stop by the Independent’s table in front of city hall and say hi!)

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