The Suits and the Birds – London Book Fair 2013

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So, this is London. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Having never been to London before, it’s amazing how side streets can actually be quiet. In my room at the hostel I could even hear birds singing! Astounding.

Anyway, on to business. The London Book Fair 2013 was my first book fair. I was shocked to see so many suits! For a creative industry, it has a huge number of corporate bodies, busy grey and black bees on their way to one deal or another. It was a maze of exhibits with unfriendly faces and money people. There wasn’t too much colour, creativity or jeans until I reached the author lounge – my haven.

As other writers have tried to suggest, some authors obviously had no idea this is an “industry to industry” event. However, the other view I’ve picked up on in the media, that all/most writers attending are self published, is incorrect.

Sure, originally this event was purely business to business but in these digital times things are changing. The Author Lounge at the fair was packed for most seminars and workshops and many authors were getting a flavour for what is out there. I met a lot of people going into a new career and viewing the ley of the land as well as a few young novelists like myself looking for information and guidance.

I have to say, I think in the future this area shall have to be expanded. There was rarely enough room for everyone who wanted to watch the seminars! This must prove that authors, whether the business likes it or not, are becoming a bigger factor at the fair. Perhaps we need an entirely different area and perhaps not but a combination of self published authors and the curious is increasing attendance at the event.

I, for one, avoided the plethora of stands in Earls Court Hall 1, recognising that the people here didn’t really care about my concerns or questions as an author. Instead I attended a number of seminars over the three days and used my time to meet new people which was my original aim – publishers aren’t going to want to talk to lil ol’ me directly. They have agents for that.

Social Media – Tweet Tweet

I have learnt through the seminars that social media presence is of great significance to the business. It is free marketing and generates sales. Authors now need a brand, common themes across all their online presences, and they need to build an audience. The best way to do this, constantly repeated, was consistency. However, other tips included talking around the topic. Therefore, if you write books, then what would readers of your books like to know about? Fairytales? Mythology? Dreams? Love? Philosophy? Funny quotes? Cats?

That’s basically a ‘know your audience’ but also a caveat against the many who use social media to say: buymybook buymybook buymybook – that is, until we reach out to that beautiful ‘unfollow’ button and are released from the chant.

It also seems that reviews gain you an audience and a number of people through the industry ready to give you a pat on the back in return once you bring out your own books or poetry etc. Make the most of the contacts you’ve got! RT people to give them exposure, favourite tweets you like and share your friends’ successes.

This leads on to another key point that was made: interact! People don’t want a constant broadcast of what you’re up to and your thoughts, as interesting as you might be. This doesn’t promote you and your ideas to new audiences. Find people by the discover button in twitter that may be talking about things you like. Share interests with people, talk to them, and get discussions moving. This is a conversation, not a soapbox.

The danger in social media however, as the authors during the Authors on Social Media talk made clear, is complete immersion. Particularly for authors of longer works, we need to save some of our time for writing! We can’t market and market alone however we cannot write and write alone. Suggestions included limiting yourself to hour long windows 1-3 times a day or occasional peeks at the stream when a free minute appears.

Brand

I also attended a lecture on constructing author brand. Like it or not, we are a ‘tin of baked beans’. We have an image and we have a product to sell. To do this, we have to present ourselves as well as possible. This is the challenge. We were shown pictures of the book covers and photographs of Rick Riordan and Jilly Cooper. We worked on three words that described them and their brand. Then we had to pick three words for ourselves – nightmare!

We moved around the room, finding partners, and shared the three words we’d picked out of the air to get feedback. I chose ‘Dark/restrictions, relationships and the uknown’. One of my partners refined dark – he said that in my eyes when I talk about the unknown there is a danger or threat, a knowing older than my years. I found this interesting – the man certainly had insight! Most my stories have a lingering threat so it was in fact accurate. I then changed my three to Danger, The Unknown and Relationships. This is closer to my brand or ‘essence’ as us more creative types would prefer, but I still need to refine it.

I just have to keep in my head that this is only marketing. This is not my life, my whole worth as a human being. I am, as a granta speaker said, writing to communicate with someone not now but once they pick up the story. I am part of a magical exchange of worth and meaning. This marketing tripe is just how I get to people, how I can promote myself to affect people in as good a way as I’m able.

Self Publishing

A tricky subject. On going to the fair, I was mainly interested in the business and networking – finding more people that write and do things I like, people of ‘like mind’. I had thought, like three years ago, that self publishing was still badly looked upon by the business. I had thought self published authors stood little chance of getting a traditional deal. However, I was proved wrong.

It seems self publishing has become yet another filtering process for publishers, just like agents are. In fact, it could be said self publishing is a filtering process for agents! Stories high up in the popularity charts or those with great sell figures are often picked up on by agents/publishers and looked at more closely than they ever would have been if submitted without a ‘track record’ of sales.

This is obviously a great opportunity for new writers getting little attention. They can bring their stories closer to the top of the pile with proven interest. However, getting a book out as a hard copy through self publishing is likely to cost a few bob. I would have liked to, had I gone the self publishing route but on learning it costs from £200 to £25,000 I think I’ll avoid it!

In fact, with all the talk of marketing, numbers, audience, sales and the press, I’ve made one decision: I need an agent. I need someone who will support me as a young author and show me the business as a friend rather than a smiling shark eyeing the meat of my juicy story with pound signs in its eyes.

How to get published and How to get an agent

I talked to three people who gave me expert advice during the fair. Funnily enough, it was one person a day!

The first was Leila Dewji from Acorn Publishing. I told her I want to get into editing as a job but also want to get my novels out there.
She suggested that work experience and internships are the best method of getting into publishing

However, novels have two routes and in either its best that i write in series (readers like series as the world continues and publishers like them because they sell and retain an audience).
Route One: Self publish the first book in the series as an Ebook and promote the hell out of it. Get sales and then approach agents and publishers.
Route Two: Go the traditional route. Find an agent and let them negotiate a deal with publishers. This is, of course, a harder and longer route to take.

This is information from one conville and walsh’ reader:

I have the greatest respect for each and every author who submits to us, and I do read every submission. The process at Conville and Walsh is that out of two hundred submissions each month, I recommend between 6 and 10 for the agents to follow up. Out of this shortlist, perhaps two authors will be asked to submit their full manuscripts to the agents.
Of the authors who are asked to forward us their full manuscripts, possibly three to four a year will get through to publication.

Obviously, the gatekeepers to the publishing world don’t take on much of what they get!

This brings me on to what I was told at the ‘how to get an agent’ seminar:

  • Do exactly what they tell you do when when you submit. The right number of words/pages/cover letter/info etc
  • Make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation is as good as you can make it and
  • Ensure your cover letter is specific to that organisation, perhaps mentioning why you feel they are a great fit for you and your book.
  • Always be polite and to the point.

I met two agents during my time at the fair. One by happy accident and one intentionally. I met Hellie Ogden from Janklow and Nesbit after hearing her talk during The Future of Literary Agents seminar. I told her about myself, the genre I write in, and how it seems, to my age group, that the industry is unapproachable, mostly closed off to new clients, particularly in fantasy and sci-fi as most in the UK won’t touch us with a barge pole.

Hellie was incredibly generous and kind towards me, offering to read my work once I’ve started on it ( I plan to write a novel this summer). I also noticed her mentioning to others in the queue to go ahead and send their stuff.

I take this to mean the industry is not closed to everyone! (Thank god). I intend, once my work is finished, to go ahead and send it out to agents. I’ve written novels before and been too put off by the closed nature of agents to send them anywhere, worrying about whether they’re perfect enough. The message at this seminar however was very clear: A good book will always get through.

So, that’s what I intend to write and send off: as good a book as I can create.

The other agent I met was on my last day. I attended the seminar How to get an agent and received a raffle ticket on entering. I was confused. Were we getting a prize? Was it chocolate? Oh, god, let it be chocolate! The seminar was very quick, covering all the main points within 15 minutes. I struggled to keep up! My hand was cramping across the page. I can only just read the scribbles I scrawled.

Then she stopped and said they’d be calling us up in groups of four to talk to agents and pitch our ideas.

What!

At that point, I understood the significance of the raffle tickets. It was better than chocolate!
I used the time till my number was called talking to the people around me and decided I was going to pitch the idea I intend to write my novel on over the summer.

I was partnered with Thomas Stofer for the pitch and he gave me some brilliant advice. It turns out my age group assessment for my audience was bang on ( I was chuffed I got something right!). He also suggested changing one of my characters from a male to a female and to definitely add the sub plot of romance I had considered before and dithered over. This was great market advice on his part (over 60% of book buyers are female and I needed to appeal to this audience).

It was a great high on which to begin the last day and, I have to say, I am inspired!

Final Thoughts

I’m very glad I went to this “industry to industry” event. I do see it changing in future years and becoming more welcoming towards authors as we gain more power in the market place. I feel London Book Fair is a brilliant place to meet other enthusiastic and impassioned people. I’ve received some great advice and now know some of the places I’ve been going wrong as well as what I’ve done right. It’s expert input on where I am and where I’m going.

I can’t wait to get there!

If you went to the London Book Fair as well let me know – we might even get on. Add me on twitter or follow me on here and direct me to your blog/twitter as well. I’m keen to meet more of you and create my own little online community of writers and lovers of writing.

For now, it’s time to get this book in progress!

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  1. This is such a great post, Holly. I must have just missed you in the Westminster room on the last day with the raffle ticket agent speed-dating. It was a pleasant surprise to me too. I was a late arrival so seen after 12, but had a great time talking to authors around me. LBF was extremely full on, but compared to 2011 much more geared to authors, there was very little in the way of seminars directed at us! x

    • Thanks Yasmin. I did see you at the front on the left. Think I tried to wave but you didn’t see – such is life. Was chatting to people around me as well so all was not lost. I’m quite glad it was a surprise to a few of us – I think otherwise it may have been packed! Yes I think it’ll continue that way – don’t see why not anyway. Did you get a good response from the agent you talked to?

      • I definitely didn’t spot that wave otherwise I’d have come straight over to say hi again. What a shame, would have been great to catch up. I was a bit flustered that morning and then totally surprised it was about pitching! I saw the same agent as you, he was lovely, and that day I’d actually brought in a copy of Gunshot Glitter – primarily to show printers to see if they could match it – so that was a happy coincidence, plus I’d been bummed to miss out on Authorights pre-bookable 1-2-1’s with agents, so was delighted in truth. The chat was chilled, happy and positive. A huge bonus. He was great and asked me to email him some chapters as he liked the sound of the novel : ) Talking to him was the quickest four minutes of my life!!

      • Yes a shame but we have ages with the internet till the next meeting I suppose!
        I know the feeling. I didn’t find out about the fair or litfactor until late in the day so was great to get some expert feedback (and market feedback) on my ideas.
        That’s great! Glad he was so positive. I think a lot of people managed to get some positive feedback but then I suppose anyone going to the fair has to be pretty serious about their work. Yes, it went fast for me too. He seemed to want to keep chatting too which was lovely. 🙂

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