In my head at least, book readers fall into two distinct groups.
1) Those with a To Be Read pile
2) Everyone Else.
I’ll be honest, the first time I came across the letters TBR on my Twitter feed I had to Google it. People with a TBR pile are heavy book-buyers; they often work - or aspire to work - in the publishing industry. They take ‘shelfies’ and post them on Instagram, they catalogue and review their books online.
They’re fabulous, funny, clever, enthusiastic and they enrich my life every day with their passionate Twitter talk about books and publishing. If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re one of them.
If everyone fell into the group that had a TBR pile all of us who work in publishing would be in clover, we’d spend our days sunbathing on our yachts drinking Negronis while the great reading public wafted around discussing the merits of Mrs Dalloway and dousing themselves in Eau de Livre.
Sadly though, the reality is that only a tiny percentage of the public have a TBR pile. Most people, if they read at all, read half-a-handful of books every year. They don’t know Goodreads from Godot and they don’t really care.
I know a lot about the 'Everyone Else' group because I grew up in it. Difficult to believe, but I wasn’t always the literary hostess you see before you (daaahling *air kiss, air kiss*). Books didn’t play a huge part in my upbringing. My mum probably enjoyed a couple of books throughout the year. But as a shop owner would have spent more time book keeping than book reading. Academically, my siblings and I headed down the science route preferring fact over fiction.
One of the things that I feel most passionately about is that the publishing industry doesn’t just concentrate all its efforts on the people who have a TBR pile – if we’re going to survive and thrive we must do all we can to engage with the ‘Everyone Else’ group.
The vast majority of readers look for an occasional read, a recommendation from a friend or a neighbour. If you only buy two books a year to read when you go on holiday you’ll probably be happy with an easy-read, a fun page-turner.
Some of the publishing industry’s largest successes of recent years have come from such books - EL James's Fifty Shades trilogy being the obvious choice.
When I joined HarperCollins, I was given the challenge of devising a programme of events that would excite our readers, and crucially, attract new audiences to our authors and books. In other words, engage with our base and widen our reach further into the ‘Everyone Else’ group.
Romance seemed like the perfect starting point. Romance and erotica have long satisfied readers' needs. Accessible books, turn the first page and get stuck in. And in return, publishers have been rewarded with a robust revenue stream from the romance sector.
We know romance readers are highly digital – with somewhere in the region of 6 out of 10 romance books read in e-format. In my previous role at The Bookseller I had been using online platforms and social media to connect with industry folk and readers – so it seemed like a natural leap to try and find some way to combine these two.
The HarperCollins romance teams on Impulse and Avon were extremely responsive and I soon worked out that our authors were an enthusiastic and active group. Six weeks later, I'm thrilled to launch our romance festival, happening on 7th & 8th June.
We'll be using all of the online tools available to us - Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, Pinterest, Google Hangouts and anything else we can think of.
I'm particularly thrilled that other publishers have jumped on board too. Mills & Boon and Piatkus so far and hopefully others will join in. It would be impossible not to have noticed the rise and rise of indie romance authors who regularly take the top slots in the Kindle charts and connect so brilliantly with their readers. So, invites have been sent out to indie authors and we very much hope they’ll get involved too.
As I see it, our job as publishers is to bring books and authors to readers and readers to books and authors. I hope that with your help and support the Romance Festival will do just that.
If you’d like to join in or would just like some more information drop me a line RomanceFestival@harpercollins.co.uk