IS A WRITERS’ FESTIVAL ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?

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When you’re a writer focusing on how to become an author, you may spend hours researching about book publishing, the creative life, publishers and agents you could submit your work to, narrative structures and much more. In the process of doing this research, you’ll probably hear about upcoming writers’ festivals.

These events usually sound interesting and glamorous, and one or more of your favourite authors may be speaking, however, the next question is: will this be worth my time and money?

As a children’s author and freelance writer with limited time and resources to devote such outings, I’ve been in this position, so let’s address some of the key pros and cons about writers festivals.

Pros

For me, there are certainly more pros than cons. I’ve found  writers’ festivals to be worth going to and here’s why:

Inspiration

I decided to finally start writing my own books after attending a large festival in the United Kingdom. Hearing authors talk about their work and the writing process with such passion reminded me why I had wanted to write my own stories since I was a child. You’ll no doubt come away from a festival feeling revved up and ready to get cracking on your work, too.

Information

Listening to authors speak about their successes and also their struggles, is invaluable and one of the quickest ways to educate yourself about what is required to be a published author. Usually, you’ll have the chance to ask questions at the end of presentations, too.

Ideas for books to read

You will learn about a variety of great new books you can add to your reading list. Most festivals have bookshops on site where you can purchase copies of speakers’ books. Plus, many authors will be available for signings.

Networking

Being an author can be a lonely business and one full of rejection. One of the best ways to set yourself up for success, though, is to get to know other creatives. Once you have a group of author friends, you can chat with each other about the hard times and celebrate the wins. This will help you to persevere (a key component of getting published) as time goes on. In addition, you may also have the chance to meet editors and agents at these events, and get on their radar.

Opportunities

Many writers’ festivals give writers the chance to submit work. This may be for a competition, pitch to editors or to agents, or possibly a critique from an author. You’ll need to pay extra for these opportunities, but the chance to get quality feedback on your work and perhaps even get noticed by the right people, is one worth taking. It depends on who is involved and the cost versus your budget, but it is an investment which helps advance many writer careers.

Cons

While I’m a fan of writers’ festivals and have been to numerous ones over the years, there are some potential pitfalls and red flags to keep an eye out for. For exa

Not all festivals are created equal

Research the events you’re considering. Those which have been running for many years are usually more polished and can attract big-name authors. Newer festivals often offer cheaper ticket prices, but the quality of presentations may not be as high.This varies significantly though, so compare options closely.

Not all authors are good presenters

If you book in for numerous panels, talks, workshops and masterclasses, you’re sure to find that the quality varies even throughout the one event. This is because not all authors are confident or practised speakers. Where possible, book in for events put on by authors who have a good reputation for wowing audiences.

Low payments for speakers

If you get to the point where you’re asked to be a speaker at a festival yourself, keep in mind that the payment you receive for your time and effort, if any, may be very low. Unfortunately, the reality is, that while festivals typically pay their caterers, venues, stationery suppliers and other contacts standard rates, authors tend to get a raw deal.Yes, you can potentially build your profile and perhaps sell a few books (depending on interest and ticket sales), but this usually doesn’t equate financially to a decent hourly rate.

No matter which stage you’re at right now when it comes to getting published, attendance at a writers festival can be a good use of your time and money. Just make sure you choose events strategically and do your research to optimise your attendance.