Word on the Street – Kitchener-Waterloo

Even though it rained off and on, Shea and I had a great day at the Kitchener-Waterloo's edition of the Word on the Street Festival today.

Having been a board member of the Calgary edition for three years, I was looking forward to seeing what one of the other host cities for this national festival (along with Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver) did that was similar and different to what we did in Calgary.  But really, the basics are the same at probably every site across Canada (the festival is a mixture of author readings, children's authors & entertainers, panels/speakers on writing-related topics, main stage entertainment, booths featuring local libraries, publishers, booksellers, writers' associations, literacy groups and so on.) 

There were a couple things they did that I wish we would've done in Calgary – the celebrity spelling bee on the main stage was a big hit for instance.  Having a brief Q&A after each author got a mixed reaction – one author had no questions but another had lots – but that was something I never even thought to try in Calgary.  (To be fair, we booked three authors to an hour versus the two they had so we had less time to fill.)   

I was trying to think of some Word on the Street highlights/anecdotes from my three years with the organization in Calgary:

– going to my first board meeting without paying too much attention to the address until I got there and realised it was in the law offices of one of the largest law firms in Western Canada on the 45th floor of one of the two “twin towers” in downtown Calgary.  (One WotS board member was a lawyer with the firm.)  I was in my typical non-profit outfit of jeans and a t-shirt and I think the receptionist even asked if I was delivering a parcel!

– man, did we have good catered food for those meetings! This isn't a direct WotS memory but one day when they ordered ribs and a few board members couldn't make it, I ended up taking some leftovers with me then stopping in the underpass heading back to my building and sharing them with some street kids.

– Poet Steve Gillespie, aka “EatLardFudge” took the spirit of the festival to heart and invited everyone in the Poet's Corner tent out in front of the hotel pub where it was hosted that year and did a reading from on top of a bench. 

– getting to meet the Calgary Flames' Robyn Regher as a celebrity reader (this was back when the Flames still sucked so don't tell him but we even had to scramble to make sure there was a good audience!)

– watching Christian Bok's poetry reading draw a massive crowd.  (He writes poetry written in a created language which sounds something like Klingon.)

– Will Ferguson running on stage to the pounding sounds of “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles and giving a hilarious reading.

– I started at the WGA in mid-September 2001 and the event was all but organized by my predecessor but one of the first jobs she gave me during my two-day training session was to write thank-you cards to all the authors who were booked to read.  I said “why do you do that too?  Don't they get a cheque?” and she replied with something that's stuck with me – “a thank-you card means more than money to most people anyday.”  Good advice and it really became clear me when the WGA board, to thank me for my hard work during a very busy time, gave me a gift certificate to my favourite restaurant and a thank-you card that all of them had signed with personal messages.  The gift certificate is long gone but I still have that card.  <a single tear rolls to the ground>

Okay, back to the present…

The event today had a really good panel on blogging and that was the other thing I wanted to talk about.  I should've broken out the “notepad of doom” but here's some random memories of what was discussed…

– Panelists were Aimee Morrison, an English prof at the University of Waterloo who studies various technology-related issues and has an anonymous “mommy blog where I post about poop a lot”, Alex Good who runs GoodReports.net, a site focused mainly on book reviews and book-related essays, and James Bow who runs a couple web rings (blog rings?) for non-partisan political bloggers as well as one for bloggers in the KW area. 

– 75 000 blogs created every day (I wanted to ask “yeah, but how many get a second post?)

– lots of talk about mainstream media versus bloggers

– “never put anything on a blog you wouldn't want overheard in a crowded restaurant” is common advice.  (That's a better analogy for e-mail.  I think a better analogy for blogs/online forums/message boards is “never say anything online you wouldn't say into the microphone in a crowded auditorium” because that captures that online communications are going to be heard and probably are put out there to be heard.)

– people often read blogs for controversial thoughts they won't get in other forms of discourse.

– blogs build a sense of community

– you shouldn't focus on how many people are reading your blog but who is reading your blog – if it's your target audience, you're doing your job

– only a few people make money off blogs and most people do it as a hobby on a volunteer-basis

– that's why personal blogs are so common, they're the easiest to do

– lots of blogs are about what colour socks a person wore that day and what they had for lunch.  This likely won't lead to a big readership.

– it takes a long time – possibly even years – to build a readership

– one way to build a readership is to post comments on more popular but similar blogs which can lead people to you.

– with that said, blogs can be good practice if you want to be a writer, build discipline and can lead to work (Alex Good says he gets more freelance work than he can handle via his blog.)  In my case, the scholarly journal I submitted my essay to came about after a person on the journal's editorial board contacted me having read the essay on this blog first.

Oh, and who's the one group that you want to get the apostrophe right for?

Comments 6

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    sorry I didn't get your email! I was there all day – can't believe I didn't run into ya!
    I forgot about the blogging panel – I had wanted to see that too!

    Posted 25 Sep 2006 at 4:08 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, it wasn't that big of a site – I thought we'd bump into you for sure. (I bumped into two other people from FIMS – one first termer and one part-timer who was working at the KPL booth.)
    We got there around 12:30pm, toured for about an hour then walked uptown to have lunch when the rain started. We went back maybe an hour later, watched Helen Humphries reading, the start of the celebrity spelling bee then went to grab a chair for the blogging panel expecting it would be packed (not 100% full but it was pretty busy.)

    Posted 26 Sep 2006 at 12:33 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    hey, i just did WOTS here in vancouver with the BC library association's information policy and intellectual freedom committees. we had a wheel of info issues, check out the photos on my flickr:

    Posted 27 Sep 2006 at 2:59 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm glad you enjoyed the panel. Yeah, when Aimee said there are 75,000 blogs created every day, I was tempted to say “and 74900 are dead by the day after tomorrow.” 🙂
    I hope you had a chance to pick up a mini-bookmark!

    Posted 27 Sep 2006 at 3:33 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Cool. As with KW's WotS, it's interesting to get a taste of another city's event. I wish I could've got into Toronto as well. My initial plan was to rent a car and try to hit both festivals but when a classmate offered a ride, I couldn't turn that down.

    Posted 29 Sep 2006 at 1:39 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    Hey James,
    Thanks for writing. As I said, I really enjoyed the panel and wish I'd taken notes to summarize it on my blog.

    Posted 29 Sep 2006 at 1:41 am

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