Mid-South Book Fest Brings Authors, Readers Together

Wednesday, Sep 09, 2015

Mid-South Book Fest Brings Authors, Readers Together

Reprinted with permission from the Memphis Daily News
Sept. 9 2015
by Lance Wiedower

Traveling city to city, visiting bookstore after bookstore is how Harrison Scott Key spent the summer marketing his debut novel, “The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir.”

It can be challenging, Key said, to go from store to store, never knowing how many people might actually show up. But that method of marketing shifts to the book festival circuit, which runs roughly from Labor Day through Memorial Day at spots across the U.S., including the second edition of the Mid-South Book Festival, Sept. 9-13, in Memphis.

“One of the things you do in book marketing is go to these festivals,” said Key, a Memphis native who spent his childhood in Mississippi and now lives in Savannah, Ga., where he teaches humor, memoir and other writing and English courses at the Savannah College of Art and Design. “The bottom-line goal is you want to sell books. The way you sell books is people have to know about it and they have to be drawn to it. Getting readers’ attention is a difficult thing. Any time you get readers in one place it’s great. … When you go on a book tour you don’t know how many people will show up and that can mess with your head and your planning.”

The 2015 Mid-South Book Festival will feature 100 authors from around the U.S., many of whom have ties to the Memphis area. That, organizers believe, will be a big reason last year’s attendance of 3,000 is expected to double: giving those authors a guaranteed audience.

The festival will feature author panel discussions and presentations, author signings, writers’ conferences and a street fair. The festival will be held at Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse in Overton Square; the section of Cooper Street between the two locatinos will be shut for the Saturday, Sept. 12, street fair.

The idea for last year’s inaugural book festival came about during an annual gathering of Literacy Mid-South’s advisory board and staff. It was scrawled on a whiteboard, and what originally was intended to be a half-day event became a four-day festival held at five venues.

“We had 3,000 people who came over the four days and it was an unexpected success,” said Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South, the organization that presents the festival. “We went big the first year and now we’re doubling. We have twice as many authors and several huge events. We’re closing Cooper Street, which is exciting and scary.”

The idea to close Cooper came in part for safety concerns about festival attendees crossing back and forth between Playhouse and Circuit. The street also will be home to three large tents: one for self-published authors, a second for authors to read from their books and a third for children.

Inside both theaters will be panel discussions. Burke’s Book Store will sell books inside Circuit and Booksellers at Laurelwood will sell inside Playhouse on the Square.

The street fair and panel discussions on Saturday are free and open to the public. The panel discussions will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Each author will sign books following his or her discussion.

Dean said it is important to have a strong mix of local and national authors.

“What we found by taking someone from out of town and less heard of and mixing them with people from Memphis on panel discussions it will draw larger crowds,” he said.

Courtney Miller Santo will be one of the Memphis authors. A teacher of creative writing at the University of Memphis, her second novel, “Three Story House,” was released in 2014. She said the festival’s presence is important for the local literary community to tell its story.

“I’ve lived in Memphis about 10 years and when we first moved here there wasn’t much of a literary community,” she said. “Memphis is a great town with so many stories to tell. And with those stories there are great writers. We’ve done a great job telling the stories of our musicians. Now we need to tell the stories of our writers.”

Miller Santos will participate in a panel about using Memphis as a setting for stories.

“But I’m also really super excited to meet some of the authors I admire and respect and getting them here so they can see Memphis is a good town for writers and storytellers,” she said.

“It’s so much better for overall creativity to have a signature event. I know this book festival will become something to allow readers and writers to come together.”

The Daily News is a sponsor of the festival and publisher Eric Barnes is one of the participating authors.