Two SfEP members have reported back on their experiences of the recent London Book Fair. They share how useful they found the day personally, along with some observations on the wider publishing industry.
Jane Hammett’s LBF experience
Last week I went to the London Book Fair for the first time. It had 1,500 exhibitors, split into various sections – trade, children’s publishing, and so on. The day I went, there were 70 seminars to attend on subjects covering all aspects of publishing. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to wander around for the day with your mouth open, amazed at all the publishers and areas of publishing you were never aware of, but not actually doing anything constructive, so here are some handy tips if you’re thinking about attending next year.
To get something worthwhile out of the day, you need to have a plan. Write down a list of things you’d like to achieve. My list included:
- Meet people for coffee and chat – I had arranged to meet a fellow SfEP member I had corresponded with but never met; a member of the Bedfordshire local group; an author whose book I had edited; and another editor friend.
- Look for, and approach, some potential publishers that I’d like to work for, and hand out business cards. (Note: you may need to practise your opening marketing chat first – in case, like me, selling yourself is not your best skill.)
- Attend some interesting seminars, either directly relating to my areas of work or to something completely new.
Objective 1: easily achieved. Tick!
Objective 2: less easily achieved. A lot of the publishers were there to discuss rights and new book deals, not editorial matters. I found it was better to approach smaller publishers, who I found were much more interested in me and the skills I had to offer.
Objective 3: done! I attended the session held in the English PEN Literary Salon between author Ali Smith and Claire Armitstead, book reviewer for the Guardian and the Observer. Ali Smith is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other and her most recent book, which was her main topic of conversation, How to be both.
It was fascinating to get an insight into the mind of a successful writer who really knows her craft. She was bright, witty and amusing. During the open question session after her talk, one audience member asked her: ‘Do you have any advice for writers who want to get published?’ Ali’s advice was to keep writing; never get disheartened but write as much as you can; keep redrafting your book and honing your skills. Also, read, read, read as much as you can: the sides of buses, as many genres of books as possible, cornflake packets. It was good to see her giving the same advice that I often give my self-publishing authors!
After this, I met an author whose YA novel I recently edited. She went to the book fair looking for tips on social media and how to market her book, as well as ways to find an agent and get published, and she found several of the seminars held in the Author HQ really useful. I found it interesting – and valuable – being able to follow the story of how she published her book after I had finished working on it.
Finally, one of my main reasons for attending was to sit in on a seminar chaired by Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, titled ‘Why editors are invisible no longer’.
What I found remarkable was that, out of about two hundred seminars, only one was directly aimed at editors. Surely editors should play a more important – and visible – role in the industry?
Alongside Dr Baverstock, there were three other speakers: Wendy Toole, freelance editor and former chair of SfEP; Richard Duguid, senior editorial manager of Penguin Random House; and Helen Hart, publishing director of SilverWood Books, a company that ‘supports self-funding writers and helps them produce high quality professionally-designed books and ebooks’.
The talk concentrated on research Dr Baverstock carried out during 2013, into the ‘role, motivation and work pattern of independent editors’. Her results can be found in Learned Publishing (Volume 28, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 43–53).
The talk centred on editors’ lifestyles and work, and how these are changing with the recent huge increase in self-publishing authors. Editors’ answers revealed that many had shifted from working for traditional publishers to working for new types of clients, including self-publishing authors. Many editors felt that their relationships with traditional publishers were becoming increasingly strained and less satisfying – for a variety of reasons – and more editors claimed to receive higher satisfaction from working with self-publishers (especially experienced ones) rather than conventional publishers. A lot of Baverstock’s points resonated with me – and the editors I was with!
The sheer scale of the book fair and the enormous variety in the publishing and technology on offer made me think about my role as an editor and proofreader in the (much) wider world of publishing, and helped me to feel a renewed commitment to my work – and why I do it. It can be hard to remember the bigger picture when you spend most days at home working on your computer!
Would I go next year? I think I would – armed with a better idea of what to say to publishers to break the ice, and definitely again arranging some meetings – with editors, friends or authors – in advance.
Jane Hammett is an advanced professional member of the SfEP and has been freelance since 1998. She is also the local group coordinator for the SfEP Bedfordshire group. Jane specialises in fiction (for adults and children) and educational publishing. Visit her website for more information.
Charlotte Norman’s LBF experience
Undecided whether to visit the LBF this year, I was finally prompted to attend by an invitation to a publishing launch. I put together an agenda on the handy new LBF app and left home at 6am last Wednesday to be there for the first item on my list. The report on YALC 2014 turned out to be a huge draw, and I was lucky to have a seat (and a much-needed cup of coffee) by 9.50. The brainchild of Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, last year’s Young Adult Literature Convention was the inaugural major book event aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults, and was by any standards a roaring success. It quickly became evident that face-to-face meetings with authors still hold a special magic, even for young people living in a digital age. Hot Key generated a tremendous buzz around a US title whose author couldn’t attend (the wonderful and compelling We Were Liars by E. Lockhart) by making rubber stamps of mottoes from the book and stamping the backs of hands. In fact, it seems all manner of ‘stuff’ was greeted enthusiastically by this fandom-loving age group. We heard stories of success and lessons learned, and were given an array of impressive statistics, such as that 37% of those attending had never previously been to a book event of any kind and that 75% bought books while there (figures from memory).
For me, Ali Smith’s lunchtime interview with Claire Armitstead was worth the ticket price on its own. Discussing everything from surprises in fiction and the 3D nature of a novel to what inspired her to write her latest work (her tax demand), the award-winning author of How to be both was articulate and witty. She also explained how her publisher contrived to meet her need for a single print-run – with only one ISBN – of which half the books would read in one sequence and half the other way around: stop the printing process halfway through and swap the pages around!
The afternoon gave me an opportunity to socialise with editorial colleagues and pass some time watching the goings-on all around. I don’t like giving out business cards at the fair but prefer to visit publishers’ stands and look for lists and trends that conform with my work preferences, with a view to following up with phone calls or emails later.
Like Jane (Hammett), I was keen to attend Wendy Toole’s seminar, though having heard both Alison Baverstock and Helen Hart speak recently at the Bath Literature Festival, I thought there might be a lot of overlap. I needn’t have worried and the discussion, with input from Wendy Toole and Richard Duguid, was interesting. It seems clear that the number of in-house editors is diminishing and the financial pressures felt by publishers are increasingly being passed on to freelances. Dr Baverstock, the only academic currently studying the self-publishing industry, presented a number of encouraging findings, however, for editors and proofreaders who work with self-funded authors. The one that stayed with me is that 50% of self-published authors are in full-time work and are often willing to pay a fair rate for editorial services.
Whenever I attend the London Book Fair I am impressed by the attention to detail in the planning and organisation. The stewards are always helpful and the app was great for planning and quick searches, though I found the paper map essential for locating events. The Olympia venue was pleasingly airy and the galleries provided a great view of the hustle and bustle and book deals taking place, though I understand that there were rumblings of discontent from publishers whose first-floor stands missed out on valuable through-traffic. It was not as straightforward getting home from Olympia as from Earl’s Court (to a non-Londoner), but after the publisher’s launch and drinks party, where I handed over the only business card I had planned to, I was happy to totter off in the general direction of the Tube.
Charlotte Norman is a professional member of the SfEP. She has been a freelance proofreader since 2011 and has recently completed the PTC distance learning course in copy-editing. Her work has included translation and copywriting for the luxury goods sector, but she is happiest proofreading young adult fiction.
Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.