Lit festivals – how can they bring the books back?

photo 1I wrote recently how book festivals seem to be gradually losing their connection with books, authors and readers. Instead they are becoming celebrity festivals who recruit their speakers from TV or turn into writer’s festivals aimed at those who wish to get published.

You can read that post from a couple of weeks ago here.

The fallout from it was significant. One thing I’d like to nip in the bud is the idea I’m calling for the festivals just to support literary fiction. This misunderstanding might be based on the fact they tend to be called literature festivals in the UK. But I’m not saying only Dostoevsky ought to get a gig. I’m suggesting that the march of the celebrity festival is trampling on all authors whose only claim to fame is that they have produced a book – be it sci-fi, romance, children’s literature or anything else, fiction or non-fiction.

But I also thought that, having moaned about the problem, I would like to offer some solutions. I accept the metamorphosis from book fests to celebrity fests is down to money, but I also believe there should be more to book festivals than the bottom line. They should have a strong connection to books and authors as they owe their very existence to them.

The picture at the top of the page is of a festival event which did get it right – the Magic Oxygen event at Lyme Regis Literature Festival which not only launched lots of books but also handed out prizes to their writing competition, which is open again now, for more info click here.

Here are my suggestions on how the Literature Festivals could rediscover their roots:

1. Ensure a better balance in the programme between celebrities and authors
It’s a question of wanting to let the authors back in and seeing it as a priority

2. Source sponsorship for smaller author events
Ok so they might not bring in the money a big TV name does but if some work can be put in to finding sponsorship cash to cover the cost of events involving lesser-known authors then the events can be a success with a smaller crowd.

3. Include support acts
It’s a regular thing at music gigs. The headliner has one or two warm-up bands, they get an audience and a step on the ladder to greater success, the audience gets more entertainment for their money. Why not do this more often at literature festivals? Look for a couple of authors in the same vein as the big name.

4. Develop the fringe
The big festivals do often have a fringe but it seems to be getting cut shorter and shorter. Of course it might not be the best way to maximise the cash, but how about giving something back?

5. Further involve local writers’ groups
And local writers. These are the grass-roots. They might not have the glamour of a TV celebrity or a sports star with a ghost written biog out, but they are the future of the publishing industry.

6. Support the smaller events
Even when I have been invited to read at some of the festivals I’ve often been ignored once I get there. The organisers have better things to do than worry about small fry, so they don’t bother publicising your event, putting it in the programme, encouraging anyone to turn up (even if it’s free) and they don’t even bother turning up to say hi. Typically there’s a text or an email afterwards saying ‘Hope it went ok.’

7. Don’t discount self-published authors
I get the feeling some festivals don’t bother with them, even though some are brilliant and are going to be massive in the future. It’s short sighted and not fair. Take people on the merit of their work.

So there we go – my manifesto for giving a little of the festivals back to us non-famous authors who don’t have a TV show. Is it too much to ask? There are readers who love our work, we may even find more if we are given a platform to do so. And we promise we will come back and support your festival once we hit the big time!

puacoverTalking about support – my latest book is just out on Kindle, with paperback available too. If you have enjoyed this post please take a look, try a free sample, and see what you think! To take a look click here 

‘Loved this book, a bloke’s view of the dating game, made me laugh out loud.’


10 thoughts on “Lit festivals – how can they bring the books back?”

  1. I particularly enjoy The Hay Literary Festival, having attended for the last 13 years. There are a group of us who meet each year in the same hotel and sit round camp fires in the evenings discussing the books we have heard about during the day. We don’t have any contact during the year but all look forward to the friendship we experience during that one week each year.
    I remember seeing David Nicholls when he first started out and he only had a small audience, going on to become an international best selling author. I’ve also been privileged to see David Lodge – he attracted an audience of around 1,000. It is heart-warming to see that there are still so many people who love to read, they sit around reading or talking as they wait to attend an event.

    1. I really like Hay as a place, and the bookshops of course, never been to the festival. From your description it does sound more about authors than some of the other big ones, which is great!

  2. Great that you have offered these solutions. Chris. I so agree with you! In fact, I’m seriously thinking of gathering some local English language authors to our on a small festival here in NL. Great inspiration from you!

  3. Hi Chris – missed your first post but this is becoming a hot topic I think. I wonder if you’ve had any contact with Bristol Lit Fest? It is very much grass roots based, seeing itself as a bit of an antidote to our neighbour in Bath or even Cheltenham. The focus is on local writers. Highlight for me this year was a ‘competitive’ flash slam between writing groups which turned out to be an aboslute blast. Here’s this year’s festioval programme

    1. Thank you Ali – Bristol’s does sound very refreshing if that’s the way it’s going. What a pity they all can’t take a more holistic approach. I accept the need for big names to make the thing pay but surely there has to be some room for the rest of us – and for readers who are looking for more than soap stars with a book out for Christmas.

  4. Run a readers’ event.
    Opening the Book were invited to open the Harrogate Crime Festival this year by creating an event for readers. We designed some quizzes and games that stimulated readers to talk about things such as what they looked for in a good read and what they avoided, how reading fitted in to their lives and what they read to cheer themselves up. There was also a book swap, where readers were asked to bring a book as a gift for another reader and part of the event was to write a quick ad for it, then everyone was invited to pick the gift that appealed to them. It was a sell-out and very well reviewed by those present.
    Its important to focus on the most important people at the festival (the readers) and to give them a role as the creative audience that they are. In this event we also wanted to bring festival-goers together right at the start as its important to build a festival community so that people do make new contacts and start new friendships.

  5. Great post, Chris. On the few occasions I have had the opportunity to present my novel, I’ve found readers really interested, despite me being a nobody! I wonder what goes wrong when it comes to planning the festivals? Perhaps it’s just another case of mega capitalism failing to serve people’s cultural needs.

    1. I do think the bigger ones perhaps get obsessed with success in terms of ticket sales and famous names, who certainly don’t have to be famous for writing. But the readers and the authors get left behind.

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