On BritCrime online literature festival: Helen Smith interview

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She’s the founder of BritCrime. BritCrime gives crime readers an opportunity to meet at online events – they are free and accessible to everyone. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Helen about the festival and how it was all set up.

1. Please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career.

My name is Helen Smith and I live in Brixton in south London. I had my first book published in 1999. Since then I have written poetry, plays, children’s books and screenplays, but at the moment I’m making a living writing novels. I’m currently writing a mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. It’s a lot of fun to write.

2. Can you explain what BritCrime is?

We are 45 British crime writers and one American who are collaborating to put on free online crime fiction events to connect with readers around the world. Our first event was a three-day festival in July 2015. Our next event will be a Christmas Party. We have another festival planned for next summer.

3. How did the idea of BritCrime come about?

The authors involved in BritCrime love attending crime fiction festivals, but we often hear from readers who are disappointed they can’t attend. I offered to set up an online festival to see if it would be a good way to connect with readers around the world while protecting our writing time.

4. How did you go about marketing BritCrime and generating interest for it?

I set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website and a mailing list. Our publishers were very generous about donating books as prizes so I set up several giveaways to promote the the festival. We also held a draw for a Kindle Paperwhite for new subscribers to our newsletter. Interestingly, the buzz began as soon as the website, Twitter and Facebook pages went up as people in the industry speculated who was behind the idea. Once we shared the idea with readers and book bloggers, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the festival. We gained a lot of new followers very quickly.

5. What was your method for getting authors on board? Did you already personally know the authors, or did you have to approach them to get them on board?

It was self-selecting. I put up a post on Facebook saying that I planned to set up a one-day online crime fiction festival and needed twelve writers to join me. A couple of minutes later my friend Alex Marwood responded with an enthusiastic yes… and we were off! I tried to cap the numbers at 30, then 36… Within about 24 hours we had 41 writers involved and the date set for a three-day festival. I liked the serendipity of it. Had I approached writers individually, it would have taken weeks to set up. Also, as everyone involved had approached me and asked to join, it meant they were engaged with the project and they were fun to work with. As time went by, we were approached by various creative partners and I said yes to all of them for the same reason, and the partnerships were productive because they were all so keen to be involved.