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Feb 14

THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS: ONLY TAKE IT ON IF YOU CAN SEE IT THROUGH

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Jane Cable considers what it takes to organise a successful event

Never one to ask others to do what I won’t myself, I thought that this year I would focus my own articles on advice given and received as well. Except as I have the privilege of writing my own column once a month I’m planning to focus each article on something relevant to my writing life.

So let’s start with writers’ events. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m willing, or I’m bossy, or I forget to duck below the parapet, but very often it seems to be me doing the organising. Last week I was at a library in Cardiff with two other Welsh authors, talking about routes to publication. It was a bitterly cold evening and it had snowed during the day. We’d already cancelled the afternoon event due to low bookings but were determined this one should go ahead. Perhaps, between us, we did know a significant number of people in the audience, but that was probably because they were writers yet to get a book out there and wanted to pick our brains. That said, we all enjoyed the evening and the library reported enthusiastic feedback from our guests.

So, what did I learn? And what advice would I give other writers looking to try their hand at connecting with their audience in this way?

  1. Only take it on if you can see it through If you initiate an event it is down to you to finish it. You may have a helpful venue (as we did in Cardiff last week), but if you promise something you have to deliver or your reputation will be at stake. This can mean finding other writers willing to take part, pulling together publicity material, sorting out IT and refreshments. If you can’t give it the time and the energy, don’t go there.
  2. Know your audience Think about who you would like to attend and find a venue, time and topic to suit them. Sometimes at least one of these will be fixed (eg a library or a festival) but there will always be something you can control to entice people in. Last week in Cardiff we over-estimated the appeal of an afternoon discussion about favourite books aimed at readers of romance. We were targeting retired people, thinking they would enjoy the interaction and not want to be talked at. What we didn’t factor in was the weather – the same event in the summer might well have been popular.
  3. Know when to quit We had six people signed up to that afternoon event and there were four presenters so it was a no brainer that it had to go. We, and the library, tried everything to up the numbers but to no avail so we pulled the plug and made sure everyone knew about it. But quitting isn’t always the right answer. A couple of years ago Chindi Authors organised a mini litfest to raise funds for Words for the Wounded. Tickets sold slowly for the main lunchtime event and I was ready to pull the plug, but the wonderful children’s author Christopher Joyce refused to let me and as it happened we would have struggled to fit another person in – and the weekend as a whole raised almost £1,000 for the charity.
  4. Only do it if you’re going to enjoy it There is no point putting all this effort in if, on the day, you’re going to be a gibbering wreck. If you hate public speaking then find another way to raise your profile. Nothing is compulsory. Play to your strengths.

  • Evonne Wareham

    As one of the authors I have to say a big thank you to Jane for taking on the organising. She did a great job, including this post, summing up things to be learned. The evening was a lot of fun, and the library and audience were welcoming on a pretty chilly night.