When August hits Edinburgh, festival season is in the air, and we wanted to focus on the world of one kind: the book festival. What goes into putting a book festival together? Why host one? We wanted to give you the chance to ask any question you’ve ever had about the humble lit fest, and have got a series of Twitter chats so you can do just that! You can catch up on the full conversation at #SYPfest.
Sam Missingham of HarperCollins UK has been a key person in taking book festivals from the ground to the web, making them events that can reach a global audience. These include the Romance Festival, sci-fi festival #BFIVoyager and Killer Reads, their crime event.
So to start, how important is collaboration between publishers to online book festivals? “VERY VERY VERY,” Sam says. “Readers don’t buy books from one publisher, so doesn’t make sense to run a reader-first event without including all publishers. Ask – what would readers want out of this experience first and then go from there.”
What first made her think of online festivals? “The lovely girls of @harperimpulse wanted to run a real-life festival and we had zero budget. Social media seemed like a good way of reaching a MUCH bigger audience. Also enabled us to go global.”
So how big is the team, and what would they change for next time? “There are 6 people who dedicate their weekends to these festivals. It’s a lot of work behind the scenes. In terms of changing things, we have tried to move on with each festival – different partners, different channels, etc.”
The success is measured in a few ways. “We ask people to register, so there is a data capture (people we can revisit), also social measurement and we also follow up with a survey post event and send book sales emails.”
“90% of attendees say they have discovered a new book during festival. Job done.”
“Social media engagement – the Sci-Fi fest we ran w/ @BFI had 83 million reach & more popular than Christmas.”
What are Sam’s top tips for publishers wishing to build audience engagement post-festival? “In my opinion, very few publishers are running communities,” she says. “They are just talking to the people who like their books. Not the same. Tips: think much bigger, be consistent, keep engaging with your audience, keep asking yourself how you can add value. Eg, @cookperk I’ve just launched – I plan to include all publishers, authors, artisan foodies, food markets, festivals, chefs etc. The food market does not consist of cookbooks and the buyers of cookbooks, it’s a vast and booming world. Get stuck in.”
So what can the physical bookseller do to better integrate with the digital platforms? “Honestly think there are endless ways – the Killer Crime fest we did with @waterstones just scratched the surface. Also
#gollanczfest do this particularly well. Live & virtual events, engage readers wherever they fancy.”
Design is also vital. “Really great design is a crucial element to pulling an event together. Take a bow @motodeluxemag. Again, have to say my creative director @motodeluxemag NAILED the ads for BFISciFi.”
Who else is doing online events well? “It’s been adapted by many, which is brilliant. @gollancz @YellowKiteBooks both doing great stuff. I wonder why real literary festivals don’t consider them – keep the conversation going year-round.”
The chat covers many aspects, from the “most exhilarating moment of my virtual festivals, when @margaretatwood joined Twitter for a Q&A #goddess”, to lots of little frustrations involved in coordinating a project. As for advice for students, she adds, “I talk to students at universities quite often – I do a talk called Hustle Hard – build an audience, network. There’s no reason why students shouldn’t run a blog/community even if it’s for something really niche before job hunting.” @LucyTheReader is a good example for everyone to follow.
“If you’re contemplating running a festival, aim for the biggest, most brilliant, amazing person. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Ask yourself what all participants are getting out of it – authors, agents, experts, publishers, bloggers – something for everyone. And start with your editors – they understand the context in which books are published, so understand market & contact with authors.”
Thanks to @samatlounge for hosting such a fantastic and interesting conversation, and thanks to everyone who took part! We’ll be announcing our next #SYPfest chat soon. Don’t forget to check out the tag to follow the wider conversation, and feel free to keep it going!