Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Little Lit Festival That Could


Last month, I attended the first ever West Covina Literary Festival. It's always good to be on the ground floor of anything that's going to be an annual event. Foot in the door and all that.

West Covina is in the San Gabriel Valley, one of the towns that make up Los Angeles County. It's a middle class suburb and, well, the literary arts don't have as much sway as the local malls. College prof John Brantingham and his cadre of supporters are changing all that.

John, his wife Ann and two former students from Mt. San Antonio College, felt there should be a place for writers to go to find a vital literary community. Because John grew up in West Covina, he decided to broach the idea with the city leaders. City Hall became partners in the endeavor, even waiving fees for use of their building and the surrounding grounds.

Oak Tree Press recently published John's mystery thriller, “Mann of War.” I was the one who acquisitioned the novel. In return, John gave his new publisher a table to display our wares. We had half a dozen of our authors show up, one from as far away as Bull Head City, Nevada. Many were meeting for the first time although they were familiar with each other through online posts. It quickly became not just a lit fest, but an Oak Tree family reunion.

The weather was one of those blissful Southern California days. Out on the lawn, poetry readings were going on. Musicians played in the walkways and over 2000 people attended. In the evening, all of us genre writers were given our moment in the spotlight. We read from our novels, Jeri Westerson did a presentation of all things medieval and we dressed one cute guy up in armor and gave him a sword to pose with as we took photos.

While we didn't sell many books, we were a presence. The local librarian networked with us and soon Oak Tree's books will be found on the shelves of the West Covina library. These are opportunities authors look for--rewards might not be immediate but can be several years down the road.

I hear so many people complain they can't find venues to reach the reading public. I put together two book fests in my small area that allowed San Joaquin Valley authors to display their works. John Brantingham saw a need and, instead of complaining, went out and MADE an event. Now the City of West Covina is considering a Literary Arts Center to hold classes, bring in famous writers and poets and have members of the community do readings. And, of course, there will be next year's festival to look forward to. I'll be there and I'll be bringing more Oak Tree authors with me.

The message: Dream big. Then put that dream into action.

19 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read about West Covina somewhere. Someone has featured it in their books.

Julie Luek said...

Great idea, Sunny!

Liane Spicer said...

How lovely! Oak Tree Press sounds like such a pleasant home for authors. Maybe I should send you a query... :)

Sunny Frazier said...

Liane, we operate like a "family." Our authors support Novel Spaces and Bill Doonan is one of your regulars. Yes, I think you should send me a query. I don't know any other press where the authors work so hard, contribute so much or love getting together as often as possible!

Anonymous said...

A fellow author, with whom I have "served" on several panels at libraries in our area (NJ), has said that it doesn't matter whether we sell books at these events. The trick is to get the reading public from "Never heard of her," to "That name is familiar," to "Oh, I heard her speak; I'll have to read her book." Also, I find that after I've been at a book event, whether it be a conference or a book club or a community festival, my Amazon rankings (for what they're worth) improve dramatically for a few days. A lot of people prefer to pay less, or the want the e-book version, or they want to read the books in order (if a series). It's really all about networking and making connections with readers.

don helin said...

Hi Sunny: Wish I wasn't so far away. It sounds like fun. don

Patrick Linder said...

Bravo to John for being such a literary leader, and bravo to West Covina for being open to the idea and helpful with the arrangements. And as always bravo to you, Sunny, and Oak Tree Press for laying the groundwork for and helping us authors build ways to reach more and more people. Awesome local case study!

--Patrick

Morgan St. James said...

I was one of the authors at the event promoting my new Oak Tree Press book, Who's Got the Money?, also acquisitioned by Sunny. It was a fun event and as Sunny said, often the rewards are not immediately apparent but they do come in the future. I loved meeting some of the Oak Tree authors I had not met previously. Kudos to John for being a "doer."

Che Gilson said...

Sounds like a great festival! Networking is never a loss!

marta chausée said...

The San Gabriel Valley LitFest was a total blast because of the loving spirit that went into creating it and the generous people, bottom to top, who made it happen.

We OTP authors were the lucky ones-- it kinda felt like "Here we come, walkin' down the street, we get the envious looks from everyone we meet-- Hey, hey, we're OTP authors..." We had a built-in party right at our table, strategically positioned right by the door to the main stage.

John and Ann Brantingham, Elder Zamora and Scott Creley were the heart and soul of this fest. The gourmet food trucks handled all our other needs.

Come join us next year. We're gonna be a cookin' up somethin' good.

D.R. Ransdell said...

What an interesting contrast--I spent last weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books, which is huge--so huge that often the conference rooms filled early, leaving potential audience members outside the door. It all goes to show that people really do care about books. The venue doesn't matter so much as the wonderful love of reading.

Augie said...

The San Gabriel Valley Literary festival was a success, but we missed you all. Next year will be even bigger and hope many of you will plan to attend. As Marta said, John, Ann, Elder and Scot worked their butts off, as well as the volunteers. The aim is to showcase talents from the San Gabriel Valley and the money will follow. Augie

Carole Avila said...

I was pleased to be a part of the San Gabriel Literary Festival. It was great networking with other authors and hearing their inspiring works. John and Anne are a wonderful and giving couple. (I think I'm going to mention them in a book because romance sells so well!) Thank you Novel Spaces for this blog about the festival and Sunny, for pointing out that we have to consider long term rewards as we actively participate in these types of events to market and promote our work.

Karyne Corum said...

I think what John did is a perfect example of being proactive. Writer's can't just lament not having great venues, they need to work to create a space. The world in general seems fixated on boosting math and science so writers must work to keep the arts in the forefront as well. I wish we had more of these near me, but who knows, I might be able to work up something here soon.

Sam X said...

This is something that should be happening in other towns as well. Getting people out of their houses for books may sound difficult, but the rewards would benefit the writers and the community like no other.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

It was a stellar event and didn't seem like a first at all. Kudos to John and all his helpers.

John Brantingham said...

I woke up this morning to this wonderful article. Thank you so much. It was a labor of love that took about 18 months to plan. We have a few events like this that we run around the area. Mostly they're for our students at Mt. San Antonio College, but it was great to take it off campus and into the community I love so much. Thank you all for being there!

marja said...

It was a terrific event and I'm looking forward to future festivals. However, although I came from Bullhead City, Arizona, someone came even farther. Eileen Obser came all the way from New York! John and everyone did an excellent job of putting things together.
Marja McGraw

Eileen Obser said...

I had a wonderful time at the festival and met so many creative, caring people. Thanks for this article, Sunny, and thank you, John and Ann, for a memorable experience.