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The Rise of Digital Book Festivals

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The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the world as we all know it, and ebook festivals had been no exception. Whether or not giant or small, in-person ebook festivals merely couldn’t occur in 2020. Fortunately, authors, readers, and booksellers are a resourceful bunch – and with the assistance of programmes like Zoom, Groups, and different video conferencing platforms, digital ebook festivals boomed.

For me, on-line ebook festivals made a foul state of affairs a lot extra manageable. I used to be working from house and lacking my family and friends; digital ebook festivals gave me one thing to look ahead to at weekends or within the evenings, and gave me the sensation of being away from the identical 4 partitions, day in, day trip. On the identical time, I used to be lastly beginning to handle my persistent sicknesses – the place in-person ebook festivals wore me out (if I didn’t skip them utterly), digital ebook festivals had been way more manageable and accessible. Because of a number of the festivals recording their classes, I might even dip out and in after I felt prefer it, which gave me much more time to course of and benefit from the creator talks and panel discussions. 

Throughout 2020 and the start of 2021, I attended a number of digital ebook festivals and creator occasions. Every pageant approached the enterprise of organising a purely digital occasion otherwise, dealing with quite a lot of challenges when it got here to managing a pageant in unprecedented circumstances. The entire occasions, nonetheless, had one factor in frequent; a core workforce of tenacious story-lovers, decided to ensure that it doesn’t matter what the pandemic threw at them, they’d deliver their ebook pageant to locked-down readers.

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Standalone Storyfests

One of many greatest digital ebook festivals I attended was FIYAHCON 2020, the inaugural pageant hosted by FIYAH Literary Magazine. FIYAH is a quarterly journal publishing Black speculative fiction, which has been going sturdy since 2017, and FIYAHCON constructed on the journal’s legacy of success. Director L.D. Lewis and the remainder of the FIYAH workforce had been decided to create ‘an inclusive, accessible, diverse, dynamic convention where people and entities have their names properly announced and see more than one brown face on a panel at a time on anything other than a Diversity Panel’, and FIYAHCON greater than delivered on this promise. The preliminary launch of 500 tickets offered out nearly instantly, and the ultimate variety of registered attendees was 1,128 – a staggering quantity for a brand-new, solely on-line literary conference. 

Whereas FIYAHCON had its inaugural yr in 2020, many older festivals that had beforehand run offline tailored to the brand new regular. Noirwich, the Norwich-based crime writing pageant, moved on-line, with the vast majority of their classes obtainable free of charge. I sat in on the talks by Attica Locke and Oyinkan Braithwaite, and caught up afterward the pageant’s discuss on ‘Poirot: The Biggest Detective within the World’ (a title that Hercule would little question take into account extremely deserved). 

Sadly, a number of offline ebook festivals needed to be cancelled. Authors Package de Waal and Molly Flatt shortly stepped in, beginning work on the Big Book Weekend as early as March 2020. This occasion introduced collectively 28 classes from cancelled festivals and broadcast them on My Virtual Literary Festival, together with appearances from authors comparable to Neil Gaiman, Juno Dawson, and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo. The classes can be found on My VLF till the tip of April, so be sure to watch them earlier than they’re taken down!

Lengthy-Operating Lockdown Literature

Some digital ebook festivals have damaged away from the “one week/finish” format altogether, and put collectively prolonged occasions programmes which have been operating all through lockdown. Lockdown LitFest has featured interviews with an enormous vary of authors, operating usually over the previous yr. The well-known Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford has saved up their roster of stellar literary events, shifting them over to Zoom. Cambridge Literary Festival has a timetable of fascinating on-line occasions, obtainable to observe dwell or on catch-up for a few days afterwards. Particular person authors have been operating their very own occasions. Elle McNicoll, creator of A Kind of Spark, has been operating a YouTube writing class aimed toward younger readers, whereas kids’s poet Michael Rosen has crammed his channel with poetry readings and workshops. The World Guide Day web site has created a collection of online masterclasses, nice for house training or for writers and illustrators of any age wanting to spice up their follow within the face of lockdown inventive block. Because of trendy streaming and video platforms, authors and readers are capable of join in a method that will have been not possible if the pandemic had occurred a number of years in the past. 

The Cons of Digital Guide Festivals

Whereas digital ebook festivals and occasions have many benefits, there are drawbacks to each medium. Whereas authors have welcomed the chance to attach with a wider viewers, and to participate in occasions with out the journey time that takes away from their writing, there’s the counterpoint that ebook gross sales associated to on-line occasions will be a lot decrease than these at offline literary festivals. (Blackwell’s is addressing this by providing digital attendees the choice to purchase a ebook alongside a ticket to a launch or occasion). This, mixed with the truth that faculties might count on to pay much less (or nothing) for a digital creator occasion, has led to a big drop in earnings for a lot of authors – the dimensions of this lack of earnings will be seen in the truth that the Society of Authors paid out over £1.3 million in hardship funding to authors during 2020.

Digital occasions have very totally different necessities to in-person occasions, and that is notably clear with regards to safety. Whereas offline occasion organisers may be used to organising visitor lists or hiring safety professionals, the hazards related to on-line occasions will be a lot much less predictable. An author event run by a Yorkshire-based school was hacked by an outside group who posted explicit sexual content, exhibiting that safeguarding could be a a lot higher problem when internet hosting on-line occasions than their offline counterparts. Conversely, on-line attendees can themselves pose a danger; author Dhonielle Clayton was subjected to racist abuse by students with their video screens turned off throughout a Zoom creator occasion at a college. Whereas authors can after all face bigoted abuse and harassment at in-person occasions, the extent of anonymity that potential abusers can conceal behind throughout on-line occasions means that there’s much less likelihood of accountability and penalties for such abuse.

Digital ebook festivals have created higher accessibility in some ways, however they’re not an ideal medium, and a few accessibility challenges nonetheless stay. Captions will not be commonplace throughout all platforms, making it tough for Deaf attendees to take part. Participation in digital ebook festivals will depend on having a secure web connection, one thing that isn’t a assure for each reader (or certainly each creator). For some authors and panellists, an internet ebook occasion may be extra draining than an offline one; with out the suggestions and power from a room stuffed with readers, even probably the most dynamic digital occasion can really feel jarring.

Going Ahead

Whereas on-line ebook festivals and occasions are nonetheless of their early days, and have gone by a number of teething troubles, they’ve crammed the hole left by the cancellation of so many offline festivals following the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that, as we get vaccinated and the world begins to open up once more, we handle to deliver on-line and offline festivals collectively. I miss the excitement and special-occasion really feel of offline festivals, however having a digital pageant operating alongside an offline one would open up attendance to a a lot wider vary of people that wouldn’t in any other case have the ability to attend. Digital ebook festivals have been sparks of pleasure in an extended interval of lockdown, and I’m immensely glad that so many authors, organisers and ebook lovers have stepped as much as maintain them going throughout this very unusual time. 

For a glance again at offline ebook festivals, take a look at one Rioter’s submit on Why You Should Go To Book Festivals. For a tasty twist in your typical ebook pageant, have a look at 5-ish Delectable Edible Book Festivals.

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