I was more or less warned off going to the London Book Fair by other writers who said ‘It’s really not for authors’, but I went along anyway on the offchance.
Entering the massive space of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre is daunting. You feel as if you’re in the cosmetics section of the biggest department store in the world. You stroll past the glossy stands of Chanel, Estee Launder and Clinique (Harper Collins, Hachette and Bloomsbury), and the cheap-and-cheerful counters of Bourjois, Olay and Max Factor (the smaller publishing businesses) and on through the digital solutions bit, and there tucked away right at the back is the Author HQ. Here you can attend back-to-back seminars, mostly but not entirely about self publishing, many of which bore little or no relation to the schedule I had painstakingly downloaded from the LBF website.
Thus I found myself this afternoon accidentally sitting in on part of a seminar called ‘The Write Stuff’, where brave authors can pitch their books to a panel of writers’ agents. They have two minutes for their pitch and the agents have two minutes to comment. As expected, the ones with the brilliant sales strategies weren’t necessarily the ones with the best product, and vice versa, which only goes to confirm my concern that in the self publishing world it’s not your writing that matters so much as your marketing skills.
On the Tuesday I bumped into Becky Swift from The Literary Consultancy who told me they have developed relationships with Amazon, Kobo, Nook and the rest, all of whom are looking to them for product that has the TLC stamp of approval (which is not easy to get), which means they are acting as a kind of useful filter.
Upstairs in the rarified virtually author-free zone of the IRC (International Rights Centre), where I was stopped at the gate and quizzed about my intentions and only let through when I said I was visiting an agent friend and promised not to misbehave, agents sit in rows of stalls doing deals with publishers. News from there was gloomy – in an uncertain market the larger publishing houses are increasingly reluctant to take on new and untried writers (nothing new there). Which means of course it makes even more sense to self publish. As one (self published) speaker said earlier, ‘Why wait months for an agent to turn you down and several more for publishers to do the same when you can submit your book now?’
Alternatives to Amazon
I’ve already blogged about Smashwords, which distributes ebooks to all outlets, including Amazon, but I also wanted to check out alternatives to Amazon’s CreateSpace, their print-on-demand ‘arm’. I’ve published through CreateSpace and found it miraculously easy, efficient, quick and free (to upload). But if you want to avoid Amazon there is a company called printondemand-worldwide.com. As far as I can tell they print and distribute your book, just like CreateSpace, only they have outlets in the UK, thereby in theory reducing shipping costs. I haven’t investigated them properly yet but it looks as if, unlike Amazon, they have startup costs. They handed me a couple of impressive-looking brochures so if you’re thinking of publishing something where quality and colour are paramount, they may be worth checking out.
Or there’s Ingram, which I knew as LightningSource, which I looked at when I was publishing my Australian book as they have an outlet in Australia (as well as here in the UK). The lady at the counter however, who was in charge of ‘transportation’, told me postal costs within Australia are so high it’s cheaper for Aussies to buy from the US, which is rather astounding. Again they have startup costs (I believe), but if you are expecting to sell a lot of books in the UK they may be worth checking out at ingramspark.com.
Other interesting things I learned:
- children are really into ebooks (perhaps not surprisingly).
- the best selling book in the Australian charts is The Book Thief, written by the Sydney-born writer Markus Zusak. (Good to see the Aussies celebrating their own.)
- the Guardian is introducing a prize for self published authors.
Was it worth going? Absolutely, if only as an excuse to get out there and connect with other writers and anyone connected to the writing and publishing business. Which as indie authors we have to do!