In the second part of my research into literary festivals I asked crime writing authors what they consider the benefits of appearing in a festival line up are, and what they personally get out of teaching a workshop.
Next, I ask festival organisers and an agent: What can the genre festival offer that a general literary festival can’t?
Clare Mackintosh, is the bestselling author of the psychological suspense novel, ‘I Let You Go’, a Richard & Judy summer 2015 Book Club selection. In 2012 Clare founded ChipLitFest.(21-24 April 2016). I asked Clare, as a crime writer, why she hadn’t chosen her own festival to be genre specific. “I wanted to create a festival with community values but with a national audience, and to involve as much of the town as possible so for us that meant keeping the genres fairly diverse.”
So can a genre specific festival be too much of a good thing? Clare disagrees. “No, I’d like to see more. You instantly have something in common and because they are genre based they are not as intimidating as some literary festivals can be.” Clare feels that dedicated crime festivals “tend to encourage a lot of mingling of authors and punters which makes for a lovely atmosphere.”
Clare also spoke about the incentives for an author to appear at festivals: “I think that every author has a different reason for going to festivals. Some authors are motivated by meeting their readers: that’s the big drive. Some do it because it raises their profile in terms of the publishing world. If they’re seen at literary festivals, it gives them an amount of credibility and that’s important.”
Graham Smith, is a successful crime writer and longtime reviewer for CrimeSquad, and founded the annual crime writing weekend, Crime and Publishment (February 26-28 2016). He is a crime festival enthusiast finding that other big literary festivals “can be prohibitively expensive”, and he echoes Clare on how some festivals can be intimidating: “You wonder if you’re going to turn up and feel like an idiot with talk about passive pronouns and discombobulated sentences.” Graham told me he puts together the line ups that he wants, “making sure that it has value for others.” Both Graham and Clare told me that they change most of the author line up every year, the same going for agents and publishers.
Finally, I asked agent David Headley, from DHH Literary Agency whether a genre festival might make a difference to an author’s confidence and self-belief. David disagreed: “I am not entirely sure that genre specific events are necessarily important. Writers who are with fellow writers is more important. They will feel the same regardless of what genre they are writing.”
My conclusion is that the value of literary festivals to authors – apart from escaping the laptop – is to network with other authors, agents, publishers, and to meet readers. You’ll certainly gain credibility. I was delighted to hear that workshop planning and analyses of students’ work might inform an author’s own work. The enthusiasm I’ve heard for genre specific festivals suggests that, for the genre writer, they seem the more relaxed option, even if they won’t make a difference to the agent looking for new writing.
If you sell a few books along the way, it’s a bonus. And if you get paid enough to cover your time and expenses, you’re doing very well indeed.