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Boston Book Festival keeps growing

Posted by Doug Most  October 18, 2010 04:16 PM

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rathe_1book festival_sunday.jpgBy Sarah Mupo

We caught up with the Boston Book Festival founding president and program director Deborah Porter today to hear about Saturday's second-annual event in Copley Square.

How did it go?
It went phenomenally well. It was such a success and such a great day. So many people showed up, and the authors were thrilled, and the exhibitors were just over the moon, and I think, the festivalgoers, based on what we’ve seen from our surveys and the Twittersphere and Facebook. It was really great.

What has the feedback been like?

All of the feedback has been great. We have heard from a bunch of the authors, who have sent us e-mails thanking us and telling us what a great time they had. So it’s been very gratifying. And so far the attendees have been really positive. The keynote was an odd keynote, it was Joyce Carol Oates. There was a lot going on on Twitter about that session and that, I wouldn’t say it was controversial, but there was some, how shall I say, tension between Joyce Carol Oates and the interviewer, which made for an entertaining, edge-of-your-seat experience.

How many attended?
We estimate around 25,000.

How did you calculate that?
It’s an inexact science, but we do know how many seats we had available and how many people showed up to the different venues, roughly. So we figured we had 15,000 seats sold, and then when you add all the people that came to the street fair. Then just talking to the exhibitors and how well they did, that’s how we get to that number.

Were you happy with the turnout?
Absolutely. Last year we had 28 sessions, this year we had 41, not including workshops and things like that. Every single room was filled -- virtually every single room -- to capacity from 12 o’clock noon on, and that includes two venues that seat 1,100 people. So how could you not be happy?
People were literally running from one place to the other to get to the next thing they wanted to see.

How many came to the ticketed closing event, “The Book Revue: A Literary Rock Star Showcase”?
I think about 400 people came to that. It was in a pretty big venue. We could have held a lot more. I think people were exhausted at the end of the day, to be honest. Maybe we didn’t publicize it as well as we could have. The people who did go really enjoyed it. Actually, we just got an e-mail from someone who contributed $100 to the festival because they loved the show so much. It was a good program.

How does the attendance compare to last year?
Last year, we had about 12,000. But last year, as you may know, it rained. It was still a pretty good turnout.

What were the highlights of this year?
There were so many. I think the “Tendencies of Technology” session went really well, and people seemed to love the Bill Bryson session. Of course “Page to Screen” with Dennis Lehane and Tom Perrotta was unbelievable. “Talking About Justice” was a full house and people loved that, also the session on the economy. One of the most popular sessions that people were raving about was “The Ancients.” We filled [Boston Public Library’s] Rabb lecture hall and the overflow room. So we had about 400 people come to that. That was a pleasant surprise … Some of the kids sessions -- Jeff Kinney was, of course, fantastic and the young adult fiction session was really popular. So it’s hard to say what was the highlight. There was a lot of good stuff. You know, we packed two days worth of stuff into one day, which is great, but also makes it tough for festivalgoers to decide.

Any glitches?
Yeah, they were minor, though -- authors who showed up at the venue instead of in the hospitality suite, and they came right at the moment when they were supposed to go on. It was like, you could do without that at an event this size. You want people to follow instructions.

Any cancellations from any of the presenters?
Well, we did, but we knew about them in enough time to deal with it. E.O. Wilson had to cancel so we got someone fabulous to fill in for him -- Dan Ariely. And that turned out okay. A.M. Homes was not well, so she had to cancel. But with 130 authors, to have two cancellations isn’t too bad.

What did you learn from this second year of the festival?
I think we learned that early morning sessions are not, perhaps, a great idea. There was one session, the Dan Ariely and Mark Moffett session, which was so fantastic, but I feel if had been at 12:30 p.m. instead of 10:30 a.m., it would have had three times as many people.

Maybe you could have advertised free coffee.
(Laughs.) That’s a good idea. We have to evaluate whether we want to start that early next year.

Will you do it again next year?

Oh yeah, of course. Are you kidding?

Do you have any ideas for it already? Any presenters in mind?
We have a few. I know of a few who I know will have books out next year, so we’ve already talked to some of those people. The thing we’re really going to have to think about is how to structure it next year. Do we expand? Maybe do a day and a half or two days? I think those are really the issues that we’ll be thinking about mostly. We don’t have an overall theme, and I think we’ll keep it that way because I think that’d be too restrictive.
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