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

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.

The video below 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!


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  1. says

    Fantastic and fascinating stuff and impressively (quickly!) reported as usual. I had my eye on the hashtag while I was at work and kept thinking about how much I want to be there next year (I know Legend plan to push my novel at the fair, but I want to be there too!).

  2. says

    Thanks so much for a great recap. Jetting to London wasn’t possible, but it was fun being there vicariously. I have also followed various events through live Tweets. Love that.

  3. says

    Great round up Joanna of a fair that sounded like it mirrored the changing publishing landscape well. I love the video for the Independent authors alliance, so much energy there. Looking forward to your further videos on the fair.

  4. says

    That’s so fascinating, Joanna. I wish I lived in London! Quick question, did you actually mean, “1 book in 5 doesn’t earn back its advance” Or did you mean 4 books in 5 don’t earn out its advance. The latter is closer to what I hear, but it could very well be an urban myth as well.

    • says

      I thought it was 4 out of 5 as well – but he said 1 in 5 – perhaps that is just the specific publisher. Regardless of the numbers, clearly publishing has to choose commercial books or they can’t make the advance back because of the amount of handling etc. I have heard that Amazon publishing does higher profit share and no advance. That’s more of a sustainable model and means the author is more invested and more of a business partner. I like that model idea.

  5. says

    I’ve been to the London Book Fair with my editor’s hat on; found it interesting but not that useful. That was in the old days at the the ExCel Centre, though. I may give it another try next year!

  6. says

    Once an independent author’s book is out, s/he faces an uneven playing field: Self-published books are refused access by bookshop owners and shunned by librarians because they have not been vetted by ‘legitimate,’ known mainstream publishing channels. Up to now, this was the only guarantee they had that a book earned its right to see the light of day. They haven’s been giving a place on their shelves to ‘unproven’ titles. This is why, on December 13, 2011, I founded The

    Soon, the seal will give them the assurance they seek. With out standards, and peer review based on them, we seek fair play and open market for all good authors, whether mainstream of independently e.i. self-published.

    Having now been voted on by the membership, these standards have become the official basis for reviews by our three member panels deciding whether to issue the indiePENdent seal to already published works.

    We now need more members to volunteer as reviewers, and others willing to approach their local media to give out information, and spread the word about the work of The indiePENdents. The general reading public, your local bookstores and libraries need to know of this new validation tool on which self-published author can star relying right now.

    If you are reading this, join us. Membership is free and we devoid of any commercial interests or solicitations. Whether you are an independent author or simply care about the future of literature and the new model of publishing, you will be part of publishing history in the making.

    • says

      Hi Jasha,
      As you can see, this article is promoting the Alliance of Independent Authors and we also have a focus on excellence and helping indies get recognized. However I would disagree that physical bookstores are so important these days. So many people order online, physical and ebooks, so most marketing is better done online, as well as reviews, and there are plenty of places reviewing indie books now.
      It’s good there are more places for indies to connect though. Thanks.

  7. says

    My comment is proof of one of indiePENdets standards which is to have your books edited.

    I typed and missed seeing “With out srandards…” where I should have typed “With our standards…” and was promptly reprimanded by my editor. I had committed another one, which I corrected when copying her, so she did not have to correct me. If anyone finds one, that is it. The dog did it, honest.

  8. says

    How great that you could go to this, Joanna! This was my first London Book Fair happening where I had an actual book in the pipeline. Thank you for these inside details. Sounds like a majestic event–on the trad front, the indie front, maybe even for Amazon.

  9. says

    Wow that looks amazing. I wish I was there with you!
    I’ve never been a to a book fair like that. It’s surprising the Big 6 don’t have time to talk with everyone. No wonder they are having a tough time adjusting to ebooks.
    Thanks for the great post.

  10. says


    Unless indie authors are willing to spend a lot of  money advertising, their self-published books remain a public secret to their prospective readers not only in bokshops, which are very much still alive, but on the internet as well. It is not to be a Ludite if one does not believe the new technology is the answer to everything. How about people who do not have internet and go to bookstores to leaf through a book before they decide to buy one? And how many of those with internet, as they search on Amazon, B&N and the various e-book sources, will come across the un-heralded, un-reviewed, un-kown indie books only by chance. 

    But even if your evaluation of bookstores were right (that they are not as important any more): those writers who had not passed through the shrinking mainstream sieve, but had to self-publish, are left to compete in an uneven field where they are literally invisible.

    On the review of indies: every book should be edited properly. Reviewing self-pubished books is also important. The wants to institute objective, neutral reviews, and notably free of charge, to the often cash-strapped indie authors. What we want to look for is no different in scope nor substance from the scrutiny received by mainstream published books. There are not ‘plenty of places’ where this s done. We will not be in competition with them either: indiePENdents do not foolishly aim to substitute any existing venue, method or aide leading to publishing a book; we just want to give indie authors a chance to have their books ‘certified’ if you will, approving those that would have passed te hurdles had they been given a chance to go through a mainstream gatekeeper.


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