• The Publishing Post

A Publishing Hopeful’s Perspective on Literary Festivals

By Michaela O’Callaghan

We chat to Emma Hewetson about her internship at Stratford-Upon-Avon Literary Festival to get the lowdown on the benefits of gaining experience at festivals, the clash between physical and online events and how you can make applications shine!


Do you have any advice for publishing hopefuls wanting to gain experience at a literary festival?


My advice would be to do your research, really show you are interested in the festival you would be working for and take as many opportunities for experience as you can. I was quite interested in the children’s events and schools outreach work as that is an area of publishing I would really like to get into, so I spoke about that in my cover letter which I think really showed I had investigated what the festival is about and what they do, outside of the main programme.


What skills do you need to succeed in a role at a literary festival?


You definitely need to be organised and adept at prioritising and juggling tasks. In the run up to and during the festival things will get busy and you need to be prepared and keep a cool head. Also, problem solving skills! Things will go wrong sometimes, and that is okay, as long as you can come up with a quick and solid way to fix them.


How did you make the most out of your internship?


Annie, the director, was amazing at making sure I was in the background of almost all of her meetings, even if it was just a budget or fundraising chat. I got to see all aspects of running the festival as a whole, not just the events I was directly involved with. Also, I made sure to say yes to as many of the opportunities offered as possible!


What has been your favourite part about your internship?


Watching the event recordings was really exciting! I got to see interviews with authors whose work I have read and admired for a long time, which was amazing. But also, the opportunities for networking, liaising with people who work at schools, bookshops, publishing houses and members of the public was really eye-opening and it was great to be talking to different kinds of people every day.


Would you recommend gaining experience at a literary festival to others?


Definitely! I’ve developed so many skills, networking and communication, administrative work, planning, scheduling, organising, liaising with others, copywriting skills, social media skills, how to use content management systems, how to use TicketSource, even how to do a risk assessment!


How did the festival handle the decision between going online and considering physical events?


Live events were great during the height of the pandemic when people had nothing else to do but it is harder to sell tickets now that people have a bit more freedom. Venues are currently only allowed to open to half capacity and that is not financially viable for smaller festivals like Stratford who are a charity and rely on ticket income to survive. They therefore had to make the hard decision to remain online this spring too and work around it, which has been hard. One thing they did introduce to incentivise customers was a season pass which included thirty-three of the main events for just £30! I think the general feeling is that everyone is desperate to get back to live events and Stratford are planning to be in-person again in the autumn, as long as restrictions allow.


So, do you think this is the end of online literary festivals?


Not necessarily! People who would not usually come to events because of accessibility, monetary, or location reasons have been able to attend more than ever before, and I think that is a market the industry will not want to lose. I do not think it will ever be a huge competitor for live events, people always love to see and connect with other people, but maybe more events will be recorded and put up for online access and watching back.


Finally, what was the most surprising thing that you learnt about literary festivals?


Something funny I did find out is that the Poet Laureate is paid partly in Sherry! It is something to do with an old law, but each Poet Laureate gets to choose varieties and labels for their personal sherry. We were kindly gifted a bottle to auction off by Simon Armitage, the current laureate, as a fundraiser which was very cool!


Thank you for chatting to us and we wish you the best of luck in your job search!


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