This is my summary of my experience at the 2014 London Book Fair held April 8-10, 2014.
Words Will Never Go Out of Fashion
History or New Age? Non-fiction or fiction? Horror or Romance? Political or Artistic? What is your genre? What is your preference for publishing?
The 2014 London Book Fair is an excerpt from the bigger book of publishing. Big and miniscule names, from all over the publishing and writing world, share ideas, have meetings (lots and lots of meetings) and are exposed to the new technology, the advances in digital distribution, printing, shipping, and fan base building. Contrary to what you might think, the written word is not going anywhere. It is just being transported to your eyes and ears in new ways. But the old ways are stolidly keeping their feet dangling on the edge of the pool.
This is the last year the fair will be held in Earl’s Court; it is moving to the Olympia site next year, a bigger and better place I presume to showcase whatever lays ahead one year from now. For that is what I know for sure: things are changing so rapidly that what is true today will not necessarily be true next year.
Times Roman is Dead
Books and authors, words and sentences, story, narrative, structure. That stays. But how it is exported and imported into your life is constantly changing. One publisher told me that most of the exhibitors in Tech Central are new, or at least many of the companies from last year had not returned. That could be for many reasons. This is not a research article so I am not going to delve into this statement, I am going to trust that he noticed this trend. I also did not go to the fair to gather facts about the industry, just to experience what is on offer, to wander and savour the many directions a writer could pursue in a future (or existing) fledgling career.
Many countries and languages showcased their books and publications at this fair. Several of these publishers may even be of interest to a writer who has a particular area of expertise or interest. That is my message. Don’t forget the rest of the world.
Finding Our Voice
I was overwhelmed by the number of meetings going on, overwhelmed by the big names on the posters, envious of the new names, and curious about all those people chattering to one another in those meetings.
I myself, had nothing to offer, little to say. I meekly wandered as a little grad student, with no focus, or limited focus anyway. All I know at this point is the kind of stuff I don’t want to write, less about an exact genre or field I want to focus on. Sure, I have lots of ideas and interests (animals, dogs, fact, fiction, depression, mental health issues, travel stories, food, inspiration stories, women, feminism…and so much more).
I decided it was not necessary at this exact moment for me to focus or choose. I am a generalist, I am a technical writer, I can, in theory, plonk down a few words about just about anything, as long as I do the research. And if it is beyond my scope, I would not be hired anyway.
I like being a generalist, but it WILL hinder me when I want to go forth and sell my ideas or network with these people.
The Novel is King (or Queen). Are Short Stories Really Dead?
I think short stories have a place in this world of smartphones and tablets. There are many more markets for shorter pieces, from fictional short stories, to feature articles. Audiences are interested in something to read during a 30 to 60 minute commute, for example. Attention spans are less, so short stories may enjoy a resurgence for people who want to get to the point and be satisfied. Flash fiction has shown that people enjoy this, as well as all the contests about writing one sentence stories. Twitter’s 140 character limit requires great skill to convey a story, an idea, something that catches the eye. Headlines, short blurbs, everything short is useful for the future of the written word. And who knows what is to come after these technologies are replaced by the next generation of gadgets.
I plan to write another blog post about this once I do a bit more research.
If you have a great idea… it sells for a long time
One of my favourite books of all time has a new (IMO, ugly) cover and was on display at the fair. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory must have made Penguin a whole lotta money.
Not everyone is snapped up by the Big Fish. There are however, many independent publishers with very specific fields of interest that they publish.
I saw a talk with 3 or 4 successful self-published authors who all claim to be millionaires. I think they were mostly romance/gothic/horror writers (very popular) , but the key thing is that they later talked about working 20+ hour days, doing the writing, the promoting, the publishing, all the work by themselves. Essentially they are entrepreneurs who run their own business. If that appeals to you, then there are ways to do it where you can bypass a traditional publisher.
There are many ways to get where you want to go. There are companies you can pay to display your own published work at these book fairs, and there are associations you can join if you want to self publish.
Don’t Forget – Nonfiction is a Genre
If you are in certain fields of study or research, there are the academic publishers that you would need to publish with. I cannot see self publishing of your scientific research being lauded or revered, as it would mean you were not peer-reviewed. And that is the problem with the self publishing route for a novice writer, with no experience and no understanding of the requirements for story telling, whether it is fact or fiction you are writing.
Quality Should Still Reign
A friend of mine bought an e-book from Amazon. She said she was appalled at the quality. I asked how much she paid ($2.99) and I said, well, yes, that is likely self-published, probably not edited, and definitely not reviewed for quality. The public do not really understand this new way of publishing, and because Amazon sells regular books, people are easily persuaded to buy a self published one, even though Amazon has nothing to do with it except provide a platform for distribution. There are also many legal/copyright issues to consider.
Stay tuned for more articles about the publishing industry and being a new writer learning how to navigate the waters.