When James Noll was looking to promote his book, he came to the same realization that has come to many other independent and small-publisher authors: they’re on their own. So the Fredericksburg resident hopped in his car and headed to a book festival in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It was the first such event he had ever attended, but it would be the spark that eventually inspired him to host his own. “I remember looking around and it was pretty cool, there were a ton of activities,” said Noll. “I thought definitely that Fredericksburg can do something like this.” And now, a little over a year later, he’s making good on that vision. On September 24 at Riverfront Park, the first annual Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival will take place.
Noll is working with two other collaborators to bring the festival to fruition, fellow Fredericksburg author Amy Bayne and Chris Jones from Williamsburg. All three are writers with concentrations in various mediums, with Noll and Bayne pulling double-duty as educators as well. The trio began planning the festival this past January with the goal of founding a free, public festival for regional authors. “I think the three of us together seem to have pieces that fit into this puzzle really well,” said Bayne. “We work well together.”
A big push came when they partnered with the Central Rappahannock Regional Library System. After sending out a call for exhibitors to their thousands of newsletter subscribers, they were flooded with applications and quickly hit maximum capacity. “We were planning on cutting off registration on August 15, but we ended cutting it off early because we had plenty of people,” said Noll. “Now the challenge is getting the word out.”
“More and more, people are looking for the experience where they get to know the people making their stuff.”
The festival will run from 9 AM to 5 PM and will feature 40 tables of authors promoting a litany of genres, including horror, mystery, young adult fiction, and medical and historical nonfiction. “There is a publish-on-demand revolution going on right now,” said Noll. “The original idea was for anybody who is doing this type of thing on their own, but we don’t mind if somebody is an author somewhere and has the support of a publisher. They can come on in. Anything that will celebrate literacy, literature, and reading, we’re open to.” Along with the tabled authors, there will be speeches from authors Steve Watkins and Tasha Fuller, as well as illustrator David Cutting. To keep things accessible to as many as possible, there will be no charge for admission, plus there will be a kids zone for those attending with young children.
Noll and Bayne are both educators in the area, so it’s their priority to keep the festival as much about celebrating youth literacy as it is about promoting independent authors. To that end, there will be several events focused on the authors-of-tomorrow including writing exercises and a slam poetry session. “We know that young people are reading and they write in their own way,” said Bayne. “They want opportunities to share their voices. If we can give them that through the festival, we want to invite those families to be a part of that.”
Most of the writers exhibiting at the festival come from Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties, opening up an exciting opportunity to connect various writing circles from the region. “I’ve seen a lot of the groups that have formed around writing and literacy, but I’m not so sure the groups have been unified,” said Bayne. “People might not know there are so many resources. They know of each other, but there’s nothing pulling them together and unifying them. Maybe in the future this festival can be a place for all these different resources to highlight that they’re here in the area.”
For Noll, who started this journey with the goal of promoting his own book, one of the allures of a festival like this is not simply to sell your work, but also allow writers and readers to form a personal connection with each other. With national brick-and-mortar chain stores struggling to adapt to a market dominated by digital offerings, the act of meeting the person who made the book you’re purchasing is often as valuable as the product itself. This dynamic may help explain the recent resurgence of independent bookstores and it certainly lends legitimacy to the festival’s goals. “People like the fact that other people are making and marketing things,” he said. “My friend Larry Hinkle makes his own ukuleles and people go to him for the experience of having a hand-built instrument. That’s going on with literary arts, too. People want to buy from and support local writers. We have all these big box retail places where if you want to get a thing, you can push a button and have it delivered to your door. More and more, people are looking for the experience where they get to know the people making their stuff.”
The Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival will be held at Riverfront Park on Saturday, September 24 from 9 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free. For full schedule of events, visit fredbookfest.com.