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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 !!!!!!