For Writers and Authors: How to Make the Most of Your Experience at Writers, Readers and Literary Festivals

For Writers and Authors: How to Make the Most of Your Experience at Writers, Readers and Literary Festivals

August 18, 2023

How to Make the Most of Your Experience at Writers Festivals

Lucky you! You’re all set to attend a writers’ festival! If you’re anything like me, whether you’re attending as an audience member, presenter or writing workshop host, you’re likely a little nervous and excited about the upcoming event and want to maximise the experience. Here are some of the things I do to prepare, and what I do when I’m there.

Do Your Research

  • Sign up for email newsletters from the various festivals you’re interested in so you can get an early idea of theme, dates and potential author attendees.
  • Sign up for a writers’ festival in your region or choose a festival destination where you like the vibe so you can add an enjoyable holiday element to your trip. You can see a list of  writers festival dates and locations here.
  • Commit and book your tickets.
  • When the program comes out, study it in advance and circle the presentations that stand out to you.
  • Be open to attending authors and sessions that are a bit outside your normal sphere – sometimes that’s where the gold is!
  • Often there’s more than one presentation being held at the same time, so rank them in order of preference.
  • Read up on the author bios.
  • If you can, read some of the key books you’re interested in before attending the writers’ festival. I like to borrow library books to do this well in advance and then I know which books I love and might like to buy and get signed onsite. It also helps me weed out presentations I don’t want to attend.
  • Plan to go listen to someone you’ve never heard of or read before.
  • Depending where you are on your author journey, make note of the publishers whose authors are attending in case any opportunities arise for you to speak with them or ask questions of the publicists.

Attend Writing Workshops Attached to the Writers Festival

  • Writing workshops are a wonderful way to improve writing craft and your understanding of author business. There’s often a lot of interaction and you will get to ask questions specific to your project. This is important as presentations at the festival itself are mostly two-way, but only between the host and the author.
  • Writing workshops are often held prior to the festival proper or are scattered throughout the program. Take this into account if/when booking travel/accommodation as you may need to arrive earlier than opening day.
  • Choose your writing workshops based on what will move you forward on your writing journey the most. Perhaps it will be a genre-based course or a specific craft skill or author business session. I hosted the Marketing for Authors workshop at Byron Writers Festival on Bundjalung Country, and it was clear the writers who attended were really wanting to give their manuscript and their already published book/s the best chance of finding readers.
  • Book in early for the workshops you want to attend so you don’t miss out. If the workshop is already full, ask to be put on a waitlist as there are often cancellations.
  • Take notes: it’s so easy to forget the specifics of what was covered.
  • Before you attend, write a list of questions you’d like answered. Ask them.
  • Engage, but don’t be ‘that person’: you know, the one who annoys everyone by launching into soliloquies and monopolising the presenter’s time. Lucky my workshop had none of those!
  • Use the workshop to meet authors of all levels (from the experienced and connected presenter) through to up-and-coming writers. It’s a great way to grow your writing community. At this one workshop I connected with writers including Hilton Koppe, Lee Lehner, Sonya Leeding, Maggie Walters, Vanessa Fleming Writes and others.
  • Be sure to exchange social media accounts and contact details at the end of the workshop. Support each other into the future!

Keep an Eye Out for Publisher/Literary Agent Events

  • Depending on where you are with your manuscript, you might like to book in for literary speed dating, a meet-the-publisher or meet-the-literary-agent event.
  • These events sell out very quickly so sign up for event newsletters and follow the event on social media to be one of the first to know when these events go on sale.
  • Book in pronto, and if you manage to score a meeting, prepare super well and just go for it!

Plan to Connect with People at the Writer’s Festival – Even if You’re an Introvert

  • Writing festivals attract interesting and engaged people, so when you’re sitting in the audience, say ‘hi’ to the people sitting next to you. Have a few key questions up your sleeve to get the conversation started such as: Where have you travelled from? What sessions have you enjoyed so far? What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year? What are you going to next? Etc.
  • Chat with the writing festival volunteers. Often, they’re avid readers or members of the local writing community with plenty of information to share. Thank them too!
  • Don’t be afraid to approach authors for a chat, especially international authors, as they probably only know the publicist they’re traveling with and a few members of the festival committee.
  • Invite other people into your conversation circle rather than excluding them or looking like a ‘closed shop’.
  • If you are in any online writing groups, check to see if other members are attending your chosen festival so you can catch up in real life.
  • If the constant stream of people, ideas and social anxiety start to get the better of you, just find a quiet spot and recharge.

Be Flexible

  • Be open to changing your mind about what events you want to attend! You might hear an author on a panel and realise you don’t want to attend another of their talks. That’s okay! Go with your own flow.
  • It’s also okay to skip sessions. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all that’s going on, or you might be stuck in an autograph queue. Just be in the moment and if you want to take a break and just sit out a session – go with it.
  • Be flexible…but not so flexible you leave it to the last minute to go to the bathroom! Whenever a talk ends, the cubicle queue begins!

Attend Satellite Events

  • Alongside the regular literary festival program, there are often satellite events being held that can be outrageously fabulous. I say this because I was absolutely blown away by the satellite events at Byron Writers Festival including Bundjalung Nghari – Indigenise where NORPA presented the work of four indigenous writer/creatives/thinkers including Kirk Page, Naomi Moran, Grace Lucas-Pennington and chef (and so much more!) Mark Olive. So outstanding!
  • Other events that were super cool included Wild Imagination (where authors spoke for about 10 minutes each on the festival theme ‘wild imagination’). There was a diverse range of writers/approaches including Trinidad and Tobago author Kevin Jared Hossein, British author Gabriel Krauze, Australian writer and poet Ellen van Neerven, Jess Scully and Grace Tame.
  • Voices in the Wild was another great satellite event, featuring Maxine Beneba Clarke, Madison Godfrey, Miles Merrill, Sarah Temporal, Jo Young, and the winners from the Poets Out Loud Slam.
  • Satellite events really made the writers festival for me and may for you too, so book in early for anything that looks great, but also, keep your ears open during the festival – if someone recommends an event, it’s likely worth a shot to try and get a last minute ticket.

 Eat, Drink and Be Merry

  • Research food options at the festival and in the local area before you arrive (or bring food with you) – this is especially important if you have any food allergies or are trying to save money.
  • If hoping to eat at a specific restaurant, book well ahead as restaurants get super busy when festivals are on. Thanks to a savvy booker in our group, we were able to get a table at Bangalow’s divine Ciao Mate as well as enjoy the fab Woods Bangalow. There were also really delicious offerings from the festival’s food trucks, and, – lucky me – some beautiful Pukka teas and treats in the festival green room.
  • Take a refillable water bottle and stay hydrated – whether you’re outdoors or in air-conditioning, you want to feel fresh and alert.
  • Have fun and soak up and spread kindness, thoughtfulness and joy.

Be Brave

  • When chatting with people, own up to being a writer – or your dreams of being one – you never know where the conversation might lead.
  • When getting a book signed, ask the author that burning question you have or just tell them how much you love their work.
  • A writers and readers festival is the perfect event to attend on your own, but it can also be a lot of fun to go with friends. Be brave and just go – if you’re travelling solo you’ll make friends soon enough!

If You’re Presenting at a Writer’s Festival

  • Plan what you’ll be wearing ahead of time, so you don’t need to think about it when you’re there.
  • Thoroughly prepare for your workshop and appearance so your audience gets the most from it.
  • Don’t be too cool to be interested in the work of others, get out and support other authors and enjoy their sessions.
  • Treat staff, volunteers, readers and other authors with kindness – be thankful and say thanks!.
  • Remember the road you took to get here and take a moment to celebrate the milestone!

I hope that gives you some tips on how to make the most out of attending a writers’ festival. Hopefully I’ll see you at one soon!

Other blog posts featured in this series on writers festivals include:

All the bestest and happy writing, Anna Featherstone