allonymbooks at the London Book Fair 2013

A couple of weeks have passed since this year’s London Book Fair, time enough to process the experience and reflect on its significance to indie publishers. It was the first LBF since the establishment of allonymbooks, and judging from the number of people I met there, it was the first Fair many indie authors had attended. It was also, judging from the paucity of space allocated to the Author Lounge, the first time the Fair’s organisers had begun even to think properly about the impact that indie publishing is going to have on the larger publishing world. Nonetheless it was an interesting experience, not least for the opportunity to hear other indie authors speak, share experiences with peers, and see what organisations and services are out there to support the indie author/publisher.

It is impossible to do justice to the scale of the Fair, although anyone who has visited Earls Court Exhibition Centre before will have a sense of the sheer size of the place. Rows upon rows of exhibitors, from single one chair-tables and simple stands to entire blocks and half-blocks given over to publishing conglomerates. There is an unbelievable intensity about the event, not least in the atmosphere of perpetual drive-to-sell that infuses it, epitomised by the constant scurrying of agents from stand to stand, meeting their appointments with editors to pitch the Next Big Thing. I saw plenty of expressions of suppressed disbelief, exhaustion, desperation and occasionally bewilderment on these stands, and I could also hear the chiming funeral bell of Fairs past, for the death of various novels of mine that have failed to be picked up at these very editors’ tables. There is such power in the notion of narrow windows of opportunity to grab the attention of the omnipotent Print editors, while in the indie Author Lounge, the constant bustle and toing and froing, the blurring of the boundaries of the audience as onlookers clogged the passageways to grab a glimpse of the extremely popular events, and the utterly disorderly attendance of people shouting questions from the crowd contrasted profoundly with the sense of imposed order over in Print. The indie authors were indeed doing just as they pleased and happy to be that way.

authoright, the sponsors of the Lounge, had brought together an interesting panel of speakers on various aspects of indie publishing, from successful indie authors Mel Sherratt and TJ (Tim) Cooke, to representatives from Amazon KDP, Smashwords and the Alliance of Independent Authors. There were separate events running in some of the conference rooms, and the mood around the Author Lounge was largely one of enthusiasm, optimism and genuine generosity from those who have already mastered the skills of indie publishing towards those who are just starting out. allonymbooks was delighted to meet old friends and new, including Dan Holloway, Sabrynne McLain, Helena Halme, Orna Ross and Roz Morris. As an Awesome Indies reviewer, it was very good to hear the indie review site getting compliments from speakers too.

But in some ways it was also a reality check. The paucity of space offered to the Author Lounge indicated how slow the organisers have been to get the measure of both indie publishing itself and how quickly things move in the field. The number of would-be authors and those already embarking on the journey brought quantities of books to the market that the market may not have the measure to manage. We were repeatedly told what was possible, we were shown two excellent examples of success in Sherratt and Cooke, but when pressed to explain the secret of their success it became clear that there is no formula, even for the mastery of social media tools, and that for some extremely successful e-book authors, the goal is still print. The other matter of concern, but still an evolving one, is the extent to which KDP are really supporting the whole author experience. Although KDP European Head Daniel Cooper was enthusiastic in his description of how Amazon supports the indie author, in practice Amazon is still fairly rigid in the way it manages the review process for indie authors, and it has not seized the opportunity to adapt the way it manages its own business to maximise mutual engagement between authors and the site. They could do much more to think about how the indie author community might be different to print and work with them to change the perception that KDP is just a vessel and, for some by extension, that KDP is just a way for Amazon to make more money.

Will allonymbooks go again next year? Probably, not least because the virtual world can be very solitary, despite all the incentives and requirements to be ‘social’, and the opportunity to meet and hear other authors talk about their experiences in the flesh is simply a pleasure.

But let’s hope the LBF realises that indie publishing is not going away, and they give us more space next year.

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