Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Authors at the London Book Fair: how things change!

by Catriona Troth

This year was my fourth year attending the London Book Fair, which gave me a chance to reflect on how things have changed for authors since that first, tentative visit.

My first impression, back in 2011, was of the vast stalls of the big publishing houses, crowded with people holding earnest conversations in twos and threes. But if you weren’t part of this arcane world, then they were essentially advertising space for the publishers’ most highly promoted books. And as for those agents you might long to corner and impress with that carefully honed ‘elevator’ pitch, they were secreted away in the International Rights Centre, where admission was by appointment only.

However, if you made it past those, there was still plenty to enjoy. Dotted around the Fair were theatres and speaking areas, each of which has their own programme of seminars and interviews. The Children’s Zone, the Digital Zone, the Translation Centre, The English Pen Literary CafĂ© … the programme was so crowded that it is impossible to see everything you might be interested in.

Blink and you might miss it, but even back then, there was an author lounge. As I told Gareth Howard of Authoright recently, I recall sitting literally at his feet to hear him explain the difference between marketing and distribution, because his audience far exceeded the handful of cuboid pouffes furnishing the Lounge.

My second visit, in 2012, saw the beginning of an author revolution – the London launch of ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors. In a room overlooking those very publishing stands I’d stood in awe of the year before, Orna Ross, proclaimed:

“Hello. We’re here. We’re at the London Book Fair and we’re here to stay!”
Orna Ross Launching ALLI, LBF12
And how very right she proved to be. By the following year, those upstart authors had made it down on to the floor of the fair itself, with a considerably expanded Author Lounge, sponsored by Authoright and an exciting schedule of seminars and workshops. What’s more, in its first year, ALLi had created a virtual network of authors, all of whom were eager to meet in person and exchange ideas. There was a tremendous buzz of excitement and a sense that here – rather than anywhere else in the Fair – was where the real innovation was happening.

Unfortunately, despite the expansion, space became a major issue. On Monday, the audience for the talks was spilling out into the aisles outside, with people craning to hear and waiting in line in the hopes of getting a better spot for the next session as some people moved on. By Tuesday, the organisers had got twitchy about this. Those acting as gatekeepers, with their little clickers scanning our badges, were limiting the numbers coming into the lounge, and the security folk were moving people on if they even stopped outside to grab a quick photo. It all left many of us with the sense that, as authors, we were expected to play quietly while the grownups conducted business.

So what of 2014?

Arriving through the main entrance, you would be forgiven for thinking that very little had changed in the past three years. Earls Court One was still dominated by the massive stands of the big publishing houses. Literary Agents were still tucked away in their eyrie above the main floor. But head for the back of Earls Court 2, and you’d find a new confidence among the author community.

The Author Lounge – now redubbed Author HQ – was no bigger than the year before, but the layout was more ‘open plan’, allowing a greater numbers to access to the seminars. It was also placed in a corner of Earls Court 2 with a wide aisle in front of it, so that people overspilling it were no longer a health and safety issue.

Seminar at Author HQ, LBF14
There was, as always, a great programme of seminars for authors – from ‘Breaking Through: what Independent Authors know about Reaching Readers’ to ‘Negotiating Author Contracts’, ‘How to Get the Best From Your Publisher,’ and ‘Top Ten Things to Know about getting your book made into a Film/TV show’ (to name but a few). You can read about a selection of them here.

It was wonderful, this year, to be able to share the Fair with my Triskele colleagues, as well as reconnecting with friends from the Alliance of Independent Authors (now sporting the shiny new badges by which we could identify one another). The huge sense of energy and innovation that I’d felt the year before culminated, this year, in the ALLi/ACX party, where amidst the noisy chaos of a crowded pub, we heard readings from authors such as Dan Holloway, Polly Courtney, JJ Marsh, Jessica Bell and Jerome Griffin .
JJ Marsh - reading at the ALLi/ACX party

In some ways, I felt as if I ‘came of age’ at this LBF. Now I was one of the people having meetings over coffee (or wine) with the likes of ePubli, Silverwood Books, Nook Press, Writers and Artists Yearbook and Chorleywood. Unfortunately, all this meant that, despite being at the Fair for all three days, I scarcely had time to visit the English Pen Literary Cafe, where author interviews take place. Previously, I had heard crime writer Margie Orford talk about her first-hand experience of South African prisons, discovered the Anthony Horowitz seeds his books with hidden names, anagrams and other puzzles , heard William Boyd announce the title of his new Bond novel and heard the judges of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize discuss the shortlist. This year, I caught a few minutes of Jim Crace talking about why he doesn’t write political novels – and even fewer of the magnificent Malorie Blackman. But that was all.

For me, though, the most memorable part of the whole three days has to be the impassioned speeches from Dan Holloway and Debbie Young at the Open Up To Indies Launch on the Kobo stall on the first day.

Holloway challenged the publishing world to decide whether to ask, “How do we keep all the bad books out?” or “How do we make sure to let all the good books in?” and warned that the first alternative “denies reader whole swathes of the outstanding.”

Young described Open Up to Indies as “an exercise in stepping beyond my self-published author’s mindset to empathise with the parties that influence that important end-user of all authors’ products: the reader. It was about viewing the bookshop from the other side of the till; seeing the literary festival from the frantic desk of the event manager; perceiving librarians as more than just the people who stamp your ticket.”

So if you are wondering whether it might be worth making the trip to LBF15, in its new home at Olympia, here are a few reasons why you should:
  • To meet other authors, exchange tips and be inspired
  • To hear interviews with writers from around the globe
  • To take advantage of the huge array of free seminars and workshops available
  • To connect with the passion and dedication behind campaigns like Open Up to Indies

See you there!

Catriona Troth is the author of the novels Ghost Town and Gift of the Raven. She is a member of the Triskele Books Author Collective, and of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Catriona. It was a privilege to be part of that historic presentation - and I'm looking forward to LBF15 already to celebrate even further progres for indie authors everywhere.