As self-publishing becomes more common, and increasing numbers of indie authors achieve both commercial and critical success, literary festivals urgently need to think about their approach to self-published authors.
There are three areas where self-publishing writers can add value to a festival or books event, and where literary organisers should consider including self-published authors to add depth and breadth to their programmes:
- As writers, talking about and reading from their books (just like trade published authors).
- On panels about self-publishing, an area of increasing interest to many attending festivals.
- As experts leading workshops – not just on the mechanics of self-publishing but also on the content. For example, on creative writing craft, or writing in certain genres, or in researching their books.
ALLi encourages all festival organisers to consider how self-published authors can add value to their festival, and not to shy from the challenges of including indies.
We recognise that many organisers will have understandable concerns. Not necessarily concerns based on worries about the quality of self-published work (though these may be there), but more pragmatic concerns, such as the lack of intermediary contacts when dealing with self-published authors.
I run a very small festival myself, so I know how busy festival organisers are. Many self-published authors are, understandably, very hands-on with how they do things, and for organisers used to dealing with intermediaries such as agents and publishers, the prospect of the extra correspondence can be daunting.
The aim of this piece is to offer guidance to and allay the concerns of festival organisers, by offering some brief points explaining, on the one hand, what self-publishers are looking for from festivals. And on the other, guidance for self-publishers, so both sides can enjoy the benefits of working together, overcome the challenges and avoid the pitfalls.
ALLi’s ideal would be for these to become the basis for best practice for both festival (and other event) organisers and authors.
EVENT ORGANISERS SHOULD:
- Consider the value that self-publishers can bring to your festival. If you do not already have one, consider holding a panel or workshop session on self-publishing. And if you are holding such a session, make sure to include those with experience of self-publishing. ALLi can help you to find an author who meets your requirements – a good starting point is our database of members, searchable under genre, region and name. Or write to us, stating as clearly and fully as possible what you are looking for an author to contribute to such a session.
- Make sure you consider self-published authors as authors as well as publishers. Ask self-published writers to talk about the content of their books and creative process, just as you would a trade published writers. Many writers self-publish because they write material considered too out-of-the-ordinary , or hard to place genre-wise for a regular publisher. This kind of book, and the writers who produce them, can make for much more thought-provoking and entertaining talks than many within the mainstream. Again, ALLi can help you to find writers working in a wide variety of areas and subject matters.
- Treat self-publishers and those with a trade publisher as equals (more and more now, writers are choosing both ways, depending on the project). Where authors are doing the same thing at a festival ALLi - like most writers associations, discourages festivals from having a range of different fees according to profile or celebrity. We would encourage organisers to extend this to self-publishers.
- Specifically, the same fee and perks should apply to all writers doing the same work at the festival. (ALLi recommends a minimum event fee of £150/€200/$250). Likewise, all writers, regardless of how published, should be considered the same when it comes to travel and accommodation, green room access, gala dinners and other incidentals. Of course all writers recognise that festivals depend on big names to attract people to attend, but they also depend upon the breadth of, and interest generated by, those less well-known in order to ensure the growing reputation and continued following in subsequent years of the festival. And that today's unknown is tomorrow's celebrity. And that the celebrity is less likely to need the fee. Paying a flat fee plus percentage of ticket sales where appropriate, is the most equitable way for organisers to balance all the variables.
- Include self-published writers in your communications about the festival. Not only is this a courtesy, it will help ensure the authors don’t keep coming back for clarification on issues.
- Ensure fair coverage in your promotional materials and practices. In particular:
- Where all authors are given, say, 100 words to talk about themselves for your programme and website, ensure the same space is given to self-publishing authors, and ensure they have, for example, equal opportunity to have a web link and photograph featured.
- Include self-published authors in write-ups. This will also mean giving them coverage in your press releases and pointing journalists in their direction. Also make sure any in house podcasts/radio/videocasting reflects the diversity of your festival.
- If there is a festival bookstore, make sure self-published authors are able to sell through it, and given signing times/spaces where these are a general festival practice.
- If ALLi has put you in touch with an author, please provide honest feedback about them and their events so as to help us serve both authors and festivals more effectively in future.
- Recognise that being treated like professional authors means they should reciprocate. You are representing not just yourself and your writing but all indie authors. Do us proud.
- Try not be over zealous in communication with festival organisers. Organisers, by dint of their workload, communicate by circular email when it comes to information on venues, green rooms, travel arrangements and reimbursement processes. Send individual emails only where invited or appropriate or where you have individual requirements such as those deriving from a disability.
- Don’t send individual emails about information likely to be sent in circulars. And once you have been confirmed, don’t send further emails because you think you should have heard by a certain time. You are on the mailing list and will be told when organisers are ready to send information out. Every email they have to deal with is time that will delay their schedule.
- If there is a reason you need to know detailed information in advance (for example if you need to book a half day off work and need to know which half of the day to book), state this clearly, giving as much information as possible, and state it once, whenconfirming your booking.
- Take responsibility for your input. If there is a festival bookstore and the organiser has offered to sell your books there, for example, it is your responsibility to ensure that your books arrive where and when required and that unsold books are collected promptly according to requirements.
- Be professional and organised.This doesn’t just mean turning up when and where you are supposed to, being courteous and facilitatory. It means you need to:
- Anticipate any needs you may have and state these clearly at the earliest possible opportunity. For example, if you always give your “researching businesses in China for fiction” talk using a powerpoint presentation then make sure you state this and ask whether a projector and laptop will be available for you.
- Have a good media kit, including an up-to-date biography at all times, in various lengths (30, 50, 100 and 200 are good exemplars) that can be sent promptly, upon request, for use in promotional material.
- Have a good author photograph in both high and low resolution.
- Use your author platform to attract attention for the festival and other writers.
Dan Holloway is an Alliance of Independent Authors Community Builder. He runs Not the Oxford Literary Festival, which celebrated its third year this year and is poetry coordinator for Chipping Norton Literary Festival and the online gallery eight cuts.
You can see him perform with his show The New Libertines at:
Woodstock Poetry Festival on November 10th,
Sadcore Dadwave alternative literature night in Manchester’s iconic Afflecks Palace on November 13th
and with legendary beat poet Michael Horovitz at the Albion Beatnik in Oxford on November 16th
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) is launching a campaign to encourage book event organisers to include self-publishing writers in their schedules. If you would like to volunteer to help with this campaign, please register your interest with ALLi.
Comments from organisers and indie authors are invited below.