April 16, 2012

"A Reflection on the London Book Fair"

Before I go into the main reason for my post this evening, I want to make one thing explicitly clear: I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learned a great deal, and there were very many helpful and lovely individuals there to guide me on my way.

The problem with the London Book Fair is that it's a trade fair. Okay, let me rephrase that. The problem - for me - is that it's a trade fair. It's not for individuals to go round and try to ply their trade, sell their books, and so on and so forth. Therefore anyone turning up and expecting to find an agent or a publisher is laughable. You just don't it, it's madness.

So why was I there? I turned up simply on the off chance, to try and learn a bit more about the book world in general. The trends in eBooks, what publishers and booksellers are looking at and developing, and what perhaps I have missed with the development of my own "brand", so to speak.

What I came away with was both very enlightening, and worrying in the same breath.

None of the big publishing houses take on unsolicited work anymore. This much I already knew, but for the uninitiated, it basically means that if you don't have an agent, you can't get far with publishing your work, unless you go down the self-publishing route.

What was even more apparent was that agents simply don't want to know. I spoke to a few agents there and was rather taken aback at the dismissive nature being portrayed. "If it doesn't interest me, I won't take it on", "if it doesn't offer anything never been seen before, I won't take it on", or, the absolute winner of the day, "I don't take anyone on, it's a waste of my time reading new scripts. I have all the authors I need to keep going and there's not really any decent young talent coming though".

Now this was just aimed at Children's Publishing. I was rendered utterly speechless by this. I was later told, on the quiet, by an employee of one of the big publishing firms there, that this is a more general view held by many agents in general.

The biggest publishing firms share it to some extent: all they want are blockbusters, every single time, so aren't interested in taking new people on, but just how much they can flog the current horse until it keels over and stops making them money.

Example: New Horowitz book (Alex Rider author), Oblivion. Front cover looks good, not much else known about it my end. What I came away with was that between it, and The Hobbit, they were grabbing a lot of attention and most of the interest.

So what about the smaller publishing firms? Well, it's a case of risk management. They can't afford to risk large sums of money they don't have, so print runs are normally smaller and the investment with authors equally small.

So with that in mind, you have to either be lucky enough to get an agent, and one passionate about your work, or turn directly to self publishing in some respects. I found one man who did, and I thoroughly recommend going and reading his website, www.gussytheicecreamman.com

A really nice chap, Gus, and I thoroughly recommend buying his books. I had a chance to look them over today and they are fabulous. Plus, he's a Gooner which isn't a bad thing in my books (I live with three of them, after all!)

Gus is a pathfinder and an inspiration. You only have to see how much thought, effort, blood, sweat and tears had gone into his and his daughter's creation, to understand why. For anyone looking to self publish their own books, look him up please.

Back to the rest of the book fair; and to be frank, the UK looked utterly out of place next to the giant section for China and ePublishing. In fact, the UK's publishing houses looked archaic next to the electronic publishing firms and devices on offer, and the frankly sensational stands the Chinese delegates had put on.

Where other countries are embracing the eBook and all that goes with it, the UK is slow on the uptake, I was told, by someone from Simon & Schuster, early on. They were one of the few big publishers there who do eBooks quite markedly, but they are (surely?) far behind Amazon and the rest in terms of getting their eBook formats out there.

And on that point, eBook formats. My god. I thought it was hard when I was catering for literally two devices; iBooks and Kindle. Thankfully a few chaps from Amazon have offered to help me with the full formatting of my book, so that's not a problem. But the overriding feeling I had was that the sheer number of devices on offer actually made it more difficult for any author looking to self publish to make any return on his book.

You really have to launch a book simultaneously across platforms, and it's not always possible with the terms and conditions you sign up to with, for example, the Kindle Direct Publishing program, nor is your book file - lovingly made in Open Office, Word, iBooks Author or whatever, going to necessarily format itself perfectly for each device. I already knew and had been working on, in parallel, two versions of Tale of the Unnamed Engine for the iPad and Kindle, but I don't think I realized just how difficult it is to create all the alternate formats you need if you want it sold elsewhere.

And that's half the problem - there's no set standard for eBooks, all of the devices have different strengths and weaknesses - portrait, landscape, colour or grayscale, they take different file types (Mobi, PDF, EPUB, etc etc), and no one device takes exactly the same file in the same format.

In short, I can't see how I am going to get the book out on all of these devices without professional help, which I am looking to hire in the next few weeks once I've been paid!

So the conclusion I took away from the book fair was simple. I need to work on Tale of the Unnamed Engine a little more and I need help getting it ready for a release across a variety of eBook devices, not one or two. So the 23rd April release is off - 5th May too - and I will endeavour to get the book ready for release, early this summer.

This might in all honesty sound like a setback. Actually, it's a much needed wake up call - because the good news for those who have been waiting patiently, is that I am now more likely to be selling a printed copy of the book by the end of the year than I was this morning. I was put in contact with several printing firms and am looking over my options. Rest assured - it's coming this time.

But I need everyone to support the series and the eBook as best they can, as without the sales and support, this one won't go to print, and there certainly won't be a second one if this fails.

That's a bit of a downer to end on, so I'll finish up by saying, firmly, that the future looks bright for The British Railway Stories - and "these are the stories we tell" and will keep on telling.



Jonathan said...

Well, I support you, Simon.

Anonymous said...

This is probably going to sound a touch sacriligeous, but have you considered looking into an American publishing house? The headaches with the companies are likely to be similar- have to get an agent, find someone actually willing to read it, etc.- but we do have several firms and imprints over here that are focused almost solely on children's literature, such as Scholastic and Random House.
Just promise me you won't give it to Egmont.
Best of luck. I really am looking forward to this book and can't wait to buy a copy.