London Book Fair 2014

Having been to London Book Fair last year and thought about returning pretty much constantly since, my happiness at being back there was inevitable. In fact, I was happy just to be in Earl’s Court again, I love that place and will miss it when it closes.

This year I discovered an excellent way to slow the inevitable leg pains that come from conferences and conventions… dance shoes and protein supplements. Seriously. Dance shoes and protein supplements.

I felt quite early on that flyering for Crap Looking Books and the articles at wasn’t a productive use of my time, given that the former is quite a hard brand to briefly explain without offense, and the latter was printed on the back of the former.

If the watchword on London Book Fair’s sales floor was Korean Markets, then the unofficial watchword of the seminar programme was Enthusiasm. Whether it was self-publishers celebrating their work, prospective authors refusing to give up, or publishers and agents ravenous for new material, everyone in attendance was absolutely in love with what they do.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what makes London Book Fair so singular is the fact that everyone there is there because they love books. Selling them, writing them, reading them, optioning them… whatever they do to books, they do it with love. (giggle)

Even that one bat-shit crazy idea (and there’s one at every event) gets support and acknowledgement, even if no-one quite understands it and finds it a little scary.

Some of the more fantastic seminars this year included:

Can a Theatre Adaptation of a Book Be The Better Option? (sometimes!)

The Growth of Story Centres across the UK & Europe (it’s exponential!)

Keeping It Short (a reassuring panel on the return of the short story market)

What Traditional Publishers Can Learn From Indie Authors (a seminar provided by NetGalley that genuinely never once felt like a NetGalley sales pitch)

Q&A with Rhianna Pratchett (which I of course planned my week around, fanboy that I am)

How to Get the Best from your Publisher (an essential guide to the minefield of contract agreements, featuring Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl With The Pearl Earring)

How Picturebooks Can Help Children To Help Themselves (a touching and comprehensive talk from Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley, creators of the very personal and very poignant The Copper Tree)

Pushing Creative Boundaries (Jeff Norton’s insanely inspiring solo talk on Iteration, Collaboration, and Immersion.)

Author HQ’s The Write Stuff X-Factor-esque panel experience deserves a special mention, because of the bravery of the authors taking part, the uniqueness of their ideas, and the frank-but-friendly advice the panel of gathered agents maintained for a full two hours.

I’d go into my notes from these seminars but they’re fairly relevant to me and would probably make little sense to anybody else..

I did feel at times that I was hearing things I already knew, but that doesn’t cheapen the experience at all. I was there to be inspired just as much as educated, and would often find myself making vital personal realisations that related only mildly to the seminar content at hand.

Nick Hornby, 2nd from right.
College-aged me is so jealous.

The quality of experts on the seminars was second to none, and authors I’ve not enjoyed before proved themselves professionals through their acute understanding of the industry and their obvious dedication and hard work. It’s a solid reminder that reading and writing are as subjective as any art, and just because you don’t enjoy someone’s work doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing or how to do it well.

While the author stream at Author HQ had a substantially expanded programme on last year (including a daily Agent/Editor/Publisher/Bookseller panel with a different specialist in those roles each day) and had moved further away from the throng to allow better access, the audience space was still much too small, and constant over-crowding often put me off heading there for fear of wasting my time looking at the backs of people’s heads.

Busy is as busy does..

Although if I had it my way we would have had half of Earl’s Court to ourselves.

I still feel that more clarity is required in some seminar titles. For example “How to Work With Games Developers” is not clear on who the advice is for, or whether “How” refers to how to get started, or “how” best to handle that working relationship once it starts.

To be fair, it was both and so much more, and that excellent seminar represented a substantially increased synergy and understanding between gaming and traditional publishing strands since last year’s seminar programme.

I felt the final day of the Book Fair lost focus a little, but that may have been down to my own loss of focus, balance, and energy. I can’t do anything for three day or more without getting exhausted, so blame me for that one.

A substantial thought I took home from last year’s Book Fair was the importance and ease of self-publishing, and while self-publishing was just as lauded this year, if not more-so, there was an increasing focus on the caveat that self-publishing is seldom the best first route for an author, and that the extra services that can make or break a self-publishing career are part and parcel of the traditional publishing process.

I left last year’s London Book Fair feeling like a well-built empty vessel, in possession of a strong platform but with not a lot resting on it, just a trove of half-finished ideas and first or second drafts. The amount of work I have put in during the year since has become more than apparent to me, and I leave this London Book Fair enthused about my every project, with a clean idea of what direction they’re heading in.


No photo album this year! When you’ve seen one book trade stand you’ve seen them all, although you consider yourself blessed for having done so. If you want something more visual, check out these three videos I made.