Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The ABBAlitfest Story - Lucy Coats

More than 10,000 views later, I think I can safely say that the first-ever online children’s book festival has been a huge success. The Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online Literary Festival has been tweeted many hundreds of times, been splashed all over Facebook, been commented on, blogged about, and generally feted with praise and raised glasses.  All of us who took part—both organisers and bloggers—would like to say thank you to all of you who came, saw, and stayed for some or all of the 20 hour, 40 post duration--and to those of you who are STILL coming back to catch up with everything! It took a lot of hard work (and maybe even a tear or two) to get us here—and so we thought you’d like to know a bit about how it all came to pass....  

Back in the bleakness of mid-February 2011, Sam Mills mentioned that she’d seen a feature about an online literary festival in a newspaper, and suggested that The Scattered Authors could hold the first-ever online children's festival on our shared blog. Sam says:
“I worried the idea might be rubbish, so I was excited by the positive and enthused response. The festival was on!”
So The Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online Literary Festival was born.  It’s quite a mouthful. So we quickly shortened it to ABBAlitfest. Short, sweet, and easy on everyone’s typing fingers.  Sam then approached each author-blogger individually about doing something for the festival—even though she knew it would take many times as long as doing a group-mailing.
“Day after day, I shot off email after email. I was so pleased when the first authors I approached, Liz Kessler and Adele Geras, said YES and agreed to do giveaways. Soon I had 12 authors on board and I began to compose a timetable. By the end we had a grand total of 47 authors. All the pieces were of such good quality...I think that made the festival.”

While Sam was working her socks off, wrangling authors and posts into place (much like herding cats, some say), another piece of the festival jigsaw was quietly being put into place by Elen Caldecott, our new Blogmistress Supreme.  The old blog was looking a bit dated, so Elen volunteered to oversee and take on the huge task of creating a brand new blog look in time for our third blogoversary on 9th July.  Elen says:
“I was on a massive learning curve. I thought I knew how it would work, but with so much varied material, I had to think on my feet a bit. I know a lot more about Blogger now than I did before!”
Not only did Elen revamp the entire blog, she also had to contend with designing our very popular I ♥ ABBAlitfest blog button and pre-loading all the author posts which arrived in several neat email bundles from Sam (all very-time consuming).  What surprised her was how willing so many were to use technology to meet and interact with readers and other writers.
“Blogging, of course, but also making videos, both unheard of ten years ago! Writers are adapting well, I think. I came away very hopeful and inspired.”

So what did I do?  Well, since I seem to have acquired a reputation as a mistress of the dark arts of social networking, I was designated Publicity Campaign Director. I started the ABBAlitfest campaign 3/4 of the way through June, though the planning had been done long before. Like Sam, I sent out email after personal email (with press release attached)—to bloggers, newspapers, journalists, magazines, publishers, bookish organisations and bodies—anyone I thought might be interested in linking to us or writing about us, or generally spreading the word.  The response was immediate and incredible, and like Elen, I had a steep learning curve. 
I had to be disciplined (that this happened is possibly a small miracle), and very very focused. If I had a day or so off, my inbox exploded (the final email count was nearly 1000). There was a Twitter #ABBAlitfest hashtag and a Facebook Event Page to run—and the task of co-ordinating all the guest posts for the various wonderful bloggers who’d agreed to host our author-bloggers in the run up to the festival weekend.  On the weekend itself, I felt as if I was juggling about a million slippery batons at once—and dropping one was not an option!  I was glued to the computer screen almost permanently—cross-posting links to Twitter from two accounts, updating Facebook, retweeting, replying, reading posts (and checking they all appeared), watching videos, viewing our ever-rising visitor numbers with growing excitement—and living on Earl Grey tea and adrenaline. 

It’s been a rollercoaster ride into new realms for all of us Festival organisers, and we’ve learned lots of lessons along the way about how to run an online children’s book festival (and some about how not to!) . But I think it’s safe to say we’ve all enjoyed it hugely (most of the time).  And for those of you who asked immediately it ended if we’ll be doing it again next year...(for pity’s sake, people—could we not have had ONE day to recover!!)...well, the answer is probably yes.  Maybe. If you twist our arms a bit and give us chocolate.  We’ll, er, keep you posted!  

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Sam Mills said...

I had so much fun working with you, Lucy! Your publicity campaign was amazing. And I must also mention Linda Strachan and give thanks to her, as she helped me when I was drowning under my workload and got some pieces in from Celia Rees and others - many thanks, Linda!

John Dougherty said...

And what a fabulous job you all did!

Keren David said...

Congratulations to all the organisers - a truly wonderful event!

Lucy Coats said...

You're quite right, Sam--so many brilliant people helped in so many ways--and Linda Sespecially deserves a big mention (I'm with her right now, and will tell her) It's a long, long list, and I forsee several more emails coming up! As you know, I loved working with you too....

John and Keren--thanks for your kind words.

jane eagland said...

I was really chuffed to be part of such an exciting event! Huge congratulations and thanks to all the organisers and helpers for all their hard work.

jane eagland said...

P.S. I forgot to say - I love the new-look site!

Helen Moss said...

I've really enjoyed the ABBA literary festival - what a great idea, and such brilliant posts - I still haven't managed to look at all of them. It sounds like an enormous amount of work but definitely worth it. Thank you for doing it!

Elen C said...

Hannah illustrated the site - I just nicked the lettering!
Do take a look at Hannah's site (and clip) if you haven't already:

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Ten thousands hits sounds amazing- Abba lit fest is stadium rock!!

catdownunder said...

As I said elsewhere - it was an enormous amount of work for some people and I hope I can repay you for some of it one day.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about all this was that my 88yr old father who would not actually go to anything like this could also read and enjoy some of it. (He also much admires Lucy's dogs and I had a hard time persuading him that no, we are not having a dog!)
To everyone who put something up - my sincere thanks.

Susan Price said...

One question, Lucy - what kind of chocolate?

Katherine Langrish said...

It was a FANTASTIC effort, Lucy! Huge appreciation! xxx