Yesterday I attended the London Book Fair for the second time (2016 being the first for me), and once again it was an illuminating and valuable experience. What’s more, it was a very different experience to the one I had last year. In April 2016 I hadn’t yet finished Man O’War, and hadn’t yet signed a deal for that book with Snowbooks. My one publishing credit at the time (a story in The Haunting Of Lake Manor Hotel) had been published that very week. That meant I was very much a budding author, rather than an author outright, and I was travelling to the Fair speculatively. It was an interesting, if slightly overwhelming, experience, and I wrote about it on the SFF Chronicles website here.
This year, as a contracted – if not yet established – author, I was travelling slightly less speculatively, and with a few specific aims in mind. High on my list of objectives was to network with people who would be able to help me with respect to cross-promotion, PR and marketing for my book(s). It made me think about the nature of the opportunities open to authors, and what we can do to try and leverage them. Hopefully some of the thoughts below are of some use. Let me know what you think of them. For my part, I’ll definitely be attending the LBF in 2018, as each time I’ve gotten something valuable from it so far. It’s taught me that opportunity is…
I attended the Genre Spotlight session at the Author HQ, the section of the Fair exclusively tailored for writers. Tellingly, it was sponsored by Kindle Direct Publishing, which I inferred to mean that most authors there were looking to self-publish. A lot of the sessions did cover aspects of SPing, which I covered in last year’s debrief, so won’t go into here.
In any case, on the SFF panel were: publisher Jo Fletcher, owner of Jo Fletcher books; agent Ian Drury of Sheil Land; and Ed McDonald, a debut epic fantasy novelist and one of Ian’s clients. When it came to questions, I’m not usually the person who asks questions of the panel. A little voice tells me not to ask a stupid question and make a fool of myself. I quickly told that voice to pipe down. Another little voice told me that if I did ask a question I should shut up about being contracted to Snowbooks as it would look like showing off in front of my fellow audience members. I quickly told that little voice in my head to be quiet, too, and said it anyway. It made the response of the panel quite different. They first congratulated me, then sat up to take notice, and invited me to talk with them afterwards. Don’t hide lights under bushels.
I made some useful contacts with companies and individuals that were such a good fit for where I was that it seemed too good to be true. I met a delightful lady from Jacaranda, who specialise in publishing work promoting ethnically diverse writers and/or settings. When I told her that half of Man O’War was set in Port Harcourt, she was very excited to learn more, and we’re hopefully going to set up some cross-promotional activity when the release rolls around in the autumn. The more I thought about it, it wasn’t too good to be true; it was serendipity. You only enable good things to happen if you set up the right conditions for them to happen. Just by being at the Book Fair I hugely increased the chances of meeting good people like Jazzmine from Jacaranda, and from the other PR firms and publishers I stopped by to talk with. Get yourself to events. Talk to people. Tell them what you’re writing. There will be people – be they commercial or niche – willing to listen.
For two years now I’ve taken business cards, and copies of whatever books I’ve had in print along with me. I’ve learned to dish out the business cards liberally and unashamedly. It takes some getting used to, because there’s always that voice saying “what if they think I’m an idiot/a charlatan/chuck it straight in the bin?” The answer is, so what? People go to these events to make contacts. All it takes is one person to take an interest for you to get your foot in the door (see below). If everyone else chucks the card in the bin, it’s of no consequence.
I’ve also taken a rough plan of who and what sort of people I’ve wanted to talk to. The Book Fair is a huge, overwhelming event, with thousands of attendees and hundreds upon hundreds of exhibitors across seven massive halls and two storeys, with myriad corridors and nooks and crannies, and a few tucked away areas. Without an idea of where to go you can quickly get swamped and just end up walking around in circles. Last year it took me about three hours to find the Author HQ. This year, I efficiently visited the exact places I wanted to visit, as I knew where they’d be (I worked at Farnborough Airshow for 8 years. These trade fairs always have the same visitors year on year, and the big exhibitors usually take the same stand locations each show), allowing me the time to have a browse afterwards.
…Having A Foot In The Door
It’s amazing the difference in people’s attitude towards you once somebody within the industry has given your work some sort of seal of approval. In my case, being able to mention Snowbooks gave me a sort of seal of quality that – in the eyes of the publishers, PR people and agents I spoke to – made me more worth talking to. Jo Fletcher’s reasoning was that “somebody with influence has already done the reading for [her]” so it makes her easier to make a decision on somebody. Does it make me any better than all the uncontracted / unagented authors out there? No. I was in that same position last year. But it does reveal how the industry works. Once somebody says, “yes, you’re good,” then everybody else will sit up and take notice. Getting that first “in” is the key (although many would claim that’s when the real work begins). I won’t go into how you do that here, but I still believe in the power of the network. If you talk to other people that move in the same circles as you, you’ll eventually come across somebody who can offer you an opportunity. The key thing is being able to spot the opportunity when it comes, and then being able to reach out and take it.