Friday, 14 August 2015

YA Readers Booth at the JCDC 2015 Independence Village

YA Readers Booth at the JCDC 2015 Independence Village

Six days at the Independence Village of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), was a big haul for a single person with books to sell, but I am interested in building recognition of books written for the YA genre in Jamaica, so I jumped in with both feet!

The craft vendor set-up at the JCDC property on Hope Road was appropriate for my purposes, and I also accepted the unannounced changes to the layout, as I understood that there was unmet demand for booth spaces by sellers. My booth was called YA Readers Hangout and my immediate neighbours were Trelawny based jewellery craftsman Maxine Stoney, and the Rasta Art fashion jewellery seller.

As was expected, the days with the greatest number of visitors were the two public holidays that started and closed the fair: August 1 and August 6. On those days, fair-goers seemed more inclined to include buying things as a part of their event experience.

The spirit of the fair was to allow people to celebrate the the culinary and performing arts of Jamaica, and interspersed with that were discussions, children's rides and domino games. Public sector agencies were invited to provide services and to promote awareness of issues.

A book and reading atmosphere, this was not, so the plan to hold the attention of YA readers was going to require effort. The other challenge was that the festival goers were in large part mature adults walking as couples, or groups of friends, or with young children. From my experience, the event did not attract groups of teen and young adults in general. The World Reggae Dance Competition did have the greatest share of the young adult audience. That night also had the largest audience out of all six nights, and the patrons were more interested in chatting with their friends and watching the show than browsing and spending.

I needed a booth that had variety, It did not seem the best approach, to me, to offer only my books, but to also showcase other books in the genre. I selected a dozen books from my personal collection and had them on display and invited discussions about them.

My other approach was to have activities to attract persons to linger, and from there have conversations that would lead to greater awareness of YA books, and my book in particular. I selected the game of chess and adult colouring papers, and both earned the attention of patrons across all ages. Thanks to the Jamaica Chess Federation there always seems to be a young person with an interest in the game just around the corner. The board was in use whenever the breeze allowed me to set the pieces up. Inviting persons to colour was met with guffaws and scepticism, but once they were seated, the average person stayed and coloured for about half an hour. I had free wifi, but no one expressed an interest, so was happy that I did not set up a video monitor as I usually do. I also had materials on the Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta, of which I am a collaborator, and the Two Seasons Guest HouseTwo Seasons Guest House, which sponsors the event.

The main benefit of being a part of the event was media coverage, as I was offered the marvellous opportunity to coordinate the 20 minute YA segment of the Auntie Roachie Literary, TV and Film Festival. The festival lasted about five hours and was coordinated by publisher Tanya Batson Savage and PR and theatre practitioner Scarlett Beharie. The two other writers who graciously gave their time were Colleen Smith Dennis and Roland Watson-Grant. The Daily Gleaner, the Jamaica Observer , Petchary blog and published articles and there was also an interview on CVM at Sunrise (start at 59mins), a national morning television programme. Emma Lewis published an article on the Jamaica Gleaner blog about the readings at the festival, and the YA booth was covered by Tallwah Magazine and JIS television.

Media coverage of the event opened the door for some B2B as having listened to the readers, a local publisher is now actively seeking YA scripts written by Jamaicans.

On the matter of sales, I deliberately set a competitive price of $500 and sold 20 copies over the six days. My neighbours did much better with their goods. More than half of the books were sold to persons who I knew, and who wanted to support my efforts in a tangible way. I am grateful to them, many were past students of St Hugh's High School (Fidelitas!).

The profile of the average visitor was revealed in the types of questions that were asked at the booth. Most asked about books about the history and culture of Jamaica, and so were happy to take brochures on Two Seasons Guest House.

There were also lovely moments when teenage girls asked about the romance books and book covers that were on display. I had two or three boys stopped to read. One of them had beat me at chess earlier and then spent about 30 minutes reading until his mother pulled him away. He is going into Grade 8 at JC. Also, secondary school teachers wanted more information on the books to support teaching of CSEC Theatre Arts and English Literature. A teacher of English from Birmingham UK with Jamaican heritage, said that most of her students were first or second generation immigrants from Pakistan, and she was interested in books that would expand her own students' knowledge of the world. One man also spent about an hour trying to convince me to edit his - as yet unwritten - non-fiction manuscript.

My disappointment is that I did not encounter one person who identified himself or herself as a librarian. Libraries are still important in the Caribbean, as many students have to use library resources to attain their education goals. I was placed across the aisle from the Jamaica Library Service which had a double booth, and do believe that they should have planned activities in their expansive area.

For an international audience, my selection of YA books at the event would have been ridiculously tame. I believe that this is an area that will expand over time as more writers publish their work and associate it with the genre. I already see the kind of writing that is on Goodreads by self-published Jamaican writers and supported by Goodreads readers. My decision, up to this point, is to write and read books that allow readers to be connected to issues that have resonance with history and contemporary society.

I am grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in the 2015 Independence Village. This should inform future activities.

Grace accompanied me on this episode.  On the first day I left the booth unattended and a mighty wind tore through city Kingston. I steeled myself to face disaster, but in my absence another booth holder dived on my table, saving my teapot of crayons, and us all from a shower of chinaware splinters.

Although I planned to fly solo, I got days of help from my in-law Claudette Hobbins; festival collaborator and proprietor of the Two Seasons Guest House Christine Marrett, PR comrade-in-arms Alethia Lambert and husband Chuck.