The London Book Fair isn’t designed for authors. We are welcome there, in theory, as of course the industry depends on us – but actually publishers would prefer that we were at home crying over our plot structure, rather than enjoying ourselves out meeting industry professionals.
One man I met today, seeing that it said "Author" on my name badge, looked horrified, forced a smile and asked: "You’re not going to try and sell me a book are you?" No – I wasn’t. But I was glad that I hadn’t gone to Monday’s Publishing for Digital Minds Conference hoping to do just that.
If I had been going today with this in mind, here’s what I learnt. The words we write, so precious to us, are described as "content" to be "curated" (ha ha – love that word.) If we want our content to have market value, it has to come with a "platform". Or what you and I would call a ready audience. A young man called Alfie Deyes recently had 8,000 people arrive for a book signing at Waterstones. The police had to close the street and bring in helicopters to watch the crowd. Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker of Bookers, has never had 1,000 punters in a queue. So what does Alfie have that Salman doesn’t? He has 3,975,094 subscribers to his You Tube Channel. You can understand that a literary agent isn’t going to have to work too hard to sell any content that Alfie creates.
We can’t all go down the Zoella and Alfie route and I’m not suggesting we should. But as authors we do all need to wake up to the fact that building our platform is part of our job now. Even ten years ago it wasn’t. But now it is. No matter how much you may hate that. You gotta find a way to love Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, even Snapchat… all of them. It’s part of the job to enjoy them and make them work for us. The reality is that unless we do create our platform our great content may never be curated.
Just going to pour myself some wine before I post to Instagram...
Isabel Losada is an author and artistic director of the Battersea Literature Festival. She tweets at @IsabelLosada