DOING DAHLONEGA: Am I becoming a diva-bitch-poet? The kind I rant and rave about on this blog occasionally? The folks at the Dahlonega Literary Festival must have that impression today after I packed up my bags late last night and blew off the signing I was supposed to do this afternoon. I have NEVER done anything like this before in my 13 years as a poet. I have performed and attended events that were total audience, no sales and indifferent organizers. I've even traveled to some out of state events that were almost not worth it - attendance low and sales almost non-existent. It's part of being a "road warrior" when you're a new author, promoting a book and trying to get your name out to an audience. Since poetry is a niche market anyway, you have to work even harder. At some point, however, you have to wise up and take a long, hard look at the events you are agreeing to attend. I have to start taking my own advice: learn to say "no."

Leading up to the Dahlonega festival, I had been talking to some other poets who also travel frequently about what they've come to expect at a reading. While they won't necessarily make a big profit, they will at least break even to cover travel, hotels, etc. It's part of being an artist. In the past year, I have started to make a little profit (or at least break even) at 99 percent of the events I attend. I consider myself very fortunate. My recent mini-tour of SoCal was profitable enough that I was able to cover expenses and bring a bit home to put in the kitty for the next event. That's usually my goal. However, it became apparent very quickly in Dahlonega that I wasn't to going to make any money...and that very few people were actually going to see or hear me.

To be perfectly frank, I thought many of the events on Saturday were mishandled and I simply could not afford to spend another day in Dahlonega. I sold one book. One. From 11:30 to 1 p.m., I sat with with Cherryl Floyd-Miller at her signing at a cafe and not a single person ever came in to see her. I felt horrible for her, after she rushed all the way from making wedding plans in North Carolina to be in Dahlonega. They were going to have me at this same cafe, which, while nice, was on a sidestreet away from the main drag. It was painfully obvious that many of the less well known authors were stuck in odd corners around town and left to fend for themselves. I spoke with several authors who did events on Saturday and they had a similar experience as Cherryl. One novelist, who just had her first book published by one of the big houses, resorted to having her husband wandering around the square handing out postcards trying to get people to her signing venue. Number of people who came in to see her: three. Number of books sold: two. All the singular author signings were competing with about 10 others, plus workshops and "big ticket" events with the "celebrity" authors that were brought in to town.

Having a single writer, and especially a poet, just sitting at a venue NEVER works. The best idea is to get a group of poets together, have them do a short reading and then sign books. While the idea of giving each author/poet his own venue sounds fabulous, it rarely works. If you have a group, it doubles or triples the amount of traffic you might get in the door. Also, having an author sit stationary for an hour and half is too long, especially when no traffic is coming in. It just becomes embarrassing for the writer.

I was also very unhappy with the Twilight poetry event, which was supposed to be one of the "big events" of the weekend. When Cherryl and I arrived at the Buisson Center, we were told by staff working the door that the reading had been moved to the basement of the Lumpkin County Bank. After searching in the dark, we found a couple of folks who were setting up in the basement of a church. I had friends in town who were planning on coming to this and they never arrived. I received an email this morning, and sure enough, they could never find the place. Some of the performers were late, and some never arrived at all! We were also told this was going to be an evening for adults, but the majority of the audience was young teenagers. I had to revise my reading at the last moment. Once again, none of the poets in attendance sold anything, nor did we expect to when seeing the majority of the room was high school kids.

The poets seemed to get the short end of the stick when it came to getting any kind of spotlight. There was an event earlier Saturday evening at a local restaurant where all the more well-known authors were in attendance. The fact that none of the poets invited to Dahlonega were represented at this dinner was a glaring omission. Obviously the big names got some kind of fee or perks - free meals, a free hotel, etc. The lesser known authors received nothing. The "exposure" was supposed to be the compensation, but since there was none, it was a lose-lose situation.

The one bright spot in the day was spending a couple of hours in Quigley's Rare Books doing my marketing workshop. I was glad to see a small audience for this. They asked a lot of questions, and store co-owner Don McElliott was kind and gracious to print up a "sample" of my work as a demonstration of how print-on-demand works that folks could take home with them. The bookstore is simply gorgeous and was definitely the highlight of the day. I just wish the rest of the day could have been as such. This was only the second literary festival for the town, but hopefully they will learn from some of the mistakes and next year's festival will be better.

The other great part of the day was spending some quality time catching up with Cherryl. She makes me laugh so hard with her stories. We had dinner at a fantastic Italian place on the square called Piazza. The cheese tortellini alfredo was very good and we devoured about three loaves of the fresh bread. Bring on the carbs! Dahlonega is a cool mountain town, only an hour from Atlanta. It's got great shops and is definitely worth a weekend trip.


Anonymous said…
Man you should have known this was going to be a big bust. Dahlonega? What the hell were you thinking? You feature in NYC and LA and all over the country and you were expecting something out of Dahlonega? You are right...take your own advice and learn to say no. You're much better than these penny-ante events.
Teamaster said…
That's a sickening situation. I salute all the writers who face such odds and neglect. Sorry about the bummer and the wasted time/$.

I must respectfully disagree with the last comment, however. I think there's a fine line between just diving into every untested gig and becoming a snob. Remember that we folks are trying to debunk the Snob Mob to a certain degree. Maybe Dahlonega needs a booster shot of art.

I think a great way to counter the lone-writer danger is the group thing (no, not an orgy). :) You made a great point about collaborative gigs attracting more folks. (Humans are generally herdists, unfortunately, so they like to flock into bigger masses.)

You were right to leave. It seemed a matter of pride. I'm so sick of folks disrespecting artists (changing location, etc.) - when they'd guzzle Nicholas Sparks' spit if HE showed up.

What a shame that the poets and their potential new fans all lost out because an event with potential was obviously lacking a good planner or manager. It sounds as though there was a 'double standard' with regards to treatment of writers. Again, what a shame - a crying damn shame.
From the Founder & President of The Dahlonega Literary Festival- Thank you, Collin, once again, for your feedback, as noted in my personal email to you. As noted in my email, we appreciate feedback and intended to group poets together next year as you suggested. As noted also in my email, the poetry serenade was designed to try to HIGHLIGHT the poets not to ostracize them! It was NOT moved, but was rather in the donated space available to us of an arts center ACROSS from Lumpkin County Bank. We would have appreciated feedback in a positive light on this event so that we could make it better for years to come... We were very pleased with the festival overall, as were the majority of the 70 authors and poets who participated (I did not try to insinuate you were there just to make $ on your books until you told me that was the reason you had to leave- for financial reasons).... many authors sold $400-$900 in books each, plus most have sent their raving reviews as to the appreciation they had for the free publicity and chance to network(note, Collin, you were represented on Good Day Atlanta on Fox 5 TV, on Channel 32, on the Martha Zoller show, on Spectrum Radio Show, in the AJC, the Gainesville Times, and even with a photo highlighting you personally in our local paper). I am very sorry this became an ordeal to complain about rather than what it really was- a group of people in our community who donated nearly $10,000 (several thousand myself personally) to put on this non-profit event to honor artists and to enhance literary awareness in our community and beyond. Good luck to you in all of your endeavors.
Collin said…
I appreciate the feedback from the Dahlonega Literary Festival organizer. However, there are a couple of points here that need clarification:

More people (including performers) would have found the evening poetry event had it been properly marked and if members of their staff had not been directing people to the wrong venue. This seems to be a sore point with the Dahlonega folks. Perhaps their staff should be more informed.

The "majority of poets were pleased?" Ummm...I was sitting at a table with at least two who very displeased with the day's events. I understand the need to paint a rosy glow and deflect criticism, but lets not stray into fantasy.

Hmmm...I was "represented" in all that publicity? Funny, no one ever called me to appear on Good Day Atlanta...I'd have worn my nice clothes. An article in the AJC? Where? I scoured it and could never find a word. The photo mentioned was published AFTER the festival in today's Dahlonega paper.

I appreciate all those who put up their time and money to put on this event...don't get me wrong. But there are many things that need to be fixed at future festivals. Maybe I'm the only one brave enough to speak up about the problems. I know many are worried about tarnishing their reputation and would never say a word for fear it might cast negative light on them. I am not one of those writers. I was a journalist before I was a poet and I write what I see.

It's funny how the comment above and all the emails sent this week cannot seem to stop touting the amount of money made by certain authors and how much was spent by organizers, but its anathema for an author to actually want to make a little money.

Both sides of the debate have been presented here. You, readers, can make the call.

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