from the 2014 Indie Book Festival at MenilFest
(nee, Houston Indie Book Festival)
fall, about the time the organizers of the Houston Indie
Book Festival usually start sending out notices for
the upcoming event, I went out to their website to see
if there was any news. Much to my despair, the website
was gone. The domain name expired and someone picked
it up to use for a blog.
I went to the HIBF Facebook page, which was rarely updated,
and sure enough, it had been silent for months. There
was one post asking if anyone knew any information about
the 2014 book festival, but no replies.
should have known. Last year, Kirby Johnson, the true
force behind the HIBF, had moved on to the University
of Alabama's MFA program, and Gulf Coast had
not impressed us with their ability to organize the
festival. What we initially thought was a good idea,
folding the book festival into the Menil Community Arts
Festival to create the Menil Community Arts & Houston
Indie Book Festival, turned out to be a bit of a letdown.
was sure we had seen the last of the HIBF.
in February, we received a note from Gulf Coast.
The HIBF had officially been consumed by the new MenilFest,
and the event would be held on the first Saturday in
went to register and found it was $70 for a standard
table ($50 for nonprofit and $25 for CLMP members).
It was still a good deal, though at the rate the cost
is increasing, I expect next year's table to be $100,
which is a little overpriced, especially if people don't
list of vendors was sent out a few days before the festival;
over 70 would be in attendance, which is almost how
many show up for the Texas Book Festival. Unfortunately,
there is not enough room for all those tables at the
Menil. Until they open up all four sides of the museum,
there will be people jammed on the east and south sides
of the building, as they have to double up the tables
on both sides of the walkway, making it hard for people
to pass through.
there were other issues. In the email with the list
of vendors, we learned that though the original registration
form stated we needed to staff the tables from 9 a.m.
to 6 p.m., there was a problem with the table delivery
and they wouldn't arrive until 10. We were asked that
we not start setting up our tables until 10:30, but
if we wanted to come earlier to grab a spot, we could.
and one more thing, the Menil's parking lot was undergoing
construction, so we had to find a spot on the street
to park. I've mentioned before that the worst part of
this festival is the parking. The museum is in a neighborhood,
and on-street parking is limited. The parking lot is
small and always packed. I'm sure many people who wanted
to attend the festival drove around, couldn't find a
spot to park, and simply left.
this year it was worse because the few spots that were
available on the street were taken up by exhibitors
of course, there's the inane 'first come first serve'
setup policy. The great thing about this festival is
that it attracts an eclectic group of publishers and
publications. Without a grasp on who is coming and where
they will set up, you have no idea if some racier material
will be on a table right next to a children's author.
Or maybe several nonprofits get tables in choice locations
that should go to vendors who paid more and actually
have stuff to sell. A good festival organizer knows
how to set up an area to maximize flow and to highlight
all of the tables.
the suggested arrival time, we showed up at nine and
camped out on our spot on the north side of the museum.
The tables arrived earlier than expected, but no one
was around to direct traffic, so we just took our tables
and started setting up. As we worked, vendors would
come up to us and ask what they needed to do. We just
pointed in the direction of the CLMP table and told
them to check in there.
the festival officially opened at 11, it really kicked
off at noon with the Young Writers Reading, presented
by Writers in the School. As with last year, this event
brought in hundreds of people. But the crowds disappeared
right after the readings and they never returned.
year, we were in charge of two tables. Matthew Limpede
of Carve was offered a chance to speak at a writers'
conference in Dallas, which fell on the same weekend
as MenilFest. Because he already registered for the
table in Houston, we told him we would gladly be his
I was in charge of his table, setting up the information
and talking up the journal to festivalgoers. Not that
I did much talking. A few people stopped at the table
to talk about Carve, and four actually bought
an issue. Less than twenty people registered for their
free one-year subscription giveaway.
organizers explained that budget cuts forced them to
refrain from placing print ads, and no one created a
cool poster for the show. I don't know if that would
have brought in any more people, but it wouldn't have
hurt. Few people showed up. For the first time ever,
there were long stretches of just sitting and staring
out at the empty grass in front of us. We gave away
65 postcards. Two years ago, we gave away over 300.
another telling sign of how bad the turnout was, the
CLMP tables, which are stacked high with wonderful literary
journals and books were having a hard time selling their
wares. When I walked by early in the day, there were
a few people pawing over the $2 journals and $4 books,
but by three o'clock, the tables looked virtually untouched
and they had cut their prices in half. Already a deal
(that I hate because it steals money from other small
presses that actually attend the festival), $1 for a
$15 journal or $2 for a $20 book is too hard to pass
up. And yet they weren't exactly flying off the tables.
Maybe the lower prices helped at the end of the day
and they were able to unload a lot of books. But I don't
know who was buying them. By four o'clock, the place
was almost dead.
little before five, Annika Chambers & The House
Rules Band set up near our table and played a nice set
to maybe a dozen people; it was good music to listen
to as we packed up our wares. We were in the car by
always manage to have fun at book festivals, and this
year's MenilFest wasn't an exception to the rule. Though
we had to spend a lot of our time behind the tables,
there were so many lulls in traffic that Liv and I were
able to revisit the Menil Museum, one of our favorites.
They had a new, fantastic exhibit of René Magritte's
early works that we enjoyed. I also was able to wander
around and check out the other tables. I got some great
zines from Geoff Sebesta, who also publishes the new
Magazine, a free comics newspaper, out of Austin.
attended a festival-sponsored reading in the afternoon,
which was pretty good. Too bad the reading area was
poorly placed. In the past, a tent provided shade for
both presenters and audience. This year, a small stage
crammed between vendor tables faced an empty grassy
area, and the few people who showed up had to crowd
under the shade of one of the trees off to the side.
one bright thing about the festival was their handout.
It was a professionally printed fan-folded sheet of
heavy stock paper that told you everything you needed
to know about the festival and events held throughout
the day. It was excellent.
was the first time we lost money at this event, and
not just a little. The press sold just enough books
to cover the cost of the table and the gas down. If
it hadn't been for Robin's repurposed Little Golden
Books journals, it would have been a depressing
hate to say we won't be coming back to Houston next
year, but if the festival continues its steady decline,
we may not have a choice. We'll just have to wait and
from the 2014 Alabama Book Festival
the past several years, we've debated attending the Alabama
Book Festival. This one-day event takes place in the spring
in Montgomery. Unfortunately, it usually falls on or around
the weekend of the Houston Indie Book Festival, and travelling
four hours to a book festival is more appealing than a
ten-hour trip, even if it is back home.
there's the whole 'the kids can't miss too many school
days' issue. Our weekends are starting to fill up with
project deadlines, play rehearsals, and college admission
this year, the book festival fell on Easter weekend, so
it was a responsibility-free break, and since the kids
would be out of school for Good Friday, we had an extra
day to play with. And, we had places to stay, with friends
and family, so we would save on hotel expenses. And the
Houston festival wasn't until later in May.
only lingering concern was football.
ABF usually falls on the third Saturday in April and recently
has been scheduled on the same weekend as the University
of Alabama's A-Day, or spring practice, game. I'm not
going to try and explain the significance of football
in the state of Alabama. Just know that my friends from
the Heart of Dixie would gladly give up the Bill of Rights
as long as they got to keep their college football.
in my day, maybe a handful of people showed up for the
spring scrimmage between the Red and White teams. In the
past five years, tens of thousands of people have descended
on Tuscaloosa to watch this meaningless game. And the
same can be said for the 'Cow College' on The Plains (see,
I can't even bring myself to mention that other team,
and I was just a visitor to that state), which happens
to hold their spring practice game on the same day.
all of the people going to the games and everyone else
watching them on TV, I was afraid there weren't nobody
comin' to this book festival.
I was right, but we really didn't care.
got to Birmingham on Friday afternoon, where we stayed
with friends, then drove down to Montgomery the next morning.
We left at 7:15, and, with light traffic and a good tailwind,
made it to Montgomery with plenty of time to set up the
table before "doors" opened at 9:00. Although
we could have been late. No one was around.
did take us a few minutes to find the vendor tent, which
was located away from the rest of the festival tents,
and the only thing we were given was a sheet of paper
with numbered boxes on it and a star next to box 30 -
our booth. Not the best vendor packet we've received,
but still better than some (I'm looking at you, Houston).
ABF is held on the grounds of Old Alabama Town, just a
few blocks away from the capitol, in downtown Montgomery.
Old Alabama Town is a collection of restored 19th and
early 20th century structures, including a church, grocery
store, barn, schoolhouse, and homes. The vendor and reading
tents were set up in various spots among the buildings,
integrating almost seamlessly into the town. It is a perfect
place for a book festival.
we hauled our boxes from the car to our booth, we passed
by the food trucks that were already starting to fire
up the ovens. I don't think there is any better smell
than barbeque on a crisp Alabama morning. Talk about a
flashback to fond memories...
we found our spot and started to unload our wares.
we were setting up, Kirby Johnson came over to say hi.
Those of you who have been following along with our adventures
know that Kirby is the editor of NANO Fiction.
In our eyes, she's also the reason there was ever a Houston
Indie Book Festival. Last year, Kirby was accepted to
the graduate program at Alabama, where she took on the
duties of managing editor of the Black Warrior Review.
She brought BWR and NANO down to the festival
was great to catch up with Kirby. We talked about Bama;
her being homesick for Houston, especially the food; and
what a cluster f#-- the HIBF has become (more on that
Kirby left, Liv and I went exploring. Gabe had already
disappeared. The festival fell on his birthday weekend,
and we had given him a new camera with instructions to
take pictures of the event. Instead, he headed a few blocks
down the road to the Biscuits' baseball stadium and snuck
in to take pictures there. (He did get a few shots of
the festival - see below.)
and I checked out the other vendors and some of the old
buildings. I was impressed with the number and variety
of vendors. There were lots of single-book authors, but
there were also a few university presses and two high
school literary journals. The booths around us were mostly
informational: stage left was the Central Alabama Literacy
Council. On our other side were The Southern Lit Trail
and the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. There was also
a gentleman selling paintings, a poetry house, another
literacy council, and a man selling alternative religious
writings from Ryuho Okawa of Happy Science fame. (No Buddhists
or Jews for Jesus, but it made me smile, just the same.)
was only one empty booth in our row, actually a double
booth. It was supposed to be for a husband and wife team
- a couple of motivational speakers known for weight loss
and Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but they never
showed up. I saw them give a "reading" first
thing in the morning, but their audience was anemic, so
they must have decided to bail on the rest of the event.
Or maybe something came up. Whatever the reason, empty
tables never look good at a festival.
we returned to our table, Robin was in the middle of her
first sale of the day, and Gabe had found his way back,
excited about his little adventure. About this time, the
festival coordinator dropped by to give us our sales permit
and collect some money.
table was $150, which is a pretty good deal. What they
don't tell you up front is that if you are an out-of-state
vendor, you have to pay an extra $45 on the day of the
festival for the sales tax permits. It's understandable
- though several states don't charge extra for the permits
- it's just a little misleading. However, the festival
organizers did an excellent job of communicating with
us and made the permit application process painless.
course, we still had to pay city and county taxes on what
we earned. Not that we made much money, barely $125, but
we weren't there for the cash or the exposure, we were
there to have fun.
and Gabe actually had a plan for the day. Before lunch,
they went to a reading of a memoir written by the 86-year-old
publisher and editor of The Anniston Star (Robin's
hometown daily paper). They had a
and spent several minutes talking to the author and getting
a signed copy of his book.
and I were content with sitting at the booth, watching
episodes of The Office on her phone. We were rarely
interrupted by festivalgoers. I think I sold two TFLs
and a Workers Write!.
Gabe and Robin got back, Liv and I went to get some BBQ
. . . damn, it was good . . . then, since Robin had spent
almost the entire morning away from the booth, I told
her I would take Gabe to the capitol.
when the rain started.
had been a beautiful day up to that point, sunny and mid-70s.
But the clouds came up fast, and Gabe and I got caught
on the steps of the capitol in a downpour.
Thankfully, it didn't last long, and the tents kept everyone
dry. When we emerged from the tour (which, by the way,
was hands down the best state capitol tour we've been
on . . . but that's for Gabe to write about for the next
issue of Bookstores
and Baseball), it was sticky and hot - but the rain
was gone. We got back to the festival with just a few
hours left in the day.
made two sales while we were gone, but she made more friends.
She got to know everyone in our row, even the gentleman
from the literary council booth who is writing a book
about the history of the baseball bat. Some of the people
returning from last year were surprised how few festivalgoers
there were. Last year, they claimed, the place was packed.
Most blamed the poor showing on it being Easter weekend.
festival was scheduled to end at 4:30, but the organizers
said we could start packing up at 3:45. Most people were
gone by 4:00, but we stayed a few extra minutes. Not that
anyone was around looking to buy our books, we just weren't
in a hurry to leave.
I mentioned earlier, we made very little money, and we
only gave away thirty postcards, but we didn't care. We
went into this event with no expectations and had a great
may even go back some day.