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The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the world as we know it, and book festivals are no exception. Whether big or small, in-person book fairs simply couldn’t happen in 2020. Fortunately, authors, readers, and booksellers are resourceful – and with the help of programs like Zoom, Teams. and other video conferencing platforms, digital book fairs have exploded.
For me, online book festivals have made a bad situation so much more manageable. I worked at home and missed my friends and family; e-book festivals have given me something to look forward to on weekends or evenings, and have made me feel like I’m far from the same four walls, day in and day out. At the same time, I was finally starting to manage my chronic illnesses – where in-person book festivals were wearing me out (if I didn’t forget them altogether), digital book festivals were much more manageable and accessible. Thanks to some festivals recording their sessions, I could even walk in and out when I wanted, which gave me a lot more time to process and enjoy the authors’ discussions and panel discussions.
In 2020 and early 2021, I attended several digital book festivals and author events. Each festival has approached the business of setting up a purely digital event in a different way, facing a variety of challenges when it comes to running a festival under unprecedented circumstances. All events, however, had one thing in common; a core team of tenacious story-lovers, determined to make sure that no matter what the pandemic throws at them, they bring their book festival to the locked-in readers.
Autonomous story festivals
One of the biggest digital book festivals I attended was FIYAHCON 2020, the inaugural festival hosted by FIYAH Literary Magazine. FIYAH is a quarterly magazine publishing black speculative fiction, which has experienced strong growth since 2017, and FIYAHCON has built on the magazine’s legacy of success. Director LD Lewis and the rest of the FIYAH team were determined to create “an inclusive, accessible, diverse and vibrant convention where people and entities have their names properly announced and see more than one brown face on a billboard. both on something other than a Diversity Panel ”, and FIYAHCON has more than kept that promise. The initial release of 500 tickets sold out almost immediately and the final number of registered participants was 1,128 – a staggering number for a brand new literary convention entirely online.
As FIYAHCON had its inaugural year in 2020, many older festivals that previously took place offline have adapted to the new normal. Noirwich, the Norwich-based crime writing festival, has gone online, with the majority of their sessions available for free. I attended Attica Locke and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s lectures, and later picked up the festival lecture on ‘Poirot: The World’s Greatest Detective’ (a title Hercules would undoubtedly consider highly deserved).
Unfortunately, several offline book festivals have had to be canceled. Authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt jumped in quickly, starting work on Big Book Weekend as early as March 2020. This event brought together 28 sessions of canceled festivals and aired them on My Virtual Literary Festival, including guest appearances. such as Neil Gaiman. , Juno Dawson and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo. Sessions are available on My VLF until the end of April, so be sure to watch them before they go out!
Long-lasting locking literature
Some digital book festivals have broken away from the ‘one week / end’ format altogether and have extended event schedules that have run throughout the lockdown. Lockdown LitFest has featured interviews with a wide range of authors, which have taken place regularly over the past year. Famous Blackwell’s Bookstore in Oxford has maintained its list of stellar literary events, moving them to Zoom. The Cambridge Literary Festival has a fascinating online calendar of events, available to watch live or catch up for a few days afterward. The individual authors have organized their own events. Elle McNicoll, author of A kind of spark, hosted a YouTube writing course for young readers, while children’s poet Michael Rosen filled his channel with poetry readings and workshops. The World Book Day website has created a series of online masterclasses, ideal for home schooling or for writers and illustrators of any age looking to step up their practice in the face of the creative blockage of lockdown. Thanks to modern streaming and video platforms, authors and readers can connect in ways that would have been impossible if the pandemic had occurred a few years ago.
The disadvantages of digital book festivals
While digital book festivals and events have many advantages, each medium has disadvantages. While authors have appreciated the opportunity to connect with a larger audience and participate in events without the travel time that takes away their writing, there is the counterpoint that online event-related book sales may be. much lower than those of offline literary festivals. . (Blackwell’s addresses this issue by offering digital attendees the option to purchase a book with a ticket to a launch or event). This, combined with the fact that schools can expect to pay less (or nothing) for a digital author event, has resulted in a significant drop in income for many authors – the magnitude of this loss in income can be seen. in the fact that The Society of Authors paid over £ 1.3million in hardship funds to authors in 2020.
Digital events have very different requirements than in-person events, and this is especially clear when it comes to security. While offline event planners may be used to creating guest lists or hiring security professionals, the dangers associated with online events can be much less predictable. An author event hosted by a Yorkshire school was hacked by an outside group that posted sexually explicit material, showing that protection can be a much bigger challenge when hosting events online than their counterparts offline. Conversely, online participants may themselves represent a risk; Author Dhonielle Clayton was racially abused by students with their video screens turned off during a Zoom copyright event at a school. While perpetrators may of course face fanatic abuse and harassment at in-person events, the level of anonymity that potential abusers may hide behind at online events means there is less. liability risks and consequences for such abuses.
Digital book festivals have created greater accessibility in many ways, but they are not a perfect medium and some accessibility issues remain. Closed captions are not standard on all platforms, making it difficult for deaf participants to participate. Participation in digital book festivals depends on a stable internet connection, which is not a guarantee for every reader (or even every author). For some authors and panelists, an online book event can be more exhausting than an offline event; without the commentary and energy of a room full of readers, even the most dynamic digital event can seem shocking.
While online book festivals and events are still in their infancy and have experienced some start-up issues, they have filled the void left by the cancellation of so many offline festivals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic . Hopefully, as we get vaccinated and the world starts to open up again, we manage to bring together festivals online and offline. I miss the buzz and the special occasion feel of offline festivals, but having one digital festival alongside another offline would open up participation to a much wider range of people who might not otherwise be able to attend. The digital book festivals have been sparks of joy during a long period of lockdown, and I am extremely happy that so many authors, organizers and book lovers have stepped up to keep them alive during this. very strange period.
For a look back at offline book festivals, see an article by Rioter on Why You Should Go To Book Festivals. For a flavorful twist to your typical book festival, check out 5-ish Delectable Edible Book Festivals.