Online festivals widen writers’ web of readers

Online festivals widen writers’ web of readers

Online festivals will continue to grow, although traditional festivals remain the best way to forge connections with readers and fellow writers, authors have told The Bookseller.

Writers said that online festivals offer authors the chance to be inventive and connect with fans around the world simultaneously, with the advantage that they do not significantly disrupt writing time.

Writer Helen Smith founded the BritCrime online festival, which took place in July.

Smith said traditional festivals were beneficial because of networking opportunities, while with online festivals “one of the greatest benefits . . .is that we can reach readers around the world simultaneously”.

“Every reader gets an equal chance to connect with us, no matter where they are or what their circumstances, and the conversation can continue long after the festival ends, with readers staying in touch via email and social media,” she said.

“Because an online festival takes place in a virtual world, there is plenty of opportunity to be inventive and responsive.”

Author Aliette de Bodard, who will take part in the Gollancz Festival, which will run online and in Waterstones shops in Manchester and London this autumn, said: “For someone like me, who writes in English but lives abroad in a non- Anglophone country, online festivals are an obvious draw: there is no onerous travel time and setup is easier and faster. Conversely, it’s also true for the audience: a lot of people can’t afford or don’t have the time to travel to other countries. Online festivals are easy to access and easy to replay if you didn’t have access at the right time.”

De Bodard said: “I think with access becoming ever faster and easier, we’re going to see more and more online events with different emphases. I think we’re probably heading towards a convergence of online and physical.”

Writer Joe Abercrombie, who will also be part of the Gollancz Festival, said it was “always great to get out and meet readers and other writers at events and festivals, to experience the enthusiasm, feel part of a community and maybe even sell a few books.” But he warned: “Tours and conventions can be a big investment of time, energy and publishers’ resources though, and there is always a limit on the number of people a writer can reach in person.”

Author Brad Beaulieu said online festivals leveraged the way the internet could bring people together, but “it’s still true, however, that in-person exposure is hard to beat in terms of the impression it makes on readers”.

Hodder & Stoughton imprint Yellow Kite held an online festival in January, during which it promoted backlist and forthcoming titles. Bea Long, senior marketing executive at Hodder & Stoughton, said online festivals helped authors reach new audiences and required less time investment than an offline event: “I don’t think online festivals are better than, or can completely replace, physical appearances. At physical festivals audiences have invested more by buying a ticket and getting to the venue, and are likely to be very engaged thanks to this investment. The online festival is an obvious additional opportunity to reach readers.”

Sam Missingham, head of audience development at HarperCollins, which has run four online festivals, said online festivals would continue to develop. “Certainly at HarperCollins, we plan to build on them through clever programming, smart use of social media and partnering with interesting organisations, while keeping the same objective of delivering a genuinely reader-first experience,” she said.