As part of The Bookseller's new How to Rise in Your Career series of features, UCLan Publishing's Hazel Holmes – who is part of the Rising Stars Class of 2020 and the founder of the Northern YA Literary Festival – shares her top tips for setting up your own event.
Can you outline your career trajectory and how you ended up in your current role?
After studying for an MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University I returned to Preston to work as the children’s book specialist for Borders. After the company went in to administration I was employed by Askews and Holts Library Services as the children’s buyer in 2009, supplying libraries across the country with the very best children’s books on the market. I worked closely with publishers on events and current market trends. After a few years working with UCLan Publishing on events, I joined the team full time in 2018.
How did you come up with the idea for the Northern YA Literary Festival?
We wanted to have some sort of large-scale event that was accessible outside of London. I've worked in the children's book world for over 12 years now, and 99% of events or meetings would be held in London.
Engage with your audience – build an event or project that they want to be involved in.
How did you go about pitching the event?
The most important thing was to keep this accessible for all. I'll be honest, I could never afford to get to YALC. By the time you add up train fair, ticket prices and accommodation it was the price of a small holiday. So we needed to keep it free, which meant we needed to pitch for Arts Council funding. The aim of the festival is to increase cultural diversity in the North of England by encouraging a love of reading and giving the opportunity for readers to discuss books and meet their favourite authors outside of London.
Can you talk about the process from devising to launching the festival? Were there any challenges along the way?
The hardest part was securing the funding. We have to do this every year and without it we'd either have to charge a ticket fee. Once the funding is secured, the organising starts. Initially I spent a lot of time targeting specific authors and liaising with publishers. I love organising events, and tapped into old contacts from my previous role at Askews. We were able to secure a small but brilliant line up for the first year.
Since the festival has grown so quickly we're now in the position to ask publishers to pitch their authors. The next challenge was letting readers know we're here, and we're still working on this aspect. Social media has been great, but also contacting schools and library services throughout the North has worked well. A lot of teachers had planned to bring large groups of pupils, especially to access the free workshops, and we've had librarians attend from all over the country, not just the North.
What has the response to the Northern YA Literary Festival been?
The support from publishers and authors has been overwhelming and I'm so grateful. The first worry was 'will people actually come?'. But they did, and this year we had panel events with over 500 booked attendees, it would have been amazing! I'm still hopeful we can make this happen when it's safe to do so.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start up their own event?
- Think carefully about what you want to achieve and then map out ways to make it happen. Can it be done?
- Budget – How much do you need? How will the project be funded?
- Most importantly, engage with your audience. Build an event or project that they want to be involved in, not just something you want to do.