An author at LBF: Not for the faint-hearted

Yesterday a woman collapsed in the author area. She was last seen lying on the floor surrounded by medics. I hope it was just dehydration and I hope she’s OK. But I looked at her lying there and I couldn’t help thinking: "That’s a fair comment."

As one author said in a Q&A: "When you get to the end of writing a book, you’re worn out." Imagine you’ve just spent a year struggling and you come to LBF hoping, like someone emerging from a desert, to be pointed in the right direction. No such luck. This is less like Pilgrim’s Progress and more like a surreal Murakami nightmare or Kafka. Everyone is pointing a different way convinced that theirs is the best route.

And heaven help the poor author who nervously clutches their manuscript convinced that, as this is a book fair, someone might want to buy their work.

"An author actually followed me into the ladies still talking to me," one despairing agent told me. No-one has told authors that they shouldn’t try and sell a book here. We can only learn about the industry and become more lost. 

The simple decision of whether to take the traditional publishing route or whether to self-publish is long gone. I know some authors who are publishing traditionally purely so that they can build their audience with a view to self-publishing later. I know other authors who are self-publishing in the hope of selling enough copies eventually to interest a traditional publisher. It’s easy to end up feeling that whichever route you are on, it’s probably the wrong one.

Some small publishers offer no advances and some large publishers offer no advances, and now crowd-funding publishers offer authors the chance to become fund-raisers with the added attraction of no advances. Even the advice "Buyer Beware" has been reversed; this is "Seller Beware".

Authors were warned: "People are trying to make money from you". But they didn’t even mean the writing. They meant the other industry of all the people who will charge to tell you what to do next.

My advice is simple and free. Do nothing at all. Just breathe and keep listening to everyone. Take notes. There are good tips around:

  • When you are choosing your title, bear in mind search engine optimisation. If you are writing a book about the war, for example, don’t call it Bird Song
  • Work out how to pitch your book in one line
  • Read any contract anyone offers you with an old-fashioned magnifying glass
  • Keep your mailing list
  • Find out what Net Galley can do for you
  • Befriend Book Bloggers

And drink lots of water. Either that - or faint. I can understand that you may think fainting feels like the best option.


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