It's always tempting after events to think "we've got away with it again", but on this occasion I do feel that this is the case. States of Independence II (programme still on http://www.statesofindependence.co.uk/) was attended by at least 350 people on Saturday in Leicester. We know this as we gave out day programmes (300 in 2010) which some people shared or managed to avoid so the numbers would perhaps be around 400 attending the 26 events. Why the worry? In 2010 we produced 6,000 printed programmes circulated in advance, but felt that most people attended via facebook, blogs and other electronic means. This year, with less money to play with, we circulated about 2,000 postcards and a handful of posters directing people to the website and concentrated on electronic means only. And the whole event was conceived, programmed and promoted in four weeks. Those of us from the poster and leaflet days get nervous doing without. But it worked. The short notice obviously excluded some people so more notice and perhaps a bit of postering might have brought us to around 500 people, which is as many as this kind of event should have. What is good about States is that the average age of attendees is much lower than the norm at any other literature project we are involved with - and I mean young people not just early-middle aged - and, increasingly, multicultural.
It was not difficult to pull together an interesting programme, nor was it last year, but that might not always be the case with a relatively limited pool of regional speakers. The day - being free to the public - relies on speakers' mutual goodwill (to use the phrase Ni Smith posted on facebook), accepting travel expenses and meal vouchers only, and pitching in to join panels, chair events, and mooching around the stalls like everyone else. There is certainly little barrier between reader and writer, publisher and the published, the well-known and the less well-known on the day. It would be invidious to ship in "national" names who would need paying, while relying on the free labour of local writers and organisers.
We charged stall holders a token fee, a fiver or "an interesting book" more to introduce the idea of charging at a similar event in the future, but though some stalls do well it is hardly a commercial operation, and with so many writers involved sales are spread widely. Nobody makes anything significant, but one of the major features is that much maligned networking. Last year, for example, led to Nine Arches from Birmingham forming partnerships to hold regular "shindigs" in Nottingham and Leicester, while Writing School Leicester formed a publishing partnership with Pewter Rose of Nottingham. This year I signed up a couple of writers I'd not come across before to read at Lowdham Book Festival.
The cost? De Montfort University provides the premises free, but there is a direct cost to them, albeit small, of security on the day. Feeding the speakers cost about £200, travel probably the same (by the time I've tracked down several of the speakers who ran off without their expenses). Say a couple of hundred for publicity. Excluding DMU, £600 all in. Let's say we took £100 in stall hire. £500 then, with no payment for organising time. Five Leaves picked up the bill, and the £1000 it cost last year, the remains of a fund we administered to promote independent presses. This fund is now exhausted so future States projects will need a degree of funding. We are, however, talking with Nine Arches about a similar event in Birmingham.
And on the day? A bit early to say but I know that the sessions on anarchism and on writing speculative fiction were full, that 32 people came to the session on Moomins and philosophy, that Penny Luithlen, the young adult agent who carries some of our writers, was busy throughout the day doing short advice sessions, we sold out of the graphic novel Depresso we were carrying for the day to support one of the speakers and the cafe was rather pleased with its takings. I also know that some friends are ganging up to ensure Five Leaves moves into the eBook era following a session on that subject by Abi Rhodes from Spokesman. Why don't they just leave me alone? I like the twentieth century.