Baltimore Book Festival : Where I was in pure Book Heaven for 5 hours and scored an ARC of DOCILE !!!!!

Baltimore Book Festival

Last weekend was the Baltimore Book Festival and I was very very excited to attend it second year in a row. I would have loved to have attended it all three days, but commuting is an issue for me, so I picked Sunday afternoon because I knew atleast a couple of the authors who were on the panels. And I have to say, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in a long while and I’m still riding that high. It’s just an amazing feeling being among people who love books like I do.

I’m going to split up this post based on the panels I attended and what I felt about them. It’s gonna be a huge one, so I hope I won’t bore you, and you enjoy reading about my experiences.

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Bloggers Make the Web Go Round: A Guided Tour of Trends and Tropes through the Bloggerverse

Naturally, this was one of the panels I was most excited to attend because it was the only one about bloggers on Sunday, but it ended up being the only one I didn’t enjoy. There were some discussions about how to stay relevant for longer periods of time as a blogger, and the importance of being honest and finding our niche, but it didn’t feel anything different from a similar panel that was present last year. And I also felt that the discussion catered more towards bloggers who are also authors (or aspiring to be) and that can be a bit isolating for someone like me. Overall, it was okay but I guess I just didn’t find it engaging enough.

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Ibram X. Kendi presents How To Be an Antiracist

I actually haven’t read either Stamped from the Beginning or How to be an Antiracist, but they are both on my tbr and I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to listen to a National Book Award winner and such an accomplished author.

It was a very enlightening conversation about racist and antiracist ideas, how all of us can harbor both the ideas simultaneously within ourselves, and the only way we can work towards being an antiracist is to acknowledge when we are being racist in the first place. Kendi insists that becoming an antiracist is to constantly be self-critical and reflective, change and grow everyday. It’s not an easy task and will take a lot of hardwork and we should be prepared to put in the effort.

One thing which he mentioned that I found very important to remember is that every single Black person is expected to be a representation of their whole race, which deprives them of their individuality and agency, while white people allowed to be individuals and everything they achieve/or dont only reflects upon themselves. Even Black children are not allowed to remain children for a long time because they are taught very early on “what not to do” and “how to/not to behave”. Kendi talked about how liberating it can be to not have to carry your entire race on your back.

There was also a very poignant conversation about his article about Rep. Elijah Cumming’s death and how we don’t talk enough about black deprivation which leads to Black men having the lowest life expectancy in the country. He also related to this through his own relationship with his father and it was a very emotional moment during the conversation.

This was the one panel where I saw people rushing to find places to sit and standing out in the cold when they couldn’t find any, and it’s not surprising because it was really such an important discussion.

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Trends and Tropes: What’s Hot and What’s Not in Today’s Romance Market

Panelists: MK Hale, Kini Allen, Rae Latte, Andie J Christopher, MC Vaughan, Kim Baker

This panel actually turned out more fun than I expected, mostly because I understood everything they were talking about and I even got the chance to interact a couple of times.

Everyone seemed to be in agreement that illustrated covers in romance are the latest hottest trend and it’s not going away soon. They seem to also boost sales as well as be useful for diverse romances because the stock photo collection with POC is not extensive. But everyone also mentioned that illustrated covers could create unrealistic expectations (particularly making us think it’s a romcom when it’s not) and also not give a hint about the steam level, which can be a very important factor for longterm genre romance readers.

The authors also acknowledged that bookstagram, booktube and even podcasts hosted by authors are very trendy these days and give more avenues for authors to interact with their readers.

While discussing about the negatives, a point that was made was that Kindle Unlimited can be very overwhelming for new readers (which I totally agree) and how amazon search results don’t always give you what you are looking for which can affect sales. The consensus also seemed to be on the fact that social media algorithms have become a much more determining factor in what is perceived as hot and what’s not (which is in turn influenced by marketing budgets) and has nothing to do with actual reader’s tastes.

Every panelist agreed that we need to see more diversity in romance and it should just become an integral part of writing. I found that there was also a particular interest in wanting to see more romances featuring everyday people with real/realistic jobs and not just billionnaires. Also the need for pushing out ageism and writing more seasoned romances was discussed.

There were a lot of book recommendations just casually mentioned while all the discussions were going on, and I couldn’t note them down in time. But I do have the voice recording of the panel, so maybe I’ll do another post of all the book recommendations I got from the panelists.

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The Kids are Alright: YA and MG

Panelists: Jeff Seymour, Diana Peterfreund, Justina Ireland, Victoria Lee and Leah Cypress

This was actually the first panel I attended and I instantly felt at home because YA fantasy is totally my thing and I was among my people.

There was a lot of wonderful discussion about the evolution of the YA and MG genres over the years, especially from when they were young readers themselves to when they started publishing these stories.  They talked a lot about their favorite books growing up, which I don’t know anything about because I didn’t grow up in the US, so I missed a lot of the references they were making. But the audience seemed to be connecting to it a lot, so I thought that was fun.

We all wanted to know about the trends in YA/MG and why they write in these age groups instead of adult, and many seemed to agree that YA particularly is way ahead in terms of being accepting of diverse and marginalized voices, and also allowing authors to explore dark and intense themes. But they also mentioned that it can be driven by the more than half of YA’s adult readership, and that’s why we see more aging up of characters these days. While all the authors acknowledged that it is important to write stories for young people talking about issues (whether through contemporaries or speculative fiction), whether the books reach the actual audience can depend on the gatekeepers who might decide that their young charges don’t need to engage with difficult themes.

One particular point made by Justina stayed with me – about the difference between YA and MG, she said that while MG is about finding one’s place in family or community, YA is about finding one’s place in the larger society. I thought this was a very illuminating take (for me).

I didn’t get any opportunity to ask questions but it was still an amazing panel to be a part of and I’m so glad I actually made it in time.

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Building Queerer Worlds

Panelists: Alison Wilgus, KM Szpara (Kellan), Nibedita Sen, Victoria Lee

This was my last panel of the day and while I was very interested to attend, I didn’t expect to laugh so much and have such fun interaction with this group of authors.

Firstly, Kellan was very sweet to give me his badge so that I could go to an author’s only section and get myself some soda (I was out of water and was feeling very thirsty). I also had fun chatting with Nibedita before the panel started about being the only two desi people around and how we were able to recognize and feel kinship instantly.

And once the panel started, it was so evident from the beginning how passionate all of them were about writing queer characters and building inclusive worlds, and the discussion was very lively and interactive right from the get go.

Victoria talked about how it’s not just important to build SFF worlds where being queer is normalized, but queerness should be just built into the system. They were right to say that when author’s have the opportunity to create a completely new secondary world, why do they have to carry over our world’s homophobia into it. But Kellan was quick to mention that it’s not easy for allocishet individuals to think outside heteronormativity, so it definitely falls to the queer authors to create such worlds.

Nibedita rightly talked about multiple marginalizations and how it’s very important to write stories where desi/poc queer people can see themselves in, and Victoria reiterated that as a Jewish disabled queer author, they felt it was their responsibility to write intersectional characters.

When asked about how important is it to write queer stories that also cater to non-queer readers, all the authors agreed that while they would like if non-queer readers read their books and empathized with queer stories, it was not their job to educate them and they would love if their books reached the audience for whom they wrote it.

And it was inevitable that we would end up about a discussion on ownvoices and who should write what stories – Victoria said that it was the difference between story about someone (vs) story with someone; author’s should always try to write a world where they have characters across the diverse spectrum, but if they are trying to write from the POV of a marginalized character , then they should think if they are the right person to tell the story.

There was only one point where there was a bit of disagreement within the group which I found fascinating – Kellan mentioned that he is a bit skeptical about reading queer stories (particularly his own representation as trans masculine) by authors who don’t a similar lived experience, but Victoria was quick to point out that it’s not always possible/ or safe for authors to be out, and it was an undue burden to put on them to be public about their identity in order to get their book published.

We also got to know about some of the books that inspired them which had good representations and that was nice to know. I promise I will write a post about all the recs!!!!

As we were all having such an amazing discussion, no one cared that we were out of time and just continued talking. And when Kellan offered an ARC of his debut March 2020 release DOCILE, I was the jumping out of my chair in excitement. He was very gracious when I mentioned that my request on Edelweiss had been rejected, and gave me a beautiful signed copy which has not left my side since 🙂

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I really hope I didn’t bore you all with this very long post… I know I’m not very entertaining or funny, and whatever I write can usually feel like an essay. But I was very good at essay writing in high school, so I guess you can’t take that out of me 😀

I had a lovely time at the Baltimore Book Festival last year too, but I forgot to take extensive notes at that time, so I never wrote a post about it. But I tried to be meticulous this time around and I hope I was able to talk about all the relevant discussions I was a part of. While my post maybe boring, I assure you that I had loadssssss of fun listening to these amazing authors, it was very very satisfying and enriching, and even though I went alone to the event, I never felt alone for a second. It’s just such a wonderful feeling being among fellow book lovers !!!!!!

29 thoughts on “Baltimore Book Festival : Where I was in pure Book Heaven for 5 hours and scored an ARC of DOCILE !!!!!

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  1. I also went to the festival this year! I went Saturday and Sunday (I live about 15-20 minutes from downtown) and had a great time. I thought the programming for the SFWA stage was amazing, per usual. First time I went to the blogger panel at the Romance stage — I think they had that one last year too, but I didn’t go. I was also a bit disappointed with that one, thought there would be more tips or talks of the actual blogging processing. Oh well. Glad you had fun overall!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is awesome !!!! We never realize how close we live and go to the same festivals 😂😂😂😂 I live about 20 mins away from downtown too…
      I only managed two SFWA panels this time but I agree they were brilliant… and I attended the blogger panels on the romance stage last year too… I’ll definitely have to rethink next year because the RWA panels felt pretty repetitive…
      Glad we both had so much fun… I don’t really get the opportunity to talk books with anyone irl so it was an amazing way to spend an afternoon for me 😊😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, I’ve managed to find a couple of other local-ish bloggers in around Baltimore / DC area, always happy to run into more. I also love going to the festival because it’s always great to be around other book lovers. This past year I’ve also started going to some local Science Fiction Fantasy conventions and those have generally been fun too. As much as I love Romance, I probably won’t go back to any of the Romance panels at BBF again, I think I just prefer the programming at SFWA for the most part, haha. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s so cool !!! I’m too much of a homebody and can’t drive either, so I’m always at home and trying hard to interact online… that’s why I don’t know any other bloggers in the area…
          local SFF conventions sound fun.. maybe I’ll try for next year… and I think I agree with you… I’ll probably skip the romance panels too and concentrate just on SFWA or any other interesting panelists at the Radical book pavilion next year 😊😊😊

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Balticon is right downtown at the hotel next the the Gallery mall, held every Memorial Day weekend, so that may be one you can get to even if it’s just a day pass since it’s not too far.
            I drive reluctantly, I have major anxiety around driving down town. I actually had my husband drop me off and then pick me up on Sunday and Saturday he came to the festival with me lol. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Ohh that’s sounds like a good one… Definitely adding it to my next years plans…
            I crashed my car when I was learning to drive almost 9 years ago and I still have anxiety due to that incident… even as a passenger, I have to try hard not to look at all the other vehicles on the road and panic and so I end up reading as long we are in the car…
            My husband dropped me on Sunday too and picked me up… I didn’t ask him to come with me coz he would get very bored and he was actually happy to watch NFL the whole afternoon 😂😂😂

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Oh yikes, that’s scary. One of my friends is in a similar situation, I always get nervous when I have her as a passenger because I’m trying not to do anything that will panic her.
            I didn’t ask my husband either, I was really surprised when he decided to join me on Saturday haha. He was watching NFL on Sunday too lol.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. I am mostly okay when we are driving within the city but long drives make me very anxious.. so I’m always set with books and audiobooks and kindle… whatever I can to calm myself 😊😊
            That was sweet of him… !!!! My husband actually did accompany me last year and was bored, so I didn’t ask this time.. and there’s was no way I could separate him from the tv while football is going on 😂😂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Omg so incredibly fascinating to read about your experience because I’ve always wanted to go to a festival like this. I especially love the comparison between YA and MG and what the differences are. Interesting to think about. Also interesting to hear trends in romance and how readers want more characters that arent billionaires. Personally I dont like reading about older romances at all, but I see how there could be a market for that. Illustrated covers are definitely popular lately and I loved how they acknowledged how bookstagram, booktube and podcasts really influence the market!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you !!!!!

      And it definitely was fascinating knowing about MG vs YA because other than the age, I wasn’t sure what else was the reason for the different category… so that was nice to learn…
      And I guess I like my billionaire romances 😂😂😂 it’s just a fantasy but I also understand wanting more romances with relatable characters.. and I agree, I’ve only read a couple of older romances and thought they were okay… but maybe as we age, we might start wanting them too….

      They seem to not like illustrated covers in general but I love them… but it was nice to hear their reasons for being unhappy with the trend….

      The whole bookstagram and podcast thing was actually surprising for me because in a similar panel last year (with some of the same panelists), they seemed to not be aware of the influence of the platforms or realize how much we readers follow them… so it was good to seem them acknowledge that this time…

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      1. Personally I wont pick up a romance if it has a shirtless guy on the cover because I think its erotica. So I can understand how a cover can sell a book or hinder sales.

        I love relatable characters. But I also dont like being bored. So like… a regular job is nice and relatable, but is it going to bore me?

        I am glad that you noticed a difference in how the panelists realized the influence of online platforms. For those of us who follow bookstagrammers or bloggers — and most of us spend a lot of money on books– it is a HUGE influence. If I see a book more than once on my feed or I see a photo of the cover that captures it in a great way or my online friends are just RAVING about a book… I’m going to put it on my TBR. The blogging and bookstagram world totally influences my reading and I’m totally okay with that bc they introduce me to so many great books!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha I totally understand… these days the shirtless dude books aren’t even erotica, just more explicit romance… and while I do enjoy some of them, I could never buy the books to display on my shelf.. my family would give me looks 😬😬😬 illustrated covers are cute.. and I like how bright and colorful they can be…

          And I totally see what you mean about getting bored… romances are more like fantasies, so may be seeing the same old real life in them can get boring ….

          I totally agree with you… without bloggers and bookstagram and booktube, I wouldn’t even know half the books I have loved over the past couple of years… it has also diversified my reading so much into genres I wouldn’t otherwise try… I’m glad they are finally accepting ….

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          1. I feel like illustrated covers make me feel like it’s a lighter romance, which I am more likely to pick up.

            As for getting bored… romances can seem the same a lot of times. Like Nicholas Sparks… all his books are the same. Something has to grab me… something different.

            I totally agree that blogging had diversified my reading. I actually think blogging initially opened up my reading to other genres but now I basically just read fantasies. I feel like writing reviews helped me realize what I love reading.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I think I pick up illustrated covers more too…

            I mostly stick to fantasy and romance too… just briefly touch other genres.. but I agree that blogging has made me understand what I like reading and I think I’ve gotten good at picking up books I’ll like 😊😊

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          3. After talking to you I went into work this morning and when I was stocking books I realized that every face out in the romance section had an illustrated cover, so that was interesting to see.

            I used to shy away from fantasy books over 500 pages but when I was in a slump I went through all my past reviews and looked at what all my 5 stars had in common and every fantasy I gave 5 stars to except for one were all over 500 pages, so now I read a lot more long epic/high fantasies than I used to and I dont think I would have ever realized that if I didnt have reviews to look back on. I think going through old 5 star reviews like once a year is so fascinating because you really see how your tastes have evolved over time.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Ohh wow that’s really such a great insight… I guess the marketing and shelving of these illustrated covers with face out might also be increasing their sales because readers just see them more…

            You are so right… I always try to look back on my older reviews.. both to see how my writing and the way I think about books has changed, and what elements I have come to enjoy more or less… it’s definitely nice to have a timeline of our evolving reading tastes 😊😊 I’m glad we both feel so similarly about it….

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          5. Well actually I think the reverse is true. At my store we do face outs for the books that are selling well and are currently popular already. But sometimes a bookseller will just face out whatever they thinks looks good. So I guess it is a little of both. Interesting to see though…

            When I was in a slump I went through all my old reviews and statistically looked at what they all had in common. I wrote a whole blog post about it. It was super helpful going forward because now I pick my books out differently. I was already aware that I loved books with strong characters, but I learned a lot about my own reading preferences. In a way it was so helpful because I’ve chosen books I’m more likely to read since and had more 5 star reads on average, but at the same time it kind of narrowed what I read down to those preferences. So while I read more genres beforehand I also am getting more 5 star reads… Overall I think it was good for me to do, but I also think that I need to try and be more open minded because I’m not as willing to try books out of my comfort zone as I used to be.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. Ohh that’s even more fascinating… wonder how the buyers are making the choices then… especially ones who don’t come in to the store knowing what they want to buy..

            Wow you wrote a whole blog post about it!!! That’s a lot of analysis and dedication 👍👍👍 I don’t think I’ve narrowed down my choices to preferences, but I’ve gotten to understand what are the tropes I enjoy and what I really hate.. and I also ended up with a set of trusted authors whose all books I want to keep reading…
            And while this has definitely taken my average rating up, I’m also too much of a mood reader and if I’m not in the right headspace, I go on a DNFng spree or just give bad ratings which puts me in a slump…
            I hate going out of my comfort zone too.. but my friends are motivating me to try out a few of their favorites, so I’m trying to add a few sci-fi to my tbr … but ya, I would never go for lit fic or horror despite how great they are..

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          7. I think that most people come in to browse or wind up buying more than just the book they came for.

            It really was a lot of analysis. There were graphs and everything! I might do something similar for the end of the year. I love when you find an author that you just love and want to read everything that they’ve ever written.

            I’m a mood reader too and I just feel like I cant read certain titles if I’m not in the right mood. I rarely DNF but rather set books aside and come back to them at a later date. But sometimes I never go back to a book..

            I feel like the past 6 months or so I’ve just been exclusively reading fantasy novels. While I want to read other books it’s just what I’ve been interested in lately. But sometimes I do find myself getting slumpy after a few intricate fantasies in a row. I think I might need to throw contemporaries into my reading life. Or maybe middle grade or graphic novels… idk but I definitely need something light in between thick fantasies. I used to read almost any genre and now I wont touch historical fiction at all or even regular fiction. If it’s not fantasy then I read sci fi, mysteries and thrillers and not much else. And even not much of those genres. Idk as much as I love fantasy I feel like I need to mix it up a bit. I’ve gotten so comfortable just reading this one genre and I think sometimes I get burnt out and yet I still dont want to switch genres. I think it would be nice to have some lighter reads lined up for those times.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll tell you what I love about your post Sahi, in addition to the several other fantastic things: you write in a way that I feel like you’re having a personal conversation with me.

    I’m utterly engrossed and very invested. I LOVED hearing about the book festival and the whole time I was thinking OMG I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO JOIN SAHI! or OMG I WANT TO TALK TO SAHI ABOUT THIS!!

    I loved the things that you picked up and that stayed with you, it speaks about you as a person as well Sahi 😘😘😘 I loved the insight you shared on the Anti-racist panel. I was totally on board for everything said in the romance discussion. I totally understood what you meant by not having been brought up in the US so being unaware of a lot of YA and MG reads. I can totally imagine.

    There’s always my favourite aspect of your writing that never changes: how relatable you are. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh Ahana …. having you with me there would have been AMAZING !!!! While it’s fun being alone, I’m sure it’ll be so much better to have you for company and gush about the whole day and just share the excitement….

      And I did a better job taking notes this time 😂😂😂 definitely helped me write this post… and thank you .. I think I managed to capture the points that all of us can relate to and I’m so glad you agree 😊😊

      And you are always so lovely babe !!!!! Having one cheerleader like you in my life is enough to keep me motivated… ❤️❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I THINK IT WOULD’VE BEEN AMAZING TOO! If I’m ever in the vicinity, you know who’s door I’m knocking ♥️♥️☺️☺️. We’d have gushed and giggling so much!!

        You’re a note taking pro! ♥️♥️ These are a LOT of points and especially your favourite quotes that you remember so well.

        Aw love ♥️♥️♥️♥️

        Liked by 1 person

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