Fair game

photo LBF

I first went to the London Book Fair in 2001, clutching my first ever manuscript and determined to hand it to someone in person. I gave it to someone on the Macmillan stand, who passed it on to an editor, who then called an agent I’d had some interest from, who then called me with a lot more interest. I was so excited I was doing cartwheels, but little did I know it was just the beginning of a very long journey, two more very keen agents, several manuscripts and approximately zero publishing deals.

Fast forward to 2013 with three self-published novels on Amazon (and one on the way) and I decide to visit to the London Book Fair again. Not as an author though – oh no, I was far too scared to do that, fearing that maybe a lot of people had tried that approach over the years (handing their MS to a startled publisher on a stand) and that possibly if I had the word ‘Author’ emblazoned across my ID badge, I might send publishers fleeing for the hills screaming, ‘Run! Run! An author got in!’

So, instead I put ‘Copywriter’ on my badge, as that’s what my day job is. And when I asked myself why I was actually going and what I intended to get out of it, I couldn’t really answer my own question. Curiosity, I suppose. I thought maybe I could talk to someone, find out if there’s any chance in hell of ever getting traditionally published or should I just stick with self-publishing as, well, it’s been going fairly well on the whole.

A few weeks before the fair, I was having a closer look at the LBF website and discovered there was going to be an Authorlounge there, with talks and workshops specifically for – wait for it – authors! Holy cow!

So off I went to London Book Fair 2013, where I spent most of the day in the Authorlounge, listening with keen interest to the various different speakers (forgive the poor quality photo above). It was good to hear publishers acknowledge the rise and legitimacy of self-publishing and the fact that they had to deal with it in a less ostrich-like fashion than they did with the emergence of Amazon and e-books. It was also good to hear (from a self-publishing point-of-view) that traditional publishers are investing less in their authors’ marketing budgets and that these authors are having to do a lot of their own marketing, just like self-published authors.

From the very nice people I met and chatted to, I was able to build up more of a picture of the industry and the way it’s going. I sincerely hope traditional publishing never disappears, and that paperbacks and independent bookstores will always be around. But from where I’m standing, self-publishing once again seems like a pretty good place to be. And if I decide to visit LBF14 next year, it will be with the word ‘Author’ proudly printed on my badge.

Planning on visiting the London Book Fair next year? Here are my top tips:

1. Ladies, if you’re going to wear heels, you’re braver than I am. At least pack a pair of pumps for when your feet can’t take it any longer. It’s a BIG place.

2. If you’re taking a lot of stuff with you (ie books) or you hope to come back with a lot of books, you’d be well-advised to take one of those overnight-bag-on-wheels-thingies. Don’t worry, you won’t look like a plonker (unlike people wearing heels collapsing under the weight of their stuffed-to-the-brim trendy bags.)

3. There are plenty of cafés in the exhibition hall. However, don’t confuse the real cafés with some of the private stands that just look like cafés. (Looking for somewhere to sit down, I got drawn to one that had bowls of chocolates on the tables and was politely asked to bugger off.)

4. The Authorlounge hosted by Authoright was packed out, with latecomers having to stand outside in the gangway to hear the talks. So if there’s a talk you don’t want to miss, get there early to bag a seat.

5. There’s a cloakroom there, so you don’t have to lug a heavy coat around with you everywhere. It was pretty warm inside – probably thanks to all those authors overheating with excitement at finally being allowed to join the party. Or maybe that was just me.