London Book Fair 2013

This week the London Book Fair takes place in London’s Earl Court exhibition centre. It’s one of the biggest events in the writing calendar for British authors. I went along to find out what it was all about. In this blog I’ll cover What is the London Book Fair?, What resources were there for authors? Why did I go? And What did I get out of it?

What is the London Book Fair?

The London Book Fair is huge. It features 3 days of focussed business around the buying, production, marketing and selling of books. Now, I’m an author, so you’d think there wouldn’t be too much in it for me. What do I know about publishers selling books to distributors? And what interest have I in new grades of ink being sold to printing companies?

That’s exactly what I thought before I went. The London Book Fair isn’t an opportunity to sell books as an author to either fans or agents or publishers, so why go? Why spend £30 and take a day of my annual leave to attend an industry event?

Why did I go?

Before I went, I was unsure about attending, because of the industry focus. But I was encouraged by 3 people:

  • My friend Yvonne, who went last year. Word of mouth and personal endorsement is important for me, especially as it means giving up a day of my annual holiday entitlement. I have to know I’m getting value for money.
  • Lucy Hay of http://www.bang2write.com / @bang2write who told me it was a great way to connect with industry professionals, especially on the side closest to the author.
  • And finally http://www.diymfa.com. Not specifically. Gabriela, who runs the author support website, has been blogging recently about authors acting like authors. That means forgetting about whether our books are published, or even finished, and starting to act as if we’re already part of the industry. After all, if not now, when? Being an author isn’t just about writing words, it’s about doing all the things that authors do: talking about our work, improving our craft, attending industry events and so on.

What resources were there for authors?

This year, the London Book Fair, or LBF as it’s called when you’re there, opened up to the people most vital to the whole industry: authors. After all, we’re the people who create the content in the first place. While wandering around I heard many people – printers, agents, marketing people – commenting that this was the first year that the LBF had properly focussed on authors. So what did we get?

First, there were 250 free seminars. Not all of them were focused on authors – for example, there were seminars on How To Get Into Publishing, on legal issues like Tackling Copyright Infringement or on technical marketing topics like Delivering ePub3 Titles to Support your Direct-to-Consumer Strategy. All very industry focused.

Us authors, on the other hand, got some quite well focused seminars, mostly aimed at self publishing, which was a major theme running through the event. Here’s a sample of the author seminars on day one:

  • Book cover design workshop
  • The author journey
  • How to get a literary agent
  • Ask the editor
  • Book marketing workshop and
  • Self publishing 101

For those new to writing and who aim to publish, there was plenty to keep us involved. Remember, too, that this was only day one. I’m not going to days two or three due to work requirements, but the seminars continue, with topics like:

  • Helping readers discover your books workshop
  • Children’s book editing surgery
  • Key skills for success as a hybrid author
  • The author as entrepreneur
  • Introduction to KDP and CreateSpace (Amazon’s digital and print self-publishing platforms)
  • Making the right choices as a self-publishing author and
  • Super Q&A with industry experts

In amongst all of this are technical seminars for people in the industry and interviews with published authors like Lionel Shriver.

What did I get out of it?

I think I’m only just starting to digest what I got out of it, and no doubt I’ll blog in more detail about some of content as I reflect on it, or start researching. Immediate information for fellow authors:

 

  • The Alliance of Independent Authors

As it says on the tin, this is a support organisation for people who choose to publish independently. The website is here:

http://allianceindependentauthors.org/

The seminar leader took the audience through a coaching session, where we were all asked to write down answers to the following prompts and learning points:

Being an author means taking enormous risks. What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? How did you handle it? How did it turn out?

What’s the biggest risk you need to take with your current writing project?

What are the three issues with your current writing project where you feel most out of your comfort zone? These could be connected with the kind of story or characterisation, or on technical issues like formatting, editing, self publishing, marketing or selling it.

Any self published book actually needs a team of people behind it, and we have to consider ourselves Creative Directors. We can’t do everything. We need to enlist people to help. For example, to proof read, to design a cover, to help with marketing, to copy edit, and so on.

What’s the budget for your book? To get it done properly, rather than chucking any old rubbish onto Kindle, etc., we should probably aim for around £1000. That’s right: even these days where we can self publish for free, we still need to invest in our product to do it properly.

Copy editors are essential and should charge around £20/hr. A typical spend for a book being copy edited starts at £500.

Who is your audience? Where do you find them? How will you get your book to them or in their awareness? You can’t market your book to everyone.

 

  • How to find a literary agent

This was a broad ranging discussion between 2 agents and someone who runs a marketing company aimed at self-published authors. Here are my tweets from the session storified:

http://storify.com/astrotomato/what-agents-are-looking-for-lbf13?utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_r4eG&utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter

Apart from the tweets in the Storify link above, agents said:

Chick lit is getting less attention from publishers

Straight vampire stories have passed their current peak

Psychological thrillers continue to sell well and are of interest

Scifi authors should know that military SF, steampunk and cyberpunk are selling well

 

Those are some of the technical things I got out of it. But the real gain comes on the personal level.

Long time followers of my blog may remember the trials of Becoming An Author. What was really great about the book fair was hearing the Alliance of Independent Authors go through all those questions that I’ve already asked myself: take risks, write outside your comfort zone, involve other people in your writing project, and so on. It was validation – maybe even linked into confirmation basis – that I’ve been doing the right things, by and large. I still need to save up £500-£700 to have my books copy edited, but that’s just a finance issue, not because of any resistance on my part.

Hearing authors ask agents questions that were similar to my own experience was also gratifying. I think the one that made my heart leap was this:

If an agent says they loved your book, and you’ve been through some re-writes on it for them, and they ultimately don’t pick you up because they can’t sell it to publishing marketing departments, should you believe them?

This is exactly the experience I’ve been through. “Loved the book, was on a knife edge about picking it up, but can’t sell it to publishers as they’re all asking for 50 Shades of Grey derivatives.” The agents responded thus:

Yes, the agent is telling the truth. We get lots of books that are brilliant, that are worthy of publishing, from excellent writers, where we genuinely can’t sell them because of the marketing departments of publishers.

The agents went on to talk about this in more depth, covering their own frustration with publishers who have become more risk averse and profit focused. There was discussion about the rapidity of self publishing and the sluggishness of the traditional industry to change, and how both needed to learn from the other. Self-publishers need to avoid the temptation to rush to publication, with a suggestion to focus more on improving story quality, design and marketing plans first. While traditional publishing needs to try more new books, across different genres, even if there’s no ‘obvious’ market.

And above all, I got to see the look on other authors’ faces when they listened to the agents. I got to hear the questions they were asking, and mark my own progress as an author against them: ahead of 90% of them, but behind the odd one who had sold more than 500 copies of their books and were making a small income from them.

Would I recommend attending the London Book Fair to other authors? Absolutely. There were some logistical issues that need sorting for next year, giving author events more space and quieter venues, but that aside, any self-respecting author should make a bee-line for the event when it rolls around in 2014.

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