I Love the Baltimore Book Festival

I wrote the following post and realized I need a statement at the front. This is my perspective as an author that has participated in the Baltimore Book Festival a number of times. These are my observations, others will have different opinions and experiences than mine.

A photo I took from Federal Hill of the Baltimore Book Festival in 2017.

I counted and realized that this year was the 9th time I’ve attended the Baltimore Book Festival as an author. It was the very first festival where I signed books, back when my only book was I’m Looking For A Monster! The first year was 2008. This was when the festival was still uptown in Mount Vernon on the streets near the Washington Monument. I was invited to do a session in the Children’s Booth and I also signed in the booth of a magazine I was doing work for.

The second and third years, 2009 and 2010, I paid to be in the author’s tent. I had a small table for a full day where I sold and signed copies of the same book. I don’t have photos of any of my early appearances. In 2012 I came back to the author’s tent with 3 books, adding the recently published They’re Coming! and Shadows On My Wall. That year The Children’s Bookstore began organizing the Children’s Stage and I was determined to get a slot for the next year.

This is a photo from the BBF when it was in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.

I got my first author copy of I Hate Picture Books! in early March 2013. I had to go to Baltimore alway so I stopped by to introduce myself to them and ask about getting on the schedule in the fall. Happily, it worked! For the first time I was a featured author at the festival.

The next year things changed radically. They decided that the festival had outgrown the old location and were moving it to the inner harbor. Many fans of the festival were upset. I thought it was a good idea, it was often hard to make your way through the crowds or to enter any of the booths. I also found out it would be very reasonable to rent a booth for the weekend. I always sold a lot of books at Baltimore and I found that some folks looked for me every year.

Me in the booth on Friday night.

The festival ran from noon to 8pm and the rules said you have to have someone in your booth the entire weekend. I asked some of the fellow members of the KidLit Authors Club if they wanted to get a booth together and some of them said yes. This was the year when The Angry Little Puffin premiered and I had a drawing for one of the Puffin sculptures I had made.

On Saturday we had 5 authors in the booth. We opened the side panel to give us more space. Diane Salerni, Ellen Jensen Abbott, Alicia Grosso, Alison Ashley Formento and me.

We had a great location and got a lot of traffic at the booth. I was on a panel on Saturday with other Maryland authors, organized by our local chapter of SCBWI. Being there for 3 days was a bit tiring but I enjoyed the weekend and went through a lot of books.

From left to right, Me, Ann McCallum, Laura Gehl and Rebecca Evans.
(Note to self, don’t wear shorts when you are presenting on a panel.)

In 2015 our booth was a little further down the harbor, near the children’s activities. It was another good year. I shared the booth with my friend, author Diane Salerni. Her husband Bob also came and we had a nice weekend together.

The 2015 booth. It was a larger tent shared by 3 vendors.
I met some cat wearing a hat.

I didn’t attend the festival in 2016. In 2017 I shared a booth again with Dianne Salerni. This time we were on the Federal Hill side of the harbor. We still had plenty of visitors come over that way as there were kids activities further down that end of the festival and there were rides, games and food vendors in the field right behind us. We had so much space I was even able to set up an outside coloring table and display a piece of framed artwork from Creatures and Characters: Drawing Amazing Monsters, Aliens and Other Weird Things! I was giving it away in a drawing.

The 2017 booth.

I had to skip the Baltimore Book Festival again in 2018 due to a schedule conflict. The festival has always been in late September and I needed travel that weekend. That brings us to 2019.

They decided to combine the Baltimore Book Festival and the Light City event. I get what they were trying to do, have an all day, all weekend event so people could attend both in one trip. They changed a couple of requirements for the book festival. The booths had to be open from noon until 10pm. In the past you could only get a booth for all three days, this year you could take a one-day booth. They also moved the festival from September to the first weekend in November. This was so it would be dark earlier so the light festival could get going earlier.

My booth in 2019

I arrived early to get set up and the first thing I noticed is the booths were facing the water instead of blocking the view. I liked that. I’ve learned that the earlier you set up the better before too many people are walking around the Inner Harbor. Also, even though it was only one day I always bring more books than I need. Since I was on my own I knew I’d have to bring some food and it’s handy to bring a step ladder to hang lights and open the tent walls. I shared the ladder with a number of other authors and vendors who did not know to bring one. It made a nice display when not needed for climbing.

This was my view from my booth

I walked around a bit before things got going and I realized that a lot of the space usually taken up by the Book Festival was used for the light sculptures for Light Fest. Since I could not check things out over by the stages during the day I don’t know much about how this affected the other booths. It was a sunny day but since it’s November it never got out of the 50s.

It was nice crowd during the day once the festival opened. The traffic by my booth was constant but not as heavy as past festivals. Aside from the other authors and vendors there was not much planned for our end of the festival. All of the food vendors were near the stages as the field behind us was closed. This was where the Drone Light Show was being staged for the evening so no one was allowed back there. I realized this was the cost of being a one-day vendor. Since there were less vendors on Friday or Sunday some of the booths down this end would probably be unused on those days.

The booth at night with my lights for the Light Fest.

Even though they asked us to man our booths until 10 pm some of the others started packing up soon after it got dark. By 8 pm I was alone in my tent which had three other booth spaces. I had planned to stay and I was going to stick to the contract. There were still folks coming by and buying books so I wasn’t worried but I didn’t count on one thing.

Around 8pm organizers came around and said we had to stay in our booths during the drone display. On Friday night the drones flew over the water and one of them crashed into the water. During testing on Saturday another failed and fell into the field. They closed the entire section to fly the drones and so for 20 minutes before and after I had no people come by and I was stuck in my tent. Between 9 o’clock and closing there were people were coming by again. I signed a few more books but most people were heading home.

The empty section where I was stuck. The drones lifting off above my head. 2 of them did not want to come down after the display which delayed the reopening of my part of the festival.

I don’t want to sound like I’m just complaining. I do love the Baltimore Book Festival. I enjoyed the day, I met a bunch of great people, sold more than 60 books and handed out my school visit information to quite a few teachers and librarians. I completely understand what they were trying to do, combining the two festivals so there was something for the day and the evening. I think the Baltimore Book Festival enhanced the Light City event but I feel like the book festival was a bit diminished by moving it to November and not having the full space to itself. I’m sure I will participate again in future, I just hope they move it back to September as a stand-alone festival.

I realized a map might help. A is the 2014 booth location. B is 2015. C is 2017 and D is 2019

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