Today’s guest post comes from fantasy author Steven Poore, with a cautionary tale about how a person can accidentally fall into organising SFF events. It starts, as these things inevitably do, with alcohol and a bright idea….
The Accidental Organiser
As well as being a writer, I’m a happy fan – I love conventions and book readings, and signings, and if one pops up and I can get to it, I’ll be in the second row with a spare Sharpie, just in case. The problem was, there wasn’t a lot actually happening North of London outside of the big weekender conventions and Derby’s punchy and excellent EdgeLit. I looked at the monthly Super Relaxed Fantasy Club in London, and sighed wistfully.
At EdgeLit 2014, Alex Bardy told me of his plan to run an irregular York Pubmeet, under a joint BFS/BSFA banner. “I’ll come to that!” I said, and I did, along with two equally interested friends. David Tallerman and Janine Ashbless read, we all hung out, and books were raffled off and won. On the way back, I sighed wistfully. If only we could have something like this in Sheffield.
I went to Fantasycon as well that year. I agreed a book deal, and became 40% vodka over the course of one evening*. Hungover, I chatted with Alex again and listened to his plans for a second Pubmeet. I probably sighed. “If only we had something like that in Sheffield,” I said.
Alex went away. Then he came back again. “Adrian’s up for it,” he said.
“A reading in Sheffield. He’s got a book out in February.”
“Oh, okay, cool.” I thought about it. “Adrian Tchaikovsky? In Sheffield? Who’s organising it?”
Alex looked at me.
Ah. That escalated quickly.
Well, I’d complained about the lack of events North of the M25, hadn’t I? And I’d looked at the audience at the first York Pubmeet and realised that people had come from Stafford, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds… there was a demand. And if nobody else was going to do it…
All I needed now was a venue. With seats, and preferably a bar. And an audience. It was a bit of a learning curve for a beginner and I’m not ashamed to say that I spent the best part of a month panicking. But, having staged three SFSF Socials since January, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. And now we’re part of an emerging “Northern Circuit” of local events.
For anybody who might be reading this and thinking “why isn’t there anything like this near me?” – well, here’s some things I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t do it alone. That way lies madness. At the very least, have a co-organiser who can share some of the tasks and help take the pressure off you on the day itself. It’s no fun if you’re the only person not enjoying themselves.
Go to other conventions and events first. Talk to people, put yourself out there as someone interested in hosting readings. Authors are generally looking for ways to get their words to an audience. As long as you’re polite and professional in your approach, you shouldn’t go wrong. Derby’s EdgeLit (and its seasonal variant, SledgeLit) is a good place to start out if you’ve never been to a convention before (as a one-day event, there’s not so much pressure), as is Bristolcon.
Find organisations that can help you. Your area may already have an annual literary festival for example, but perhaps they don’t know too much about SFF. Again, polite and professional – if you can help them set up new events that will bring people in, they’ll love the input. I’ve already mentioned the BFS and BSFA – they’re as keen as you are to see more localised events, so get in contact with them. They might even know of authors who live nearby and who would like to attend or guest…
Getting the word out there is the hardest part in terms of workload. Local libraries, bookshops, colleges – fans are tucked away everywhere. The most popular section in Sheffield Library is the SFF section, after all… If you have an author or two confirmed, they’ll usually be happy to publicise the event on social media. As above, the BFS and BSFA are only too happy to advertise events as well.
Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things. The SRFC stands out in that respect. If you look at the successes of that, the Bristolcon Fringe, and the Pubmeets and Socials, they all share a similar and simple format – readings, Q&A sessions, prizes, drinks.
If you host it, folks will come. I’ll see you in the pub, right?
Steven Poore’s debut novel, “The Heir To The North” will be published by Kristell Ink and launches at FantasyCon in October 2015, where Steve may once again be replacing his bloodstream with alcohol and will therefore be susceptible to suggestions….
*I was a somewhat fuzzy witness to these events, though the main thing I remember is hitting the Gollancz-sponsored free bar and Steve and I shouting Sultans of Ping FC lyrics at each other. After that things get blurry (er)