Collingswood held their 17th annual book festival last weekend on October 5th. With book signings, used book sales, kid activities, food vendors, novel-based merchandise, poetry readings and author talks, this was an extensive event with tons of people stopping by over the course of the six hour festival. Even Rowan University’s Writing Arts department got involved by running two booths. One was run by Dr. Jason Luther and students of his new Self Publishing course where they had the opportunity to market their own zines created in the course’s first unit, which Dr. Luther describes as “self-made, usually personal, short run publications, reproduced on a copy machine from a prototype that can be designed any number of ways." The students involved said the event was a “meaningful experience,” in which, “they learned a lot about how to pitch and interact with different folks, from families to teens to boomers to other publishers” and “learned how certain marketing can lead to sales." The students running this booth were not only able to gain this experience of selling their zines, which were all unique about a wide range of topics personal to the authors, but also left the unsold copies at a local coffee shop, which lead to the NJ Pen posting a picture, showing the class how quickly their published work can be shared.
The other Writing Arts booth was run by Stephen Royek, shifts of Writing Arts Faculty members, and Writing Arts interns like myself. This table provided a broader look at Rowan University’s Writing Arts Department. The table displayed published books written by faculty and promoted several department features like the graduate programs, Avant, and the 19th Issue release for Glassworks. It even featured a raffle to win a Rowan baseball cap, t-shirt, and an assortment of books on display. Often, alumni would be drawn to the booth to reconnect with their previous professors, which was a great opportunity to discuss life post graduation and recommend graduate programs and Glassworks submissions. A large percentage of those approaching our booth and entering the raffle during my shift were parents drawn to Peanut Butter & Brains by Joe McGee, Megan Atwood’s Orchard Novel series, or Rodney Robin’s Fabulous Adventure by Doreen Fera, because parents wanted to know how they could get the books for their children. Even though we were not able to sell copies ourselves, people were very interested in how they could purchase the books. Many who approached the table were writers interested in joining our masters program and submitting to Glassworks. One family I spoke with was very curious about my experience in the Writing Arts Department and the internship, information on courses, and how I like the major. Their daughter was interested in pursuing a writing degree at Rowan, so they used the chance to hear about it firsthand. They also excitedly wrote their names down for the raffle and information about some of the books displayed. Later in the afternoon, when I was just browsing the festival, I had the opportunity to run into the same family again. They expressed that our booth was one of their favorites at the festival because of the pitch for our program, the parents told me their daughter is “excited to pursue the program after hearing so much about it."
During my time browsing the festival, I stopped by many tables of authors promoting their latest works, several of which I had previously read the novels of. That experience was particularly incredible as I was able to introduce myself and chat with some of the authors I know, receive advice on writing, take their card for updates on upcoming works, and purchase copies that each author signed for me. Aside from tents looking to sell work, many booths were there for an informational purpose much like our Writing Arts Department booth. Two that I found myself drawn to were Book Baby and The South Jersey Writers’ Group. Book Baby is an online publishing company which has been featured several times at Rowan’s Career Expos. I had the chance to discuss my interest in publishing my writing, as well as one day hoping to work as an editor for the company. They were nice enough to give me a few short books on the company and self-publishing, their card with contact info, and a notebook. The South Jersey Writers’ Group gave me their card and notebook as well, and took down my contact information so that I may be informed of their next meeting. The group of writers “meet on the third Thursday of every month for its topic-based discussion and presentation meeting, led by a published author or subject matter expert,” and they “also host several other events each month, including write-ins and critique groups." There is an annual fee of $25 to be a member, the first two months of meetings are free to get a feel for it before committing, and I think at least attending a meeting would be beneficial to any students interested.
The last and perhaps most personally enlightening experience I had was sitting in on the teen tent "Why Write for Young Adults?" author talk. Young Adult authors discussed their books, opinions on reading and writing education, and stigmas, expressing that children and teens love to read until it becomes a strict homework assignment, which they experienced with their children. One author also made a short speech on the stereotypes surrounding certain books. Addie Thorley, author of An Affair of Poisons, spoke passionately about stereotyping books by associating them with a certain gender, personality type, or other very narrowly defined categories, because it is pushing people away from reading. She also mentions the same in regard to writing, people should write what they want to write, and the audience will find them because the right audience would be looking to read similar writing. She discussed the ways it keeps people, particularly young adults, away from reading when they are put down by peers because of a book’s connotation. She advocates that “People should read and write what they feel drawn to." By limiting the marketing of the book to a specific audience based on stereotypes like gender, ethnicity, class, or even the themes of the writing can be limiting the audience so much that it’s too niche, and keeps potential readers away. This particularly spoke to me as writing very much relies on the rhetorical situation, knowing your audience in order to communicate with them. After her talk, it is easy to see how, rather than just knowing your intended audience and writing for them, authors should also be careful not to write into the limiting stereotypes, so that their work is open to their audience. I found her part in this subject to be the most memorable, and particularly important to the conversation of opening the field of literature to be more welcoming and receive less stigma.
The festival had so much to offer on both sides: as someone running a booth and as a book-lover exploring the event. The festival was extensive with a huge turn out where anyone could spend hours immersed in Collingswood’s own little world of literature. The wide variety of stands guaranteed everyone could find a booth to fit their interests, and walk away from the Delaware Valley’s largest festival feeling like they gained something from the experience, whether it be authorial knowledge or a signed copy of a new book. I highly recommend coming out to the 18th Collingswood Book Festival next year, I know I will!