How To Book Fair: Nine Tips From A Longtime Fairgoer

Nov 20, 2013

Courtesy of Miami Book Fair International.

The book fair is my Ultra. That’s how I explain to concerned friends my almost-maniacal enthusiasm for our city’s belletristic blowout -- a party currently in full swing, having started Sunday with the inaugural ceremony and talk from cliffhanger superstar Dan Brown.

But in its 30th year, Miami Book Fair International's hundreds of thousands of attendees, more than 400 authors, and 200 national and international street-fair exhibitors make it impossible to see everything.

Don’t worry, though. I've compiled my expert's guide to maximizing your Book Fair experience below. If I missed something, add your tips in the comments section.

Arrive Early: This may seem overly cautious, but defying weekend sleep-ins during Book Fair will pay off -- literally: Parking at the Miami Dade College lot on Northeast Second Avenue, directly across from the fair, is free. Mornings also don’t involve the many scheduling conflicts you’ll face throughout the day. Take advantage of this rare time when you’ll be able to sit through an entire reading. (Heads up: Catch Sharon Olds at 10 a.m. Saturday, and Junot Diaz at 10 a.m. Sunday.)

Courtesy of Miami Book Fair International

Wear comfortable shoes: Like at any festival, you will hustle. Even when rooms are large -- like Chapman Hall, reserved for blockbuster names -- you’ll be left standing if you arrive late. Last year, it was a mission to find even standing room during a reading by "Trainspotting" author Irvine Welsh. But nothing will sour your experience faster than sore feet.

Layer: It's likely to be unbearably hot outside and freezing indoors. So bring a light sweater that won't take up too much space in your Miami Book Fair tote bag. If you leave your umbrella at home (again, more room in your tote), and it starts to rain, hit up the New York Times table. Last year, the company offered a limited-edition, crossword-puzzle-patterned umbrella free with any new subscription or subscription upgrade.

Wander: For a well rounded experience, wander outside of Miami Dade College's Building 3 and into the surrounding buildings, especially Building 8. Pick a panel or two at random. If you’re disciplined, seek out something in which you have no interest. This means political junkies should attend at least one food-centric program (pro tip: seek out events with tastings to hold you over), and foodies should check out a comics panel or a theater event. Most importantly, don’t overlook programs dedicated to this year’s country of honor: Spain.

Take to the street fair: A narrow list of must-see tables include Harold Becker, who offers the best in used and collectible books; Friends of Miami-Dade Public Library (all proceeds go to supporting our local library system); the pop-up library Bookleggers, if you missed the Friday happy hour; the Brooklyn-based Akashic Books, which publishes authors and subjects often ignored by mainstream audiences; Dave Eggers’ McSweeneys, publisher of well established writers, musicians and Believer magazine; and Novel T, which sells literary jerseys with authors' names and numbers on the back and a symbol relevant to the author’s work on the front.

Eat at Tuyo: There are few reasons to leave the tiny, urban, literary paradise during its regular hours. One is Friday’s must-attend Bookleggers Happy Hour and Literary Death Match at Bardot. Another is Tuyo, Miami Dade College’s exquisite culinary school. The restaurant takes an environmentally friendly approach to food, using only local ingredients as fresh as they are delicious. This kind of dining won’t come cheap, but couple the fantastic cuisine with the heavenly views of the bay and the city skyline, and it’s worth the splurge. Make reservations from 6 to 10 p.m. during the week, and from 6 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Courtesy of Miami Book Fair International

Book-signing etiquette: Don’t be the guy who skimps on an author’s new book, yet brings all his or her previous works. If you do bring a book or two (three, at most) from your personal bookshelf, stand at the back of the line so those waiting for one signature can move along quickly. This applies especially to Carl Hiaasen fans. This is Florida after all, and we love "Native Tongue," "Strip Tease," "Skin Tight," et al, as much as you do. But be courteous. It’s flattering for authors to know fans care, but it’s also an imposition, to them and other fans waiting, to dump a tower of books on the table to sign.

Talk: Writers are here to hawk books, sure. But they are also here to meet you. You’ll be surprised how responsive and approachable they are if you’re genuinely interested in their work. Of course, this varies from person to person. Stars such as Chris Matthews or politicos with superhuman schedules such as Debbie Wasserman Schultz may be too busy to engage you, but that’s the exception, not the rule. For instance, last year Hanna Rosin, Martin Amis and Gilbert King, to name a few, all made time to schmooze with fans after their presentations. This is probably the only instance for at least a decade you’ll be in the same room with this person. Go for it.

Get on BookTV: C-SPAN's BookTV brings thrills to the nerdiest fairgoers. If this includes you, make sure to sit close to the stage in Chapman Hall, in the camera's sight line, during one of the blockbuster talks. When you watch the fair again on C-SPAN and see yourself, you’ll relive a little bit of the geeky glee you felt all weekend.

Erica Landau is a freelance journalist and editor based in Miami. She writes mostly about sex, gender, culture, and politics, and in 2012 co-founded the award-winning, online magazine Salty Eggs. Follow her on Twitter at @ericakland.