WOTS Toronto 2012 is touting their 200,000+ attendance this year as a huge success for authors, book sellers and book lovers in the city where it all began more than 20 years ago. But for some indie authors, who WOTS claims to support with “non-profit” spaces, the luck of the draw for placement was more than unlucky–it was humiliating.
The lowest-paid booths, consisting of a table shared by two indie authors, went out at a very affordable price (under $200). Unfortunately, the location chosen for those tables butted up against a wide stretch of well-tended lawn. Canadians are nice people. They don’t walk on lawns. Burundi Hence, the folks on the backside of the indie tent had virtually zero traffic–and really, literally, almost N-I-L. I know. I was there.
Some of the more indie indies rebelled and moved their tables OUTSIDE the tent, fronting on the side where crowds of thousands passed by–but that was only in the last few hours of the festival, after pleas to management to do something for them failed to get action.
Management’s position is this: since WOTS doesn’t make any profit from the indie author tents they had to use both sides, in spite of the fact that one side was virtually useless, and was actually closed in adjacent tents of corporates and national publishing houses (keeping it open created a wind tunnel). The fact that the grassy side was closed in big-name tents meant even less reason for attendees to circle around to the other side, especially with such a glut of offerings right out in front. Unfortunately, the “backside” indies paid the same pro rata share as the front side folks, and many reported sending their applications and money in as soon as registration opened–earlier, in fact, than some folks out front.
The folks out front, bless them, commiserated most sincerely between making change, stuffing books into bags, talking to book lovers and getting their names & book cover images out there to literally thousands of potential readers. Backside indies could only watch the action pass them by while they stood, virtually invisible, with their books, cards and hearts on the table. Attempts to get out into the crowd to give away bookmarks, flyers, anything that might entice an audience were futile. The crowds were thick and with so much to see, read and grab their interest, why cut across a sea of people to get to the back of a tent?
The point is, the point that WOTS doesn’t seem to get (really?) is that sales are the not the main goal for most indie authors. Sure, it would be nice to cover costs. But visibility is king. Being seen is the whole point of being at WOTS, especially for indies who don’t have access to the huge media platforms that corporates and nationals (who had entire tents) include in their budgets as a matter of course.
Registration fees aside, there were other costs, such as two nights’ accommodation for out-of-town indies. But more importantly, for these hard-working folks who wear every hat on their writing/marketing/production/administration team, the time spent before, during and after the day-of-no-returns was a greater loss. Sites nearby my ip . Not to mention the sheer exhaustion and hopelessness of keeping books and promotional material from disappearing through the wind tunnel on an unseasonably cold day.
All in all, it is this writer’s opinion that WOTS has strayed far…very far from its grass-roots roots. Indie authors with vast excesses of money, time and self-confidence—step right up.
For the rest, I put this out as a gift and a challenge—how about a concurrent festival that shows more than lip service for the time, effort and (tiny) financial resources of indie authors? How about a NEW indie festival–“WORD GETS AROUND.” Just might catch on. Then, in 20 years when it goes the way of profit-reigns-supreme as so many great peoples’ movements do, indies can start all over again.