Edgerton book festival gives local authors a boost

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, September 29, 2013

EDGERTON—Visitors poured into Edgerton High School Saturday to see nationally known such as authors Patch Adams and Kathleen Kent at the Sterling North Book and Film Festival on Saturday.

Then there were the local authors, a bevy of about 30 invited to the festival. Their hope: to sell and sign books, make new connections with book lovers and even schmooze with big-shot national authors invited to the annual book festival.

Compare it to the local scratch golfer at a celebrity golf invite showing off his bunker shot while the crowd stands at a distance, dazzled by the gleam of Tiger Woods' nine iron.

Yet, if the local authors—some mystery writers, others nonfiction authors, children's book creators and a few romance novelists—felt out-dazzled by the fascination of the big gun writers at the book festival on Saturday, they didn't show it.

“I keep telling them, the (Sterling North Festival) committee, 'I'm great.' I should speak at this book festival,” Janesville fiction author Sherry Derr-Wille said from her bookstand in the school's fieldhouse. “They haven't picked up on me yet, though.”

You don't get much more local than Derr-Wille. She has lived in Milton and Janesville her entire life. She even has a series of hard-boiled cop mystery novels she says are based loosely on Milton, Janesville and the Rock County Sheriff's Office.

One of the books, “The Man in The Lake,” opens with a man police find murdered at Storrs Lake east of Milton.

“I don't name it as Storrs Lake in the book, but between you and me, it's Storrs Lake,” Derr-Wille said, smiling wryly.

Derr-Wille, who's been writing since she was 15, said she goes to book festivals all over the state as a local author. She's been to the Sterling North Book Festival each of its six years.

The biggest change she has seen?

“There are many, many more self-published authors at these book festivals now. More and more every year,” Derr-Wille said.

Take Jerry Peterson, a Janesville writer who self-publishes mystery novels, and recently, collections of Christmas-themed short stories.

The publishing company that released his first novel, a historical police mystery called “Early's Fall,” changed its business structure, and now focuses on nonfiction. That came about, Peterson says, partly because of the dim economics of selling hard-copy fiction books in the emerging eReader market.

Now he publishes himself, and despite the cost of doing so, he now gets 70 percent royalty on his books compared to the 15 percent he got through a publishing house.

Peterson said he enjoys the bleed-off of crowds at book festivals like Edgerton's, which draw hundreds of book fans every year.

Here's how Peterson looks at it: The big national authors draw people in. As they wander the festival, they might find his bookstand—and he might find a few new fans.

Peterson remembers being at Edgerton's book festival in 2010, when he got hammered by a crowd of hundreds who were passing through on their way to meet Chris Van Allsburg, the author of the internationally famous children's book “Polar Express.”

The “Van Allsburg factor” that day netted Peterson a three-hour line of readers checking out his stuff. 

“Now that was a sweet, sweet day,” he said.

Janesville author and massage therapist Tami Goldstein has enjoyed the celebrity of her book, a self-published biography about working through public schools policies for handling autism disorder, which her daughter has.

Her book has gotten her invited as a guest speaker to dozens of national conventions on autism. Saturday, Adams got a big boost from the Edgerton book festival's headlining guest, Patch Adams. 

Adams, a world-famous alternative medicine doctor/clown who believes in free healthcare and healing through laughter and kindness, told her he's fascinated by autism and took a copy of her book. The famously quirky Adams promised he would read it right away.

“He didn't have any pockets, so he told me he'd have to put the book down his pants,” Goldstein said, laughing.

Adams then told Goldstein what she's doing reminds him of the work of groundbreaking autism specialist Temple Grandin, who is one of Goldstein's heroes.

“It was very encouraging,” Goldstein said.

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