London Book Fair 2015 was exhausting and energising in equal parts, as always. Looking around and listening to what people have to say, all those thousands of people selling millions of books worldwide, is a healthy reminder that you need to be sharp and dedicated to stay in the game. That’s one reason it’s so important.
When you prepare for a book fair as an agent or rights person, you think you know what your ‘big books’ are. But often you’re taken by surprise. At this fair, people were interested in gift and parenting books for dads: DAD’S WISDOM and the SUPERDAD SPEEDBIBLE were requested over and over again.
There were great tips to be picked up from contacts in various countries. For example, it’s vital to have a good author photo. A particular project didn’t make it into a co-agent’s catalogue because the headshot was poor.
In the UK, independent publishers were upbeat and strong. They may be working harder than before, but their lists look vibrant and the quality is high. They’ve weathered the e-book storm, and now do well in both e- and paper formats.
Our wonderful new Spanish agents, Sandra Bruna Agencia Literaria, were full of good energy. They said too many publishers follow a bandwagon, take on ‘copycat books’ to follow a trend, then wonder why they don’t sell as well as the book that started the trend. Why not set the trend by doing something original? They love to present fresh ideas.
I was inspired by a fellow freelance writer and editor who had also given up a well-paid job to go it alone. She said the challenges, difficulties and continual learning of being a freelancer were something positive, and she was never bored these days.
On the other hand, at another meeting a gentleman from a European publishing company made it explicitly clear that the books I had to offer were not sufficiently best-selling for him even to look at them. Comments like that are the exception rather than the norm at book fairs. Book people are usually supportive people, which is why book fairs are also occasions to meet up with old friends. I was at least cheered when a woman stopped me to compliment me on my white linen dress and ask me where I got it.
For the first time, I found myself stopping to listen to some of the panel discussions for authors, since the venue was conveniently located halfway between the exhibition floor and the rights centre. Representatives from the Daily Mail and the Bookseller magazine as well as a book blog agreed that most self-published book jackets are ‘awful’, and that good covers and beautiful books matter. As reviewers, they spend a little more time with a book if the cover is great, because it’s more likely to end up being a success. They said that co-publishing offers a good opportunity for authors to work with a team who understand what covers and marketing work for the trade.
Another talk mentioned that to make a book successful you need commitment, passion, and a story that makes people jump for joy and want to tell all their friends.
On the evening after my second day at the fair, the lens fell out of my glasses – glasses I need for navigating my way around a big trade show and spotting familiar faces. So thanks most of all to the lovely woman at David Clulow opticians in Hammersmith, where I dashed in at one minute past nine on the second day of the fair, who fixed my glasses. It’s the little things that are sometimes the most important…