Fighting the FOMO: Ten Ways to Make the Most of Your Local Book Festival (Without Breaking the Bank) by Oona Marie Abrams

I consider myself lucky to live in New Jersey — really! When my parents relocated here from Illinois in 1994, it was quite the culture shock, but I’ve embraced the Garden State enough to call myself a Jersey Girl (Exit 163!) and now raise my own family here. One of the benefits of living in the tri-state area is the proximity to so many great local writers. Book festivals abound, and I arrive at each eager to make literary “love connections.” I do not, however, arrive with an overflowing wallet.


With champagne wishes, I attend most book festivals on a wine box budget. I’ve learned some strategies to help navigate all the excitement of a book festival, and avoid landing in the red. Here, I’ll offer some tips and tricks from my most recent visit to the Maplewood South Orange Book Festival, which I attended with my two youngest sons.


Know Before You Go

After scouring the festival website, I arrived with a list of authors I wanted my children to see, a list of old author friends I wanted to greet, and a list of authors I had not yet met. I set a budget of $100 for both family and classroom purchases, and I stuck to it.   


3-2-1 Contact!

On the back of two of her bookmarks, Gita Varadarajan wrote her e-mail address for me. I saved one for myself as a reminder to put her in my contacts and on the author e-mail list for NerdCampNJ. I put another bookmark in my local PTA president’s mailbox to consider Gita for an author visit.  (Gita, if you are reading this, I apologize that my kids ate half of the M&M’s at your table!) Which leads me to…


Celebrate Swag

Authors bring more than just their autographing pens to festivals. So much thought goes into some writers’ table decor. With just a bit of flourish, Bridget Hodder transforms a card table to a regal rostrum in a matter of seconds with a crown, a thread of sparkly lights, and a stack of colorful postcards. Booki Vivat’s Frazzled buttons are yet another hit. Don’t be shy about complimenting authors on their efforts. Like teachers, they pay for their own materials and will appreciate that you noticed.

The only pencil guaranteed never to be lost in my house. Thanks for the swag, Greg Pizzoli!


Take Booksnaps and Phone a Friend

If you can’t purchase a book, that doesn’t mean you can’t promote it. Sarah Beth Durst’s middle grades fantasy books would not be on my sons’ reading lists, nor would they go into my classroom library, but I texted a picture of her titles to my colleagues George, Kathleen and Rachel, who teach middle grades. Many authors will display ARCs of their upcoming books. Tracey Baptiste’s Minecraft: The Crash, which came out July 12, was another one I passed along to them and reserved for my own kids at the library.


Go Social

Ask authors for both their Twitter and Instagram handles. Meeting an author at a book festival introduces you to a few books by one author. Following that author on Instagram gives you access to a network of future connections. Post all of your booksnaps from the day to your social media accounts, and tag the authors in the pictures. Don’t forget to use a hashtag or two! I recommend the #bookaday #kidlit, #MGLit, #YALit, #nerdybookclub, #weneeddiversebooks, #ShelfieWednesday  and #picturebooksofinstagram.

What made this signed copy even more special? He was the VERY FIRST Christopher to get a book signed.

Prioritize Debut Authors on Your TBR List

As I write this, Elizabeth Lilly’s book Geraldine awaits pickup at my local library, where I reserved it after returning home from the festival. On my summer minivan shuttle to band camp, I’m playing the CDs of Like Vanessa, Tammy Charles’ historical novel set in Newark, NJ. Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child is the next download in my Hoopla app queue.


Donate or Gift a Book

Emma Otheguy signed her nonfiction picture book,  Marti’s Song for Freedom for me to gift my son’s school library. This adds to circulation, and it also promotes the reading of bilingual poetry, so it’s a win-win. If you can’t purchase a book, but think it would make a good gift for a family member, friend, or educator, add it to your Amazon wish list. Then during the holiday season or at the end of the school year, it’ll be right there waiting for you.


Post a Book Talk

Once I finish reading Kristin Mahoney’s Annie’s Life in Lists, I’ll book talk it on my Youtube channel before passing it on to my niece.  That book was on my list to purchase at the festival, but doing a virtual book talk on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Youtube is a great way to promote authors’ works even if you can’t purchase their books immediately.  This helps to “spread the nerdy word” to a much wider audience.

I’ve been waiting over a year to read this!

Be a Shameless Collector of the #AuthorSelfie

If you’re not familiar with the genre of the Author Selfie, you are missing out! For a comprehensive understanding of all the joy they elicit, see Sandy Otto’s post from 2017. It’s epic. We took pictures and sent them to my son’s kindergarten teacher through her Class Dojo app. She shared them with the class first thing Monday morning.

Pairing and Sharing = Caring

Doing a quick think-aloud with authors about where their books might fit into school curricula is helpful. For instance, I could share with Chris Healy that his books would work very well in student book clubs about fractured fairy tales, and suggest other texts it could be paired with (like The Rat Prince). Chris might share this information with another district when he does an author visit.


We can return home from book festivals without the FOMO, but only if we remind ourselves that connecting with authors and illustrators is our first goal as educators. Getting their books into the hands of young readers will follow those initial connections. With Jersey pun intended, whatever route we have to take to arrive there (“What exit?!”), we will deliver those books to their best destinations. Please share in comments which book festivals you attend in your state, and what you love about your local authors!

Oona Marie Abrams grew up in the suburbs of Chicago on the north shore of Lake Michigan. She now resides in northern New Jersey and enjoys heading “down the shore” with her family during the summer months. She teaches eleventh and twelfth grade in Morris County, New Jersey, and is one of the organizers of NerdCampNJ.