Ch. 5: The Best Publishing Events

A short list of excellent bookish events

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve wrapped up The Next Page and prepared for Book Expo America this week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a great publishing event. I’ve attended a lot of them, especially in the past few years working for Kickstarter. I thought I’d share a short list of my favorite book events and what makes them great, in my opinion. This is not a full list of every event I’ve been to that I’ve enjoyed, which would be a very long list.

London Book Fair - London, England

The London Book Fair is my favorite of the large international rights fairs. It’s best for publishers and agents, since it’s primarily a business-to-business event focused on selling rights and building international partnerships. The size (2300 stands, ~25,000 attendees) means that there’s always something happening, but it’s manageable compared to the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 286,000(!) attendees. The venue, Olympia London, is gorgeous, with beautiful high white arches paned with glass. (see above!)

Livres Canada Books Export Exchange - Montreal, Canada

This appears only to have happened once, but it was an incredible event. There was one track of speakers, many of whom were chosen from outside of the book industry to help inspire innovation in the attendees. (All the talks are archived on the page linked above.) The event was bilingual, with speakers’ talks simultaneously translated into either French or English, which was accessible via headsets. Interspersed with the talks were round-table-style breakout sessions that posed questions to the attendees and let them share their wisdom and experiences on subjects related to international book sales, which sparked a lot of interesting conversations and a spirit of collaboration.

Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference - Moves around, San Antonio in 2020

The biggest conference focusing on writers, craft, and literary culture, AWP is attended by around 12,000 people, and features several days of wall-to-wall panels, readings, parties, and more. The book fair features around 800 tables dedicated to small presses, literary magazines, and writing programs. I always come home with a bundle of new poetry books and gorgeous experimental bookish objects, along with a lot of new ideas! Above is a photo of Kickstarter’s AWP booth from this year.

SFWA Nebula Conference - Moves around, Los Angeles in 2020

This is an event geared toward professional and serious science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, and others with a strong interest in those subjects. The event was created around the Nebula Awards ceremony, so it draws some of the coolest and most interesting people writing in the genres whose work has been nominated for the award. Because of this, the panels are really fascinating and populated with some of the stars of the speculative fiction genre. I’m not totally sure how many people attend, but I would guess around 500-700. Because of its size and pretty specialized audience, everyone is warm, open, and mostly pretty laid back and happy. And the outfits at the awards banquet are always phenomenal—it’s got a real Oscars-of-sci-fi-red-carpet kind of vibe.

If you’re a reader of speculative fiction or fantasy, Readercon (near Boston) has a somewhat similar vibe and quality of panels and events, but it’s more oriented toward fans than writers.

Flame Con - New York, NY

Flame Con is a queer-focused comic convention. There is so little representation for LGBTQ+ folks at all, and so little of that is well-done, that it feels like coming home to be in a room that actively centers queer people and their stories. Flame Con is in its fifth year and has grown each year, repeatedly seeking out bigger venues. The programming is well-curated, and there are typically lines snaking down the hallways to get into the panels, something I have never seen at book publishing events. The tables are full of incredible books, zines, enamel pins, patches, prints, and more, all focused on queer characters and stories. And some real stars of the comic medium attend and even work their tables, signing books on the spot. So if you love comics but hate how huge New York Comic Con has gotten, Flame Con is a great alternative.

Brooklyn Book Festival - Brooklyn, NY

A free literary event held every fall in downtown Brooklyn, surrounded by a week of “Bookend” literary events. On the day of the event, there are panels and programming in surrounding areas, some of them outside and some hosted in nearby buildings. The literary marketplace that takes over Brooklyn’s Borough Hall features dozens of tents of local independent book publishers and magazines selling their work. The weather is typically pretty lovely, which makes ambling around and browsing books outdoors a real treat.

XOXO Fest - Portland, OR

This is not a book-specific event; it’s defined as an event for people who make things on the internet. The speakers are writers, artists, comedians, game makers, podcasters, and many other creative folks. XOXO sets an extremely high bar for thoughtfulness, inclusion, and creating a comfortable and safe environment for attendees. It has free child care, quiet rooms, offers pronoun pins to all attendees, and so many other elements that create a really excellent environment. Moreover, the conference runners set the expectation that everyone you will meet there will be interesting, and they create space to meet and talk to new people in and among the multiple tracks of excellent programming. I had some of the most fascinating, open conversations I’ve ever had with strangers, some of whom I now consider friends. It was totally overwhelming in the best possible way.

If you’ll be at BEA this week, on Thursday around lunchtime, I’m giving a talk on the future of publishing (the one I gave at London Book Fair a few months ago). Stop by and say hi! I’ll publish a version of my five predictions in a future newsletter for those who won’t be in New York this week.