This week I was lucky enough to be able to venture into the London Book Fair at Earls Court. And oh my lordy, what an experience.
Alot of fellow LBF venturers have said, nay, moaned about the lack of accessibility of the shiny shiny glossy Traditional Publishers, who give you the half second head to toe sweep from under their designer glasses, until they finally rest on your name badge ( I fortunately made a decision to move mine from my left boob to the bottom of my top as I was feeling a little uncomfortable with the amount of unabashed boob staring that was happening). Once they realise that alas, you are not a highly successful author, editor, publisher, CEO of Kellogs Cornflakes or alike, you become as invisible to them as the air we breathe. And we all breathe the same air, you….
I am not here to moan about that though, oh no. Because that was not my aim, I had not taken with me a manuscript in order to ‘change my life’. I had simply gone in, with an open mind, unsure of what to expect. I had gone online the night before and neatly typed up an itinerary, which I clutched onto tightly as I walked in through the main doors at Earls Court. I was not prepared for the enormity of it. And the books! The row upon row upon row of fresh, unopened books. The temptation for me to open them all, to crack their spines, was unbearable. I clenched my teeth and wandered aimlessly round and round Earls Court One, until I realised that there was a whole other section, Earls Court Two (funnily enough) which seemed to be where I would spend most of my time.
I began with a talk by the fantastic Will Self. He was.. fantastic. I think I fell slightly in love with him. He was brilliant. He spoke about the traditions within British Literature, how as readers, Britain loves a simple past (no complications, unlike life), but how books with simple pasts make him feel sick. He thinks that realist novels are fairy tales, intended to comfort children. He was discussing his book, Umbrella, and comparing his styles to the techniques that the modernist writers, such as Joyce and Pound used. He said that modernism has not ended, it is a style that will continue for another 250-300 years. Umbrella has no chapters, like life itself. Will attempts to move within his writing from one consciousness to another, as we do within our own thoughts. He stated that he ‘just happens to use the same techniques as Joyce and Pound, I have jumped onto the Modernist label in order to sell books, it is not a label I would have given my writing.’ Another thing he said, which I hope will help when I come to write my own masterpiece (!) is that a reader always knows whether the writer really knows his/her location. It was a really interesting talk from Will, was great to get a chance to hear from a successful author, and in such a close environment. He definitely gained a groupie in me.
The next session I went to was in the Author Lounge, called Key Skills as a Hybrid Author. This was led by Mark Leslie, Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations at KOBO. I’ll be honest, at first I thought, this is going to be a sales pitch, and it kind of was, although it really wormed its way into me, and got me thinking about other ways I can share my work. Mark himself is an author, and believes that he was traditionally published from his self published work. He was seen in action. He also said that with the powers of social media (i.e. blogs, twitter etc) authors can respond to their readers. As an author you can learn what the reader needs. (This does not mean mould your writing into the latest trend, it means posting book cover ideas… should I kill this character off?… should I call him Jack or Alf? That sort of thing). The one motto I learned in this seminar was from Mark: The 3 P’s for all authors, Patience, Persistence and Practice.
My two seminars on Day Two of the LBF (Day one for me, I didn’t get there til Tuesday lunch), were followed by a 2 mile hike in the wrong direction to find my room. A quick change, and a slurp of Lambrini (yup – I am that classy) and a night out at Troubadour wine cellar.. I have to show you the picture of the room I stayed at, a) because of the tinyness of it, and b) because I need to feel your sympathy for when I woke up with a wine head in a bright orange room the next day….
So, to Day Three of the LBF (my Day Two) we go…
It began a little late, as I refused to pay the extortionate prices for food within the venue, so I stopped off at the local supermarket and filled my bag with food.
My first seminar was Author as an Entrepreneur with Gareth Howard, Authoright CEO, Polly Courtney, Author and Orna Ross, Author. Polly and Orna had both been self and traditionally published, but they felt that traditional publishers tried to rebrand them. They had no creative control so they moved back to self publishing.
Orna believes that voices are being muffled by traditional publishers/agents and it is tragic. It is more creative for the writer to self publish.
Polly said that traditional publishers will more often go with already recognised writers, who have built and created their own platforms, through social media/self publishing.
Gareth agreed that social media will help create a good readership. He also said to view your book as a start up business, create a business plan. (This would include when to start publicising, editing, budgets etc)
Orna stated that the marketing of your book can be just as creative as the writing of your book ( I love that idea ), and it is important to keep hold of your e-rights (Give the traditional publishers your print rights only).
Polly said to focus on your brand, stay consistent and don’t be tempted to mould to the latest trend. (When Polly was signed to a traditional publisher she famously dumped them as they were trying to pigeon hole her into the chick-lit genre)
Gareth said that writers should market their self published work before releasing it, not after, as it may be classed as stale.
Orna disagreed with this, she believes it is possible to shine a new creative light on a book that is two years old. She told us that being self published means that your work will never go out of print. Word of mouth sells books more than any other promotional work, but it is important to invest in your writing with a good editor for example.
Gareth said that he does not like what libraries have become. Like a creche. He much prefers indie, one off bookstores.
Polly then informed us that the book charts within the main stream book stores (WHSmith/Waterstones) are usually paid for, not based on merit. Her first traditionally published book was at number two before it was even released.
My next seminar: Gloves Off! How are Writers, Editors and Readers feeling about Digital? This was held by Kate Pullinger, Author, Katharine Reeve, Editor and Lecturer, Donna Hancox, Lecturer. Hosted by Sam Missingham, self titled Literary Hostess.
(I apologise if the overview is a bit bitty, this was more of an interactive session and I spent most of the session trying to avoid eye contact)
Katharine kicked off the session, informing us that the Editor is central to the authors journey. Kate then said that traditional publishers need to be looking to incorporate and embrace digital publishing. Donna had similar views to those of Polly from the last session, that writers need a platform before presenting themselves to a traditional publisher. She also added that writers who collaborate their work see better results as it is made available to a bigger readership.
Kate then rolled some figures off her tongue; in 1999 there were 900,000 books with ISBNs. In 2013, there were over 32,000,000. She agreed with Donna, if a writer has no online profile or platform, then traditional publishers will wonder why..
Katharine suggested that traditional publishers should feed in more with digital, editors should still play a big part and have more freedom.
Only 4% of writers will make a living from writing (!)
They all agreed that the book will never be replaced by digital versions. There will always be a place in the market for the book.
And for my final, glorious seminar at LBF.. Super Q&A. With the wonderful Mark Leslie (we met him yesterday), Daniel Cooke, Managing Director of New Generation Publishing, Gareth Howard (we met him earlier also) and Hayley Radford, Director of Marketing at Authoright.
Gareth started us off by stating the obvious; to pitch to an agent, a writer will need evidence of his writing (whole or part manuscript).
Mark stated that writers can use social media to pitch, use blogs as platforms for stories.
Daniel said that three of his authors have scored traditional publishing deals by using proofs of self publishing sales. He also said that E-books compliment paper books, we need multi-formats.
Mark said that writers shouldn’t write to what they think the market is going to be, be passionate about your subjects. He said to think about how to create a stir, attention toward your book. Think about cover design, book description. Choose words carefully.
Gareth: People really do judge books by the cover.
Daniel: If you don’t have an agent, it is unlikely that you will get to meet with a traditional publisher.
Hayley compared authors to switchboard operators. Roles are changing as traditional publishers do less and authors are doing more. A good agent will help sell to traditional publishers and help writers to self publish as they recognise the importance of this platform. (She also had a minor rant about Earls Court One and how all the Publishing stands in there were set up with one aim in mind – to show off)
Mark, in reference to E-books, said that the book industry is not dead. It just had babies. (My favourite quote of the entire show). He also said if an author is to self publish, then they should spread over all platforms, including paper, kobo (obviously) kindle, i-books.
Daniel believes we should continue to give the reader the choice between paper and E-books. The romance from traditional publishing has gone. It is all about sales and money. He also said (another favourite quote) Why do we want to have an agent? So we can say we have an agent.
Hayley said that self publishing used to be snubbed and was a dirty word, now it is looked upon as a respectable platform.
Mark finished up by saying (as many speakers did) that the author now has control of the market.
And that was it. My first ever London Book Fair was over…
Until next year.