Global Association of Literary Festivals
    • Session Notes

      International Literary Festivals Conference

    Wednesday, 5 February

    Session Title:
    Who do you think you are?

    The USP, brand and identity of each literary festival, how does that happen and is it important? Creating a clear vision and identity and how to communicate it to authors, audience, sponsors


    Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts

    Marina Salandy-Brown, NGC Bocas LitFest – Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

    Razi Ahmed, Lahore Literary Festival, Pakistan

    Moderator: Julia Wheeler

    How Important is Brand?

    Super important in order to attract funding

    Copyright everything to counteract imposters/copiers, guard the brand

    Taglines are important

    The Bocas festival literary pedigree is in Trinidad and efforts to create an eco- system of literature has resulted in Caribbean writers now winning literature prizes.


    Discussion on ethical responsibility in accepting money from extractive industries/banks. Mining is a fact of life in emerging economies.

    Lahore receiveno government support and sponsorship comes from foundations, individuals and trusts.

    Festivals must be creative in developing funding sources

    NGS Bocas: No history of philanthropy and in some locations money laundering is an issue. Be careful where the money comes from. Due diligence!

    Founders – can it be hard to let go?

    Where there is a strong and involved community, they may take responsibility/ownership

    In some cases it can be difficult to just pass something on. Relationships, multi ethnicities and a strong board mean that it can take a number of years to hand over.

    Festivals are like machines and ideally, one is able to think, plan and then step back.

    Part of the process is to grow eg Lahore has developed strong links with the Asia Society in London and now travels to London.

    Who Pays?

    Different festivals have different models. Audience consensus was that it is good to charge in case external funding fails. Also, ‘having skin in the game’/commitment is important for stakeholders.

    Charge less for schools.

    Can utilise free experiences combining with literature (eg pub crawls) but make it heavily branded.

    Brooklyn is free and the inclusive outreach is part of the brand.

    Another model is that events are free for the low income; also a small fee can be refunded if they attend.

    Session Title:
    The Complex Challenges of Programming

    Vision, Strategy, Themes - The balancing act -popular culture vs niche, local vs international authors, crowd-pullers and providing a platform for new writing


    Liz Koch, Brooklyn Book Festival, USA

    Bea Colley, London Literature Festival, Southbank, UK

    Marit Borkenhagen, Norwegian Festival of Literature

    Moderator: Julia Wheeler

    Where do you start?

    Discussion on programming process

    Brooklyn uses a literary council where 50 people are involved over 6 committees responsible for fiction, non-fiction, YAs.

    London Lit Festhas 400 outreach events, 100 festival events. Programming incorporates evergreens, publisher pitches, colleagues, ethnic minorities, Book prize readings, partners.

    Norway: – Lillehammer has 20 venues and emphasis is to not have too many launches but introduce new writers along with literary stars.

    Are Themes helpful?

    London -Themes can be challenging for the Marketing team.

    Norway – They have themes but sometimes it doesn’t work and authors sometimes don’t like it as only about 30% of them fit into the chosen theme. Geographic themes - Spanish, French, Indian

    Brooklyn – 60 bookend events in the city. Themes can be artificial. Likes contemporary themes like ‘constitution’, ‘POTUS’; or universal themes like ‘restlessness’

    Do Audiences Notice Themes?

    General discussion:

    Climate change and gender issues are very contemporary

    Sometimes good for marketing

    Government funders want to see themes – this is artificial as authors haven’t been asked

    Consensus- it’s better not to have themes but, at the end of the festival, see what themes have emerged.

    Themes are sometimes useful internally for the teams

    Does it hang together creatively? Themes can restrict.

    Often themes come up organically eg 3-4 writers working on common themes eg environment, migration

    Popular Culture v Niche

    Brooklyn– Literary festivals v airport authors. Media want ‘stars’. Match the iconic with the emerging authors in conversation.

    London– Use big names to shine a light on emerging authors.

    Timing Clashes

    Norway – Trace through the programme so that there is something for everyone. Festival differs according to time of the week: week days emphasise professional, weekend is family readers. Don’t put poetry against poetry. Don’t cannibalise the audience. Separate children’s day. Schedule authors multiple times so there is a chance to see favourite author.

    London – Important to consider gender parity in programming

    Brooklyn – Diversity in ethnicity on panels and programming

    Group discussion on pressure from sponsors/govt regarding programming. Directors need to respect sponsors but do not censor. Refuse money from controversial companies eg oil & gas who may want to use their position to influence programming.


    Brooklyn– committee system makes the structure very contemporary in terms of subject matter and new moderators.

    Group discussion on programme diversification: vineyards, dinners, reaching multi age groups, showcasing the city

    Session Title:
    What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    Crisis Management –plus the influence of digital media and how it helps/hinders


    Isobel Abulhoul, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

    Syima Aslam, Bradford Literature Festival, UK                                    

    Ankur Bhardwaj, Teamwork Arts/Jaipur Literature Festival, India

    Ray Eglington, Four Communications Group

    Moderator: Brandy Scott

    Some directors spoke of boycotts or controversies they had experienced.

    Crisis planning cannot anticipate a social issue boycott. Transparency is vital: context, empathy, action. Controversy can be good if it doesn’t impact long term.

    Don’t respond to what you can’t control. Go back to why you do what you do- Festivals.

    Managing controversy should be limited to 1 – 2 key people. Pick up the phone/ issue joint statement. Step back from social media.

    Scenario planning is important. Social media is a useful barometer. Festivals have multiple stakeholders; rely on them. The talent can use their platforms, social media to get people back on side.

    *Controversy is not a crisis. Be honest from the start.

    Session Title:
    Literary Conversations Across Borders

    The role of festivals in breaking down stereotypes with author Roudha Al Marri 


    Ahlam Bolooki , Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

    Anne O’Brien, Auckland Writers Festival NZ

    Janet Deneefe, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Bali, Indonesia

    Moderator: Julia Wheeler

    How Important is It to Export Authors?

    Sharing Emirati culture via the arts helps to counteract negative politics.

    The biggest stereotype for Arab writing - Women+++. Many misconceptions from outside the Arab world.

    Gender equity should feed into programmes, and an awareness of local and diverse voices

    Stories help us to understand what it is to be another person. New Zealand has a big immigration programme and has a large schools/diversification programme. This diversification is seen on stage and in the programme.

    Structure of Festivals

    Important to include local staff/mix of ethnicities

    Bali – No board. 23 local staff, 1 Australian.

    Auckland– Board of 8 pax.Partnerships with Maori. Inclusion with other ethnic groups. Use of Maori language in correspondence .

    Dubai- Board all Emiratis except 2. More than half of session in Arabic and English.

    Thursday, 6 February

    Session Title:
    Festivals on a Shoestring

    Can festivals be financially self-sustaining?

    Challenges of sponsorship and ROI, fundraising, charitable giving, corporate and public sector investment, marketing, digital rights. We look at different models and tips on how to save

    money and market your festival without a big budget.


    Edwina Johnson, Byron Writers Festival, Australia

    Lola Shoneyin, AKE Arts and Book Festival, Nigeria

    Anna Kulp, Leukerbad International Literary Festival, Switzerland                                                                                                                                                                                                

    Moderator: Vivienne Wordley, Buckingham Literary Festival UK/Santa Fe LitFest USA

    Discussion of business models, sales, partnerships. Limits to growth and benefits to selling 1 and 3 day passes.

    Payment of Staff

    General discussion of underpaying staff through necessity. Boards have to be encouraged to invest $$ on publicity in order to realise an increase in ticket sales. Training/developing audiences is an important aspect of AKE’s work. Philanthropy/patrons seen as important but requires a funded, dedicated person to manage.

    Audience discussion: NZ has a strong patrons’ programme where patrons give $500 - $5000 in return for which they can take part in curated tourism/visit international festivals, cocktails/programme launches, connect to Board members. Make major donor a board member.Suggest 6 year board terms. Major fundraisers are handed to the board to organise. ‘Whiskey & Writers’ fundraiser. Ambassadorial roles.

    Practical Ideas for Audience Growth

    Sponsors should be matched to particular session (like a go-fund-me), and canvas for audience. Writers competitions.

    Marketing on a budget –. Partner with bigger organisations to bring other voices in - media, gallery, theatre, cultural organisations partnerships. Align dates with other festivals plus mount out of season events.1. Creative partnerships to extend the budget; 2. Bring in special people/donors to assist; 3. Be an opportunist

    Session Title:
    Literary Tourism; Building a Cultural City/Destination

    Literary Tourism – The importance to the tourist industry and building a cultural city/destination


    Mauro Munhoz, Flip Brazil International Literature Festival of Paraty

    Carolyn Greer, Brooklyn Book Festival, USA

    Christian Lund, Louisiana Literature Festival, Denmark

    Moderator: Amandeep Bhangu

    Brazil – Spoke of Paraty and a sense of place in a destination where governance institutions are weak but there is a rich popular culture.

    Brooklyn – Brooklyn event is set up as a tourist destination with events in pubs, cemeteries, the river. Artists produce and donate posters which are then sold. Bookend events.

    Louisiana, Denmark – Festival is linked to art museum and matches the high quality of the art. Writers invited to produce work based on a piece of art/put to music/performance. High expectations on the calibre of work.

    Government Support?

    Brazil – There is a tax exemption/ incentive for private companies

    Brooklyn– Government grants = 25% of budget

    Denmark – A Foundation supports this festival and the museum

    How to get out and into the Neighbourhood

    Audience discussion of cross promotion of destinations using tourism agencies. Signage vital to have successful multi- site events.

    Session Title:
    The X Factor

    Audience attraction

    How do we get people through the doors – free or ticketed? Day passes? Capturing the audience attention – marketing strategies and specifics, digital v traditional methods etc.


    Christine Saratsiotis, Toronto International Festival of Authors, Canada

    Ulrich Schreiber, Berlin International Literature Festival, Germany

    Andrea Gissdal, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

    Moderator: Julia Wheeler

    Toronto: surveys show that evening/weekend events sell best. Average profile is 45+ female.

    Berlin: – Science Year collaboration was very successful

    Dubai: – Day and season ticketing; free tickets for authors/publishers; wrist bands indicating age groups ?????

    Marketing – What Works?

    Toronto  - Print, social media, FB, Instagram, partner exchanges who send materials to their people, postering. Depends on author/audience; niche marketing

    Berlin – Works from gut. Good authors, moderators and actors to read translations

    Dubai– Good media partnerships, PR. Now considering Toktok. Uses digital media, good for tracking

    How to retain audiences?

    Toronto - Mailed out programme to lapsed audience members. Track modes of transport and then use target advertising. Touring programme; partnerships with libraries, universities and spread the brand out.

    Dubai – Challenges with transient population in Dubai

    Berlin – 90% of audience from Berlin – good awareness penetration, then Brandenburg and elsewhere

    Brooklyn– Use free buses to bring people in. Translators on the ground. Try to break barriers that prevent audience from getting there. Ask younger people what they want.

    Who does surveys?

    Toronto – Many post festival surveys and at 3 months – prize incentive. Great info for use with sponsors.

    Berlin – Use pre and post surveys. One person dedicated to record audience responses.

    Session Title:
    Smooth Operators

    Perspectives on delivering a seamless event. In conversation:

    Julia Wheeler (Moderator),

    Ankur Bhardwaj (Event Management Director, International Festivals Jaipur)

    Chris Bradley – Sponsor (Chevron)

    Moderator: Vivienne Wordley Buckingham Literary Festival UK/Santa Fe LitFest USA

    Event Management – Core teams needs to bond before the event

    Create ‘the bible’ to ensure consistent approach, and reference forevery eventuality

    Tracking sheet

    Moderators– Get moderators involved at an earlier point and give moderators a couple of gigs to make sure they are in sync with the Festival vibe.

    Sponsorship – Must plan way ahead of time and consider ROI (health, education, economic development) to sponsors or to the community.

    Consider corporate sponsor events where their staff can participate.Matters to consider: why is that sponsor affiliated with that event? Get spelling and pronunciation right, don’t take money unless you can see the direction of the relationship.

    There is untapped potential in terms of business advertising, media and risk management.

    Session Title:
    Publishers, Authors & Literary Festivals – A Happy Partnership?


    Flora Rees, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature                                    

    Leslie Hurtig, The Vancouver Writers Festival, Canada

    Nicola Tuxworth, The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, UK

    Graeme Simsion, author

    Moderator: Julia Wheeler

    What Makes You Happy?

    Vancouver: Publishers need to understand festivals. Stress book sales in negotiations

    Cheltenham: Lots of quid pro quo at Cheltenham. Publishers are big stakeholders and support with flights etc. one has to take risks with new writers.

    Proof parties – publishers bring 2 – 3 authors/editors and a limited run of proofs – then there may be a signing. ‘Fiction at 7’ is a popular initiative where refreshments are served, there is an experienced chair and emerging authors discuss their books – then there is a big event 2 years later. This allows development and also commitment to publishers and authors

    Graeme – Must consider that festival payments are low, book sales are low compared to a bookshop event. Need events that are author exclusive, interesting location where respect is paid to time, moderator and pecking order.

    Cheltenham – sometimes authors will not want to discuss certain things so be prepared Eg Atwood and Gilead and its wider geo political ramifications. Know your author and the parameters of the discussion.

    Dubai – Must have writers that are suited to the Dubai market

    Trevor Naylor – Cairo Press. Asked how invitations are decided.

    Cheltenham – seeks out small presses to be more inclusive.

    Vancouver- Publishers should send out more information – and only the very best. They should give a reason for pitching authors. A video of the author reading is helpful.

    Graeme – Be aware of how much you ask authors to do. A ‘debate’ involves a lot of work. Writers should not expect payment. They want to be there.

    Vancouver – A lot of authors want payment. They pay all authors the same amount and a fee per event.

    Cheltenham- Impact of FANE – one- off theatre tours. Fane pays large fees and they create large book tours.

    Graeme Need the big names to fund the smaller names. Must be egalitarian with payment as it’s also about the accommodation, food, experience. Publishers tend to quarantine the big names. Perhaps festival directors could share their top ten list of authors in local regions and bypass the publicist

    Session Title:
    Literary Conversations Across Borders

    The importance literature plays in including ‘others’ and in building bridges across communities.

    In today’s uncertain world, with some people taking increasingly polarized positions, it has become ‘us’ and ‘them’. As communities have become entrenched in their views, looking inwards and being unable to see another’s point of view, what part does literature play in bringing about understanding and showing us that we should be building bridges and not walls? Talk by Khoula Al Mujaini, Director of Fairs and Festivals, Sharjah World Book Authority,

    Khoula Ali Amed Al Mujaini – Sharjah Book Fair –attends 130 book fairs per year. They are developing new local authors through workshops and use an Emirati publishing house.

    Moderator: Amandeep Bhangu

    Session Title:
    Literary Festivals & The Future

    Literary Festivals and The Future – sustainability, streaming/broadcasting digital rights, tech solutions, audiences changing profile/ expectations                                    


    Ian George, The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, UK

    Ulrich Schreiber, Berlin International Literature Festival, Germany

    Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts

    Moderator: Amandeep Bhangu

    Future of Festivals?

    Cheltenham –Festivals should be a celebration!

    Berlin – Children and YA, archive, communication between festivals,

    Hay – Consider how to cater to digital readers, environmental awareness is increasing with some authors declining to fly

    Cheltenham – There is a balancing act between sustainability and the human contact of festivals, carbon credits on flights. The sustainability conversation is paramount

    Limits to growth?

    General discussion – once a festival has reached certain capacity, it is more about depth of programming and not numbers

    Closing Remarks
    Isobel Abulhoul OBE

    CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation

    The establishment of a Global Association of Literary Festivals was discussed, to enable the conversations to continue.

    Next Conferences to be organised:

    Nigeria, 27 – 30 October 2022

    Brazil, Paraty July 2024

    Festivals Conference

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    Directors' comments

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