~ Dishari Ghosh
Imagine this, you wake up and find yourself in the Pink City of India, Jaipur. It’s a bright sunny morning and you’re walking on a path covered in a myriad of colours, transporting you into a world unlike any other. You might even be stopped for a quick byte by journalists, radio jockeys or bloggers/vloggers. You turn to one side and are immediately awestruck by the involvement of the youth in the numerous activities happening; on the other, you smell the aroma of coffee and hear the sizzling of burgers. You move ahead, making a mental note to visit this location later in the day. The path now leads you to four different spaces, for four different purposes and you are wondering where you belong, as an audience. Perhaps, making a left turn now, and going into the cool tents lined with hundreds of books might help you make your decision. Soon enough, with a bag full of books that you will stack by the lamp at your desk, you traverse down one of the paths, after a quick glance at the brochure in hand, and immerse yourself for the next couple of days in the voices of individuals worth their salt.
This is how the Jaipur Literature Fest usually looks and feels like, year after year, with continuous creative additions in store. This big fest which began in 2006 paved the path for numerous others of its kind, held around the year, all over the country and has even managed to travel the globe. Literature fests are an interesting convergence of readers, authors and all things literary, and then some more!
Literature fests and events come in all shapes and sizes, keeping in mind the local audience, the scale at which the location will allow it and the brand name with which it is associated. Those with a fascination towards books, interesting themes and conversations but most importantly, the keenness to learn and grow will surely end up finding something suitable for them at such events. There’s more to a literature event that catches the eye at first glance, with activities taking place at every inch of the grounds.
This piece highlights a few major reasons why one should visit any literature fest or event accessible to them, especially if you are an author or a reader. Read on!
There's Tons in Store for Everyone!
Is the only requirement to visit a literature fest or event? Hunger! Hunger to know, to learn, to converse, to think, to question. With the varied topics and themes, speakers from all over come to give their perspectives, share what they have acquired and engage with the attendees. With discussions brewing everywhere, both formally and informally, you might catch an interesting idea that would stay with you, perhaps something that will grow bigger in the weeks to follow, giving back to the community in your own way. In many events, there are simultaneous panels, interviews and discussions happening - so one can only imagine the abundance of ideas and thoughts sparking everywhere!
Not only that, sometimes there are screenings, poetry recitations, musical events or cultural performances that one can attend if they're not too keen on the literary side of the fest. If you have a love for food, there are food trucks and joints to keep you satiated. Even small businesses and trades put up stalls for you to buy knickknacks or souvenirs. If you are looking for a break in between the sessions, there are always fun and interesting games or quizzes that you can participate in, or add on to the art installations meant to engage. In short, you would not find yourself bored and rather, have a hard time choosing what to go after!
An Array of Representation
Literature fests and events are a great way to represent who you are while embracing others. This works on many levels. First, most events aim to display books and bring in authors who are otherwise marginalised or overlooked in a predominant market. Regardless of what the genre of a book is, which language it is written in, who it addresses or even if it is a new format, there is space at events for including those. The panels and bookstores are definitely specifically curated but there are many opportunities to discover newer reads. If you are an author who falls in this category, this is a chance for you to connect with a potential audience and make sure your work reaches the right hands and minds. With the tremendous growth in the Indian publishing field, there are several ideas, perspectives, cultures, narratives and narrators waiting to be unfolded. At such fests, there is ample space for them.
Second, such events certainly bank on bigger, known names to make an appearance and pull a larger crowd. If you are one of them, this becomes an intimate way of showing an audience who you are, what your ideas are, how you wrote your book, what became your motivation, and so on and so forth. A space is carved out for you to represent what you would want your audience to most connect with, bringing in more. Engage wholeheartedly with others!
Third, many 'literature fests' have opened the doors for celebrities, policymakers, journalists, designers and others, apart from those who are obviously from the field of literature. This results in a creation of interconnection of areas and disciplines, wherein backgrounds, ideas, perspectives, and generations all link together to provide an experience like none other, for attendees and speakers alike. Though some opine that the essence of literature gets diluted, it is worth remembering that literature is a reflection of society, bringing in ideas from all areas, much like what materializes here. The ways in which something strikes out for an individual are going to be vastly different for another, and thus, there’s scope for everything to converge here.
Fourth, the attendees themselves belong to various levels of society, and such events have opened their arms warmly to all. There is no dearth of curiosity and one shouldn't be left out from exploring these inclusive spaces. Regardless of what the purpose of attending such an event is, the attendees themselves are the reason for a vibrant and growing scale and popularity of not just festivals like these, but literature as a whole.
Communication is Key
As an author, literature fests and events can be an eye opener and you can squeeze out the best from every moment spent here. If you have the privilege of being on stage, interact as candidly and openly as possible. Readers love to see true emotions and connect at a human level. Encourage questions and discussions, be it during a panel or even otherwise. Persuasion is a valuable tool that you must utilise here fully.
Approach as many readers as possible and interact with them at length. Take those book signing offers and chat with each one who comes your way. If they've read your work, pay attention to what they liked, what they would prefer seeing more of and especially what did not gel well with them. This will help you curate your books as per your audience, without losing your touch. If they haven't even heard of you or your work, that's alright, you always have space for new readers to join your posse! Provide them with reasons and captivate them in ways that they'd be compelled to read your book. Share stories, anecdotes, and what inspired you to pick that particular narrative - there's no end to what your readers might end up liking or relating to.
An approachable author is also more likely to gain popularity online. Say yes to pictures or autographs, let the readers have their moment and share you and your content with others. The ‘fan moments’ that everyone vies for are something that will elevate your status as well. You'll be tapping into a wider audience, which might lead to potential readers.
Reaching for the Stars, Quite Literally
Readers, and in general audience, love to share the same space and breathe the same air as someone they admire, have or wish to read. Literature fests and events bridge those gaps which were previously too widened and turned accessible. Even though, many ‘stars’ are welcomed on various social media platforms now, meeting and interacting with someone on the ground is an unparalleled charm, which still excites hundreds to attend such events, every year. Granted, there are several who are just present to hoard photographs or autographs, but there are as many, if not more, who are genuinely interested in what you have to say and listen to your thoughts. Keep both kinds close – you never know who will end up driving the most sales, indirectly!
The same goes for authors as well. Being part of a strong community and network is certainly an enhancing experience. Whether you're considered a newbie or a veteran, connecting with others from your field, and even outside it, can help in your growth, both personal and professional. Many look forward to meeting their old friends and colleagues and even making new ones at such events. As official as your 'tasks' at the event are, it is also an unofficial surrounding for you to absorb, from many points of view. It is a collaborative space wherein ideation, rectification, and creation are all enhanced with the backdrop so literary.
If you're just starting out and have been looking relentlessly for agents or publishers who'd be interested in your work, this is your chance. Many times, they come and visit such events, both for official purposes and for leisure. Be on the lookout, visit their stalls, chat with them, present your pitch or your ideas (if they permit) or simply connect with them for a future talk. Even if you do not have a draft for your novel, engage in meaningful conversations with those who are more experienced – learning is a continuous process, which you can only gain from. It will certainly turn fruitful in one way or the other, in the longer run. Coming from the industry, they would know the current trends, what the audience is reading and hence, demanding more of, what is not selling at all. There is always hope that these interactions might help in creating a path for you!
If you’re someone who is published and would like to give a different direction to your novels, literary fests can help with that too. As mentioned in a previous article, From Page to Screen: The Journey of Books Adapted into Films, such fests and events might lead you to find the correct fit for your on-screen adaptations. Agents and producers are exploring newer ventures, innovative ideas, and fresh voices and these events play cupid by providing a wide pool of just that. It's a good idea to be prepared beforehand, in the off chance that you do run into those looking to adapt and hit it off.
Additionally, while interacting with your readers, you would end up coming in contact with a diverse group of people. If you're looking for an illustrator for those cool graphics you'd like to include, a designer for the cover readers can't resist, or an editor who will enhance your drafts - who knows you might run into them here. Are you writing a novel about chefs and end up finding someone to talk to in-depth here, or someone's jewellery caught your eye and missing pieces of a puzzle clicked in your mind, you witness a gang of friends laughing and sharing food and that's your next book - there's scope for much more than you think at such places! Visit more, visit often, try out different approaches, but always keep engaging and interacting, that’s the starting point of everything.
Investing your time and energy in literature fests and events, at whatever capacity possible for you is always going to be an enriching experience for you. Whether you are an author or a reader, you are adding on something there by just being. Keep an open mind, listen to different perspectives, engage in discussions, get those books signed, sway to the music, eat amazing food, and buy those trinkets– you will return with a full heart and mind (and maybe your photograph gallery too)!