Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Opportunities for Unknown Authors

London Book Fair, my impressions. It was very busy, and the stands of the major publishing groups were heaving. Mostly they were discussing rights and all meetings were by appointment. There was a massive poster of JK Rowling on the stand of Little, Brown, promoting her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, and she looked rather smug in a heavy gold necklace, like the cat who’d got the cream. No reason why she shouldn’t, of course, if anyone has the right to look like that she has and good luck to her too, but from a PR point of view I wouldn’t have chosen that photo. Anyway, to me it typified how the stands of the big publishers came across. But of course that was an entirely superficial reaction and for all I know in reality they’re terrified the twin monsters of  Amazon and self-publishing are going to get even bigger and gobble them all up.

That to me was the interesting element to the Fair. So many of the seminars and talks were dedicated to self-publishing – and not just the digital side, either. Matador I’ve known for a while; they conducted talks several times a day about self-publishing so plenty of other people got to know about them too. They have a good, professional offer, and reassuringly they understand the publishing trade. Their background is in academic publishing. Indepenpress, who had a stand close to the front door, also had plenty of good things to say and had an author singing their praises and giving away his books. New to me was an outfit called Acorn, started in autumn 2010, and owned by a brother and sister team, the Dewjis. They ran an hour-long seminar. Ali had worked in sales at Emap whereas Leila’s background was Scholastic, Orion and heavyweight literary agents Sheil Land. If I were considering print self-publishing, they too would be big contenders.

If people are interested in publishing ebooks rather than printed there were plenty of opportunities, and lots of seminars by the likes of Kindle Self Publishing. A company called Autharium, which I’d not come across before, did some talks with Matador; they were an online community-based publishing outfit, focusing only on ebooks. Again, very interesting. If there was a trend, it was very much that authors are doing it for themselves. If they pay for professional distribution and marketing, and can help themselves by setting up a good following with a blog and using social media, they have a chance of earning more than with a traditional publisher as royalties are so much more generous. Acorn said some established authors were coming to them because their traditional publishers wouldn’t let them write what they wanted to, or had withdrawn support, so it’s not only debut authors who believe self-publishing with a reputable company has a lot to offer.

The other thing to hit me was how many independent publishers there are in the UK. Lots and lots. They were very busy too. I had several good experiences on their stands; one publisher which I followed up later said they’re considering launching a fiction list and would be interested in Fiction Feedback submitting my authors’ work to them. They’ve not yet told me what kind of fiction, but if I sensed anything, it was that the independents were sniffing opportunities. One (very, very small publisher) actually said to me they preferred authors without agents. Now, I guess for established writers, that would simply sound warning bells. To unpublished authors, who have tried without success to get an agent, it’s heavenly music. Other independent publishers whom I spoke to seemed more receptive, more ready to consider unknown authors, and can point to a catalogue that shows they’ve put their money where their mouth is, sometimes with spectacular, award-winning results. It certainly makes you think about where the best home might be for your masterpiece.

Fiction Feedback is busier than we’ve ever been. One author is almost certain he wants to self-publish, and we’ve certainly noticed an increase in demand recently for our editing services as well as our critiques. I hope this is partly because unpublished authors are realising they need to have a very polished manuscript with near-perfect prose to tempt literary agents and traditional publishers. I’m sure it’s also because authors are recognising self-publication as a valid alternative and want their work to be as good as it can be. A professional attitude which can do the reputation of self-publishing nothing but good.

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