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MenilFest 2015

The seventh annual MenilFest was held in Houston yesterday, and hundreds of people came out to support art, lit, and music. This was the second year I attended the festival and the first that I manned a table for ELJ Publications, which was a new, exciting experience. The forecast rain held off for the duration of the fest, so it was a lovely, overcast day to hang out at a book fair.


Some notable journals and presses were there that I love. I went by the H_NGM_N Books and Little Red Leaves tables a few times, but didn't get to chat much with the people there (though I'll likely be sending my micro-chap to H_NGM_N soon, so I should have introduced myself). Same for Rust + Moth and Owl Eye Review (the latter of which I actually did have time to talk to and wanted to know more about, but there was no one at the table when I went by). I spoke with a girl at the Zine Fest Houston table and took a draft copy of her zine, which looks pretty badass, though she was still fairly apologetic about the unpolished state of it (this served as a reminder - be proud of your work, people!).


I went by the Gulf Coast table, as they always have their back/current issues on sale and tons of back issues of other journals. There were a lot that I really wanted (AGNI, A Public Space, BWR), but I didn't have the time to stand and browse them all, so I just grabbed some Gulf Coast issues. Also wish I'd gone by the Glass Mountain table next to them, but didn't have time. Brazos Bookstore had the table next to ELJ and did some good business from the look of things. They're a fairly big-name bookstore in Houston, and I know there are lots of people willing to support local businesses, but it still surprises me how well they do with selling stuff at list price at a book fair.


Manning the ELJ table at MenilFest was an odd and interesting experience, from which I learned a few things. This probably isn't the case with every lit fest, but most people come to the Menil book fair to support local authors, and while we have published and will publish a few Texas authors, the only title we had from a Houston writer was mine. So, while I was able to sell a few of mine, the only other thing people were interested in was whether or not we were local. To the point where I eventually stopped mentioning we were based in New York and just explained, "Yes, we're local - I'm the Executive Editor and I live here." Yeesh.

I was also reminded of how important a book's title and cover is, especially for lesser-known writers. A few of our books were repeatedly picked up by browsers based on their titles alone. The lesson here is, if you're like me and generally horrible at creating your own titles and covers, find someone who is good at it and have them create something for you. It can make all the difference in the world when selling your book to people other than friends and family. Other less-than-stellar questions that came up: an inquiry into whether we'd consider producing audio books and a few questions/assumptions about our books being self-published (for which I did my best to keep my Angry Bitch Face at rest while answering).

Overall, I had a good time getting the word out about ELJ and what we do. I wish I'd had more time to browse the other tables and buy books, but it's always a good feeling just to venture into artistic communities where the focus is on creating more than consuming, so MenilFest is an event I'm happy to check out every year.

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