September 10, 2010

How to run a book fest


One of these guys is a publisher. The other three could have also been publishers if they wanted to be.

One of these guys is a publisher. The other three could have also been publishers if they wanted to be.

While recent reports detail the floundering state of book conventions in the US, this weekend marks the fifth anniversary of a book festival that’s more popular than ever: the Brooklyn Book Festival. In the five years of its existence, it has become one of America’s premier literary events. Attendance has catapulted, and the event now draws tens of thousands of people to the gardens surrounding the Brooklyn Courthouse, where there are a wide array of booths featuring the wares of mostly indie publishers, as well as scattered stages where some of the leading lights of American literature — and some who should be the leading lights of American literature — appear to discuss their work and the business.

The event, which this year starts on Friday, was the brainchild of Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz. But one of the main catalysts behind Markowitz’s decision — and the man generally recognized as the frontman for the event — is  Johnny Temple, also known both as the founder and publisher of Akashic Books, and as one of the bass players for Girls Against Boys.

In an interview with Jessica Daily for the blog Brooklyn: The Borough, Temple says the BBF has in fact started to have an international following: “I go to Europe every year for the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany and the London Book Fair in England, and when I’m over there, people are always asking me about the Brooklyn Book Festival. We have authors coming from all over the world and exhibitors and publishing companies coming from all over the country. We definitely think that in just our short five-year history, we have established the Brooklyn Book Festival pretty solidly as one of the premiere public book events in the whole country.”

He goes on to provide an interesting discussion of not only how the festival works, but on the state of American publishing and how he modeled his publishing company on things he learned from the music business.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives