The Savannah Book Festival has become one of the nation's top literary events over the past seven years, attracting such luminaries as Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, Pat Conroy and many other bestselling authors.
This year's festival, set for Feb. 13-16 in downtown Savannah, is no exception.
"I go to some book festivals and Simon and Schuster has notified me where I should be," says closing address speaker Eben Alexander, M.D., author of the bestselling "Proof of Heaven," a nonfiction account of his near-death experience. "This one came up as one where I should be."
"I get invited to quite a few book festivals these days and I weigh which ones make the most sense," says C.J. Box, author of "Stone Cold," the latest in the bestselling Joe Pickett mystery series. "I'm looking forward to coming to Savannah, which is one of my bucket-list places."
In a relatively short time, the Savannah Book Festival has become one of the most highly regarded literary events in the country.
"It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve such recognition," says Robin Gold, the festival's executive director.
"We offer a unique experience in Savannah and authors love it. Our event is well organized and executed and we offer unbelievable Southern hospitality on a one-on-one basis.
"In addition to that, we sell a lot of books, one reason authors go to festivals," she says. "We have a terrific PR team who spreads our news far and wide, another reason authors go to festivals. Put that all together and locate it in our beautiful city and you have the formula that has made us a must-do stop for authors."
Publishers and publicists give the festival high marks, too.
"Quite simply, the authors report back to them that they had a fantastic time and then our book sales and publicity stats back it up," Gold says.
In addition to speeches from the authors, even more bestselling authors will sell and sign books. Books signed at the festival must be purchased at the event and accompanied by a Savannah Book Festival signing card, provided at time of purchase.
Robin Cook, who invented the medical thriller with his novel, "Coma," is selective about book festivals.
"I do a few, but not too many," he says. "I'm usually busy doing other stuff. It's always a good opportunity to get out and to get some feedback, which is always helpful. But I haven't been to Savannah's book festival yet."
However, Cook has visited Savannah.
"One time when I was driving back and forth between Boston and Florida, I decided I wanted to stop in and see Savannah," he says. "I enjoy architecture and interior design and I wanted to see the squares and houses and fountains."
"I love Savannah," says Nancy Horan, bestselling author of "Loving Frank," whose current novel is "Under the Wide and Starry Sky."
"I went with a friend of mine who is an architect and we went to absorb the whole architectural history and had a marvelous time," Horan says. "I am doing a big tour and wanted to include Savannah."
Scott Turow will give the festival's opening address.
"I sort of am coming in support of my latest book, 'Identical,' which came out in October," says Turow, a high-powered Chicago attorney as well as a bestselling novelist.
"It still will be in the hardcover sales cycle, so it's not a bad idea," he says. "I also frankly have reached the point where I accept any invitation to go South after the first of January."
Turow has been to Savannah before.
"Ironically, I have a key to the city, which was given to me many years ago," he says. "One of my first visits to Savannah was with the bar association. They were nice enough give me a key to the city."
Bestselling novelist Wally Lamb has never attended the festival, but is looking forward to coming.
"I can't wait to get to Savannah," he says.
Gold also is looking forward to the festival.
"I'm excited because we have another great lineup of authors who offer books covering diverse topics," she says.
"I love going to book stores and seeing all the different titles and subject matter," Gold says. "This is like being able to have a live, interactive book store right here in Savannah."
It takes hundreds of volunteers to make the festival a success.
"Most people probably don't realize how many moving parts there are to putting on a festival with our unique qualities," Gold says.
Plans are already under way for the 2015 festival.
"We love surprises and will always aspire to providing pleasant surprises along the way," Gold says.
"We have another surprise event planned for the spring and will announce it at our closing address on Sunday the 16th," she says.