The London Book Fair 2012 – Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?

Hands shaking with excitement, I was too busy listening to take a decent picture! ūüôā

This photo from ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ panel discussion with Unbound Books, and authors Nick Harkaway, Robert Llewellyn, Ilana Fox and Salena Godden – definitely my highlight of the event, for entertainment value as well as insights onto the what’s going on in the hearts and minds of authors, in the current publishing climate. More on that later…

A bit late to the ‘write-up the¬†LBF12’ blog party –¬†I’ve been so busy since. I was at the London Book Fair on Tuesday 17th, this year with Sophie Neville, who had never been before.

You could barely get out of the train station, before people were handing you flyers about books. And these weren’t just indie authors – it seemed that even the big leagues were going out of their way to snag readers, with flyers and promotional copies.

This was cool, because Sophie also had a bagful of postcards she wanted to give out.

“You can tell I used to be a promotions girl, can’t you?” she joked, as we camped out by the HarperCollins stand (they had a comfy seat free), while she accosted passers-by with her British upper-class charm, and I schmoozed with folk wanting help and advice from me¬†on formatting for Kindle. I told her this was the wrong way around,¬†Sophie being the celebrity, and doing all the work. But she was enjoying herself too much not to do it.

I’d never have dragged her away, but The Daily Mail rang her to talk for 45 minutes about her book, Funnily Enough, and the boat Swallow, from Swallows and Amazons. (See the article¬†on Richard Kay’s¬†Daily Mail page here).

So while she was talking, still perched by the lovely HarperCollins, I met the even more lovely Clive Boutle, of Francis Boutle Publishing. Clive had just been speaking at a talk on translations. Francis Boutle publish English translations of works in endangered European languages, including Manx, Gaelic, Welsh, Catalan, and Occitan. While waiting for his next meeting, he got to chat¬†with me, about what constitutes a great bar in Barcelona, and what constitutes a bad translation into English. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want turning up in another¬†Funny Ha Ha,¬†and Funny Peculiar. (It turned out we’d both read the Denys Parsons book of silly news headlines and signage¬†–¬†I remember hiding it in the cover of Lord of the Flies at school, and anything dull about grammar).¬†While we were talking, I recalled the episode of Q.I, where they discussed the ancient parrot who was the only known speaker of a dead language from the depths of South America. (So if you want to¬†preserve an endangered language and keep it going into the next century, teach an Amazonian Grey parrot to speak it!)

We also talked about the work of the translator – the costs, the role they play – and that a translator is not considered to be¬†‘the author’ of the original work being translated, in intellectual property terms. They are paid highly for their job role, and recognised as the translator, but are no more credited for the original piece than, for example, a translator of¬†Sir Terry Pratchett’s¬†Discworld books into French. Clive said that translation is usually the most expensive part of publishing a book in a new language.

In other words,¬†anyone wondering what sort of job roles in publishing are in demand, and¬†for a good wage now, you’d do worse than having excellent foreign language skills, and going into translation.

Earlier in the day, I’d left Sophie researching colour illustrated print-on-demand costs with FastPrint, and gone off on my own mission to research Science Fiction in China at one of the other seminars. I don’t think I’ll quite make it to the level of Mandarin Chinese translator (just recognising the prefixes and a few verbs nowadays, at native speaker speed – I must revise!) but they had simultaneous radio translation, which was more than impressively done, the real-time translators got a hearty round of applause from both the Chinese and English-speaking audience. Science Fiction in China featured¬†authors who worked their way up through University student papers and magazines in the genre, sometimes publishing their own, before gaining market recognition and awards through specific publications. More Chinese science fiction is now being translated into English. Not by me yet, I have to add. Unless you only want to read about the easy acquisition of fizzy drinks, and the location of the Ladies’ Toilets in a bar.

Sophie’s chat with Richard Kay’s office at The Daily Mail finally concluded, and we went to grab a cup of tea. At one of the coffee outlets, we happened upon a nice young lady from Scholastic Books grabbing a coffee-break, here at LBF12 with their Hunger Games Trilogy phenomenon.

I used to read Scholastic’s earlier¬†Point Horror imprint, and actually submitted my first book, Living Hell, to Point Horror in 1996, after finally getting it back from PanMacmillan, who’d had it for three years, and I’d submitted a sequel to them on request (long story short –¬†the awesome Simon Spanton, who was overseeing it at the time,¬†left PanMac and couldn’t fit¬†both epics¬†up his jumper, LOL). So that was very spooky. But I remembered Point Horror and Goosebumps, and discussed how Scholastic had really been at the forefront of the current YA paranormal market, with their earliest Stephen-King-style thrillers, and horror stories for teens. Stephen King meets Scooby Doo – great stuff, as I recall.

But as I said, the highlight for me was ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’

Sophie would have happily continued networking (next year I think I’m going to have to get her a marketing stand of her very own), but I dragged her along to this one, and it provided a hugely valuable insight. Published authors, including high-profile ones,¬†now want more¬†input into their work, and want to offer more interaction to the readers. Which was funny, because I’d just designed a Kindle¬†ebook edition to do¬†exactly that, with my interactive, reader-preference enabled Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition.

And as Robert Llewellyn said, you don’t want to send off your painstakingly re-read and edited manuscript off into the unknown of a major publishing house machine, trusting implicitly that all is well, and get back your first publisher proof copy –¬†to find that they have helpfully inserted their standard typographical errors. Usually at the optimum¬†Funny Ha Ha, Funny Peculiar¬†settings.

I recall Sir Terry Pratchett saying something very similar once, at a talk he was giving at the Barbican in London many years ago, while DS-10 enjoyed her tiny self immensely and squealed delightedly in the baby-sling, loud enough for even Sir Terry himself to hear and crack a joke about.¬†We didn’t get kicked out in the end, for which I’m eternally grateful (although we’d have been in more trouble, most likely, for DS-10 discovering the delight of reaching into other people’s pockets if they stood too close to her on my lap, while travelling that day on the London Underground). Sir Terry said at the end of his talk, on world-building in SF and fantasy fiction, that we could all look forward to his¬†next book at the time “Once it has gone to the publisher to have all the spelling errors put in.” Not an unusual phenomenon, I’m starting to realise. It’s not just you, Robert – you’re in good company! ūüėČ

The subject this year at ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ also covered the keeping up with reader expectations and attention span, in the current handheld electronic reading device environment. How long can you keep a reader’s attention, before they want to go off and look at their own Twitter? Or blog? Or Facebook? What sort of interactive, bonus material¬†provisions can you make for the readers?

I’d discussed this at the London Book Fair last year with Jason Kingsley of Rebellion (see earlier post ‘Let’s Cut to the Chase…’), and had included a screenplay as bonus material in one of the even earlier¬†ebook editions of mine – Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition.¬†So it was interesting to hear that this is still a hot topic,¬†which authors and publishers want to definitively crack.

Ilana Fox, in particular, wants to make her character’s lives more accessible to the readers, and I won’t give the game away, but she has big plans for her next book in that respect. It looks like being an exciting time in the coming years, for both readers and writers.

Salena Godden finished the talk with a stand-up of fantastic ‘slam poetry’ about ‘expectations’ – highs and lows… and lower… and lower… As writers, we all feel that at some point. Very funny, and so appropriate!

Great end to the day. I went to say congratulations¬†afterwards to all of the panellists, and handed out my own cards, to¬†which I’d added information¬†about the Cut to the Chase edition. Before running away for a much-needed drink of water, with all of Sophie Neville’s spare change in my jeans pocket.

I had to, or I’d have had a Wayne’s World¬†I’m-Not-Worthy moment. Such amazing, entertaining,¬†and lovely people.

Sophie couldn’t be dragged away at the end, but stayed at LBF12 to do a bit more networking, and to visit her friend from the biggest Christian bookshop in London. It was a stroke of luck that she did pay a visit, because the girl took all of her print copies that she had on her, to sell there. A good day out, all told.

Looking forward to next year already ūüôā

L xxxx

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