Monday, April 14, 2008

Dazed and Confused at the London Book Fair

Today was the first day of the London Book Fair ... and my first ever Book Fair as a proper author. I usually go along every year on a press pass - my occasional pieces and subbing for Tripwire magazine stand me in good stead here - to mooch among the various stands and get a feel for what's hot and what's not in the world of publishing.

The event has moved around several venues over the years but has now become so big (it's now the world's largest book show) that it needs to take over Earls Court 1 and 2 to accommodate the thousands of stalls, stands and presentations. However, there is a downside to this. Size, as they say, isn't everything.

Upon arrival, I asked for directions to the press room and was sent up a blind corridor that ended with a 'private-staff only' area from which I was rather brusquely asked to leave by a man who smelled outrageously of sweat and bacon butties. I was then told to take the lift to the first floor ... only to find that the barely English-speaking lift operator had deposited me on the third. I got back into the lift (following a couple of minutes' wait) and was then told that the lift didn't stop at the first floor and I needed to access the escalators on the other side of the exhibition hall. So I traipsed over to the escalators to be told that they led solely to the International Rights Area which my pass didn't give me access to. Feeling understandably testy by now, I asked a person on a so-called information desk how to get to the press room. She sent me back to the lifts I'd just come from which, you may recall, did not go to the first floor. As I sat in a corner, weeping and rocking backwards and forwards, a kindly soul, a true Samaritan who seemed to take pity on me, produced a map and showed me the way. He'd had to tear the map out of his wonderfully designed London Book Fair 2008 Official Directory because the book was so heavy it made using the map difficult.

I did find the press room at last ... only to discover that there was no wireless broadband connection availble. Not a huge issue for me but the various reporters sat with their notebooks and deadlines for copy were spitting blood and acid reflux. I was told that we could use the provided internet terminals but they were (a) constantly in use and (b) uncomfortable - despite the sign declaring 'Internet seating point', I would have had to stand. So, not a great start. And I was not the only one cursing and flustering. It seemed that many had similar stories to tell.

However, a good cup of Earl Grey is a great pacifier. What a shame I couldn't find one. Instead there was an unidentifiable hot brown liquid that tasted of paper due to it being served up in a blisteringly hot cardboard cup. Oh, and it was accompanied by possibly the dryest muffin ever baked. The flavour was blueberry and allum I think. I refused to let this all get me down and being a 'glass half full' kind of a guy I wiped my mind clean of bitchiness and annoyance and began to stroll the aisles.

The first thing that struck me was the number of celebrity portraits on display. They were everywhere. It seems that publishing has fallen for the cult of celebrity hook, line and sinker and almost every one of the big players was boasting autobiographies and TV tie-ins as their major push items for the Autumn. Even my own publisher - Pan Macmillan - had a huge poster of William Shatner up on the wall behind them. I like William Shatner and I really like the original Star Trek. It was an integral and defining part of my childhood. But I'm 47 this year ... so how old is Bill? It's awful when you see your idols become mortal. I guess there's only so much that make up and surgery can conceal. He's old Jim.

Visiting the Pan Mac stand was one of my reasons for being there today, firstly to say 'Hi!' to my editor Jon Butler who's done such a great job with Joined up Thinking, but also to enjoy a tiny ego-trip when seeing my name and book in the Autumn catalogue. I nearly developed a semi.

Walking around the Fair is usually a good way to gauge the zeitgeist of the publiverse; you get to see what kind of stuff the book world thinks will sell in the forthcoming 12 months. It's a great opportunity to network - I came home with enough business cards to make a house for a large-ish Guinea Pig. And it always gives me a pretty good steer as to which of my many book projects to develop further and which publishers are most likely to be interested.

So, all in all, a productive visit and much to consider. I just hope that the organisers next year can actually do what they are supposed to do - organise.


punk in writing said...

I know you need comfortable shoes and a good bag to survive a book fair. Next time I'll bring a compass too.

Things seem to be going well for your projects. :) I hope to write a book or two myself, but I simply don't know where to begin.

Stevyn Colgan said...

You begin by writing and writing and writing. I have written so much (I guess this blog is an indicator). I can't stop writing. So, by the law of averages, you must eventually write something that catches an agent's eye. Just write what feels good and keep sending the stuff off to agents and publishers. Persistence pays off!

Oh, and comfortable shoes are a must for book shows. I didn't look so good with a bag though ...