How to Survive a Crime Writing Festival

I was SUPER excited to attend the Bristol-based CrimeFest at the end of May: a four day festival dedicated to all things crime writing.

Panels begin at 9am and don’t stop until 6pm. Nope, they don’t even break for lunch!

Though the festival is in its ninth year, this was my first writing festival and I have to admit I had no idea what to expect. If you are a reader, writer or blogger attending a writing festival for the first time, check out these 6 tips to survive!


1. Pack a lunch!

Crime writing festivals try to pack in as many panels as possible, so that you get to meet tons of authors and listen to great discussions, advice and reading recommendations. What that means for you as the attendee, is that they may not factor in a lunch break.

At CrimeFest there are 20 minute breaks between panels, but much of this time is spent chatting to your neighbour or finding your way to the next panel. Some attendees I spoke to would pick in advance two panels to miss out on each day, to factor in buying a lunch and a comfort break.

For me, I want to ensure I get my monies-worth, so my advice would be to bring a packed lunch, lots of snacks and a big bottle of water, or to buy a meal deal on your way to the festival venue!



2. Bring a backpack!

One of the very best things about attending festivals like these is the free swag! Upon check-in on your first day most writing festivals will hand over a goodie bag with debut novels, leaflets and the programme which you will then be lugging around for the rest of the day. If you are also carrying a handbag, you can feel pretty laden down pretty fast.

My advice would be to go ‘hands free’ with a backpack big enough for your lunch, notebook and some books. Trust me that after each of the panels you will have heard of one or two new books you will be dying to pick up – these festivals have a ‘book room’ where you can purchase books by all of the authors attending the festival.


a CrimeFest swag bag!


3. Layer your clothes!

No matter the weather outside the festival venue, you can pretty much guarantee that a panel will get stuffy fairly quickly. These rooms are closed once they start in order to keep the sound quality in as the panellists speak, and all of those bodies in close quarters can mean it gets warm. On the otherhand I found some rooms had air conditioning on full blast and needed to pop a jumper on!

Plan for either outcome with easy layers you can take on and off or store in your backpack.




4. Pack a notepad and pen!

Most importantly of all, make sure you pack at pen and a sturdy notepad; sturdy because you will likely be making notes with only your lap to lean on.

Panellists will cover fascinating topics as well as tell you anecdotes, advice for writers, their favourite books and upcoming stories they are working on. Make sure you scribble all of this down to check out at a later date, trust me you will not remember it all after the festival.

A handy tip – create an easy symbol system for common info before you get to the festival. For example I use the following symbols:

I also chose the panels I wanted to attend ahead of time and wrote the panel name, room and time on a new page each in my notepad so that I wouldn’t be furiously scribbling them down at the start of every panel.


5. Bring a business card!

One of the most important things I did not bank on was this: EVERYONE at CrimeFest had a business card to hand to you. This ranged from new and established authors, beta readers, editors, social media experts and bloggers.

Writing festivals are really sociable and you will meet so many wonderful people, you don’t want to be forgetting their names or having to write them down each time you meet a new person.

Make the design memorable, include your name, email, blog or website and a mobile number if you’re comfortable doing so. Many of the business cards I saw included the front cover of their latest book, or perhaps a short quote from their book.


I was lucky enough to meet Chris Ewan, Karmen Spiljak, Barry Forshaw, Tana Collins, B.A. Steadman, Gail B. Williams and P.S. Syron-Jones!


6. Plan for book signings!

A fab perk of attending a crime writing festival is that the authors provide free book signings at the end of panels. My advice would be to check all of the authors attending beforehand and make a list/highlight the ones you want to catch for a signing. You could always bring some books from home by the authors or buy new copies at the book room.

You could even surprise a friend by asking for a personalised signature in one of their favourite books!


I hope this gave you some ideas for better planning your next writing festival if you’re a regular attendee, or if you’re new that it gives you an insight into what goes on!

Have you been to a writing festival? What advice would you give a newbie?

12 thoughts on “How to Survive a Crime Writing Festival

  1. Can’t disagree with any of this advice; although I must ask if it is based on prior trips and mishaps at previous festivals. You sound somewhat experienced !! The business card thing is a typical networking must; Business schools bang that one out in practice social sessions where the aim is to get to know as much as possible about as many people in 15 minutes and, in return, make sure they know about you. Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks Gary, I will def add to this post as I attend more writing festivals, this was my first one but I had no idea what to expect and am hoping this will help others be a little more prepared! I had no idea about the business cards but can’t wait to design them for next time! Have you been to any of these kinds of festivals? 🙂

      1. Not yet, but as I start the publishing phase then I feel it a good move to enhance my networking. As for business cards; I used to run a charity pre-school and found them incredibly useful and really easy to get at very little cost. I also had a heads up at a Uni I worked in that had a business school; their café was where I witnessed their task assignments in networking. It was an eye opener and gave me loads of tips in that direction 🙂

  2. This was such fun to read! And even though my plans will, no doubt, never include a Crime Writing Festival, your tips are great for just about any large information- sharing gathering!

  3. Excellent advice – practical and worthwhile. You’ve given some helpful advice esp about business cards. I’m just planning to get more cards printed for the bloggers conf next week and was wondering if I should have my book cover on it.

    1. Yes i was really surprised that everyone had them, and will def make sure i have some for my blog next time i go! Ooh i’d love to see the finished result, i def think a colourful design, book cover or maybe one of your characters would be really memorable!

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