Make your own literary event! A how-to guide
From poking around our little website, you might already have picked up that Fictions of Every Kind differs a little from other literary organisations. You might say that our outlook is slightly different.
Fictions of Every Kind is completely writer-run, and our ethos is informed by the background of two of the ‘organising party’ having a lengthy involvement in the DIY punk scene in Leeds. In this post, I’m going to do my best to set out exactly how we make things work.Like every writer, the three of us in the nascent ‘organising group’ - myself, Sam & Mason - suffered with ‘black periods’. None of us was involved in a writing circle, and we thought it would be an idea to start a regular night that gave writers the chance to share their work, to socialise, and be entertained in a relaxed environment. We organise the whole thing ourselves, from venue hire to inviting the speakers to publicising and running the night. We want our door price to be cheap so that people can afford to come, and yet we also want to make sure that our invited speakers and band get paid a little bit of money. None of us get paid anything for our involvement, and we all put in a few hours of unpaid work into making things happen. Our reasoning is that it is ok to decide to work for nothing ourselves, but that it is unfair to ask anybody else (e.g. speakers, band, sound engineer, all of whom without the nights could not happen) to do the same thing.
The below step-by-step guide has been brought to you through a process of trial and error lasting about a year, and which involved getting things wrong a few times before getting them right. We’ve learned, so you don’t have to. (You’re welcome).
1. Every few months we get together and talk about films we’ve recently seen, books we’ve read, things we’ve overheard in the street. Then we get our diaries out and fix a few dates for the next few events. At this meeting we usually set the themes for the coming few months as well.
2. We all go away and think about who we’d like to invite to speak. It might be a poet we’ve seen perform before, or somebody whose work we’ve read and enjoyed. Our leaning is towards prose writers, but we’re pretty inclusive genre-wise. I’m a fan of the literary, as is Sam, but we’re all also a fan of the dark, and of realism, and science-fiction. We’re making efforts to have an equal number of men & women writers, and to have writers of diverse backgrounds. We do this for loads of different reasons, but the main two are because: we want to do what we can to contribute towards equality; and because having diversity in our line-up is more interesting than having the same kind of people all the time.
3. Ring up or email writers, explain that we can’t pay them much, (giving them a ball-park figure of how much payment is likely to be), but would they like to come and read and sell their books anyway? Wait for reply: hopefully it is “yes please.” We like it when this happens. We ask writers to let us know how they’d like to be described on publicity material.
4. Ring up or email band, explain that we can’t pay very much, but would they like to come and play some music for a bunch of drunk writers? Wait for reply, (as point 3.0, above).
5. Once everything is confirmed, we let people know about it. We make fliers, create facebook events page, tell our friends, and they tell their friends. It’s really important that all of the information is included on the fliers and posters, we’ve discovered: the date, the location, the start time, the invited speakers’ names and their blurb, the band, and the entry price. We’re lucky in that one of us has access to a printing press. In the early days, when this wasn’t the case, John used to draw the fliers. We didn’t get fliers commercially printed because it’s expensive, and can be a bit wasteful if you end up with more than you need. Instead we had black& white fliers which we could photocopy as we needed them. It was cheaper, and meant less waste. (As an aside, for photocopied fliers to look their best, you need the original image to be a clear black& white contrasting image. Pencil marks don’t copy well, and make sure you leave a good margin around the side when you’re drawing / writing them, otherwise some of the images or information will cut off when you copy them. Again, you’re welcome.)We send copies of the fliers & posters to the respective writers, and the band, and put some in the venue and in places where writers go - like bookshops and libraries. We put a lot of legwork into making sure people know about it, because if they don’t know, they can’t come. We sometimes also put Fictions… into listings magazines. It costs nothing and is a good way of letting people know what we’re doing.
6. Prior to the night, we send directions on how to get to the place to the invited speakers, and let them know what time to arrive, what time they’ll be on, and who else is on the bill. We usually have fairly local writers but, if they were travelling from afar, we’d considering making food for them - something healthy and hearty, like a curry, or pasta salad, that they can eat when they arrive. It might take a bit of extra effort but will really lift their spirits, and writers rarely perform well on an empty stomach.
7. On the night, we need: bits of paper; a permanent marker or rubber stamp for marking people’s hands; a pen for signing up to the open mic; a sign-up sheet for the open mic; an iPod with a mix of music for the sound engineer to run through the speakers; our wits about us. Between us we make sure all of these things get to the venue in time to set up. Our night starts at 7.30, so we normally arrive around 6. The first job is to let the sound engineer know what to expect: how many speakers there’ll be and at what time, and the line-up and time of the band. Next job is to move the furniture around to our liking, and to give the band a soundcheck if there’s time. (A band’s soundcheck can take anything between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the band; it’s best to find out from the band ahead of time how long they’re likely to need, and work backwards from there.)
8. When the doors open, we welcome everybody in, and encourage people to sign up for the open mic. Newcomers are often nervous. We provide all brave souls approaching the open mic with a ‘words of encouragement’ card after they’ve read. We hope this will encourage them in their future endeavours. Our door price is usually £3. We like to keep things cheap so that people can afford to come. With this door price we usually make enough to pay for venue hire and to pay our speakers. In cases where our venue hire has been free and there are no outgoing expenses (for example, when we did our July event in The Leeds Library, and showed films instead of having invited speakers), entry was free. Making profit isn’t our objective. Fostering community and socialisation is. That, and getting drunk.
9. We try not to let things over-run. We have it in mind how long each writer’s allowed at the open mic, and how long the whole open mic is going to be. But usually, we hold off starting the actual open mic until there are a respectable number of people in the audience. We nominate a compere to introduce each ‘turn’ at the open mic, and the invited speakers later on. We try to make sure the compere has information about the speakers to hand, so that he/she can introduce them fully.
10. During proceedings we try not to get too drunk. Things run more efficiently if we are at least within swimming distance of being sober. But often we need a lovely, calming glass of gin because of all the stress. Even when we are stressed, though, we do our best to be nice to everybody, because nobody likes a testy organiser.
11. At the end of the night, we thank everybody for coming and count up the money, and pay the sound engineer, writers and band, and venue hire. Then we pat ourselves or each other on the back, tidy everything up, and try to make our way home in an orderly manner.
I hope this step-by-step guide gives you some idea of what’s involved in running a literary event like ours, and how you could go about doing your own. We hope it gives you some idea of how things work at Fictions Of Every Kind, and the way we like to do things. - Sarah