wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Festivals: Clunes Booktown, Sydney Writers’ Festival + how to approach them

Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown

Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown

Before I head into a general ramble about festivals, I’ll get the topical bit out of the way to say: yes, I am in! May is festival time so if you live in Sydney, Melbourne, or the regions surrounding me (Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, etc), please come and see my fest debuts; it’s always nice to have bums on seats. And I always like to get audience questions from people I already know.


This is one of my favourite festivals, where the beautiful old streets are taken over by second hand booksellers; a literary paradise. It’s a nice day trip from Melb or a fun weekender.

I’m excited to be including on the program, doing a session with graphic novelist Nicki Greenberg (where we push the boundaries of the novel), plus I’ll be pushing things even further when I head up on stage for the first time with my dad, Nigel Krauth, also an author (well, he did win the Vogel Award for his first novel Matilda My Darling and the NSW Premiers Literary Award for JF Was Here). We’ll be duelling light sabres and talking about how to write fathers and daughters and how we both get caught up in our own and shared fictions.

My sessions at Clunes:

Sat 3 May: 11.15-12.15, Pushing the Boundaries of the Novel, with Nicki Greenberg, Venue: Warehouse

Sun 4 May: 12.30-1.30, Writing the father Writing the daughter, with Nigel Krauth, Venue: Warehouse

The highly esteemed Alex Miller and Henry Reynolds will also be in attendance. Full programme is available here.


Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers' Festival

Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers’ Festival

One of the things I love about writers’ festivals these days is that they’re spreading like a virus out of the inner-urban into regional areas. I’m very excited to be appearing in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains (where just_a_girl is set) alongside another debut author Felicity Castagna (whose work appeared in Friday Night Fictions).

Again, city-dwellers could do a great day trip or locals will probably already have their tickets. Apparently they are selling well.

What I’m really keen on is that two of my favourite writers of the moment (Richard Flanagan – YES! – and Emma Donoghue) will also be in Katoomba. I’ll be staying at Varuna, the famous retreat for writers, so I’ll be able to suss it out before returning to hopefully work on the second novel at some point this year.

I never would have dreamed when I was about to launch my book that down the track I would be talking about marketing, but there you go. At Forest for the Trees, an all-day NSW Writers’ Centre seminar on the state of publishing, I’ll be hanging out with Kate Forsyth and discussing how you go about marketing novels, and how social media (and blogging) can help. I like to target these sessions to the modern introvert (like me) who can go a long way to promote their work without moving from their bedroom (except to get the occasional cup of tea).

My sessions at Sydney Writers’ Festival:

Here and Now: Debut Fiction, Monday 19 May, 10–11.10am, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba. (More info – tickets for session at venue or day passes available.)

Forest for the Trees: Writing and Publishing in 2014, how to publish and market a debut novel, Thursday 22 May, State Library of NSW, 10am–4.30pm. (More info – tickets available from SWF website.)


Richard Flanager, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF

Richard Flanagan, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF

I don’t tend to think of myself as naive, but if I’m being completely honest, perhaps I’m a bit more like my character Layla than I tend to admit.

Along the marketing ride (I mean gallop)  for just_a_girl, some things have taken me by surprise. One has been the notion of the writers’ festival.

Now I have been going to writers’ festivals since I was a child. My dad Nigel Krauth (see Clunes above) sometimes took me along to his sessions (I remember CUB Malthouse in Melbourne) and I’d watch with pride and awe as he read filthy passages that made me blush and roll my eyes, and fielded questions from the audience as if he was very important. In my twenties and thirties I attended many festivals as a reader, never in quite as much awe, but keen to glean as much know-how as I could, for the day when I would be a famous writer.

But back to earth. Writers’ festivals are quite hard to get into. I didn’t know this. I never did the maths (ie 10,000 aspiring writers does not equal 400 writers in festival program). I thought that once I had a novel published, there it was. I was a WRITER now. I wasn’t emerging any more. I was OUT. THERE. There’s this book in your hand. Anyone can see it. Feel free to programme me.

But no. Like anything else these days, it is no longer just about the book. It’s about the writer. And you have to sell your soul! I mean, your self. This is all about strategy. It’s taken me nearly a year to break into the festival circuit (since just_a_girl was published). Here are a few things that I’ve learnt so far that could help:

Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers' Festival

Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers’ Festival

1. You need to get in early. It’s good to think about approaching festivals pretty soon after the last one has finished. Not too soon … but.

2. The personal touch works. Don’t just send a media release with a review copy of your book. Write about you, what you’re about, why you wrote your book, how your angle differs from everyone else’s.

3. Offer to do extra stuff. Look you’ll get taken advantage of, but that’s the fucking industry all over, isn’t it! Offer to convene other sessions (if you’re the extroverted type) or blog about other sessions (more my style).

4. Try the regional angle. Of course everyone wants to get into Sydney and Melbourne and they have wonderful prestige and the chance to hobknob but in terms of promoting your books, you might get lost in the crowd…Look for festivals in your area (see Clunes Booktown again!) or check out online databases of literary festivals and try a smaller one that concentrates on your genre.

My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival

My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival

5. Rejection is hard. The difficult thing about being knocked back from festivals is if you focus on point 2 above, as you need to, it can start to feel personal. Not only does the festival not want the book, they can’t place you as a person either. But each festival director is different, looking for a new angle on old topics. Look at the program and see where you slot in. Try again next time. Try and find another writer working in a similar vein. Are they sexier than you? Good. Use them. Pitch as a team.

6. Look to the experts. I commissioned Angela Meyer, of LiteraryMinded fame, to write a terrific sum-up of how to appear at writers festivals for Newswrite magazine (NSW Writers’ Centre) because she’s been to loads. Her article has since been reproduced at ArtsHub so it’s a great starting point…


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35 thoughts on “Festivals: Clunes Booktown, Sydney Writers’ Festival + how to approach them

  1. Great info Kirsten, thanks for being generous with your knowledge!

    • Hey, no worries, it’s all about resilience.

    • Also, Julie, do you have any festivals that are favourites for you, that you love to attend?

      • Love The Emerging Writers Fest, it’s always so vibrant and full of energy and new ideas. The Bendigo Festival has grown so much since it’s beginning and I’m really looking forward to it again this year, and I’m heading up to Sydney Fest for the first time next month so really looking forward to that! Also, this year the Digital Festival was a fantastic initiative and I’m sure it will only get bigger and better, so good to see them embrace the technology and bring in people from around the world – it’s going to be a great one to get involved with year after year.

  2. Congratulations on the upcoming festivals! I spoke at a few last year, and absolutely loved them. I’ll be at Sydney this year, as a reader though (although I’m doing one event) and look forward to catching up. I had a wonderful time there last year, it was one of the highlights of being published for me!


    • You’ll be in Sydney? Excellent! What event are you doing? Want to link to it here? Will be great to see you. Hope the new book is doing well (it’s out?). Can you let me and other readers know why you liked Sydney so much, and any other festivals that were terrific for you?

      • Sorry only just saw your reply, Kirsten. My new book isn’t out until July so my session isn’t related to that – it’s still being confirmed at the moment as I decided to go just as a treat for myself! Hope we can catch up…
        And I loved Sydney for personal reasons as I lived there for 8 years and it was like coming home. It is also a great atmosphere at the festival – Walsh Bay is full of people, there’s a great festival club in the evenings and the whole weekend just felt very glamorous!

  3. Very excited for you about your forthcoming festival appearances, Kirsten. Your Katoomba itinerary sounds particularly dreamy. Fresh from the Newcastle Writers Festival, I have to say I’m becoming a big fan of the regional festivals. They make it easier to get to know people — both visitors and locals. Speaking of which, I briefly met Tim Ferguson at NWF. Still kicking myself that I didn’t ask him to sign something for you.

    • Thanks, Angela. Yeah I agree re regional festivals – the audiences are so keen, and it’s nice to check out some of the towns too. I know Newcastle pretty well because my mother and her parents were from there. Tim! He has invited me for coffee and cake when I’m next in Sydney (awwww) – the benefits of blogging! How was he?

      • Wow – coffee and cake with Tim. Talk about fantasy fulfilment. More power to you, KK. He was more frail than I expected. I think quite a few of us at NWF got a shock when we saw him. But he remains in high spirits.

      • Ah, ok. I’m really looking forward to seeing him – I hope it comes off (so to speak).

  4. Kirsten, I’m so impressed by how hard you work at publicising your book and yourself as an author. I have bursts of activity, but I’m still living in a magical imaginary world where my publisher is the one who’ll get me on the bill of festivals. I need to follow your lead!

  5. Thanks Kirsten, that was a great intro to writer’s festivals for the non-writer. It sounds like you will have a massive load – I can imagine it takes some prep during the events. I’ve been fascinated lately by artist’s writing about balance of work and promotion. I still can’t find an answer (I don’t think there is one for doing both simultaneously). I think maybe you have to compartmentalise – work on one, then the other. That’s all good if you can stay focused on just one thing!

    • Hey Dee! Yes, the bit I didn’t get to in the article is how much preparation then goes into appearing. I haven’t been through the process before so am just about to embark on it but I’d like to read the books of the other panellists (as I think the best panels always have this interaction where writers appreciate others’ work) as well as try to be on topic as much as I can. I’m not too good at compartmentalising – but also with just one day a week set aside for ‘creative writing’, just_a_girl understandably still gets the focus. But I will set myself a deadline soon and stick to it…

  6. Kirsten, what a great festive season you have ahead of you! I’m inspired by your energy and initiative. And good to learn about who your father is 🙂 Enjoy Varuna – my very favorite place in Australia.

    • Thanks, Lee. So you’ve been to Varuna as a writer? Why did you love it so much?

      • I used to go to Varuna at least once a year before I had my baby (but will be back in January). I absolutely adore the peace of the place, Sheila’s famous cooking, and most of all the way you’re treated there as if writing is actually a serious job 🙂 besides, Katoomba itself is charming and inspired me often to write. I hope very much your experience will be great too. It’s easy to get a lot done there.

      • Hi Lee, I’ll be staying there as a guest of the festival and so will be out and about – but I love the sound of it, and hope to return, sounds so wonderful. I used to live in Springwood (lower Blue Mountains) so we would head up to Katoomba for brunch.

  7. Such a great post, thank you for sharing! Couldn’t have come at a better time, either: making my debut festival appearance at the Sydney Montessori School Literature Festival next week and shaking in my little author boots 🙂
    Love your blog!

    • Wow! Sounds like a great festival – hadn’t heard of it. Do you have a link to your session that you’d like to post here? I know … I find the public persona side of things difficult (fronting to an audience) but the good news is, it gets better. And I really enjoy reading from my work now!

      • It’s a new festival, but there’s a great line-up, so people should definitely check it out 🙂 I am doing a session for teens aged 12+ on the Wednesday April 30 http://sms.nsw.edu.au/literature-festival/ – and all sessions for the three-day festival are FREE. Hurrah!
        I am a bit nervous about fronting an audience, but hope 4 months of rabbiting on about myself/my book to the media have helped me a little for this.
        How long are the sections you choose to read from your book?

  8. annabelsmith on said:

    I had one of the craziest nights of my life in Clunes! What a great spot for a festival. And how lovely that you get to be in a session with your dad. Congratulations on getting onto the Sydney Writers festival program – I haven’t been lucky enough there yet, but last year was thrilled to be on the program at Melbourne Writers fest – after many years of attending as a reader, and the same for Perth. I love festivals – I think they’re way better than Christmas. Hope all your sessions go swimmingly.

    • Thanks, Annabel. Re Clunes: tell me more! It is a brilliant festival, really one to just mosey about and look at books. It’s about the books!

      • annabelsmith on said:

        It’s a long story and best told in person, so I’ll save it for when you come to Perth in October. It revolves around the restaurant run by the husband and wife team in the main street. Very Fawlty Towers.

      • You’re coming to Perth in October, Kirsten? Fab! Look forward to seeing you then if not in Sydney in May.

      • Yep! Hoping to have a few days there – would love to have dinner with all your WA writers! But Sydney would still be great.

      • annabelsmith on said:

        We’d love to have dinner with you Kirsten – as soon as you know your dates let me know and we’ll organise something.

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