The London Book Fair: The Author’s Yellow Brick Road?

Stephen Author's Musings 2 Comments

“The folks at Kindle seem to be the only people who want to help me!” exclaimed an endearing voice in the crowd. The man from Lincoln had a story to tell. He was in the audience at the ‘Write stuff’, the final event at Author HQ, at this years London Book Fair (LBF). It’s a Dragon’s Den style forum where six authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents. The agents had gone away to decide the winning pitch, and in the interim the floor opened up to questions.

I recently attended the LBF at Olympia for the second time. It’s an intense three days and for the uninitiated it can be a confusing labyrinth. And traditionally many authors haven’t attended. Why? Because it’s one of the global market places for book deals – it’s where agents meet publishers. Thus the chances of the Lincoln man meeting an agent were slim; a literary agent’s time is booked up weeks in advance of LBF.

However, our Lincoln man wasn’t going to miss his opportunity and his cry for help developed into a bold pitch to the host of the panel, who as it happened, was also an agent! Without pausing for breath the budding author pitched a tale of courage as a local mayor, standing boldly with the people against diggers and developers and defending the green fields of Lincolnshire.

“Wait,” I hear you say, “Author HQ? I thought you said LBF isn’t attended by authors.” Well Author HQ is only in its sixth year but LBF has been going for 46 years. The majority of the seminars and networking events at Author HQ are sponsored by companies and organisations associated with self-publishing or indie publishing (as we prefer to say), such as Amazon and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). And the seminar floor space is growing: there must have been a third more seats than last year and yet people were still forced to stand throughout the seminars and workshops, such was the popularity!

It’s a wonderful thing. For years the publishing industry has been the gatekeeper of books – they held the keys to the printing presses and bookshops. Of course physical books are expensive to produce and therefore publishers have business factors to consider. But it means they rarely take risks on an unknown, especially if a new author writes outside a mainstream genre. This has meant that publishers have a big say in the worthiness of a book and not readers. Which has to be wrong. But this all changed when Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offered authors the opportunity to publish electronically on its Amazon platform. Okay most people already know this. But what LBF really brought home is the juxtaposition of the two industries; traditional and indie both offer the same thing, but with indie, readers directly decide the fate of a book and ultimately an author’s career.

There’s a growing industry of editorial services, formatting, associations, courses etc. available to indies; many of whom I’m now aware of because of LBF, some of which I list below. And as you might expect Author HQ is a playground of indie authors. There were many in attendance, who are also like me are towards the start of their careers, but we also mixed with some very successful indie authors. Some people still think of indie publishing as a cottage industry, which is wrong given the millions of book sales it produces. However, I now think of it as a community of professional creatives. And I don’t think traditional publishers get this. Take a look at this article and you’ll understand what I’m talking about: Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word.

Thanks to LBF I was able to chat informally to a number of best selling British indie authors; and I can sincerely say they’re among the most humblest of people I’ve ever met.

Mark Dawson – He’s a publishing company in his own right. I believe he’s had more than three million downloads of his John Milton novels; a series featuring a British Jack Reacher rogue type! And he’s not frightened to put his hand in his pocket and buy a fellow author a drink, that’s Mark; I’m not sure about Milton!

Adam Croft – Adam’s a literary sensation, although you might not have seen his books on the shelves of your local bookshop. One of his thrillers, Her Last Tomorrow, recently had its millionth sale! Adam mentioned that everything changed for him when he began to treat his writing as a business.

Keith Houghton – I first met Keith at last year’s LBF. And like then he made himself available throughout LBF17 to answer questions. Keith writes psychological thrillers and he openly admits he was banging on publishers doors for thirty years before Kindle opened theirs. He’s now a best selling author and has been making a living from it since 2014.

Of course the drawbridge of traditional publishing sometimes drops open in favour of new talent. For example, David Perlmutter landed himself a publishing deal at LBF16 for his book, The Wrong Place Wrong Time. But if you ever met David, you’ll understand that he’s a one-man marketing machine. He’s also a thoroughly nice chat. And there’s Natalie Hart, the winner of last years The Write Stuff, who returned this year to share her story with working with an agent. Natalie’s agent is now very close to securing her a book deal.

And I’m going to get myself into terrible trouble if I don’t mention some of the author friends I’ve made because of LBF. If you fancy reading a romantic novel with Nordic zest, check out Helena Halme; want to experience a Ukrainian village through the eyes of a seven year-old girl, Leonora Meriel is the author for you; you’re into fighter planes and conspiracy, sign-up for James Blatch’s forthcoming book – I met James through SPF (see below), where he’s a director, but its at an Author HQ drinks event that I really got to know him; if the deep web of cybercrime intrigues you, Ian Sutherland has a series for you. Or if Sci-fi’s your bag, let Ray Burke beam you up into his world.

Of course it’s a personal choice of how we go about realising our writing careers. We can submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers and see what happens. Or we can take direct action and commit to the yellow brick road and utilise all the magical tools available to indie authors. It was only when Dorothy began to believe, that she took advantage of her Ruby Slippers and returned home.

It will be interesting to learn what path our man from Lincoln chooses for his book, hopefully we’ll learn at LBF18. And if you’re thinking of publishing a novel the £35 entrance LBF fee is likely to be one of the best investments of your author career. Hope to see you down the yellow brick road in 2018…


Publishing Tools/Services & Organisations

ALLi: A fantastic network of advice and support for indie authors.

Self Publishing Formula (SPF): The brainchild of author Mark Dawson, SPF courses will help you avoid the critical mistakes and set your author career on the right track from day one.

Draft2Digital: Distribute eBooks to some of the most well known online books stores such as ibooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo in over 200 countries. It’s a no brainer unless of course you want to deal with all these book sellers individually!

Society for Editors and Proofreaders (Sfep): A directory of qualified editorial professionals.

Novel London: Founded by Safeena Chaudhry (an author herself), Novel London provides authors with the opportunity to read from their opening chapter to an audience in bookshops across London. I do have a little confession; I have an invested interest in mentioning it because I often compere their evenings. But please come along and meet me!


Comments 2

  1. What a great post about The London Book Fair. You’re right that the Author HQ needs to expand even further, but I’d advice any indie author to expand their horizons at LBF to take in the other seminars aimed at publishers and agents too; indie authors are also publishers and need to know what’s going on in the industry.
    LBF is also a fantastic place to make contacts. There are other authors, but also other professionals in the industry. Talk to everyone and anyone is my advice! This year a couple of us indies were aiming to sell our foreign rights straight to publishers. (Fingers crossed!)
    It pays to plan too. I saw many authors (and publishers) had a few first chapters of their books printed as a small leaflet; last year it was cards and bookmarks advertising a title. Giving these away during the day and at the many drinks parties in the early evenings makes good sense, and I wish I thought of printing a leaflet.
    Thank you Stephen, for the shout-out about my books too!

    1. Post

      Helena, thanks for adding that – fantastic advice. It’s definitely worth exploring the maze. For example, I had an informative chat at the IngramSpark stand who offer some great publishing services and will get your books distributed into bookshops.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *