An author at LBF: A fair trade

So after my week, you may well ask, what are my conclusions? Is it a good idea for authors to come to the London Book Fair?

Well, I can tell you why it’s a bad idea. The Fair is full of literary agents and editors, the very people who we are all desperate to talk to. But you must be aware that if you see, across a crowded hall, an agent that you have written to or an editor that you know is considering your work – you should resist the temptation to approach them. Any sane author would hold back, think to themselves: "Is this a moment when this person will want to meet me?" (Spoiler – No, it isn’t). Do not walk up to such a person and introduce yourself. Do not hunt down agents and editors that have turned down your work and go up to them and say, "I just wanted to say hello" (subtext – because I’m not upset at you, much, for turning down the book it took me ten years to write). Do not back agents into corners until they agree to read your manuscript just to get you to give them enough space to breathe. Do not follow editors from one event to another breathlessly telling them how brilliant your current project is. Not that I’ve ever done anything like any of these. Obviously. Not since this morning anyway.

OK, now I hope I’ve saved you from doing these things - a valuable piece of information that could save your career.

This short homily is another answer to the question, "Why can’t you approach editors directly? Why do you have to have an agent?" You need one because an agent wouldn’t do this to an editor. They would know better. As an author, if you’re anything like me, we can be a danger to ourselves and our own careers.  We forget that not everyone is quite as enthusiastic about our work as we are. And even if they are: there is a time and a place where they want to talk about it. You can be sure that, unless they have asked to see you and made an appointment, this isn’t it. Approaching them unsolicited is the London Book Fair equivalent of stalking. I know this. And yet. Sigh. Fortunately editors are forgiving creatures with large hearts and thick skins they have developed over many years.

And I think that my experience of the large hearts has been my greatest experience as an author here this week. Yes, it is overwhelming, intimidating and bewildering for any author. Especially, as I said earlier in the week, as there are so many options. But that’s also a good thing. The uniting factor at LBF is that everyone loves books. So anyone here who knows how to give an encouraging word or piece of advice to an author will do so. If you want to approach a traditional agent someone will give you advice on the best way to do that. If you want to self publish, there are experts of all kinds here to advise you. No one wants to see authors misled or badly treated. In an industry where profit margins are low, many publishing houses are working very hard to keep their authors well paid. I’ve seen so much kindness here this week.

That is the reason why it’s a good idea.

All the authors that I spoke to have been encouraged by the information provided here. The main news is that no one feels that if the traditional route doesn’t work out then that’s the end of the road. There have been endless stories at Author Central this week of authors who have had huge successes with a range of alternative options. The pitches to agents from authors at The Write Stuff today revealed a wealth of determination and experience. Everyone has been writing, re-writing, submitting, uploading, banging on doors and then banging on more doors. Now, if doors don’t open after a while, the authors just stop and build their own new doorway.

These are fantastically exciting and challenging times to be in publishing.  If you take a few steps backwards or if we could have seen the whole London Book Fair from above this week don’t you think we would have wanted to cheer?  It’s a privilege to be part of this amazing industry, even a tiny part of it.  Sometimes, I think we’re all f****d but this week I think we’re all bloody marvellous. 


Isabel Losada is an author and artistic director of the Battersea Literature Festival. She tweets at @IsabelLosada