As someone who is easily overloaded in new, crowded, high-sensory environments, I was expecting the London Book Fair to be a bit of a ‘mare. Actually, it was a blast.
I went along on two fronts – as a writer and as a translator, so pretty much spent my time heading back and forth between the Author Hub and Literary Translation Centre. Except I have the orientation skills of a novice Girl Scout strapped upside down in a Topple Tower, so think less back and forth, more ricocheting erratically. If you’re wondering how many different stairs you can take on a simple, direct route – it’s a lot. The main ones are colour coded, which should (didn’t) help but there are all kinds of back stairs too. Who knew?
So, here is my random list of Wot I Lurned at the 2015 LBF
– The publishing industry really is chock-a with people who are PASSIONATE about books. This is so inspiring and the buzz of excitement through the LBF halls was amazing. Not only are people passionate, they are also open and happy to reach out. Mind you, that doesn’t mean you will come away with lots of juicy contacts and contracts because, after all, LBF is a business opportunity for the Pros to network and make deals.
– Unless you’ve made appointments ahead of time your only hope of speaking to someone directly is by cornering them after one of the seminars. And there will be lots of other people there trying to do just that, so it’s unlikely to prove useful. As you might expect, it’s tough to pre-arrange meetings unless you have something somebody really wants and, by implication, a Profile!
– Arrive early if you want to try and speak to an exhibitor. The halls were pretty quiet from opening to around 10 or even 10.30.
– Expect to spend £3 for a cup of coffee.
– LBF has a wide range of really awesome seminars to attend, panelled by top industry professionals who are there to share what they know. In writing terms, I attended seminars on Crowdfunding, PR, Selling to Book Retailers, and What Journalists Want. Even if you’re not published (trad or other) it is, in my view, never too soon to start thinking in terms of what is involved in helping get your book out there.
– If you’re self-published watch out for sharks. I got somewhat fleeced by paying to have UMA & IMP on the PubMatch bookshelf. A couple of emails had come round about how the PubMatch bookshelf is organised in conjunction with LBF and is open to trad and non-trad authors to showcase books that are available for Foreign Rights – I figured ‘mad not to get in there’. In fact, PubMatch is used only by self-published authors, and the organisers (handily) have “no figures” on what kind of deals come out of the platform. Call me cynical, but I would be stunned if anyone sold Foreign Rights in this way – after all, the quality of the majority of self-published books is still low and the market is over-flowing with publisher-produced crackers.
– National newspaper reviews are the Holy Grail for ALL authors: whether trad published, self-published, debut or long in the tooth.
– If you have any kind of money for PR, use it on promos run by Goodreads. Not something I’ve looked into yet but it’s on my post-LBF-bloated research list.
– The difference between marketing and PR is that for marketing you actually spend money, for advertising, etc. There are many PR things you can do for yourself, especially with social media, social media, social media.
– Crowdfunding is hard work but has multiple benefits. I will be doing a separate post on this one, maybe next time.
– The following titbit was repeated through all the different book seminars – we all know but sometimes lose sight of this when self-publishing: do NOT underestimate the importance of your book jacket!
– Another one we “all” know is – get your opening chapters right. It was most amusing to hear Cathy Rentzenbrink of The Bookseller tell the story of how she’d set a book aside after failing to get drawn in (and being distracted by the very large pile of still-to-read books), then had a follow-up call from the book’s publicist. When Cathy explained that she’d read as far as Chapter 3 without being taken by the story, the publicist said “oh, but it gets much better after that”. Sorry but, ha ha ha ha plonk.
– In any publishing industry forum you will witness the two, still-evolving camps on the subject of self-publishing. Those who see innovation and a self-determining new market that makes the most of the vast array of tools available to self-publishers … and those who see a burgeoning sea of ‘great unwashed’ polluting the shores of an industry already in flux. Personally, I get both sides. It’s up to every individual self – (or indie) – publisher to decide which ‘camp’ s/he wants to feed.
Back on the UMA & IMP front, April is shaping up to be by far the toughest month so far, with very few sales. I’m putting this mostly down to the Easter break, and a little down to World Book Day hangover. Post Christmas was grim too, which means I have only a few weeks before a mega summer slump … getting those skates out!
Thanks for reading!