SYP Lit Fest Feast: Behind the Scenes at Literary Festivals

Following Philip Pullman’s recent resignation as patron of Oxford Literary Festival over their failure to pay author fees, there has been heated campaigning for authors to be paid for the time they dedicate to appearances. Oxford has responded that they are not currently in a financial position to pay their authors but will be discussing this with their partners for the year 2017, and other festivals have long argued that the publicity and book sales that the events promote are fair remuneration. Despite the fact that many authors do not see big sales at festivals, we shouldn’t forget that these are the people that make it all possible in the first place!

With such a big name backing the debate, the support Pullman received over twitter, and open letters from authors in the media, it’s not surprising that a crowd was once again gathered for SYP Oxford’s latest event,  Lit Fest Feast: Behind the Scenes at Literary Festivals.

Joined by Matt Holland, founder and Director of Swindon Festival of Literature, and Jenny Dee, Director of Chip Lit Fest (Chipping Norton), we learnt what it takes to bring these celebrations of literature to the book-loving public.

The event started by covering the planning and organisation of  festivals and Matt told the audience how he founded the Swindon Festival of Literature over 20 years ago. Starting with a group of literature-lovers approaching the council with an idea, the festival (which is actually three years older than Oxford) began with a dedicated group investing their own money and time to deliver the word to the public. Many said literature was not a word well-associated with Swindon, but Matt knew they were on to something when a man approached him to say ‘you’re book thing is really good. You just talk about the stuff we talk about at the pub – sex, death, love and relationships – but in an organised way!’

Running for 2 weeks in May, Swindon’s festival is now competing with an estimated 237 festivals around the country to bring the public closer to the authors that inspire them – and showing that they are just real people.

Jenny, who has taken over as Festival Director this year having assisted on the festival before, spoke about the festival planning itself. She starts with a dream schedule, ambitiously full of the authors she would love to have, then begins approaching speakers. Ideally, the organisers will use any contacts they have and approach the author themselves, but if that fails they will go through publicists, then agents. Some publicists will work a deal whereby a festival can have one author if they feature another, and festivals also receive incoming pitches so there is a big balancing act (and a whole load of tact!) involved in scheduling. Jenny also likes to book things in pairs so that the public are enticed by more than one event and pull people in with ticket bundles. She even finds alternative authors through Amazon recommendations!

From a marketing perspective, Matt and Jenny both agreed that a printed brochure is essential because people like to have something to physically flick through, and that nothing boosts attendance like word of mouth and social media. If you build a relationship with your audience they will trust in the value of your festival.

And, of course, the talk soon turned to author fees. Swindon ensures that every author is offered the Society of Authors recommended £150, although they do offer different amounts to different authors depending on their profile and means of income.

Chip Lit Fest, however, are doing something unique. In 2015 they launched a profit-share model and, whilst this can make initial planning difficult, this system means that the crowd-pulling events help to support valuable free events such as school visits. Whilst in 2015 they could only offer each author £102 (well below he recommended amount) they can at least say that they are fair and working to their means and Jenny hopes that this fee will increase in future.

Find out more about what the audience thought using the hashtag #SYPLitFeast, and check out what the festivals have to offer on heir websites:

Swindon Festival of Literature:




Joanne Harris’s ‘A Writer’s Manifesto’

Commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich, author Joanne Harris has created ‘A Writer’s Manifesto’ and spoken out about the need for mutual respect between authors and readers.

As blogs are one of the major places we see the discussion of writers’ works, I feel that this is something that should be shared in this space. As a book reviewer, I love to examine what I like about books and what I think could have been approached differently. I have spoken before about the need to remember that writers are people too and I certainly hope that I am always respectful, but this manifesto has given me food for thought and I hope everyone can appreciate that authors never claimed to be able to write for everyone, or even to write perfectly for us as an individual, and they certainly never claimed to fix the world. Mutual respect people.

A Writer’s Manifesto:

1. I promise to be honest, unafraid and true; but most of all, to be true to myself – because trying to be true to anyone else is not only impossible, but the sign of a fearful writer.

2. I promise not to sell out – not even if you ask me to.

3. You may not always like what I write, but know that it has always been the best I could make it at the time.

4. Know too that sometimes I will challenge you and pull you out of your comfort zone, because this is how we learn and grow. I can’t promise you’ll always feel safe or at ease – but we’ll be uneasy together.

5. I promise to follow my story wherever it leads me, even to the darkest of places.

6. I will not limit my audience to just one group or demographic. Stories are for everyone, and everyone is welcome here.

7. I will include people of all kinds in my stories, because people are infinitely fascinating and diverse.

8. I promise that I will never flinch from trying something different and new – even if the things I try are not always successful.

9. I will never let anyone else decide what I should write, or how – not the market, my publishers, my agent, or even you, the reader. And though you sometimes try to tell me otherwise, I don’t think you really want me to.

10. I promise not to be aloof whenever you reach out to me – be that on social media or outside, in the real world. But remember that I’m human too – and some days I’m impatient, or tired, or sometimes I just run out of time.

11. I promise never to forget what I owe my readers. Without you, I’m just words on a page. Together, we make a dialogue.

12. But ultimately, you have the choice whether or not to follow me. I will open the door for you. But I will never blame you if you choose not to walk through it.

This was created as part of the National Conversation which examines how we produces and engage with writing. You can find out more at

Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) Roundup!

Last weekend, I joined the crowd of teenagers, publicists, Disney Princesses and various super heroes that swarmed towards Olympia, London. Held alongside the London Film and Comic Convention, the second annual Young Adult Literature Convention promised to be bigger and better than last year’s, with a floor of it’s own and a jaw dropping line up.
The centre of the room was given to the main stage, where throughout the day a host of authors would be discussing key debates in YA literature, sharing their favourite books, and taking questions from the audience.

Unfortunately, I could only attend on the Sunday and missed some great panels from previous days including ‘Being a Girl: Feminism and YA Today’ and Judy Bloom in conversation with Patrick Ness. Throughout the talks on Sunday, it became abundantly clear what an impact her writing has had on YA authors today, many of whom grew up reading her books.

Surrounding the central arena the publishers set up camp. With all the major YA publishers in attendance, each stand offered books for sale at reduced prices, sweets, merchandise, samplers and, of course, huge smiley welcomes. The publicity teams had turned out in full force (and in many cases costumes!) to talk to readers and share in the excitement of this phenomenal genre.img_2716

There were also many tie in activities which made the whole event interactive and emphasised the connection that readers form through YA. At the Penguin stand, we were encouraged to write a wish on a post it and stick it to their ‘All the Bright Places’ wall, whilst over at the Electric Monkey Campsite, a shed wall was adorned with secret confessions.

David Fickling Books also got in on the act with a blackboard that asked us to define what is normal, questioning the very notion of ‘normal’ and showing that it is whatever we want it to be.

For those moments when the excitement go too much, or when you were so laden down with books you could no longer stand, YALC also featured a much needed reading area. Any space that involves beanbags and books hanging all around you is a winner with me!

My day was jam-packed as I wanted to see as many talks as possible. I sadly had to miss a couple as I didn’t want to miss the blogging workshops which were also running that day. I learnt so much, felt so inspired and was encouraged to hear some of my own thoughts about YA voiced by authors on the frontline. YA literature is becoming ever more diverse and inclusive, and this event not only filled me with hope for the future of the genre, it also reinforced what a fantastic community it brings together. Over the next couple of days I will publish posts dedicated to each of the panels I attended and share my thoughts that came out of them.