Yesterday’s inaugural London Author Fair offered a hectic day’s schedule of seminars and workshops given by a wealth of seasoned authors, such as the wonderful Adele Parks, and industry professionals offering a blend of technological innovation and sage advice (journalist and commentator Porter Anderson, Blurb founder Eileen Gittins, commisioning editor Holly Bennion, literary agents Andrew Lownie and Piers Blofield, TV presenter, journalist and author Matt Cain, authors Polly Courtney and Kate Pullinger, and Patrick Brown of Goodreads to name but a few). In a forum designed for open discussion, the observation was made early in proceedings that representatives from the ‘big 5’ publishers were conspicuous by their absence.
For me, one of main draws of the day was the opportunity to network. It struck me as I chatted to a traditionally-published author while we queued for coffee just how isolated I had been when I was in her position. She knew no-one. Within minutes of arriving, I was greeted by half a dozen authors I have either met in person, linked up with on-line or interviewed for my blog (Dan Holloway, Rohan Quine, Roz Morris, Polly Courtney, Monique Dixon…hello).
Much of what I heard during the day wasn’t ‘news’ to me, although it was clearly a wake-up call for some. That book sales alone rarely make an author money, for example, and how few sales best-selling titles represent, raised a few gasps from the audience. (I have just followed contributer Kate Pullinger on Twitter and her profile shamelessly states, ‘writer, will write/speak/read for cash.’)
Today’s creative people must also be business people. In an environment where so much content is available free, and where choice is overwhelming, the focus must be on making your work stand out. Visibility and discoverability were the day’s keywords. The old addage that ‘quality will out’ is no longer certain. With 24 million books English language books available, readers must be able to find you. Adult fiction sales are still declining year on year. And as for trying to market literary fiction… you had better hope to find yourself on the Booker shortlist.
So, with so much doom and gloom, why does Gareth Howard of Authoright maintain that we have entered a Golden Age for authors? The answer is simple. We now have more choice than ever. Technology has eased the route to self-publishing, a path that allows the author to retain complete creative control. And Gareth has proved that it is possible to get a self-published book out into the mainstream with considerable success. At Authoright, he says, they are already dropping the ‘self’ in self publishing.
Although I am not actively seeking representation, I took advantage of the opportunity to pitch my soon-to-be-released novel An Unchoreographed Life (which, by a blend of design and happy coincidence, happens to be extremely topical) to a literary agent. I was glad to have her asking with genuine alarm, ‘But what happens to Belinda?’ For me, regardless of what happens next, it’s difficult to put a pricetag on having someone care about the fate of my seven-year-old character. She has been a real person to me for the last eighteen months. For fifteen minutes she was real to someone else.
The last session of the day was a glimpse of the publishing world in 2020. It may sound like a long way off, but six years ago I won the Daily Mail First Novel Award… only two years ago I was still resisting self-publishing.
So naive, with my book-shaped cake.
In no particular order, here’s what the experts had to offer in the thirty-second slots they were allotted …
Social reading will play an increasing role, with readers wanting to express their thoughts about books in real-time.
Technology will allow readers to see other readers’ margin notes.
More frequent publication schedules will see increased pressure on authors to release a book every six months.
Erosion of division between legacy and self publishing.
75 percent of books will be self-published.
Just as newspapers are no longer paying journalists for content, as the self-publishing revolution continues, the number of authors will increase.
All agreed that the shift of power is changing, with readers at the heart of the industry.
Gone will be the image of a single book being sold to a large volume of readers.
Some said that, with more draws on readers’ time, books will become shorter. Others that there will be a rebellious return to the heavy-weight book.
More people will reading on their i-phones.
If buying patterns follow the Chinese trend, there will be increased serialisation with each chapter being sold as a single, low-cost unit. Every word must count!
All books will be illustrated.
There will be enhanced ebooks.
The book will increasingly be viewed as a product, with different editions of the same book.
What Amazon does next will be the key story.
The net result? Income will go down.
Or, as best-selling author Bella Andre suggested via a live link-up from her home, is all this speculation just ‘a bunch of people making it up’?