A guide on how to plan a successful Literary Festival

Andrew Stuckey | Posted on Wed 3 April 2019 at 9.00AM
Categories: Tips

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We spoke to Annie Ashworth, co-Founder and Director of Stratford Literary Festival, to help us understand what it takes to organise a successful Literary Festival.


A literature festival is an exceptional event to run in your local community because if you organise it correctly, you can create a fantastic day out which is suitable for families, as well as individuals of all demographics.


It should be a day which unites those who love reading, those who have a passion for writing and those who are looking to find the right book for them. However, it doesn’t need to have a huge budget to be a unique, creative and successful event within your local community.

Here are a few useful considerations and tips on how you can plan your own literary festival.

Related reading: Discover how TicketSource helps bring the Stratford Literary Festival to life

Planning your literary event

It’s important that you have ample time (at least six months) to successfully plan a literary event - especially if you’re looking to make the most of your budget and maximise cheap or free resources to get the event up and running. If this is your first literary event, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to not only organise the event but to promote it too!

When to plan a book festival

Getting the time of year right for your literary festival is also key. Although books are published all year round, the big titles come out in spring and autumn so authors will be interested in coming to festivals at these times.

Of course, planning your literary festival around these particular times will also have an impact on the specific venues which are available to you - so it’s worth making a note of this too.

Make sure your festival doesn’t clash with another event, whether that’s another national event or simply another occasion within your local community.

Figure out the duration of your festival, and commit to a date and a venue ASAP. If you’re planning your first literary festival, it’s best to start off with a weekend or a couple of days before jumping head-first into a week-long event!

Read more: The Ultimate Event Planning Checklist 

Who is your literary festival for?

Firstly, it’s worth considering the type of audience that you want your book festival to attract. Though there are currently festivals available which focus on more specific niches of literature, it can be a great draw to target your event to all demographics, offering something for children, teenagers and adults too.

Identify the audience that you’d like to attract, and then you can begin your planning around this.

Stratford Literary Festival is a successful book festival which is celebrating its 12th year in 2019, and organiser Annie explained to us that, as an organiser, you're looking to put together a coherent event with variety, to appeal to the widest demographic of audience - a palate of talks, panel events, workshops etc at different times of day, during the week and weekend. With experience, you adjust your programming to best suit your audience. It's a balance of the literary and the commercial.

The key age group that festivals want to engage is 25-35 year olds. Older audiences are easier to attract, but audience development is a key part of the planning.

age group for literary festival

Choose a Venue

The next step for how to plan a book festival has to be picking a venue. When it comes to selecting a venue for your event, there are a number of things you have to take into consideration.

  • What is your budget for the event space?
  • Is it easily accessible for all of your audience? 
  • Will you need to spend extra on AV (Audiovisual), such as projectors, display screens, speakers, microphones etc?
  • Is there enough capacity?
  • Are there plenty of parking spaces to facilitate your audience?
  • Are there public transport links close by?
  • Do you have enough space for the variety of talks or timetable slots you’re planning? 
  • Is there somewhere conveniently located for food and drink? 

For a literary event in particular, it can be great to think outside the box with your event space and choose somewhere a little less formal, perhaps a cafe or a bookshop, a local town hall or a local library.

If you’re running multiple events within your literary festival, you must consider how easily navigable your festival will be. You’ll need to space your events out, while simultaneously making sure your audience can pop from one location to the next without too much fuss.

It’s important to choose somewhere that appropriately reflects the nature of the event too, if you’re perhaps hosting a Q&A session with an author, be sure you can create an ambience which reflects that, such as a book shop or church. If you’ve got an event for children, be playful with your location to capture their imaginations, a library or theatre perhaps?

Stratford’s venues for this year's festival includes a theatre auditorium, a church, a small theatre studio and hotel conference room.

stratford literary festival event venue plan

Your book festival should be a gathering of like-minded individuals, which means that your event space should cater for networking and should encourage interaction. Be sure there are break out spaces and plenty of opportunities for your audience to connect with one another.

Read more: Create your own venue seating plan

Finding staff or volunteers

It would be nearly impossible to run a successful event without a team of staff or volunteers to make sure it runs smoothly, so you should gather your troops at this stage of your planning.

Whether you’re running a literary festival for a school, for your local community or are looking to start something on a higher scale, you’ll need a team around you who understand the objectives of your event and are as passionate about bringing it to life as you are.

Stratford has about 30 volunteers who steward the events, and get to see the event for free. The festival has a small temporary team each year of about five paid staff.

Look to your local community for experts who will be able to help you to deliver a great event. Teachers, librarians, those who work in and own bookshops and perhaps any local book clubs should be your first port of call when looking for help. Not only will they share the same passion about books and literature, but chances are they will have visited a literary festival in the past and will have a good idea of how one should run - and could run - within your local community.

If you’re organising an event in a school, be sure to connect with teachers and the parents involved with the parents’ committee and ask for their help. Seeing which events volunteers are keen to attend is a useful early indicator of how popular a given event might be, so keep this in mind too.

Planning the Event timetable

It’s important to offer a selection that will be suitable for all ages, but as Annie from Stratford Literary Festival helped us to understand, you’ll want a selection of talks, panels, events and workshops to create a good mix.

Consider contacting a wide range of different literary acts to invite them to attend your festival - authors, illustrators, songwriters, puppeteers, podcasters, journalists, poets and playwrights too. It’s important to get a good mix of different types of literary figures, and this will also appeal to a much wider audience too!

Diversity and inclusion is incredibly important when planning a festival, so consider speakers and panelists from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, sexual orientations and genders to create a truly enriching experience for your audience.

Consider interactive events with age-appropriate activities for children, with things like puppeteers, nursery rhymes and storytellers to engage young minds.

For teenagers, offer a selection of panels, creative writing workshops and reading or poetry events to get them involved.

Other great literary festival ideas include panel discussions, question and answer sessions, interviews, book launches and live performances or readings.

Read more:
How to set up your own time slot-based events 

Funding your literary festival

Acquiring funding for your literary festival can be pretty tricky - especially if it’s your first book event. As such, it’s important to try and acquire partnerships and sponsorships, and to make sure your ticket sales can generate some revenue.

Not only can striking a partnership help you financially, but you’ll also have access to a new audience, have a new channel to promote your event through and can build meaningful relationships with complementary businesses to help your festival.

If your festival is going to draw attention to the local area, partnerships could be mutually beneficial for you and local businesses, so working the local angle is a great way to get businesses on board.

Consider partners within your local community as a place to start. Are there coffee shops, libraries, pubs, societies or clubs who would be interested in partnering with you for your event?

Ticketing & pitching prices

There are a number of different ways you can ticket your literary festival - day tickets, weekend tickets or single event tickets too.

In order to make a decision on pricing, it’s important to consider the arrangement of events on offer to an audience member and how much value they will attain for each ticket option.

If you are pitching your event as a family event, be sure to reflect this in the pricing and have affordable options available for all age groups.

The easiest way to ticket your event is to use a trusted and reliable online ticketing platform, like TicketSource.



TicketSource’s online software can help you to promote, sell and manage your event in any venue. By activating the telephone box office service, you can eliminate the hassle of taking your own bookings and distributing your event tickets. The online tool will also give you invaluable insights and analytics to help you plan, monitor and promote your event better.

How to promote a literary festival

Now your plans are in place and you’re ready to go - it’s time to promote your event to ensure that you gain as much exposure as you possibly can. The best way to promote an event is through a combination of online and offline promotion - and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve with little to no budget!

Online

  1. Social media - you can use both paid and non-paid social media to promote your event. If your budget allows, paid social media can be great to target those in your area or with specific interests which will compliment your festival. 
  2. Influencers - engage with local influencers, the speakers at your events and significant committees, clubs, establishments and local councils, encouraging them to share your posts and engage their audiences to attend the literary festival.
  3. Digital PR - create a press release and distribute it to the local press, as well as any local schools, committees, councils and clubs which may be interested in your event. 
  4. Ticketing platform - your ticket platform may be able to help you promote your event. For example, TicketSource allows event organisers to run special early bird discounts, link social sharing and integrate with MailChimp for email communications too!

Read more:


Offline

  1. Local press and radio - get in touch with your local press and local radio stations and let them know about your event, what makes it unique and what a draw it will be for your local area. 
  2. Schools - work with the local schools to promote your event and ensure that the children and parents of your area know about your festival. If you’re running your literary festival at a school then great, be sure to take advantage of the connections you have available to you. 
  3. Artwork - design some posters and flyers and be sure to distribute them around the local areas. Leave them in libraries and coffee shops so that customers can pick them up! 
  4. Maximise local connections - find local libraries and book clubs and invite them along to the event, getting them to encourage their members to attend too. 

Good luck!

With these handy tips and considerations, you’ll be well on your way to planning a great literary festival that will provide a fantastic source of entertainment for your local community. To maximise attendance at your festival, make sure you use TicketSource to help you promote your event, distribute tickets and manage your attendees with ease.


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