The London Book Fair – Is It Worth Going? Some Thoughts For Writers.
Last week the London Book Fair (LBF) dominated the twitter feeds of anyone in the UK connected to, or interested in, the publishing industry. As I live in London I felt it would be foolish to not trot along, despite knowing full well that this is not an event designed for authors.
I want to make that very clear at the outset. The LBF is not really for authors or writers, nor does it advertise itself as such. I was going out of interest and had the chance to meet up with some other authors and meet some new people whilst there. As a new author with a book still only months old, there wasn’t too much for me to do but it was worth the trip for one of the three days.
However, I worry that many aspiring writers make the journey in high spirits, hoping to land an agent or speak to that dream editor. This really isn’t the place to do that. The agents and editors are busy in back to back meetings. The networking events are potentially a chance to play meet and greet, but likely anyone you would want to make contact with will be busy there too, chasing their own agenda and won’t like being hounded by you. Even if you did say hi, they’ll likely forget about it. Their mind and notebooks will be bursting at the seams. All in all, it would be best to pursue them in the usual way.
If this wasn’t your intention, and you thought the LBF might be a great place to learn more about publishing, be it traditional or independent, well, let me caution you there too. The sheer scale of the event makes it daunting enough, and may leave you feeling more like a tourist looking on the glorious Harper Collins, Penguin or Hachette pavilions, filled with activity but you can’t get close. There are no handy guides or leaflets to break it all down and inform you how it all works. But why would there be? As I said, it’s not meant for authors.
The Author HQ section showed this. It was small, cramped, and placed well away from the main thrum of the fair. Besides the toilets actually. It’s a shame and it would be more encouraging to aspiring writers coming along if more of an effort was made or at least if the content was more informative.
A lot of the talks were pretty wide and vague discussions. Some were even quite disheartening, truth be told. Yes, we know this writing business is a HARD gig. Just writing the first draft can be akin to birthing a hippo and then, as parents say, the hard part really begins in raising it. If you are going the indie route you need to hunt down good cover designers, editors, proof-readers and typesetters. Acquiring traditional agents and editors from publishing houses is its own beast. Then, trying to sell and get the attention of readers is arguably even harder. We get that. At least I feel anyone who is serious about doing this gets it. And if you are serious would you not wish for more in depth talks?
Talk about the percentage breakdowns, talk about how kindle unlimited works, talk about how printers like Ingram link to Gardeners who link to bookstores. Give tips on when it’s best to apply for Bookbub promotions. Talk about what is a realistic volume to expect in your sales; that way people won’t have unrealistic expectations and may not feel so downhearted when thousands of people don’t suddenly rush to buy it. Talk about the best way to contact reviewers, what works and what doesn’t, in a meaningful way, not just ‘you have to spend time contacting them’. It’s all well and good to talk about the ‘mind-set’ required, yet I feel it doesn’t actually inform anyone.
In writing this, I feel that anyone who is serious about publishing, be it traditionally or independently, will already be doing their research. Thus I’m not sure who would benefit from more in depth talks at the LBF, unless they got very niche and specialised but then they wouldn’t have broad appeal. The Indie Fringe which ran online for the first time this year had much more specific information which would benefit any author.
All in all the LBF is what it is and that is a rights fair first and foremost. It shouldn’t change or expand to accommodate writers unless there is a strong desire to do so properly. I do wonder though whether the half-hearted attempts should be dropped altogether, so that hundreds, possibly thousands of aspiring writers do not pay good money, take days off work, spend exuberant rates for coffee whilst there to ultimately get very little.
I’m not writing this as some kind of anti-LBF rant. Writers and fans get the chance to shine at nearly every other convention or festival. The editors and agents deserve to have theirs and it is primarily about doing business. So if you are a fledging writer, just be aware and know what it’s all about. I’d hate to think that anyone who attends leaves feeling worse than when they went in.