Thursday, September 17, 2009: Guest Blogger Colin Galbraith

Colin’s one of my favorite writers and my favorite people. He kindly agreed to guest today, with some opinions on why literary festivals are so important.

Publishers and Literary Festivals: Why We All Benefit
by Colin Galbraith

Literary Festivals in Britain were once a very sparse commodity. In 1983 when the Edinburgh International Book Festival began, there were only around 30 literary festivals in the whole of the UK. Now there are over 300 and their burgeoning popularity can be attributed to several important elements, not all of them what you might assume.

Despite the mistaken belief that the sale of books is in decline brought on by the worldwide recession, more books are now being sold in the UK then ever before. Some economists commented that the public’s drop in disposable income might lead to a decrease in sales, yet with more people looking for new and cheaper forms of entertainment within their homes, the good old book seems to be benefiting greatly from the credit crunch.

This increase in book sales is often attributed to the popular market for of so-called celebrity biographies. A girl/boy band member or popular sports personality that sells their story before Christmas will usually be guaranteed a best seller with massively hyped royalties. However, scan your eyes down the best seller lists on any given week and it’s clear to see that celebrity tell-alls are not the only thing people are buying in numbers. As I write this article, the UK fiction chart lists such writers as Gregory Philippa, Kathy Reichs, Mark Billingham and Danielle Steele. Score the celebrity entries out with a pen and it becomes clear to the naked eye that something great is happening in this country—mainstream and literary fiction are in huge demand.

The publishing industry has come under much scrutiny for the manner in which it has cashed in on celebrity non-fiction books, and while I can personally think of nothing worse I’d like to read, I think there is a side benefit to having these books on the shelves.

Put simply, the money generated from them allows publishers to bankroll new writers. It gives publishers the confidence to bring in new and fresh talent, and to take risks where otherwise they might not have.

It’s also a way into reading for many readers who may have forgotten the pleasure that can be gained from reading a book. Maybe they’ve begun by reading a personality biography, found they liked the act of reading and so end up walking over to the fiction shelves in their nearest book shop.

And as the interest swells and the money flows, publishers over the last few years have realised the benefit in bringing everyone together under the one roof, and thus the dramatic explosion we have seen in the literary festival.

Literary festivals are a great way of increasing the interest and keeping readers and publishers in touch, and by doing so, the cycle of publication is strengthened allowing more good books to find their way into the market place, and therefore, new writers.

Without readers there can be no publishing industry, and literary festivals take full advantage in exploiting this to everyone’s gain. When the Edinburgh Book Festival first set out it had small dreams but it is now widely regarded as the biggest in the world, laying claim to almost a quarter of a million people attending during the two weeks in August it runs. This year’s festival saw 1.8 million ticket sales and a running capacity of 80%. When one considers these phenomenal statistics, it becomes clear that something great is happening again in book-world, and everyone is benefiting.

At literary festivals, established authors get the chance to talk about themselves and their books, they get the opportunity to meet their fans, receive adulation, and feel gloriously important. They get to show off! Considering they spend most of the year with imaginary people in solitary conditions, who can blame them for wanting to get out and socialise with their industry colleagues?

And for those writers who have not hit the top 5% of writers that don’t have to worry about how the mortgage will be paid, they are able to gain the reassurance that there are other writers out there in the same boat. They get to brush shoulders with agents and publishers, promote themselves, and of course, learn from their contemporaries. Sometimes, as in the case of my own feelings towards the Edinburgh Book Festival, for example, just being around other readers and writers is enough to motivate me.

But it’s not just readers, publishers and writers that benefit from literary festivals, so too does the surrounding area and the economy. With the arrival of all these different literary groupings, hotels, bars, restaurants and book shops fill up rapidly. Everyone’s a winner!

So when you see Katie Price’s next novel on the book shelf and hear yourself moan about the decline of standards in British publishing, think about the roll on effect that her book will have. Writers, readers, agents, publishers, book shop owners, coffee shop managers, hoteliers, bar owners and everyone else who has a vested interest in ensuring that the publishing industry gets stronger and stronger, and everybody gets a fair share.

Reading fiction or poetry may not be seen as fashionable or trendy, but tell that to the millions of people who enjoy it, and the thousands that earn a living from it. You certainly couldn’t tell if you had joined me in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh this August. An underground movement perhaps, but the people are speaking, the people are shouting: “let’s celebrate the book!”

Colin Galbraith has published two books of fiction and two books of poetry. He writes the occasional article, and is the News of the World’s “man in the east” for music reviews. He can be found at

Copyright © Colin Galbraith 2009

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 1:49 am  Comments (4)  
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