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Amanda's blog

How Not to Run a Literary Festival

Blog Category: Uncategorized
Posted on: 02 November 2009


In the seven years between my last novel, Love in Idleness, and my new one the literary festival has spread into almost every town of size and stature in the UK. Even small places such as Rock in Cornwall - best-known for its splendid surfing and the ill-mannered teenagers this attracts - now has one. What a cathedral was in the medieval era, a Town Hall in the 19th century and a public library in the 20th, a literary festival now is in the 21st. 

This may seem a good thing. After all, before the Romantic era authors were very much embedded in a community - or expected to travel the world with their tales, like skalds or bards, and sing for their suppers. If you were no good, you went hungry.

Being a story-teller does, however, take a good deal of time and energy and the nature of modern literary festivals is largely inimical to this. You are jerked out of your normal wroking life, put on a train and hurtled North, South, West or wherever, arrive in the middle of nowhere (as far as you are concerned) expected to find a bus or a taxi to a hotel you've never heard of, expected to bond instantly with an audience of either three people or three hundred, find somewhere to eat, and have a good night's sleep before returning again. Either that, or you drive for several hours and drive back. Either way, it takes a good two days out of your life. And many of these festivals do not even pay you the recommended Society of Authors minimum, which is £150. Some of them think an adequate recompense is, as at Dartington, a packet of shortbread. 

I didn't realise quite why I was getting so fed up with this business until I went to a really well-organised festival last week, which was at Durham. What made the difference? Well. for the benefit of those who now have careers organising these things, here it is.

Firstly, you must pay. It is simply not OK to treat authors as a public service. Authors may seem to have a lovely carefree life, or to be so low-paid that another day of penury simply doesn't matter, but in fact we all work extremely hard and our time is worth something. It may only be £100 or it may be ten times that. But offering only biscuits is an insult. We can get biscuits at home, thanks.

Secondly, do not, as at Hay, pay some authors more than others. You may think that having, say, Bill Clinton, is a big draw who will get your festival loads of publicity - and it may. But Bill Clinton is already a very rich man indeed, to whom a fee of £50,000 is peanuts. You are not running the Bill Clinton Festival, however, you are running the X Literary Festival. Authors believe in quaint things like democracy. The obscure author this year may be next year's big star, and vice versa. Pay everyone the same fee. The famous ones have had a massive advance already, the less famous ones probably haven't.

Thirdly, do not put some authors up in more luxurious accommodation than others. (See above.) If you really piss off an author then they will simply walk out and never return. You will have wasted your hotel money, and any good-will. Thanks to the internet increasing numbers of authors are in contact with other authors.  Some festivals are actually getting black-listed.

On the other hand, some festivals, such as Charleston and Port Eliot, also run on a shoe-string, create such good-will that authors queue up to go to them. Charleston doesn't offer a fee, but it gives authors a gift of their choice from its exquisite gift shop. Port Eliot puts people up in the magical house of the owners.

Now, some practicalities.

Very few festivals are even organised enough to send you a letter of thanks for dropping everything to come and attend. Included in this letter should be such basic information as 1. A map. You may be totally familiar with your venue, but we usually haven't a clue. It's also nice if, instead of having to wait ages for a taxi, we get met. 

 2. The name and nature of the venue. Is there a lectern, or just chairs? Does it have a sound system? We need to know this because it will affect what we wear. I know now to always wear something dark and loose so that the wire is invisible and not too embarrassing to clip on, with pockets for the mike box, but loads of authors don't.

3. The name of the hotel. Authors do not need Corby trouser presses, Teasmade or even room service. We do however require certain basic things. One is a decent light to read by, because in between all this festival stuff we will be trying to read and write. Two is internet access. Three is a bedroom which has functioning windows and curtains. I've now lost count of the terrible, airless rooms I've had with curtains that don't close properly or block out light. And I am also disgusted by the number with no radio, or morning newspaper, but a TV offering only pay-per-view porn.

4. A decent place to eat later that night, at the festival's expense. Some festivals, like Cheltenham, organise lovely suppers for authors but others just dump us the moment we've done our stuff. It takes months to be reimbursed for even a sandwich, so basically we either starve or get indigestion for 24 hours. If you are doing an author supper, it would be nice to know who else is going to be on your table, (just in case we're mortal enemies) and not to stuff us with somebody's publicist. Talking to publicists is Work, and to be Working at 11 pm is no fun for anyone.

5. Also, make sure you have copies of our books there: not just the present one, but, ideally, one or two from our back-list. Every author has had the horror of turning up and finding the book-shop has no copies for us to sell. Given that this is (from the publisher's point of view) the whole point, this is the kind of thing that makes you wish for a firing squad.

On the subject of books: it would also help if festival could organise some small discount to help sel copies. Somebody who has already spent the price of a ticket to gain admission to a talk is not, unless an ardent fan, going to fork out for a hardback at £17.99, especially not if they can buy it for £5 less on amazon.

6. Publicise our event. I don't just mean by advertising the existence of your festival. I mean publicise individual events. Make a blow-up of the dust-jacket, and ask publicists for interesting quotes to stick up outside the venue. Don't just use Wikipedia to describe us. Find out what all the book groups in your area are doing, and get them involved. Make links with local libraries, local papers and local radio. On a local note, don't just parachute in famous authors. Every area has some wonderful writers for whom contact and exposure would be a God-send.  

7. Get an interviewer who has read the book, genuinely feels some enthusiasm for it - and pay them, too. Don't just exploit some poor drudge. This makes an enormous difference both to how authors perform, how interested an audience feels in them and to subsequent sales. One of the best festivals I did this year was at Ilkley, Yorkshire, for the simple reason that my interviewer was a poet who genuinely loved Hearts and Minds and had done his homework. One of the worst was in a London borough where the interviewer was a librarian so inexperienced that she gave away the whole plot.

Do little or none of the above, and your festival will fail.

Some publishers, such as Penguin, are now giving festival organisers a hard time by ringing up and demanding to know how many tickets have been pre-sold, then pulling authors out if it doesn't look like a full house. For an organiser, this is a nightmare, but the main reason why this is happening isn't because authors have monstrous egos that need to be fed by vast audiences. It's because far too many festivals are run by people who shouldn't be doing it, and who somehow seem to see a literary festivals as a cheap way of promoting their town. Truly, it isn't. Once upon a time, it did great things for Hay-On-Wye - partly because it already had a thriving book market. But now you are as likely to create serious ill-will if you get it wrong.

If you don't have the budget, don't have the staff and don't have the organisational skills to think what it is like to be dumped on your home town as an exhausted and bewildered stranger - don't have a literary festival.

PS Mark le Fanu at the Society of Authors points out that any festival organiser should look at the SOA website for advice on what to do.

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At 09:24:50 on 02 November 2009,  Gillian Philip wrote:

Oh, I'd like to name the festival that hasn't paid me yet (after begging me to do two intensive workshops in one morning 'because morning and afternoon doesn't fit our schedule') but I'm going to give them one more week to come up with the fees they have owed me for nearly two months. And before the event, when I asked if they'd have my books for sale, they said 'Oh, we didn't think of that and it's too late to organise it - but the library has a couple of copies so it'll be fine...' This is brilliant, Amanda, thanks for writing it. I am going to Tweet and Facebook it if that's OK...

At 10:07:48 on 02 November 2009,  Catherine Johnson wrote:

Hello! Was sent to your site via Facebook and have some good news! Although I've only done a few festivals and never had the real horrors, I wanted to draw attention to a brand new children's book festival in Shoreditch last month. The audiences for the day time events were school children from local schools but the organisers had found sponsorship so that every child could buy a book from the onsite bookshop (the whole thing was in marquees in hoxton Sq). Most chose books by the suthor they had just seen but you could choose something else if you wished. This meant that authors recieved a fee for their appearance, a receptive audience (in most cases the schools had done stuff read the book at the very least,some had drawn pics or dramatised parts) and lovely sales, hardbacks included. There were some big names, Geraldine McCaughrean,Michael Rosen, Liz Laird as well as illustrators like David Lucas. There was a whole load of stats about reading which is being done as I speak about reading habits of Hackney children which are very interesting and encouraging. There were also a range of evening events, some which were pulled due to small audiences (this was a brand new festival) but some others that mixed poets like Lemn Sissay and Linton kwesi Johnson with actors and pop stars - complete with screaming teen audiences. It was lovely and restored my faith in festivals, Jo di Guia, one of the organisers chose books and authors she thought would be a good fit for her audiences and shows just what a good locla bookseller can do. catherine

At 05:21:27 on 03 November 2009,  Keith Charters wrote:

Amanda, I'm totally with you on all you've said about festivals. One other point I'd make is that festivals should check that authors can actually PRESENT. Twice now I've been parachuted in to schools to present my 'stand-up literature' routine to rekindle enthusiasm for reading - enthusiasm that existed before the school attended a book festival, only for the dull author to wipe it out. Adults may just about put up with a dull author if the subject matter is fascinating; young people will not. They will become restless. They will text their friends while in the audience. They will eat the crisps they were specifically told not to take into the session. And frankly, who can blame them? People attend book FESTIVALS to be entertained. They can read books at HOME. Keith Charters

At 03:02:56 on 04 November 2009,  Tom Evans wrote:
What a great blog - my take on this is that the festivals are somewhat having to move with the times - as publishers are doing. More recognition of what's happening in the web space would not go amiss and I for one would be happy to appear at any festival & talk on this ... Agreed, Guildford is a lovely festival BTW.
At 04:26:24 on 04 November 2009,  Debi Gliori wrote:

Amanda - this brilliant blog-post should be written on stone tablets and then hurled, with malice aforethought, at certain nameless organisers ( I use this term loosely; 'parasites' is a more accurate form) of a particular form of 21st C mayhem wholly undeserving of the name of 'festival'. And Keith - exactly how would you propose to find out if authors can 'present'? Just how many hoops do you propose that we leap through? Whose side are you on, pray?

At 04:27:28 on 04 November 2009,  Kit Berry wrote:

Thanks for a really interesting article. I'm quite new to the Lit Fest circuit, having only been to Port Eliot which was brilliant. Seems from what you've written that I started off very lucky indeed and it can only be downhill after that! I'd always dreamed of speaking at Dartington because it was actually on the Dartington Estate that I was first inspired to start writing. But after reading your comments maybe I'll forget that dream. Would you be able to blog about the best format for authors' talks at Lit Fests? I'd be really interested to know what you and others think about the ratio of talk to reading etc. It would be very helpful for a new person like me to hear what you all think works best and why. I personally find it pretty dull just to hear someone read their book for the whole session. Unless they're particularly gifted theatrically, I feel a bit cheated as I could read the book myself at home. I think it's the most interesting when authors speak about their inspiration, writing habits and other anecdotal stuff - would you all agree?

At 05:37:27 on 04 November 2009,  Emma Barnes wrote:

I agree that Ilkley is a wonderful Festival - the two sessions I have done there as an author were great: wonderful venues, organisation, stewards, books in the bookshop and a full audience. As an audience member, I've always enjoyed every event too. On a much smaller scale, the Morley Festival is great too. Not every Festival is as good, but let's cut the organisers some slack - their hearts are usually in the right places. I'm not sure they always realise that authors aren't just in it for love of books and writing...

At 09:06:42 on 04 November 2009,  Sheenagh Pugh wrote:
I think we should name the good festivals as well as the bad! The Stanza festival at St Andrews was very well run, ditto the Edinburgh book festival and Ledbury has always been good when I've been there. Aldeburgh too, despite being in the coldest place on earth.... All these festivals paid, ran things efficiently and made authors welcome. I'm glad to know that Dartington isn't worth going to; they don't invite poets much but I always wondered what it was like. And Hay can whistle for me in future, unless they feel like paying more than a white rose and a free meal. I'm not that desperate. Oddly enough, the festivals that pay have always also, in my experience, been good places to sell books, while Hay is pretty bad unless you're a celeb who's written a cookery book. Maybe audience respect for writers matches that of the organisers?
At 09:50:32 on 04 November 2009,  Josephine wrote:

Excellent post. I might add that the festival organisers should try and promote the festival as well! The past two years of festivals in my smallish city have had embarrassing turnouts; one author event had twelve people attending in a theatre that seats 200, and a workshop had two participants. Upon asking friends and others in the area, no one had heard about the festival. It was frustrating for the authors and for those who would have attended the events.

At 15:50:59 on 04 November 2009,  P A Robertson-Pearce wrote:

Ledbury Poetry Festival is an annual festival which takes place every July! I have been several times now both as a visitor and a presenter. It is fantastic. One of the best in the country for poetry. Well-run, well-paid, fabulous audiences, well-stocked book seller, incredibly helpful well-informed staff/volunteers and to boot they have a hospitality room for the authors/presenters all day and eve long with beverages and food, chairs, papers...time to rest or meet others. Ledbury is worth a visit and worth being inspired by. Sheffield is also pretty great, great staff and audiences too! Well that is my two sense.

At 00:35:42 on 05 November 2009,  Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote:

Tee hee As Fat Tony said after watching Itchy cut Scratchy in half with a submachine gin, "Its funny because it's true!"

At 01:35:02 on 05 November 2009,  Women Rule Writer wrote:

I've had much of the above experiences plus more. But let me just plug a good one in Ireland: the Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival treats their guests royally and with such friendliness. And you get paid there and then!!!

At 02:15:22 on 05 November 2009,  Geraldine D'Amico wrote:

Hi Amanda, I do hope we won't disappoint you when you come to Jewish Book Week in March. We do try to put ourselves in the writers' shoes and think of what's in it for them. Festivals do rely on good will from all. We could not function without all the volunteers who help us, the huge amount of work involved in creating a bookshop for just a few days and authors keeping to their word. We certainly don't do it for the money we earn but for a certain passion for books, stories and sharing what we love with others.

At 03:21:56 on 05 November 2009,  Ralph Spurrier wrote:

As a long-term bookseller now turning author I can only reiterate what Ron Johns says in these replies. Independent booksellers are dropping like nine-pins primarily due to Amazon's scorched earth policy (sadly supported by many publishers who are now in hock to the monster). Festival organisers MUST ensure that books are available at the venue - otherwise there's little point in going to talk about your book. "Where can I get your book?" "Er...we don't have a book table here but you can get it from Amazon." NO. I used to travel to the States as a bookseller - shipping over 200kg of books across the Atlantic - to support the UK crime writers who went to Bouchercon. I made sure that I had EVERY author covered with their latest hardbacks and a selection of their paperbacks and I made sure that the author KNEW that I was supporting them so that they could point potential readers to my table. I sold stacks, the author signed stacks, the readers parted with money and went home happy. If any literary festival organiser cannot guarantee that your books will be on sale at the venue my advice would be NOT to go. Or take your own copies.

At 03:51:05 on 05 November 2009,  Linda W wrote:

I can't believe authors are treated so badly at festivals! I'm not a writer, but I am an avid reader, and I love hearing writers speak about their books. Next time I'm at a festival, I'll queue up afterwards and let the speaker know how much I appreciated them coming along to do their thing. I went to an evening at my local library recently to meet an author who was talking about his latest book. I had read his previous one and loved it, so read the latest - and didn't. He read two extracts from the book - the first had us rolling in the aisles and the second was poignant and thought-provoking. My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief - this surely wasn't the same book that we had read and been disappointed with! We had thought the characters dull, with boring lives, but a good reader (and he was very good) showed us differently. The local bookshop was there, with copies of a number of his books, and all in all it was a great evening. We only paid £2 to attend - I hope he got something out of it!

At 10:41:45 on 02 November 2009,  ACHUKA [Michael Thorn] wrote:

What an excellent on-behalf-of-authors piece... It should become required reading for all festival organisers. Interesting to hear that some festivals are becoming black-listed by authors.

At 03:50:29 on 05 November 2009,  Linda W wrote:

I can't believe authors are treated so badly at festivals! I'm not a writer, but I am an avid reader, and I love hearing writers speak about their books. Next time I'm at a festival, I'll queue up afterwards and let the speaker know how much I appreciated them coming along to do their thing. I went to an evening at my local library recently to meet an author who was talking about his latest book. I had read his previous one and loved it, so read the latest - and didn't. He read two extracts from the book - the first had us rolling in the aisles and the second was poignant and thought-provoking. My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief - this surely wasn't the same book that we had read and been disappointed with! We had thought the characters dull, with boring lives, but a good reader (and he was very good) showed us differently. The local bookshop was there, with copies of a number of his books, and all in all it was a great evening. We only paid £2 to attend - I hope he got something out of it!

At 04:27:21 on 05 November 2009,  Lillian Avon wrote:

A wonderful blog and I've enjoyed reading it. However, I'd like to add the festival organiser's perspective. I disagree with the last statement that if you don't have a budget or staff then don't run a festival. I run the Bournemouth Literary Festival, a successful self-funded voluntary festival, in my spare time whilst juggling a full-time job. There are two directors, including myself who do more or less everything and then delegate duties to a core group of volunteers. I have invested my life savings into running it for the past 5 years. We don't have a budget, but get lots of benefit in kind from organisations and do pay expenses and lower fees to authors/artists. Our events are well attended and the ticket sales more or less break even. Keeping festival's on their toes is okay but I really don't think having a blacklist is a good thing because each festival is run differently and you can't have an all fits criteria for everyone.

At 04:32:12 on 05 November 2009,  Jon Beattiey wrote:

And, the other side of the water, there's the West Cork Lterary Fest which runs for six days in Bantry; attracted Annie Proux, Martina Cole, Louis de Berniere and many another. The atmosphere was fantastic - the scenery, of course, very inspirational. And the Mariner Hotel a very good venue for audiences of over 300. But, and a big but, it relies on sponsorship, patronage and goodwill. Look on www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie and see what happens. Cork County Council was very supportive last year, but we all know about the crisis in funding, so don't expect miracles one wants to keep these wonderful gatherings of like-minded souls together for the future and, hopefully, better times.

At 04:52:36 on 05 November 2009,  Clare wrote:

As a chair rather than an author, and as a regular attendee, your point about a good interviewer who has read the book is also really apposite. And yes, these interviewers also deserve a fee- It's a considerable amount of preparation to read up properly before hand and you can always tell who is flannelling. My other real beef about this is that Children's authors are so often left to fend for themselves (including at Edinburgh where they wouldn't dream of doing this to an adult author). Some people are one man/woman shows - others are much better when drawn out about their subject - and the kids get more out of it too.

At 05:26:20 on 05 November 2009,  Marina wrote:

Hello Amanda, What a great blog. How will we get these points across to festival organisers? Do I sense a handbook coming on? I have a couple of points to contribute. I particularly enjoy festivals where I have the opportunity to meet and make friends with other authors, either in a well-stocked friendly green room like Cheltenham and Edinburgh, or round a splendid meal table, as at Charlestone or Wells or Dartington (unlike others, I really enjoyed my Dartington visit, despite lack of fee and small book sales, because the other guests were such fun, and we went nude swimming in the river at night). One bugbear is the inexperienced but very enthusiastic volunteer organisers who want to grab you and ask you all the things you're going to be talking about later on the platform, when all you want is to relax and gather your thoughts. Another bugbear is being expected to read without a microphone. A room big enough to hold a reasonable sized audience is also going to be big enough to be a strain on the voice. Libraries can be particularly bad for this - I remember one tour in Cornwall where the normal activity of checking out books and chatter was going on in the background while I was trying to talk. Finally, I never drive anywhere anymore. If you book well in advance, first class on the train is often cheaper than standard bought at the station (of course a senior rail card helps!) and I find festival organisers will usually cover the cost if you point this out to them. I get lots of work done on trains, and an endless supply of cups of tea and snacks brought to my seat - better than home, where I usually have to make it myself.

At 05:32:08 on 05 November 2009,  Angi wrote:

Many of the comments are less about literary festivals than general courtesy - if you're going to invite someone to your event, meet and greet them accordingly, and treat them with respect. The same also goes for the person being invited. At the risk of stirring up a hornet's nest, I would also comment that I've been to a lierary festival event where a (very famous and well-respected) poet turned up, having travelled by train from another literary festival. We knew this because she told us so, whilst apologising half-heartedly for the scribbled notes that she'd written on the way, which she then attempted to use as the basis for a very disjointed talk. At another event an alpha-male author, having turned up an hour late, discarded the provided microphone as "unnecessary" and proceeded to read from his latest book - great if you were in the front two rows on the left hand side. I suffer from some hearing loss and strained to listen, only discovering afterwards that I wasn't alone. Like most relationships, the author-reader one is complicated.....

At 06:54:57 on 05 November 2009,  A. Publicist wrote:

"If you are doing an author supper, it would be nice to know who else is going to be on your table, (just in case we're mortal enemies) and not to stuff us with somebody's publicist. Talking to publicists is Work, and to be Working at 11 pm is no fun for anyone." Ouch.

At 08:32:24 on 05 November 2009,  Val McDermid wrote:

This should be compulsory reading for anyone contemplating a literary festival. The experience, when it's good, is wonderful -- among the stand-outs I've participated in are Edinburgh, The Borders (at Melrose), the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, Dublin and the brand new Budleigh Salterton -- but when it's bad, you feel worthless and hated. One in particular I remember, a supposedly prestigious festival in a very distinguished city. There was no car parking for participants and the nearest car park to accommodation and venues was ten minutes' walk, which is no fun when you're lugging computer and overnight bag. The accommodation was up four flights of stone stairs with no lift (in spite of my publicist telling the organisers I had recently had major knee surgery). The "stage" was the corner of a room that was too small for the audience; there was one tiny round table to accommodate water and books for three writers and a moderator. One mike that had to be handed back and forth between us. Our fee was a hand-painted pencil jar. Will I be going back there? What do you think? It might sound precious but really, how dare they treat us like that?

At 09:43:01 on 05 November 2009,  Maggie Craig wrote:

Have just read and really enjoyed this, having been criss-crossing Scotland for a large part of this year doing events. I find the Edinburgh Book Festival people really friendly and welcoming and I spoke last weekend at the small but perfectly formed Linlithgow Book Festival, where the organizers were also welcoming and enthusiastic. It made such a difference, of course. Was a bit depressed by another recent festival where it was quite well organized but no-one seemed to care whether I lived or died in my lonely hotel room the night before. If they were so all-fired busy, might they not at least have left me a message of welcome or something? Also, the hotel was a good twenty minutes on the other side of a motorway from the venue and no directions were provided to it, or even an enquiry made as to whether I was travelling by car or public transport. Why can't people understand that a location map of the venue might be helpful? Or ask if you're travelling by car and then tell you where you might park?

At 12:38:48 on 05 November 2009,  Linda Strachan wrote:

Running a successful book festival is hard work. It requires enthusiasm and dedication whether it is a large or small affair. Personally I love Edinburgh which has a full time staff working all year to make sure it all runs smoothly, as well as extra temporary staff when the event is running. Not that this will guarantee every author or member of the audience is going to have a wonderful time, but I think the majority do. I would also vote for the Islay Book festival which is worth the rather long journey to get there and is held over just one weekend. Despite being a small event the organisers work very hard and go out of their way to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for authors and audiences alike. None of this happens without a lot of forethought and preparation. But perhaps some people who decide they want to hold a book festival might be a bit like those who have no experience but say they are going to run a pub because they love going down to the pub, so running one would be great fun? Bad experiences with organisers of events as mentioned in the post above makes you want to check things out beforehand again and again to avoid having a horrendous time but it still happens now and then, however hard you try to iron out the wrinkles beforehand. A handbook for festival organisers would be a great idea if they read it, but as with the Society of author's website, the information is out there for the asking and often ignored. It is not so much about a newspaper or internet access but more a case of organisers treating the authors they have asked to travel to their event with a certain amount of respect and courtesy as welcome visitors and having a thought to their basic comfort away from home. Oh and authors do need to get paid! The public is often ignorant of how little many authors earn and although I enjoy meeting people (yes and chatting to other writers and publicists!) it is work and we also need to live in the real world; you try to get a plumber out on the promise of a painted mug and a box of shortbread!

At 00:07:55 on 06 November 2009,  Sheenagh Pugh wrote:

"They're all very pleased with themselves" And will stay that way, unless you have told them what went wrong! What strikes me about this thread is that we are all talking to the wrong people. It's like in a crap restaurant where the waiter asks "is everything all right?" and instead of saying "Well actually, no" we smile weakly and nod. That doesn't improve the restaurant. The Welsh Academi, which funds readings in Wales, ask the reader to fill in a form afterwards telling them thsi sort of thing. And of course I always thank the organisers when it went well. But in future maybe I'll write and point out when it didn't.

At 03:46:42 on 11 November 2009,  Polly Clark wrote:

Poets have a slightly different perspective on this as readings are the main way they make any money as so are an integral part of 'the job'. If you are intending to make any form of income from poetry you had better get good at readings, however very few organiser actually appreciate the extra work and skills being a good reader demands. They think it is not much work at all a lot of the time and, as you say, try to offer very little money. Also poets are, generally, the lowest rung of the festival ladder and get the lowest pay and fewest perks. Cheltenham this year has the most wonderful author's tent with welcome delicious food and drink, attentive staff and a great hotel which made all the difference to my ability to concentrate on my event. However all the festivals in my experience (except Aldeburgh) take an inordinate amount of time to pay. I do not see why it has to be two months before a cheque arrives, or, as in the case of Cheltenham a month for the fee and a further wait for the expenses! In no other job would you be expected to wait so long for payment. Poets, as the poorest of the lot, really suffer from this and it would not be beyond the wit of man to settle up after the event. When I am famous I am going to demand this - as I have had to do a job to a definite schedule I expect to be paid when I've done it! Alas, not being famous I make the assessment that if the event pays enough (in the end) it is encumbent on me to do it.

At 10:57:31 on 30 November 2009,  Julie Summers wrote:

Whilst I share some of the frustrations mentioned both in the blog and subsequent comments I'd like to blow the trumpet for Sheffield's Off the Shelf Festival held in the autumn. They paid expenses and a small fee but the key thing was their professionalism, enthusiasm and genuine gratitude that I (and others) had made the effort to go and talk. I was met at the station, taken to the venue, offered a sandwich and drink for lunch, which was perfectly adequate. The venue was lovely and I was asked how I would like the room laid out. The equipment worked perfectly and there were books for sale. The audience was clearly as enthusiastic about the festival as the organisers and the whole event left me thinking that I would make the effort to go back again if asked. If you get invited to Sheffield it's definitely worth considering it.

At 03:17:33 on 05 November 2009,  Hazel Cameron wrote:

Excellent piece, thank you. You may be interested in a letter Tessa Ransford wrote to the Glasgow Herald a couple of months aga, 'Back writers not festivals'. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20090920/ai_n35682630/

At 04:57:05 on 08 November 2009,  adele geras wrote:

In answer to the person asking what proportion of reading to chatting is required in an event, I have to admit that I never read for more than five minutes. I think the audience is there to hear you chat about your work and they should also be allowed plenty of time to ask you questions. And they'll maybe want to buy the book if you've left them on a cliffhanger! Also: The Jewish Book Week every year is amazingly well organized and lovely. Efficient, prompt with payment and with dedicated helpers there to guide the authors every step of the way! Full marks, Geraldine!

At 09:42:34 on 16 November 2009,  Amanda wrote:

This was sent to me by a very distinguished author who wishes to remain anonymous  about the Oxford Literary Festival:


Oxford LitFest 2006: The following problems arose: 1. The venue was hard to find:- Large sign at Christchurch porter''s lodge directing people to the festival entrance 100 yards further down St Aldates - then 200 yards to the marquee, enquired at Information desk for green room, given lengthy directions which, after getting a bit lost, ended one up back more or less at the porter''s lodge. 2. Presentation: When we arrived at the room where the talk was to be given (Christchurch Library) the festival staff assumed we were members of the audience since we had arrived 20 mins early. We stood in the doorway with our bags and coats for 20 minutes while the audience filed in straight past us. At 4.30 the introducer went up to the platform and my fellow-speaker and I realised that we were now supposed to take our seats on it, though nobody had accompanied us or told us that the event was now starting. Any excitement, anticipation or sense of occasion were entirely removed by the casualness of our appearance and total lack of formality or theatricality. As speakers, we were left to explain who we were and why we had anything to say about the subject matter. 3. We were seated (squashed) onto a terrifyingly small rostrum; if one''s chair moved an inch one would fall off it. 4. At the end of the talk questions were taken, but nobody could hear them, as there were no roving mikes. 5. At the end of the talk, my fellow-speaker did the book-signing plug. The introducer remained seated. No thanks, appreciation or comment on what she and the audience had just been listening to. 6. Book-signing over very quickly as my books weren''t available & there were only 4 books to sign. Briefly back to the green room. No Festival staff commented or seemed to feel it necessary to do or say anything to me. I was given a ceramic pencil-holder. I asked the staff member whether I should send in my expenses (around £50 for return trip) and he said "Well, you can try...". I was at the porter''s lodge for my taxi (which the staff had booked for 6pm) by 5.55. At 6.10 no taxi had come. Luckily I got a taxi from someone who had been dropped off and caught my train... More care should be taken to make authors feel wanted and appreciated. I''m not a star author - but one day I might be! It''s short-sighted to neglect the minor ones in favour of the top names - if that''s what was happening... Authors are very insecure people. They live isolated lives, and meeting their readers is a rare occasion for them to have contact with people who want to hear what they have to say. So they need to feel noticed and admired; the festival wouldn''t exist without them. They want applause, recognition and proper appreciation by the audience and the readers of their books. And those books must be available. Some of the speakers have come a long way in the hope of selling three or four dozen copies... I won''t labour the point. Surely the Sunday Times could also be persuaded to spend more to make speakers feel a bit more loved - ceramic pencil holders aren''t really enough. And they really ought to invest in roving mikes and the staff to man them... particularly for a room with such a weird acoustic as the Upper Library. However - I went back to the LitFest in 2009. This time it was a bit better, but only because a very nice Oxford friend was introducing and looking after me. This time I took good care to walk in by the porter''s lodge and ignore the roundabout signage. But I still have some complaints: The event was at 8pm, and I was asked to be there at 7. Luckily, I''d had tea with my hosts, as there was no food of any kind. There was still no sense of occasion, and no roving mikes... though we were properly introduced this time. My nice Oxford friend was also expected to pay for a glass of wine for me afterwards. Didn''t get away till 9.30 - not so much as a free sandwich... Expenses were paid, but the only other recompense was a small but hideous pale blue Wedgewood trinket box - I think the company had recently gone bust, so presumably they were remaindered stock or something? Conclusion: could try harder.

At 10:33:58 on 02 November 2009,  catherine Czerkawska wrote:

Could not agree more - and the same goes for author visits to Writers' Groups. The best are wonderfully hospitable, but I've also been dumped in a strange town, late at night, hungry and tired and with a four hour drive home! And it has happened more than once!

At 15:57:26 on 03 November 2009,  Amanda wrote:

Although I''m sorry to see so many other authors sharing my woes, I''m glad so many have replied already. Also that there are some good festivals. I''ve always found Edinburgh to be pretty OK as far as the hospitality tent and friendliness goes (but then I always meet Ian Rankin, who is the friendliest and least snotty author I know, and the uncrowned king of Edinburgh so that may help.) Cheltenham pretty good too.

Interesting to hear of a new one that pays. Thanks for alerting us. Yes, I completely agree it is terrible if you''re trying to entertain an audience of children who just can''t wait to get out. I''ve only done events with children occasionally, and find that it''s hopelessi without roping some of them in, using props etc. The whole thing exhausting, maybe less so if you''re a children''s author and used to it.



At 08:24:34 on 03 November 2009,  Josa Young wrote:

Have only have one experience and that was the South Bank one, organised by Rachel Holmes who is an absolute joy. Can imagine what goes on elsewhere though. Good reading, Amanda.

At 04:54:36 on 05 November 2009,  Graham wrote:

When I go on holiday I look at TripAdvisor for the reviews of destinations and hotels written by travellers. They are so much more informative than the guide books. How about setting one up for Lit Fests? That might help generate an income to keep you writing such wise words?

At 05:38:17 on 04 November 2009,  Emma Barnes wrote:

I agree that Ilkley is a wonderful Festival - the two sessions I have done there as an author were great: wonderful venues, organisation, stewards, books in the bookshop and a full audience. As an audience member, I've always enjoyed every event too. On a much smaller scale, the Morley Festival is great too. Not every Festival is as good, but let's cut the organisers some slack - their hearts are usually in the right places. I'm not sure they always realise that authors aren't just in it for love of books and writing...

At 07:04:02 on 04 November 2009,  Jessica Ruston wrote:

Wimbledon Bookfest is small but great. Well-organised, friendly, don't pay but treat you very well and give you tickets to other events if you want them and a lovely bunch of flowers. make sure you are picked up/parking is arranged, publicise the event well etc etc. I did it a couple of weeks ago and it was a complete pleasure. I have never had the experience of doing something badly run myself yet, but I have heard lots of horror stories from friends...

At 04:29:46 on 05 November 2009,  RachelFox wrote:

Are there really festivals who pay all authors the same fee? I'm quite surprised - I really thought they would pretty much work like any event and pay on a scale depending on the author's profile, booksales, ability to fill a hall etc. It is a nice idea (everyone getting paid the same). Maybe we could try that with the bankers too.

At 09:25:56 on 05 November 2009,  gb wrote:

Stop moaning. Nobody forces you to go to these events, you clearly continue to do so because it is in your interest. The idea that Billy Backlist should be paid as much as Billy Clinton is sheer nonsense, as is the idea that democracy and equal pay are synonymous. Are you really disgusted that a hotel doesn't offer you a newspaper? Are you that petty? I believe there are shops now that specialise in selling such things - newsagents - and apparently there are plenty of them about. Thanks for alerting me to your remarkable self-importance thus saving me the bother of reading any of your books.

At 05:47:26 on 06 November 2009,  Isobel Abulhoul wrote:

Amanda Craig , a great blog and so interesting to read all the comments. We held our first lit festival in Dubai earlier this year, and did our best to look after our authors. Hopefully we did and do, however, recognise the most valuable of assets, and the one reason why anyone would buy a ticket to come - the author. It makes perfect sense and also good manners to treat every author as a respected guest and make their time at the festival as enjoyable and memorable as you can. There are always budgetary constraints but in Dubai we were blessed by people's willingness and generosity to help us out in giving our authors a good time. I have made a copy of your suggestions Amanda and will pin on our wall to keep us on the 'straight and narrow'. Amanda Lees, I have just read your laugh out loud piece - it has brightened my day! Isobel

At 09:03:23 on 02 November 2009,  Marika Cobbold wrote:

Well said, Amanda! And I also agree that Ilkley is a delight; well organised, well attended and very friendly. Guildford is another very author friendly festival as is Lowdham.

At 09:29:32 on 02 November 2009,  katherine langrish wrote:

Well, on this occasion I will preserve their anonymity, as it was their inaugural attempt. And the adult writers did have a programme - and tickets sold. We discovered about a fortnight in advance that the children's authors had neither, and were expected to wander about in a tent all day, talking to whoever happened to turn up. We staged a last-minute mutiny and matters were improved. I'm sure next year will be better!

At 16:50:32 on 02 November 2009,  Saviour Pirotta wrote:

A brilliant article! We've all been there, gritting our teeth in some horrible hotel room, unable to sleep because of the noise outside - and worrying about having enough energy for the gig in the morning. Perhaps we should name and shame the bad festivals. And praise the good ones, of course. The Edinburgh festival comes out tops for me: a brilliant hotel close to the venue, a free breakfast, cakes and drinks in the yurt and helpful people to look after you.

At 08:19:30 on 03 November 2009,  Joe Craig wrote:

Wonderful to read such clear common sense that's so often forgotten! One thing I'd add is to try to make sure that events which might attract a similar audience aren't programmed up against each other, which has happened to me a couple of times! That's particularly relevant to children's books, I suppose.

At 16:05:20 on 03 November 2009,  Danuta wrote:

The issue of books at festivals is vital. Too often people forget that these are about promoting and SELLING the authors' work. But it isn't always the fault of the organiser. It can be poor communication between publicity and sales reps. I do think though that bad festivals should be named and shame. These are mushrooming, and though the good are fabulous ads for books and reading, the bad just convey the idea that books are a shoddy throwback to a bygone age.

At 03:01:54 on 04 November 2009,  Swati wrote:

Hi Amanda, This is brilliant. Unlike all the other people in this group, I am afraid I am a part of the organising team of Bookaroo - a children's literature festival in India. We are only a year old but thanks so much for sharing this. Though we have tried not making any of the mistakes mentioned here. But knowing the possible mistakes one could make as also authors' expectations from a festival will certainly help us in the future. Thanks for sharing your experience and views.

At 03:07:31 on 04 November 2009,  Caitlin Raynor wrote:

Hi Amanda, I agree that much could be improved on the circuit and would hope that any decent publicist (speaking as one myself) would have checked that their author was going to be neither starved, abandoned or ignored - however I'd like to point out, after reading your point 4 above, that publicists are people too and hope not to be perceived as 'merely work' - especially not at 11pm when like yourself they are probably hopeful of having an interesting conversation and a glass of wine. There really is nothing more depressing at the end of a long day than finding yourself sitting next to an author you've never met who then ignores you for the whole meal once they discover that your are a 'publicist'. Perhaps as Linda Gillard writes above we should start off by mentioning the many number one campaigns we've pulled off or the industry awards we've won in order to be worthy of joining the conversation.

At 03:16:02 on 04 November 2009,  adele geras wrote:

I must say I've always had very nice hotels and good care from festivals, though not always very good audiences. I would MUCH PREFER to be told that not enough tickets had been sold and they've had to cancel my event than turn up, as I once did, long ago, to a writing workshop where only two people had booked. When I said this to the organizer, she said: "Oh we didn't want to disappoint you!" They could have saved themselves the fee and expenses...quite a good fee, as I recall. Organization and thought are key. And enlisting the support of publishers. Edinburgh/Cheltenham are good for this, and Ilkley too. And yes, Guildford the only time I did it was fun as well....I'm a great lover of festivals in general but the point about discounting the books is a good one. People will NOT BUY HARDBACKS if they've paid for a ticket when they can get it cheaper on Amazon.

At 12:45:25 on 04 November 2009,  ron johns wrote:

Amazon ha ....why not ask the US owned global non uk tax paying company to run some some book festivals, yes they can then discount ,it would be wonderful ! Would help the booksllers who have traditionaly run the lit festivals in Britain. Then we would'nt have to hire the tents, sleep in them to stop people stealing the stock, hiring vans, tables, lights, staff, lifting tons of titles, listening to some very precious authors just read... and not in some cases not even bother to come to the bookshop to sign !cummunicate only when they can't find enough copies of the book.We put up with damp books which we cannot return, attempt to return the unsold copies which we always have because we are terrified we will upset someone.Even though largely we can judge pretty well who will sell what. Then of course we will make a loss, wouldnt matter to amazon though...would it ?

At 09:46:17 on 05 November 2009,  Amanda wrote:

Thanks for all these comments - and especially for information on which festivals are good. We are all on the side of good ones, it''s just the many bad ones that need to be avoided or, preferably, stopped as a waste of everybody''s time and money.

The pain point that comes across is that there are just too many Lit Fests these days - or that they are over-ambitious in asking non-local authors. I''m all for more encouragement of home-grown talent, the problems arise when authors are asked to travel for hours, and get a tiny audience, miserable organisation etc.

I believe that, as authors, we should take more pride in our profession, which is a profession as well as a vocation. The problem is that all people who have a vocation tend to find themselves getting exploited - and, therefore, lose out. (Ask most doctors) There''s a difference between professional pride and being snotty, of course - and whoever the author was who was rude to the PR, I hope they feel ashamed. But the point is, all of this is work, and asking to be paid for it isn''t wrong.

At 02:58:20 on 05 November 2009,  Nigel Jay Robson wrote:

It's a new world to me and all very enlightening! Newly published author (this year) and was invited to events at two festivals (Sedbergh Book and Preston Arts), both very friendly. Neither paid (that would be a novelty!) except expenses, which was all I expected (naive?). Despite a low attendance for my event at Sedbergh I'd still recommend it, as I was very late onto their programme. Most important to me, however, is how do I find out where all the festivals are? I'm sure there are very few in my 2007 edition of Writers and Artists Yearbook.

At 03:33:53 on 05 November 2009,  Susan Hill wrote:

The large village/tiny market town near me has decided to have LITFEST next year with which, I hasten to add, I have nothing and will have nothing to do. The audience will be largely book reading middle class retired.. so they have themed the Festival - it is 'Living on the edges of society'. The organiser, a locally well-known resentfully unpublished writer, is running a How to Get Published workshop and they say their main aim is not to be 'a book shop.' e-mail my website if you want to know where, so as to avoid. I don`t do any litfests now other than Cheltenham which sadly I had to cancel this year because I was ill - it's a dream, well organised,they pay and they SELL BOOKS. To be avoided are all the greedy private ones run by the same company purely for profit (but they also blag an awful lot of AC support, d not pay a penny and are themselves now extremely well-heeled as a result.) Hay is so up itself it's disappeared... I am never ever doing another - I do Cheltenham because it is only 25 miles away and they are lovely, organisers, audiences et al. But why does every potty town and village think it NEEDS a literary Festival at all ? We are writers not performing monkeys.

At 12:14:04 on 05 November 2009,  david gaffney wrote:

Hi Amanda, I agree with most of these comments but my exerience is largely good - the following were all great - litfest in lancaster, manchestre lit fest, chester lit fest, sefton lit fest, hull lit fest and chapter and verse liverpool all paid me, looked after me properly and got a good audience - I have Chipping Cambden and Poole to look forward to next year and the signs so far are very good David

At 02:18:07 on 19 November 2009,  hffw wrote:

very interesting, indeed!

At 14:14:57 on 22 November 2009,  Janie Hampton wrote:

Some years ago I asked the Society of Authors if they would send out a survey of literary festivals to all members, just as they have in the past with literary agents and publishers. Answers could be then fed back to literary festival organisers anonymously, and via the press. I even offered to draw up the survey. But they weren't interested. On presentation - after my first public appearance, I realised that however poor the organisation, the audience hope for something more than a boring old reading. So I invested in a day with a theatre director, some singing lessons, and a term of drama lessons. Dartington doesn't pay - but then what is spending an evening with Tariq Ali, Claire Tomalin, Peter Stanford and Penelope Lively, worth? A friendly, relaxed dinner makes up for no fee. I gave the free bottle of cider to the driver who kindly collected me form the station. I once gave a talk at the place that gives an empty pencil holder, and had to find my own mike, water, thank myself and lead the audience through a maze to the books. I suggested that the local Writers Society provide writer-minders, which they did for a few years. But I gather that for next year these volunteers have been ' let go' .

At 06:05:22 on 02 November 2009,  katherine langrish wrote:

Mmmm... I could tell you a tale of a festival this summer (it shall remain nameless) which I and the other authors ended up pretty well entirely arranging ourselves. It had not even occurred to the organisers that a programme might be helpful.

At 10:22:25 on 02 November 2009,  Linda Gillard wrote:

I do hope organisers will take note of your suggestions. My only experience of festivals as an author has been Edinburgh where I was short-listed for a book award. At the event where the winner was announced, the man introducing the event (also chair of the judging panel) failed to speak to me before, during or afterwards. I did wonder if I'd a) won b) been famous he would have made the effort.

At 05:38:05 on 05 November 2009,  Amanda Lees wrote:

I giggled, gasped and sighed in empathy at all of the above. Then I dug out this email I sent to my editor and publicist after one particularly horrific experience last year. Names have been replaced by XXXs to protect the undeserving... XXX (festival director) finally picked me up at her third change of destination and proceeded to fill me in on all the men who are apparently stalking her - it would have been more helpful to have given me a detailed rundown of my itinerary which then proceeded to go horribly wrong. The event at XXX library was supposed to run for an hour and a half - I spoke for two hours to five people including two librarians and my friend Clare who was desperate to buy signed copies for her friends only there weren't any to sell. XXX popped in for thirty seconds then dashed off to another event. The two members of the public who did come were lovely and full of praise which is always nice but the odd poster around the place might have helped publicise the event (or, indeed, the entire literary festival). It was also a bizarre time to schedule something which was supposed to attract a school-age audience - 7-8.30pm on a Monday night. Mercifully, my friend Clare was on hand to get me back to my Toby Inn set attractively beside the motorway, a million miles from any other form of civilisation. The next morning I called XXX and asked her to go through exactly what was happening that day. She got hopelessly muddled, announced that the first school I was visiting was now the second and that I'd be there 'as long as they need you.' The golf-club wielding ex-headmaster who showed up to take me to the first school was the husband of the doyenne of the committee and, when we got to the first school, it transpired that XXX had actually got it wrong again - this was the second school and they had informed XXX two weeks previously they would need to reschedule for the afternoon slot. Still with me?? Finally arriving at the right school, I gave two talks/writing workshops back to back to two groups of 30 Year 6 pupils without a break. This went on for two and a half hours. During each talk, I was left alone in the classroom, albeit fairly briefly, as the teachers removed pupils from the room for various reasons. I then bolted down the oldest baked potato I have ever encountered and raced to the office to sign the 15 books XXX had left there (she again popped in for all of 30 seconds - no-one from the festival attended any of my talks). On the books was a Post-It note saying 'to order more copies contact author.' The school were as bewildered as I was and asked where they should send the money for the books - the temptation to suggest they send it straight to me was overwhelming. Back to the other school and one Year 6 group and they asked how long I would need. With no books supplied, I suggested an hour, talked and conducted a workshop for an hour and ten minutes and was then picked up by a Daily Mail-reading battleaxe who informed me the ex-headmaster, my appointed driver, had suddenly had to go to court. He had already made sure to tell me he was a magistrate but I had no idea the wheels of justice turned so fast up north. She did have the case I had left in his car but it was minus the black cashmere sweater I had left on top of it and she made it abundantly clear we were not going to try and track it down. She then dumped me at the station two hours early thanks to the schools mix-up and I mournfully trundled around town in the rain with my suitcase until I could finally catch my train as it would have cost £70 to change my ticket to an earlier one. On the plus side, the school pupils and their teachers were immensely appreciative and all now want to read the books - should they be able to get hold of any. The schools, however, were hopelessly unprepared and I don't think this was their fault. None of the pupils or teachers had read or even heard of Kumari so I was basically talking into a vacuum. It really felt as if I was a supply teacher bunged in to perform like a monkey and I blame the committee for a total lack of awareness. They're all very pleased with themselves but a few basic concessions to the humanity of the author would make all the difference and a thank you would have been nice. Right now I'm knackered, down my favourite sweater and rather hoping one of those 'stalker' boyfriends catches up with the unbelievably ditsy XXX...

At 05:11:32 on 31 March 2010,  Fi Bird wrote:

I am new to book festivals (recently published) but have spent years at food festivals. In my brief experience, as a children’s author (Edinburgh 2009 and Oxford 2010) I can only say that I was amazed to find an author’s yurt in Edinburgh and a Green room at Oxford. I was treated amazingly well. At food festivals I lug boxes, take my own bin and water and yes, it is because kids don’t buy a lot. I am usually in a remote marquee that the food festival organisers don’t kit out properly. I could add I write my own recipes and tested them with real Hebridean school kids unlike some celebrity chefs who are paid £1000s to turn up at a food festival, have all of their ingredients prepped up and often have a ghost writer BUT they sell the festival entrance fees not me. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Edinburgh Book Festival paid me well and I was in a hotel to die for. Perhaps as a mother of six, who doesn’t get out much, I am easily pleased but give me a book festival over a food festival any day….. I met Ariel Leve in Oxford and Anne Fine found my ear-ring at Edinburgh lucky, lucky me.

At 02:50:04 on 01 May 2012,  Fletch wrote:

Never read so much snotty rubbish in all my life. If you lot want to sell your books then you should work at it. Who buys books anymore anyway? Or reads, for that matter? The demographic is narrowing down to the middle-aged, middle classes, angry brigade (you lot) who all sound so superior and outraged about not get your fucking croissants or four-poster bed ... it's enough to make you burn books.

At 01:45:51 on 12 March 2012,  Kathryn White wrote:

Hi, thank you for the excellent blog; most enjoyable when you can add a dash of humour in wiith the suffereing authors experience during times of festival hardship. I was once invited to a small festival in London, no longer running (can't think why!). My slot was for 11 am and there was a notable children's author performing before my event. I arrived an hour early to be sent downstairs to the basement of a small arts centre. Yes, no windows but an old sofa with a down-hearted author still awaiting her audience. We spent the next two hours over her slot and mine, drinking coffee, getting to know each other and reading to the one attendee who was lucky enough to get two writers for the price of one. Terrible venue, badly advertised but I met a great writer. I always get the impression when attending festivals whether the biggies or the tiddlers that authors are a commodity to finance the event and organziers are under extreme pressure to come up with the goods. Very sad.

At 03:29:42 on 22 March 2012,  Louise Gibney wrote:

Hello - great post! It seems we're doing most of the things you suggest at the first Towcester Literary Festival, ' A Write Good Festival' in June. We're not charging entry, as the library are hosting to promote local community events (first or many annual festivals, will expand if and when it gets too big for the free venue!). Our town writers' group is boosting the event with competion winning pieces being read out, cakes and tea from the WI, and Julia Jarman (local to us, hooray!) is coming to read some children's lit. Every published author we can find locally with have a chance to display and sell their work. Advertising is beginning on a large scale - everyone will know aout it shortly!!! Wish us luck! Louise Gibney @literaturelou ** www.misswrite.co.uk ** www.facebook.com/louise.gibney.writer www.towcesterwriters.weebly.com ** www.facebook.com/towcesterwriters

At 18:15:15 on 08 May 2012,  Amanda wrote:

A charming Mr Fletch has taken umbrage with these remarks. Clearly, some people have no idea that writing is actually hard work, and selling that work is even harder....

At 11:13:53 on 02 October 2012,  Sue wrote:

In support of festival organisers, who initially set out (if they are like me) to offer their local community something really special, but who ended up spending most of their time struggling to raise enough money to pay the bills. It is easier if you are in a large town or city, where funding is more plentiful, but when I began in 2007, I had no choice but to pay some of the expenses myself. Even now every penny is precious and last year I had to cancel an event. Tthe production itself would have cost relatively little, but the lighting, the sound equipment and the venue would have cost around £600 - one third of my total festival budget! I would love to meet the authors who will appear for just expenses - how do I find them and how do I encourage them to come here? Amanda, please email me the details! I am trying to organise something for this coming spring, and all I receive when I write to publishers is silence! Our festival is not just a literary festival, we include other events and raise a great deal of money for charity, but volunteers are few, venues are expensive, insurance horrifically priced and people moan if we charge for a ticket. As for the organisers, we are not all retired ladies of leisure or paid council employees. I was up at 5am this morning answering emails before I went to work. There are never enough volunteers to share the load and to be honest, I am wondering how much longer I can continue. The trouble is that if I retire, nobody else will take over and the festival that I started will die.... Re: attendances: I circulate 10,000 programmes, the local newspaper carries publicity, and we hand out flyers at local markets, trains stations and shopping centres yet some events are full and others are very poorly attended. It often depends on what else is on TV, the weather or what is happening down the road. We had a very famous singer from the 60s appear here last year - everyone over 50 would know her name. Only 60 people turned up. Later we received an email from her husband / manager saying it was a shame that our town did not like her. The reality was that a church at the other end of the High Road had a special speaker giving a talk and their three line whip was far more successful than our advertising! The problem organisers face is that unless you are a TV celeb, most people will not bother to turn out to listen to you. The ones who do attend tend to be over-50s, middle-class, with time on their hands and no children at home. Younger people will only bother to stir themselves if you are on X Factor, Big Brother or TOWIE. Yes, people are that shallow and I have tried everything to get younger people to participate but the only time I was successful was when I encouraged someone from the Apprentice to turn up. That night it was standing room only! Can you imagine just how embarrassing it is when only ten people turn up to an event? So please be patient with festival organisers and if we cannot be as attentive as you might like, understand that everyone wants a bit of their attention, they are probably in a terrible state of internal panic and they are probably praying that no disaster happens on their watch, in case their insurance premiums will rocket the following year. Like me, most organisers just want to give back' something to their community and if they are not terribly professional, that is because they are not professionals, just helpful members of their local town or village.

At 10:17:52 on 14 August 2013,  Chrissie Holland wrote:

This blog has long since run its course by the look of things, Amanda. I found it so interesting to read that I am commenting anyway. I have spent twenty years of my life touring events around Europe. All of what you say is absolutely true. It's not an easy life and can be a lonely one but the passion and love of what you do is so strong you just keep taking the bull by the horns and hope that tomorrow will be as good as yesterday's event was. It is always a pleasure to be welcomed on arrival by someone who isn't looking you up and down like you're a piece of dog shit, or completely ignoring your existence - when all you need is information about where to go, where to put your things and where to chill out and get a nibble and a drink (tea or otherwise). Bad news about payment by means of 'Cheque's in the post'. This method was known as a NO PICKUP as opposed to cash on night. Sometimes the cheque never turned up at all. Some promoters were taken to the small claims court. The hotels were very often nice but more often stinking hovels. There were a few occasions over the years when sleep in the car was the only option, due to cheques not turning up as promised. Sometimes the event was cancelled but nobody bothered to phone the participants who might have travelled many miles. I've shared the stage/rostrum with everything from a broken washing machine, a parrot in a massive cage, a walking frame, a surf board and a bicycle. Mostly, I met the most wonderful, kind and respectful people on my travels. There will always be a small minority of ignorant simpletons running such events. And you are sure to meet them ALL if you arrive and start making demands of a Prima Donna - and sermonise about how you should be treated and that you should have been picked up at the station, shown that you are loved and told how fantastic you are and what a privilege it is to meet you, and how many court-jesters and personal butlers would you like. Now, I am an absolute beginner, I know nothing at all about book festivals. I have always been an amateur writer (apart from some freelance journalism), who fancies reading some of my humourous stories at some of the small fests. I didn't even know there were book festivals - never heard of them. This blog has made me laugh so much because most of it is so familiar to me and has been such a part of my life as a professional singer in bands and solo cabaret around Europe. Now that I have retired from singing, I shall soldier on and look forward to meeting some more lovely people in a different genre X

At 05:45:35 on 02 November 2009,  bookwitch wrote:

I can't believe - or rather, I don't want to - that organisers aren't excited about writers coming, and treating them like welcome guests. If you have only a few people coming, then you must have the time to look after them. And if you have hundreds, then it's big business, and you should be organised to do all that is necessary. Maybe they should start up a local adoption scheme, where residents with decent homes (internet and lamps and possibly even biscuits) meet and greet and put up a writer.

At 07:04:36 on 05 November 2009,  Marcus Berkmann wrote:

Good stuff, Amanda. I too have had good experiences at Ilkley (three times there in four years) and I must also speak up for the Warwick Words festival. But - and this shows how random this all is - I had the ghastliest experience at Edinburgh - ten years ago, admittedly - and would need a mighty cheque to persuade me back. (Not that they have asked me, you understand.) The bigger, more corporate occasions are generally the loneliest and most depressing, in my experience.

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