Recently, while chatting with Belinda Griffin of SmartAuthorsLab about a future guest post, she mentioned she was on her way to London Book Fair. So we asked her if she'd be willing to report back on her experience as an indie at the fair. "Of course", she said. So, if you're curious about LBF or thinking of attending it or a similar event, here is her account of London Book Fair 2018...
A couple of weeks ago I had the huge pleasure of attending the London Book Fair. It was my first visit and I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I figured that spending a couple of days geeking out with the entire publishing industry was never going to be a disappointment.
What is London Book Fair?
London Book Fair (LBF), as with other international fairs, is at its heart a trade event. As the website states, LBF is the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.
For details of some of the big deals that were completed and trends that were discussed, catch up with Publishers Weekly’s more traditional round-up of the fair.
As I walked around the event, which was vast, I could see hundreds of meetings taking place. These would mostly have been arranged in advance. It’s not possible for authors to simply turn up with a manuscript and hope to bag an agent or publisher.
So, with that said, is there any point in authors attending?
Benefits of Attending London Book Fair
Author HQ is an area of the exhibition space dedicated to authors. It features a number of exhibitors that can help authors, such as The Society of Authors, and a conference area where sessions specifically aimed at authors take place.
Not all book fairs acknowledge or welcome indies, but London Book Fair is an exception. Participants included a number of self-publishing service providers, such as BookBaby, Publica, and Amazon, and there were seminars covering various aspects of self-publishing. This year, for the first time, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) had a stand, having launched at LBF six years ago.
Seminars geared towards self-publishing authors included An Introduction to Kindle Direct Publishing, a daily panel discussion that included authors LJ Ross and Mark Dawson among others, Collaborative Digital Marketing with Laurence O’Bryan, founder of Books Go Social, The Agony and Ecstasy of Becoming a Self-Publisher and Get a Self-Publishing 3.0 Mindset, hosted by ALLi. The ALLi sessions were recorded and are available as part of the Self-Publishing Advice Conference, which is an online fringe to London Book Fair.
Standards Are Rising
Listening to these seminars I picked up on a recurring theme, which is that indie authors have most definitely arrived and are finally being seen as an accepted part of the publishing industry. However, respect is not won easily and it can be lost very quickly. The emphasis from a number of different speakers was on the requirement for authors to invest in their own work if they want it to be taken seriously.
“The key issues and challenges are the quality of the work,” explained Laurence O’Bryan. “High quality work means two edits (a structural edit and a proofread). High quality presentation means a professional cover design.”
Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark, echoed this point that it’s important to build a team to help you produce professional level work, saying that being successful as an indie means “collaborating, working with others, asking for help and admitting you don’t know everything”.
Collaborative Digital Marketing panel with Laurence O'Bryan of Books Go Social at London Book Fair 2018Laurence O’Bryan ended his talk by saying that “standards are rising and are likely to continue rising.” This is a fantastic direction for self-publishing to be going and is what is needed in order for self-published books to stand shoulder to shoulder with traditionally published books. But it does mean that indies need to be prepared to invest both time and money in quality products.
Indie Success Comes at a Price
During one author panel discussion, it was emphasized that self-publishing is not free. Yes, it is still possible to upload an eBook file to Kindle completely free of charge, but to compete in the marketplace, investment needs to be made. This sentiment went hand-in-hand with the repeated message that as a self-publishing author you are running a business. (More on indie-author-as-business in the links below.)
- Own Your Author Business in 7 Steps
- Author LLC: When Should Authors Incorporate
- Should Indie Authorship Be Its Own Business?
Author Joseph Alexander said: “If you’re going to self-publish, you have to have the mentality that you’re a publisher as well as an author.” Robin Cutler echoed this in a separate session, saying, “The second you publish, you are in business.”
During the Q&A sessions, book marketing was top of the list for many. Orna Ross, founder of ALLi, admitted that “reaching readers remains a struggle” and advised authors to focus on finding their one, ideal reader. Orna was also keen to point out that “marketing requires a different mindset to creating, writing and producing a book”.
Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief at Publishing Perspectives, said: “You need to understand who your reader is going to be, then look for the joy of marketing! If you love your work, you will learn to love the elements that help to sell your book. Be proud of what you’ve produced and don’t be afraid of telling people about it.”
Insight and Inspiration
Another great benefit of London Book Fair is the opportunity to learn from successful professionals. For example, I listened in to Children’s Laureate and illustrator Lauren Child in conversation with the Association of Illustrators. My daughter and I love Lauren Child’s books, so I dropped by as a fan. Most of the audience was made up of illustrators who soaked up the nuggets of wisdom Lauren shared about working as an illustrator, the business side of being an illustrator and the challenges she faced in the early stages of her career.
I wasn't able to attend similar sessions with authors Jacqueline Wilson and Jojo Moyes, though I would have loved to if the schedule had allowed. I imagine these would have been similarly insightful for writers.
Opportunities to listen to a professional talk about their career in this way don’t come often and can be incredibly inspiring and motivating, however you choose to publish.
Book Blogger Awards
Also new this year was the London Book Fair’s first ever UK Book Blog Awards, which saw book bloggers recognized across three categories: Book Blogger, Bookstagrammer, and BookTuber.
Book bloggers are hugely important to indies, helping to promote their books to a wider audience and provide much sought-after reviews, so it’s fantastic to see them recognized.
Book Blogger of the Year, Lucy Pearson, accepting her award at LBF 2018The Book Blogger prize was awarded to Lucy Pearson for The Literary Edit, @theguywiththebook, Faroukh Naseem, won the Bookstagrammer award and Reads and Daydreams (Lauren Whitehead) won in the Booktuber category. Full details of the shortlist and winners can be found on the LBF Hub.
The Future is Bright for Those Willing to Invest
In summary, the feeling I had coming away from LBF was that the future looks bright for indies. It will be as important as ever for indie authors to learn about the industry and to ensure they team up with reputable partners to produce high quality books. That means editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing.
Indies should be building a network of connections to help them produce and promote their work. Self-publishing is not something that needs to be done in isolation and it shouldn’t be if you want to create your best work. As Joseph Alexander said: “If it’s not your skillset, get someone else to do it.” I interpret that as; don’t do a crummy job yourself, or if it’s a task like marketing, don’t just ignore it. If you want your work to be seen and successful, you will need to invest in it, whether that’s time or money.
Self-publishing has reached a point where there are professional services, courses and coaches available for every step, so there is no need to muddle through. And as standards rise, muddling through will no longer be an option for any author who wants to make serious impact and income.
Belinda Griffin is a Book Marketing Success Coach teaching indie authors who struggle with book marketing how to attract their ideal readers who will fall in love with them so that they can confidently achieve much greater exposure and sales. Belinda runs SmartAuthorsLab where authors embrace experimentation, to see what works for them. Grab your FREE guide: How to get your book noticed with fantastic results! & follow Belinda on Twitter @SmartAuthors.
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