How to Run a Poetry Night: Booking

A series on how to plan and run a successful poetry night. This essay looks at how to book headliners properly and why it is important.

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Follows: Managing

Booking a headliner can make a night, however there’s a specific way of handling them both in your communications with them beforehand and when dealing with them at the event. You don’t want to appear too informal, nor do you want to be too deferential and make them uncomfortable. You might want to treat them like a friend, but you also have to respect their station. If you play things right, you could make a lasting professional relationship. Play things wrong and you have made yourself look like a fool and damaged your reputation on a large scale.

1. Pick your headliners well

If you’re trying to build a prestige night—one that attracts a new and growing audience rather than one that entertains your friends—not everyone is cut out to headline. In theory you should pick headliners who will attract new people, this means they’re special and not commonly found on the local circuit.

2. Headliners are not your friends

Treat them as you would a colleague or manager. Carry yourself as a professional around them and in all interactions with them. Doing right by them can lead to them recommending other people check your night out.

3. Pay attention to local saturation

If you are booking a poet who is on tour, make sure they haven’t played the same area that week. Audiences won’t make it to every event, they’ll go to the one that’s first and then they’ll rationalise that they’ve done a lot and they should spend some time at home.

4. Make sure you can afford to pay

I’d advise having the money upfront but make sure you aren’t going to stiff your headliner. People talk and that kind of reputation is hard to shake.

5. Do your research!

If a poet is known for challenging sensibilities, it might be best to avoid booking them for a kids show.

6. Remember your tastes are niche

Just because you think a particular poet is amazing, doesn’t mean they’re worth the money. Some people have crafted mythos to their name but they are unable to draw audience. Listen to your audience, see who they want to see. If you don’t provide it, someone else will.

7. Make sure you have a plan for your headliner

Do they have to leave early? Are you covering hotel costs? Try to avoid having them stay at your house, it invites a world of messy personal drama.

8. Communicate!

Make sure you speak to your headliner the week of the show, offer to meet them at a local train station if they need help finding the way. Follow up with them afterwards and thank them for their performance.


Consider how a headliner fits into your event’s journey. Booking someone huge might seem like a great way to start off well, but how do you maintain that momentum? It’s better to not have headliners and build a good show first than it is to have a sudden jarring change in momentum.

All in all, you want your event to succeed. As a Producer, you will need to make the tough decisions. The most important thing to get is confidence in yourself and your own abilities. After that, common sense. Think of your event as a business and give it the respect it deserves, and people will respect you in turn.

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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