Review: Ian Fox’s Edinburgh Fringe Comedy ebook

Ian Fox’s ebook

IN the course of researching The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, I conducted about 70 interviews with actors, comedians, venue managers, producers, publicists, critics and editors. What this brought home to me was something I knew instinctively: that everyone’s experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is unique. No two stories are quite the same. I could have interviewed another 70 people and discovered 70 more unique perspectives on the world’s biggest festival.

My approach when writing the book was to encapsulate as many of those perspectives as possible. Your experience of the Fringe won’t be exactly the same as any of them, but I hope it has similarities to a few. More to the point, by establishing a set of general principles, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide offers a template you can use to tackle the Fringe on your own terms. Get the basics right and you can make it work for you.

Comedian Ian Fox has taken a different approach. In his self-published ebook, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show, he writes primarily from his own perspective. He is someone who has been performing on the Fringe since 2002, doing solo shows and ten-minute spots as well as producing mixed bills. Much of his experience has been on the Laughing Horse Free Festival, so he knows about the ups and downs of doing comedy to an audience that hasn’t paid, in a room in a pub that is often not designed with stand-up in mind. He’s also performed on the paid-for Fringe, so understands some of the advantages and disadvantages there too.

This first-hand experience is the book’s strength. Whether he’s telling you about the likely costs, the challenges of dragging your props through the streets of Edinburgh or the hazards of doing accommodation on the cheap, Fox has been there. In the final section of the book, he slips into anecdote mode and recounts a whole series of entertaining stories involving drunken, impoverished, egotistical and unlucky comedians. No reason any of the same things should happen to you, but they serve as a warning of the kind of thing that could take place.

I’m probably not the right person to judge, but it seems to me Fox’s book complements The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, but is not an alternative to it. There’s a small amount of overlap between the two books, but mainly what Fox offers is an extra level of detail from his own very particular perspective. If in doubt, buy both – you’ll still have change from £15. 

What he has to say will be most useful if you are his intended reader – a stand-up comedian, probably performing in one of the free festivals – and will be less relevant if you’re not. Even then, you’ll still find it interesting; the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an endlessly fascinating place and this book adds more colour to the picture.

On the downside, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show does bear the hallmarks of being self-published. Fox has complained about how long proofreading took, but it should have taken a lot longer. I’d say there was an average of one typo per Kindle page. It’s probably my bad reading rather than his bad writing that persuaded me the entire cast for one of his shows had testicular cancer, but you get used to skipping over repeated words, filling in the missing phrases, mentally adding the apostrophes and translating the homonyms.

There are also some factual errors: the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began in the same year – 1947; the population of Edinburgh doubles during August, it does not increase seven-fold; and it is not illegal to hand out flyers in places other than the High Street and your venue.

As I understand it, e-publishing allows Fox the chance to make corrections, so I imagine he’ll iron out these details, thus improving a valuable attempt to make sense of a multifarious festival he loves as much as anyone.

Top ten ways to sell your Edinburgh Festival Fringe show on Twitter

Author Mark Fisher

AS THOSE who follow me @markffisher will confirm, I’ve been using Twitter relentlessly since the start of the year as a way of promoting The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. I’ve been doing this for a number of reasons:

  • I have something to sell and Twitter is a way to communicate with would-be buyers.
  • A hell of a lot has been said about social media marketing (usually by new-media “gurus”) and this was an opportunity to put it to the test, separate fact from fiction and see if the self-appointed experts were blinding us with science.
  • Having written a book that gives advice to Edinburgh Festival Fringe participants, I feel the least I can do is put some of that advice into practice. If I’m telling you to get on Twitter and Facebook, I better get on it too

So what have I learnt? Here are my top ten observations based on my own use of Twitter and on what I’ve seen of other people’s use of it.

  1. The potential is astonishing. It’s easy to forget Twitter did not exist before 2006 nor Facebook before 2004. Until very recently, if you had wanted a respected figure to endorse your show, you would have had to go to considerable effort to contact that figure, let alone persuade them of your worth. Having done that, you would have had to go to the expense of producing vast numbers of flyers. If we’re talking about a figure such as Stephen Fry, you’d have to print 4 million flyers to reach the same number of followers – and even then, you would have no certainty the right people would see them. Compare that with Twitter: you send a tweet to the respected figure; if you’re lucky, the respected figure retweets it; straight away, many thousands of interested people will see it. A process that would have taken weeks can now happen in a couple of minutes – and at no cost. This is in addition to your regular followers who, by choosing to follow you, have already identified themselves as potential audience members.
  2. People are smart. They know if they’re being sold to. They know if they’re being hoodwinked. If you use Twitter purely as an advertising medium, they will see through you.
  3. People want to read something interesting. I am at an advantage withThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, because it is packed with quotations from experts on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. If I send a tweet saying “‘If you’ve got a 2-star review, get a 3-star review next time,’ @StephensSimon in Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide,” it is unquestionably a plug for the book, but it is also pretty interesting – at least to my target market who recognise Simon Stephens as a leading playwright and a voice to be reckoned with. @lyngardner, the Guardian theatre critic, retweeted that one to 14,000 followers. That’s 14,000 more people who know about the book. But this brings us to the next thing:
  4. Know your market. It may give your ego a boost if someone with lots of followers retweets you, but if those followers are unlikely to be interested in your show, you aren’t going to achieve very much. Think about your show, think about what’s interesting about it, think about who it will interest and target them. In his recently published e-book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show, comedian Ian Fox says he noticed his 2006 show The Butterfly Effect attracted a crowd who were interested in chaos theory as well as the usual comedy punters. The theme of your show could attract a new audience for you and Twitter can help you find them.
  5. Save a set of relevant Twitter searches. Work out the phrases your potential audience will be using, search for them on Twitter and select the option to “save search” each time. You can then check the results every day or so. The people who are interested in the same things as you could be the audience you are looking for.
  6. Go for the soft sell not the hard sell. What you’re trying to do is build up a community of interested people around your show. They won’t stay interested if they see only adverts. They will stay interested if you continue to give them interesting things to read or look at. By associating yourself with a shared interest, you will build and sustain interest in your show. It won’t happen over night; you have to think long-term.
  7. Back Twitter up with blogs, videos and other updates. When I post this blog, I will send a tweet about it. It is quite possibly the very tweet that led you here. You were interested in the topic I mentioned in the tweet and you thought you’d check it out. Sorry to get postmodern on you, but in the process of finding out about social-media marketing for an Edinburgh Fringe show, you have learnt there is a book called The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guideand maybe it’s the kind of book you’d like to read. Spend some time figuring out the equivalent for your show and produce blogs, videos and other updates on subjects that will interest your audience. Don’t be cynical about it. Although I’m winding you up with all this self-referential stuff, I’m genuine in my interest in the subject.
  8. Use all the media available to you. Some of your potential audience will use Twitter, some Facebook, some Tumblr. Try to be there for them in every case. I confess, I have limited presence on Google + and Linkedin and no presence on Tumblr; my kids told me it wasn’t my kind of thing – were they right?
  9. Don’t forget old media. At times, I have felt a little embarrassed at the amount of messages I’ve been sending out. For a while, the first thing people would say to me when I bumped into them was, “I see you’ve been busy with your social-media marketing.” It was hard to know whether to be pleased the message had got through or ashamed for being so blatant about it. But frequently, the next person I bumped into would say, “Oh, have you written a book?” However much noise you think you’re making on the internet, there will be many, many people who will not hear it. Either they’re not in your social-media circle or they’re not big computer users. You cannot afford to lose these people. For them, you need all the traditional and Fringe-specific marketing methods I describe in the chapter called The Marketing Campaign.
  10. Don’t rest on your laurels. Having built a community of people around your show, you need to keep them interested. Not only are they your potential audience, but they are also your potential advocates. Their word of mouth and endorsement will be invaluable. Keep them on side and don’t neglect them.

These are some initial thoughts, reached by trial and error and still open to refinement. If you’re anything like me, you won’t always get it right, but sometimes you’ll strike a chord and, when that happens, you should learn from it and try to strike that chord again.

No doubt you’ll have ideas of your own. Please add your comments below.

Edinburgh festivals boost and World Fringe Congress

JUST back from a press conference in which the Scottish Government and other public funders announced enhanced support for Edinburgh’s year-round festivals, including the Edinburgh Fringe. Part of the package is a plan for a conference that should give Fringe participants increased access to international bookers. 

Collectively, the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh Council, EventScotland and Creative Scotland are funding the city’s 12 festivals to the tune of £3.2m in 2012. Of particular significance to Scotland’s theatre and dance companies is the Scottish Government’s extended commitment to its expo fund. The total budget for this has gone up to £2.25m to be shared among the festivals and spent on projects such as the Made in Scotland programme on the Fringe.

As well as this, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has been funded by Creative Scotland to host the inaugural World Fringe Congress, bringing together fringe organisers and directors from around the globe to exchange ideas, foster international collaborations and create lasting networks.

Taking place in August, the formal meeting aims to “inspire and inform the fringe community and build lasting ties”. Organisers hope that out of all the networking will come international collaborations and exchanges.

“There is currently no forum in existence where the co-ordinators of fringes from around the world can meet their counterparts to exchange experiences and ideas,” said a Fringe spokesman. “Although festival directors from around the world come to Edinburgh each year to book work for their own festivals, this will give Edinburgh Fringe participants increased access to these bookers.”

A more detailed breakdown of who is attending will be made available closer to the time. Meanwhile, check out The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guideand the chapter called The Next Step, which offers expert tips about how to network and maximise opportunities for your post-Fringe career.