Killer Women: collaborating to stand out from the crowd

Last autumn, six Killer Women stalked the East End of London looking for the perfect crime scene for our most ambitious project yet, a one-day, one-of-a-kind crime festival. We checked out dive bars and galleries before we found somewhere grand enough. Like trying on a wedding dress, or alighting on the perfect fictional murder weapon, you know ‘the one’ when you see it. Shoreditch Town Hall had everything. Stunning architecture, rich criminal history – we’ll be holding events in the room where the inquest into Jack The Ripper’s final victim was held – and excellent, plentiful toilets. On October 15th this year, we’ll be taking the venue over, with a little help from our sponsors and accountancy firm HW Fisher. We’ll be showcasing our own work with guest slots from household names including Martina Cole, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and Ann Cleeves.

Killer Women is an 16-strong group of London-based female crime writers. It started in 2014 as a conversation between our co-founders Melanie ‘MJ’ McGrath and Louise Millar and from our first formal meeting around Mel’s kitchen table it was apparent that we would be more than just a networking group. Our collective has quickly become an exciting, dependable brand, bringing innovative events to readers across the UK. 

Forming the group was about reacting to the changing relationship between authors, readers and the publishing world. The world is increasingly plugged with pressure to be ‘always on’ and writers are no exception. The crime fiction scene has always been very democratic and interactive. A new arrival at the bar at Crimefest or the Theaksons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate would be hard pushed to tell the writers apart from the readers and bloggers. Social media has further dissolved those barriers. Readers want more from their authors, to find out more about the author, their inspirations and how they work. We love that connection, and we’re happy to give it to readers.

But budgets and time are not infinite, and we all share our publicists with other authors. Although gone are the days when authors were wheeled out of their garrets and onto the festival and bookshop circuit for four weeks a year, marketing and publicity must still come in circles, culminating in a surge of promotion a few weeks either side of a new publication – and not all crime writers are book-a-year brands. We look for the gaps in marketing and event creation which publishers, with their publishing cycles, are unable to fill and use them to augment publishers' own marketing and publicity efforts, as well as to keep our profiles raised.

If we want to be visible between books, we need to think of innovative new ways to do that. Collaboration is one way to stand out in a crowded market: our collective voice has a wider reach and works harder than individual self-promoting on Twitter. In the last year we’ve staged events including panels, quizzes, interviews with crime professionals and a live murder mystery at venues ranging from international festivals and regional libraries to grass-roots book clubs. A live event, a branded one-day festival, is the natural end of this process.

We’ve been lucky and worked hard to get the support we need to fulfil the production values that are important to us: classy venue, great promotion and, of course, paying our speakers. We’ve had generous funding from and HW Fisher. Our publishers have been incredibly supportive, both in terms of the conversations we’re having and also putting their money where their mouths are by sponsoring events. We’ve had to make some prudent business decisions that have enlightened us about how bookselling works that can only improve the way we work with our own publishers in future.

Tickets are already selling fast. Right now we are currently having exciting, impassioned and highly caffeinated discussions about programming, sharing our enthusiasm for the best crime fiction out there and remembering that we are readers as well as writers and promoters. The learning curve has been steep and thrilling: we’ve had such fun going from body counts to bums on seats. And we can’t wait to meet our readers.

*For more on the Killer Women festival, visit the Killer Women website or Twitter.

Erin Kelly is an author and one of the Killer Women. She can be found on Twitter @mserinkelly.