London Book Fair From An Author’s Perspective

I’ve just finished several marvelous days at the London Book Fair and wanted to share my perspective on this brilliant event.

It was definitely a publishing trade event but there were plenty of fantastic opportunities for authors to learn at workshops, through networking and finding out what’s going on in the industry. For independent authors who are entrepreneurially minded, there was also the potential for new markets, tools and relationships.


In the video below, I include some pictures from the event, interviews with authors and share my own perspective. You can also watch on YouTube here. There is a text post below the video if you prefer to read.


 My Overall Impression

When I walked into Earls Court, I was immediately intimidated by the huge stands of the ‘Big 6′ publishers that were packed with billboard sized posters of authors and books. Of course, we would all like to be up there, but that’s not the reality for most authors these days.

Those stalls were also full of people having meetings and no appointment meant no chat. I did feel a sense of the scale of the large publishing houses. How many authors, how many books and how many people are involved. It’s no wonder an individual author can feel insignificant.

The ‘altar’ to JK Rowling [is shown at right].

There were more interesting stands around the edges and towards the back, where smaller and more agile publishers had stalls. There was also a Digital space with a fantastic networking area where many of us had back to back meetings.

I heard a fantastic talk from Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn about the data behind the hype, and the Amazon KDP & Createspace stand was permanently busy.

Amazon publishing, including thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer, had a booth at the very back of the event. That physical placement seemed to be a deliberate act by the ‘powers that be’ as there was also a lot of anti-Amazon talk (from publishers) at the Fair. I went to talk to them about my own thrillers and had a great chat with the team there. More on that another time…

Amazon Publishing including Thomas & Mercer thriller imprint

There was a focus on China but I didn’t attend any of those events. I did talk to people about Portuguese translation for Brazil and also about other European markets, something I am definitely interested in pursuing. I enjoyed the seminars I went to and generally felt there was a good atmosphere. A lot of people are positive about the future of publishing, even with the tectonic changes currently happening (but then perhaps I only hear the glass-half-full side because that’s how I feel).

Here are some points from the sessions I attended, primarily the CEO Keynote. I tried to keep notes of verbatim speech but I acknowledge any errors are my own.

  • The whole point of publishing is how creativity gets to readers and winning the hearts and minds of the consumer
  • Ceiling at the China pavilion

    The book industry is sustainable, just not in its current form. Twice as many people read now as they did in the 1930s which is fantastic. But a quarter of books printed are destroyed, 1 book in 5 doesn’t earn back its advance. “The karma in publishing is bad.” But the interest in stories and ideas is very much alive.

  • Publishers want to embrace all things digital, but there is hesitancy because of the difficulty of predicting the future [Authors do this too!]
  • Publishing used to be based on alco-rhythms (booze and instinct) and is now based on algorithms – Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury
  • Print books are handled 24 times on average from manufacture to purchase. Planes take books to Australia and come back with the returns. Tescos buys 10,000 books and returns 9000. There is no business model that can sustain this. Things have to change.
  • All that really matters is the author and the reader. Everyone else is in the middle. Authors must realize that publishers can’t do everything for them. Neil Gaiman shifted thousands of his audiobooks with a tweet. We’re looking for more of that. Authors directly engaging with readers.
  • Publishers serve authors through editorial standard. They turn something into something better. [Agreed. Which is why serious indie authors hire professional editors, many of whom work for publishing firms already.]
  • “The advance is hush money” John Mitchinson, Unbound
  • Any kind of artist has to do everything. There is no such thing as sitting around dreaming. Performance is important.

Rights Workshop

This was a separate half day event that focused on what rights are, how they can be sold and the legalities behind it all. It was aimed at publishing professionals but I think all authors need an education in this. It could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Seriously. Intellectual property rights are critical for us to understand so we know what we are selling and the possibilities that there are for us.

I learned how the author’s work is “exploited”, how different books work in different markets, the attention to detail needed in contractuals and tracking rights, about translations and the excitement of the Brazilian market. Highly recommended if you’re around next year.

Digital Minds Conference

This was at the same time as the Rights workshop above, but I attended virtually via the Twitter back-channel which was great. You can read a fantastic round-up of everything that went on at Publishing Talk’s Live Blog Roundup. Well worth a read.

Opportunities For Independent Authors

There were a lot of self-publishing companies around the Fair, as well as a large area for Digital and also Apps, which is where independent authors mostly hung out. The usual suspects were there, and there was a positive, happening vibe with speed networking going on.There were also a number of workshops for authors who want to look at self-publishing. They were a bit basic for you lot though, but interesting to see so many sessions at a Fair so dominated by traditional publishing.

The biggest event though was the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors, brainchild of the terrific Orna Ross. It is definitely time for such an Alliance and there was a great camaraderie in the room. The turn-out was brilliant, considering you had to pay to get into the Fair and it is a global organization so not everyone is London based. I chaired a panel with Amazon, Blurb & Kobo (video to come on that) and then there was one with some independent authors sharing their experiences.

[This] video contains some of the reactions to the event – you can tell everyone is excited! Watch on YouTube here.

Featuring: Joanna Penn (me), Orna Ross, Joni Rodgers, Jon Reed, Linda Gillard, Ben Galley, Marion Croslydon, Lorna Fergusson, Karen Inglis, Leda Sammarco, Harriet Smart, Alison Baverstock.

In conclusion, a marvelous event and I am considering going to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, so may see some of you there!

[Update] Radio Litopia The Naked Book: Shiny, Happy, Publishing People

As a result of the launch, Orna Ross and I were invited onto the panel of Litopia’s The Naked Book, along with a panel of publishing industry professionals. We talked about the Book Fair, Amazon, self-publishing and more. You can listen to the recording here on Radio Litopia.

Did you go to the Book Fair? or have you attended Book Fairs or publishing industry events before? What are your impressions and have you found them useful? Please do leave a comment. Thank you!


This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.

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