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Author Events, Writing

First time at the London Book Fair

As you may have noticed, this is a pretty noisy and packed week in the book world, which completely mirrors my own schedule of late.  In view of this, I have decided to postpone publication of my Spring Spotlight author Addison Jones’ post on Postwar California for a little while – it is simply too good to be overlooked in all the excitement.

Instead, today’s post is a combined, dashed-off write-up of my first ever visit to the London Book Fair yesterday, as many of my Twitter followers seemed interested, and since they mesh well, an update on my Paris Mon Amour paperback/new imprint as I’m always being asked how it’s going. The short answer is really well (thanks for asking): both the cover and the typeset manuscript are about 99% there, looking lovely.  I will have finished copies available around 22 April – a month ahead of publication – so if you are dying to get your hands on it early for some interesting reason, let me know!

And tomorrow (I told you things were frantic), I’ll be posting an event report on George Saunders at the Goldsmiths Writing Centre this evening – although as this is being live-streamed, you have the option of ‘being there’.

Despite being aware of LBF for many years, it had never really occurred to me to attend before.  There was a time when it wasn’t seen as a very worthwhile excursion for new (or unpublished) writers, unless you’d written the title that was about to set the place on fire. I am happy to report that there is now a great deal on offer for writers at any stage of their career, no matter how they are choosing to pursue it, and I had a great time attending seminars, wandering around and bumping into people. It would have been worth going just to experience the incredible buzz of being surrounded by so many people from all over the world who love books.  Olympia is an excellent venue with lots of natural light and places to sit down and work or socialise. I was struck by the massive logistical challenge of organising something on this scale and how well it was done.

(In this photo, taken from my best angle, I am wearing Latvian poetry – never thought I’d say that.)

The highlight of my day was attending the session The Indie Publishing Journey: from Manuscript to Market, chaired by Orna Ross, founder of the Association of Independent Authors (ALLi), with two authors, Christine Webber and Tobias Harwood, who had independently published their books with Clays, whose project manager and indie specialist Rebecca Souster completed the lively panel. This event was extremely interesting as is this how I am publishing Paris Mon Amour – albeit my novel is unusual in that it was commercially published first, in digital and audio last summer.

Coincidentally, both of the panellists’ books caught my attention and not just because they are beautifully produced to the highest industry standards, as mine will be.  Some may have been surprised to realise this is even achievable by self-published authors, given the frequent snarking associating it with shoddy writing and amateurish production. I get the strong feeling this attitude is finally on the wane and that in the industry at least, indie publishing is being taken seriously as a path some actively choose, rather than a last resort. As Christine, Tobias and many other self-published authors prove, those with a genuinely rigorous and professional approach can absolutely hold their own alongside traditional publishers and titles.

What attracted me to these two books?  Christine’s novel Who’d have thought it? has a female protagonist who is newly single in her fifties – and some of you will know my views about the lack of visibility of women over 40 in fiction (and indeed everywhere). Hearing that Christine has a long career as a journalist, non-fiction writer and psychotherapist behind her, I am looking forward to reading this book, which she has chosen to produce in short print runs of 300 at a time.

Tobias’ non-fiction book Great Traits examines the five character traits and mindset shared by highly successful individuals, some of whom have overcome huge adversity, like Guy Disney, the first amputee to reach the North Pole.  I have a keen interest in the psychology of resilience and will certainly be reading this one in the run-up to my workshops on Perseverance and Motivation for Writers with Voula Grand. Profits from Great Traits are going to the charity Walking with the Wounded and Tobias chose much larger print runs which result in significant economies of scale from 2,000 copies onwards, and has had success in getting it stocked in Waterstones. He feels the key quality needed to succeed in self-publishing is grit, and although creativity plus iron will is an unlikely combination, it is essential. He’s not wrong!

These very different authors, books and publication stories nonetheless had a lot in common. The authors liked the speed and control of self-publishing, and I would say the same – I committed to bringing my book out in print on 3 January and it will be in the shops on 22 May.  There are no compromises – everything’s the way you want it, not surprisingly, as you’re the one paying. They agreed on the importance of professional editing, design and other services – and we are unanimous in our praise and appreciation for Rebecca from Clays, whose expertise and customer service is first class.

Something else: it’s often assumed that all authors are retiring introverts who hate marketing, PR, etc.  Well, guess what? These two aren’t and neither am I – some writers enjoy this stuff, and unless you can afford a PR campaign, it’s good to hear that you can actually get results yourself if you’re willing to be pro-active and go after ‘high-impact’ opportunities like local radio (or if you’re really lucky, Radio 2 apparently).  To my delight, half of the independent book shops I’ve approached have already come back to me saying they’d like to stock my novel!   Christine’s top tip is one I’d echo: join ALLi – it’s an incredible source of information and advice – not to mention that I was at LBF thanks to getting in free as a member. This was a really encouraging and positive discussion that made me feel so glad I decided to do what I’m doing.

This is way too long, so to wrap it up, my social high point was catching up with my friend Helen Mackinven and her business partner Anne Glennie, the energetic duo behind new-ish Scottish independent publisher Cranachan.  Helen and I finally met in Glasgow last summer after five years online, and it’s fair to say we’ve both ended up doing all kinds of things not originally on the plan.  Just goes to show that you have to be open to flexible thinking and adapting as you go along…

Last word goes to the seminar on the American Market chaired by Alison Baverstock, with a hugely knowledgeable and charismatic panel consisting of publishing guru Porter Anderson, long-time NY agent Gail Hochman and Australian literary ‘fixer’ Philippa Donovan, now based in LA, where one of her occupations is as a scout for a film producer. She explained that there is a new emphasis/interest in TV rather than film, and that strong characters are the magic ingredient. Bet I wasn’t the only one consumed with envy hearing about her job, part of which is running the literary programme at the California Soho House.

Amongst the many valuable insights shared by Porter Anderson, two particularly resonated with me.  He expressed concern that literary fiction hasn’t gained traction in digital – something I have had cause to notice – and literary is a vital part of the cultural landscape.  He also believes it’s better to produce three really good books than twenty that are so-so.  (I heard in another session that although the US is the biggest market, the UK has the greatest output of new titles per head of population – it feels like a subversive thought, but are there simply too many?)

It was fascinating to hear Gail Hochman’s take as an experienced agent.  At a time when it’s getting harder to sell manuscripts in the US, the question for writers is ‘how amazingly exciting and different is your book?’ Gail will generously give a manuscript 40 or 50 pages  – ‘what am I reading to find out?’ – but to sign an author their book needs to have her ‘glued to the chair’ – as in missing her Subway stop and ending up in Queens though she lives Brooklyn kind of glued (I also prefer Brooklyn). It has to be moving, relatable and the characters have to feel completely real.  This happens to be exactly what I want from a novel, but then most people do.

Thank you to everyone involved in the London Book Fair and especially the events above, for a very educational, inspiring and enjoyable day.  It really is a thrill to be part of this crazy business in any capacity.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about George!

NOTE: I have not been offered nor would I accept recompense for the mention of any product or service on the Literary Sofa.



About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


3 thoughts on “First time at the London Book Fair

  1. Hi! Always wondered about going to the LBF – since you were wearing Latvian poetry I assume there is some poetry there – maybe next time! Also, a poet friend who writes novels has set up, with another novelist, a self-publishing venture called Blue Door Press. I went to an event they had to explain their work – vetting novels for publication, providing editing and professional cover design for a fee the author pays. The books were high-quality (I bought two) and both authors had been previously published in the ‘mainstream’ with agents, etc. but for various reasons found this route better, esp after being told that there wasn’t much market for ‘literary fiction’. Interesting post as always, Isabel.

    Posted by Jennifer Grigg | March 15, 2017, 16:12
  2. Sounds like time well spent – you not only learned a few new things, but the buzz of meeting all those people is invaluable. Interesting point about marketing and authors but then self promotion doesnt come naturally to everyone even captains of industry don’t like talking to journalists for example.

    Posted by BookerTalk | March 17, 2017, 12:26
  3. It was such a bonus to meet up again Isabel and hear all your exciting plans. Hope we cross paths again soon!

    Posted by Helen MacKinven | March 20, 2017, 13:00

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