On the whole, day two of London Book Fair seemed a little less frantic, a little more conversational, and a lot more writer-focused. Two seminars from Literary Agents revealed an underlying truth- that authors are no longer a resource for agents to draw on, but tools they have to utilise. Tools they have to chase after, learn to work with and keep in happy working order.
Publishers, editors, agents.. no-one institution is as removed from the author as they once were, but instead are hip or neck deep in promotion, personality and social networking. Day two gave me this increasing feeling that some of the networks I’ve built are grossly beneficial valuable commodities. I’ve just been using them in utterly the wrong way.
In an early seminar, publisher Scott Pack (above) raised the interesting question of how digital publishing changes concepts of value, and how a well-made, quality paperback has a different sense of “value” than a well written, well edited e-book. In digital publishing the text speaks for the consumer worth, and the relationship between cost and content is entirely based around how not-bad the book is.
There was a suggestion that Dickens would have loved e-books, and they’d have made an ideal platform for Dombey & Son and his other epic serialisations. This idea that publishers might start releasing episodic digital literature is an exciting one, but it also smells a little too much like the current issues faced by gamers regarding micro-transactions and DLC.
Speaking of gaming, a seminar on the gaming industry’s links with literature and the possibilities presented fell a little short of the mark for me. Watching people from the world of books talk about games can sometimes be a little like watching someone from Activision wave a book above their head yelling “IT’S MADE OF PAPER AND THERE ARE WORDS IN IT! THAT’S ALL WE KNOW!”
On the whole it felt like yet another expression of the need by some publishers have to cash in on all markets.. chickens like corn, right? Well stick corn to your book and you can tap this lucrative chicken market! Sales!
At the time I wrote the note “Is any of this really news? Or is it just news to publishers?” but I suppose that at any trade or industry show you are going to have areas of lack. A talk on bikes at the Chelsea Flower Show is going to be just as light as a gardening exhibit at a Harley Davidson convention, and you can’t fault publishers and events staff for their enthusiasm for new markets, regardless of their motivation.
A point of interest the seminar raised was on how players, users (and particularly children) write their own stories. We know Princess Peach has been kidnapped, but we don’t know why she’s a Princess, and let some mental process fill in the blanks. If we play Cut The Rope long enough, that hungry frog starts developing motivation and a backstory. We know the goal is to feed him, but over time we need to establish why we’re feeding him.
I don’t know if that’s interesting, insightful, or just obvious, but I appreciated it.
It was around this time I really started chatting with other visitors, and found it inevitably rewarding. There were new writers, established writers, editors from the Guardian I would neverhave chatted to in any other forum, and a lady struggling to mass publish a treatise on the history of science in the form of an epic poem.
I started to realise I’d been mistreating the Crap Looking Books brand a little. Rather than sharing cards and info just with those I spoke to, I should’ve brought a sack of literature and flyers and drowned the exhibition centre in them at the start of each day. While Crap Looking Books may still be very much a fledgling, it’s an eye-catching brand that gets people asking questions and talking… it’s just a little hard to introduce into a conversation where everyone is proud of what they do and resist to anything defamatory. Rightly So!
It was while sat in “Should Novelists Write Screenplays?” that I felt the seminars could do with longer, less misleading titles. Had the seminar been titled “Should Novelists Write Screenplays based on their own novels?” I wouldn’t have attended, since I went to something very similar on the first day. I still think the “How to reach your readers” talk from GoodReads should have been titled “How to reach your readers using GoodReads”
Still. Nobody was forcing me to be anywhere and it was often in some of the less engaging moments when I had more flashes of brilliance about projects I’m working on or ideas for synergy and networking (and other buzzwords), fostered by the creative learning atmosphere… and maybe the lack of air conditioning or available oxygen.
The afternoon picked up pace a little when a seminar on author branding from Author Profile opened with the claim “If you’ve come here for a nap, sorry!” Authors and agents in the crowd were encouraged to think about the attitudes and attributes that make up them and their work, and to share this ‘brand’ openly with each other and the wider group. Putting aside the speaker’s somewhat worrying obsession with the high class safe sexualisations of Jilly Cooper novels, this was a bloody useful seminar. As a writer of genre fiction who can’t and won’t just pick a genre, it pays to think about my “brand” and any recurrent themes or content between what I write. Considering I’d left Day One’s genre seminar worrying about this, it was just what I needed.
It’s that old Babylon(5)ian thought game- Who are you? What do you want? Why are you the way you are? Answer them, then keep answering them.
The last Author Lounge seminar of the day was an excellent talk from agents Hellie Ogden and Andrew Lownie about the state of the industry and the place of authors and agents within it. Of startling interest before this though was just how busy and popular the Author Lounge had become at this point. So much so, that extra security had been laid on to help with crowd control and safety. At the time we suggested (and ran away with the suggestion) that these security were bodyguards Mark Lefebvre from Kobo had presumptuously brought with him to protect him from stray kindles, but this was of course nonsense and would’ve been ridiculously out of character for Mark, an author himself, known for being friendly and approachable. The extra security was thanks to London Book Fair themselves, which is fantastic in a way because it shows they can’t ignore the increased popularity of Author Lounge, and the rising prominence of authors within the wider event. Still though… who wouldn’t be excited to see a Kindle / Kobo West Side Story style throwdown? One day maybe…
I finished up the day taking more photos of stands, (either for Crap Looking Books or just because they had some damn fine artwork- hey, there were Superman comics distributors there!) and chatting enthusiastically with people. This is not hard at all because everybody there is enthusiastic about everything they do.
There was not a single person there who did not love books in one way or another, even if they just loved buying and selling them. I don’t know anywhere else in the world you could get that kind of crowd and atmosphere, and it was a fantastic place to be.
I’m going to close on this sound bite from literary agent Andrew Lownie– “Don’t chase a trend, just write a good book. Good books always get through.”
London Book Fair, see you next year!