London Book Fair is insane. It is immense. It is hectic. It is overwhelming. It is for the industry, and in many ways, not for an outsider, like me.
It was a school trip, an invitation to attend as part of Falmouth University’s MA Professional Writing. It stacks up well to the programme – the MA isn’t Creative Writing, it’s Professional Writing, about getting published. Where better to see that than in the showcase event?
It makes sense for those in the industry – and there were enough harried people steaming about. Most agents and editors are in back-to-back meetings, and then do drinks, because everyone is there. You get a sense of this, looking in.
For wandering authors and would-be authors, I think it does make sense. Or, it could make sense, if you knew what you wanted to get from it. As part of the MA, we have to do an industry analysis. Mine is on diversity in novel publishing, and with this thread, I was able to hang the whole experience around.
What is it?
It’s a trade fair. There are stands. Everywhere there are stands. Some have people wanting to talk to you (and sell you things). Some have people who are trying to keep you out (free-wheeling authors trying to pitch their books). There is a lot of swag, most of which ended up in the recycling bin at home. There are presentations and seminars – a whole programme. There are networking drinks. There aren’t enough places to sit down, and it’s gruelling for the three days. We were told to wear comfy shoes; this was the best advice.
What did I get from it?
Different things. I was overwhelmed at the end of the first day. There is a lack of air (coming from Cornwall, that has some bias in it) and a dizzying disorientation of where things were. Thank goodness for Poland! The country focus was the Baltic Countries, and Poland had a huge stand up on the gallery – everything was referenced to Poland. The disorientation doesn’t last, thankfully.
Back on topic. A sense of just how corporate the industry is. Most authors write in isolation, and it’s something to see the size of the publishing machine… particularly knowing how few ‘make it’ with publishing deals. It’s no wonder that the industry finds it hard to change its habits.
There were some brilliant talks (and some frustrating ones), aimed at a range of audiences. Author talks, industry talks, country talks… and then a whole range of genre-type things. The programme is immense. I attended four most days, which is a good balance over the three-day event.
It is a great place for research, and getting a feel for the publishers (large and small). They all have their game-faces on, and are presenting their best to the people attending. I took away insights into my research question, but also made impressions about some of the smaller presses. Independent, quirky. A bit like me.
What LBF isn’t
A place to pitch. It isn’t a place to be the annoying one who tries to pitch in a Q&A session. It’s just not geared up for that. I believe there was a kind of Dragon’s Den style pitch session, but I didn’t have the appetite for it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of buying and selling that goes on, but those are in the top levels of Olympia, restricted access.
Did I network? Not really. I passed time with people, but I felt like an outsider. I think that’s probably fair for an inquisitive-student/would-be-author.
The ‘take-away and keep’
For the novice author, there was a consistent message. Quality matters. I heard this again and again. Echoes in different presentations. Writing is hard work, quality matters. Effort shows. Research shows.
I also have a pondering about who in the industry makes any money! When you look at what goes into producing a book, the price of a book is amazing value. The accountant in me struggles to make sense of the industry, but that may be just me.
Apart from wearing comfy shoes. Plan your visit. Decide what you want to get out of it. Hear the talks. Visit the stands. Make notes (as you’ll forget what you heard and did!) Also allow room for the spontaneous. One of the best talks I heard was by a Latvian author, and she hadn’t been on my reckoning.
For a student, it’s free entry, which makes it incredibly good value. Would I go again? I’m not sure. Ask me again when I have the book deal.