My number one tip for getting started on a career within the literary world, is to volunteer at literary festivals. It’s a quick and accessible way to get involved, hook yourself up with some contacts, get an insight into the lives and careers of people working in the arts and having a lot of fun while doing so. I was told to do this during a career talk at my university, and then volunteered at three different festivals during my last year and in the first few months after finishing my degree.
How to get involved
Getting involved is so easy, it’s almost self-explanatory. First off, look for a section on the festival’s website which deals with volunteer stewards, and see what they say. Often you just fill in a simple form, other times they won’t have a system in place, and it’s up to you to put your hand in the air and say that you’re there. You just find the right address, shoot them an email and there you go, you’re involved. Get in touch, email the head of the festival if you can’t find anyone more suitable, and they’ll get your email sent on to the right people. At the really big festivals they might fill up with volunteers early on, so getting ahead of the crowd is a good idea.
Time and place and travel
The really wonderful thing about volunteering at literary festivals, is that it’s such a quick job. All it takes is one weekend, maybe a bit longer if you sign up for that, so you can get it done pretty swiftly. Once you’re at the festival it might feel so immersive and big that it’s difficult to believe that it’s just a few days of your life gone by, but there you go, they’re not on for more than a short week, so it’s definitely worth investing that time when you think of everything you can gain from it!
When I volunteered I stayed at a friend’s house, at my grandparent’s house and at a youth hostel in order to be near the festivals. If you don’t have much money, seek out the locations where you know you can sort out accommodation for free or for cheap, and start there. Then there is travel, I’ve gone by bus, train, tube and flight – I guess you need to do some soul-searching to figure out how important it is for you to be there. For me, it was about making it a priority, and seeing the money spent as an investment into my career and my future.
What to do once you’re there
You’ll get instructions on the specifics of what needs to be done once you get there, but as a general piece of advise, I’d say that what you should focus on is to talk to people. Talk, talk, talk, to anyone and everyone. Get to know the other volunteers, the speakers, the festival organisers, the guests. You never know who will turn out to be a useful contact, or better yet, a great friend! I’ve made plenty of both during my time at the festivals, and it’s such a rewarding thing, making connections that will do you good in future. If you have a natural curiosity and interest in the people around you, relationships can form quite effortlessly. If in doubt, just talk about books!
What to take away from it all
The biggest and most obvious thing to take away from volunteering at literary festivals is the people and the contacts that you make during your time there. This is actually rather a big deal, because jobs within the literary world are often just advertised by word of mouth and filled via personal recommendations. Furthermore, once you have your job of choice, you can make your contacts go even further, by making those crucial connections and introductions. Another thing you get from volunteering, is the names you can put on your CV. Namedrop the authors you worked with, list the organisers on your references, name the cities you went to. I added London, Cambridge and Oxford to my CV, for just a weekend each in the different places. Volunteering also shows genuine interest and initiative, which any interviewer will see as a good thing.
And most importantly: Enjoy!
Oh my gosh I’ve had such great times volunteering at literary festivals. I’ve made really good friends, seen so many interesting talks, been introduced to wonderful and interesting books that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise, and even been invited along to a dinner party at a private literary club in London with an Oscar nominated director and writers and journalists. I’ve landed a job after cornering a publisher in an elevator and asking for one, I’ve gone out with people that I met and had a great night in Oxford, I’ve explored new cities, been introduced to loads of new books and authors, it’s really been so, so rewarding and I can’t recommend it highly enough as a way to get into the business of books!