**NOTE** Please right-click on links and open in a new tab, I added links in MSWord and didn’t realise it wouldn’t do that by default. The links are fantastic, now please keep reading ; )
Yep, you’ve guessed it, this post is about that three-day literary extravaganza of map navigation, be-suited throngs, women in toilets dealing with blistered feet, and seminar note-taking frenzy last witnessed in 1996, aka Earl’s Court annual London Book Fair.
This was my second visit and I can tell you now, versus 2011, the London Book Fair is an unrecognisable beast for the self-publishing writer. The seminars this year were extremely author focused and the calibre and quality of the speakers for the Author Lounge was brilliant. Authoright, who kindly sold me a half-price ticket, have told me they’ll be hosting them online for those of you who missed out, which is brilliant news. They had seminars on Marketing, chats with Mark Coker creator of Smashwords, authors Mel Sherratt and Nick Spalding on their self-publishing success, plus agent/marketing workshops. In the past the International Rights Centre (IRC) has been off limits to authors, but this year two events were put on were writers could pitch directly to agents
The LBF for new self-publishing writers
Compared to 2011, there were many more authors in attendance too. The key reason I took myself out of the traditional publishing model was for creative control and secondly to have more influence over my personal journey with Gunshot Glitter. Remember, even if you have an agent and a publisher there’s no guarantee your book will be published or see light of day for a few years, much like films gathering dust which have never seen light of day because no distributor bought into them. If that had happened to Gunshot Glitter I would have wept, gone insane and probably executed a Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski routine.
I swear, if you’re just entering self-publishing, this year’s LBF was a great year to discover how publishing works and gels together; plus the supporting trade, for example, the printers have now expanded their remit to include working with you. One company, Berforts Information Press gave me the most amazing little book which was a work of genius! It included a planogram of book sizes with their trade names, samples of paper and guidance on creating a book. It’s like a foreign language when you start out, formatting and printing a book, but imperative that you get savvy if you want to print your own as I did with Gunshot Glitter without a middleman taking a cut of the share.
However, compared to 2011, I found the traditional publisher stands quite frosty (or they were possibly knackered as I didn’t get to stands until Wednesday afternoon!) when I asked them if they took submissions from non-agented writers. I heard many abrupt ‘no’s. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not the industry standard, but it was interesting to note the change in attitude; I can only assume this year they were asked this a LOT more than usual as there were many more authors about!
However, this is not by any means the case all round. I spoke to a lovely woman at Allison and Busby after enthusing with her about the sample I’d read of ‘Bitter Greens’ who advised me that Snowbooks did accept manuscripts sans agent, as do the fantastic, funny, sexy team behind Ellora’s Cave who write erotica ( see photo above). Their erotica remit is broad, when I asked for a sample copy, publisher Raelene Gorlinsky asked ‘What do you like? We have alien porn..’ ‘Stop right there,’ I said, ‘I’ve never read or even heard of alien porn!’ and she picked one of the shelf and said ‘You’ll love this one, this is one of our best-seller’s.’ Her publisher works with Amazon erotica best-seller Shoshanna Evers and they have publishing submission guidelines on their website. I suspect new publishers are more flexible than the established goliaths.
So, I did have some productive chats, even if I didn’t get to steal the boxset of Game of Thrones I spotted at the HarperCollins, and trust me, for someone who was probably a magpie in a past life walking away from that was painful!!
I also enjoyed meeting SelfMadeHero, who produce beautiful graphic novels, check out the posters in Nick’s photo; in hindsight, I wish I’d been cheeky and asked for the HP Lovecraft book I was feeling up while talking to Sam Humphreys. I’d met him on Day 1 when I’d teased him about his show badge, when we were stood listening to Mel Sherrat talk at the Author Lounge. I found it funny that his badge said he was a ‘Selfmadehero’ I told him all he needed was a cape and he was set. Their work was interesting as they predominantly deal with out-of-copyright authors, there are no rights to buy with the classics. I visited them for a specific reason as a publisher on a Jane Austen seminar gave me food for thought with Gunshot Glitter, when she talked about books living on in alternative formats. I think the behemoth would make a kick-ass graphic novel one day. More on that seminar now.
The good stuff for self-published writers who’ve already self-published: Seeing your novel on the silver screen
If like me, you’ve traversed the mind-bending tightrope of getting your novel out, you might be at a stage where you want to take that work further or at least be thinking about it. But how does that world work? What’s involved with screenwriting, scripts, rights, what’s the chain of command, the pitfalls, the loops, the process involved from taking your book and seeing your work actualised on the big or small screen? It’s new unchartered waters and thankfully there were seminars that took the lid of the whole thing and revealed the insides.
At my first seminar on Monday, I actually said the word ‘bitchslap’ into the microphone during the talk: Pride and Prejudice on TV. Does Fidelity Matter Anymore. That was a first! Don’t worry I said it nicely with humour and honesty. It was a seminar debate about whether adapted work should remain authentic to the original work. And after listening to the effusive and dynamic Bee Rowlett say she’d wished she’d backed off and not been so controlling of the Radio 4 adaptation of her work, Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad, and just let them do what they’d wanted with it, I had to say something. I asked if there truly wasn’t a line that she wouldn’t be offended to see crossed?
As the way I see it, as the author I have a vision of my work and it’s my reputation as a story-teller associated with it. If someone takes Gunshot Glitter and makes Anis Khan a white man to make the movie more mainstream and ‘appealing’ like the way the movie Notting Hill got rid of all ethnic minorities in the area especially in Portabello Market, or takes Celine Silver and makes her a skinny lollipop ala the Hollywood ideal, the story just doesn’t work anymore, they’re not themselves, it’s no longer my work. My characters have been betrayed. I’m not desperate to see Gunshot Glitter on screen at any cost to be honest. I want it done well otherwise what’s the point? Why did I write it?
I don’t know how author Lee Child felt about 6ft 5”Jack Reacher being played by Tom Cruise for example, but I know the fans were unhappy. So I outlined a dodgy scenario and said, ‘If someone did that to Gunshot Glitter I’d want to bitchslap the hell out of them!’ and there were cheers and laughter and claps. Probably from other authors I suspect!
However, I must add, I do understand that the vision has to be adapted to suit – screen-time, studio limitations, budgets and the director’s vision, that minor characters will probably be eliminated or amalgamated, secondary storylines might have to go, especially if you think a movie lasts 2-3 hours and that some novels like Michel Faber’s amazing The Crimson Petal and the White work better on the small screen in a series.
Nor am I against radically different adaptations; Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet was thrilling and retained the play’s script, though God knows what William Shakespeare would have made of it! But remember, it was a new take on a play that had already been filmed in an authentic period setting many times.
Basically, a first adaptation for me ideally needs to respect certain parameters. Nothing would gall me more to see Gunshot Glitter turned into a Danny Dyer movie because it’s an edgy read or a ‘gritty’ crime film which disregards the intense love story running through it between the Griffins for their son, or Celine and Anis, or even the warped Sera and her man, Paul. I LOVE cinema and I’m absolutely positive with the right team in place, someone could do something amazing with Gunshot Glitter, I just want to ensure that from my own vantage point that that happens. But I also do now realise I need to quell the control freak in me. A bit.
The seminars that followed on Adaptation and How To Sell Books to Film and TV Companies hosted by agent Julian Friedmann from Blake Friedmann expanded on those realties and much more. I realised listening to the panel that as a novelist, I’d love to work with a screenwriter on at least an advisory basis, and have some say, if I wasn’t the screenwriter myself. But the hard truth is that when you sign over the rights of your novel to a producer, it’s now their baby and I know enough about the industry to know that scripts get rewritten as they go along. You’re the last thing on the film crew’s mind unless you’re a big name! But hopefully they know what they’re doing and I can respect their expertise and the result will be good.
But even if you hate the finished product, if they produce a Hudson Hawk and you’re a newbie you can’t go around slagging it off, you might be blacklisted or sued and classed as a headache to work with. I guess the answer is to sell your work to good producers whose body of work your respect. Or wait for someone with smarts to remake it and do a better job of it.
Q: My self-published book is brilliant and I want to adapt it into a film, what do I do?
Julian Friedmann hosted a seminar on whether authors should write their own screenplay, you could argue who better to adapt their own work right? I’d intended to do so with Gunshot Glitter, but he made a very good point. Screenwriting is a very technical skill and scripts are often 20-30,000 words long compared to a fulsome, descriptive novel. He asked us: ‘How many of you have read more than fifty scripts?’ and about two hands went up. Mine was not one of them! Friedmann said anyone who wanted to write a script should have read at least fifty so they’d know what they were doing. And I agree with him. It’s not impossible, but you need to wire yourself into a new kind of mindset and you need to work hard before you even write the words: ‘Camera pans in on close-up..’
What I found disheartening was when I asked seminar speakers from the BBC, ITV and Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution Films who all worked in development, if they’d ever consider adapting a self-published book, the answer, in brief, was ‘No’. I was so flattened that I didn’t even tell Josh Hyams from Revolution that director Winterbottom is actually my No 1 dream choice for Gunshot Glitter, because he is, I decided that at Christmas. I love his films. I might tweet him to tell him.
The traditional publishers are still the gate-keepers of the process, and while they respect there is a lot of good self-published work out there, it’s not something the TV/Film people responsible for development will risk. It’s too loaded with logistical issues. So Gunshot Glitter won’t see light of day unless they change or I change. Or I approach a producer directly and negotiate a contract myself, not impossible but definitely challenging, that’s a whole new ball game I’d need to learn about and get savvy in. Could I do it? Maybe. But it would be a lot of hard work and in truth I’d rather have experienced experts on my side this time working with me.
Literary agencies do have Film Rights agents who work specifically in this area, and speaking to Blake Friedmann agent Christine Glover, she suggested maybe reconsidering seeking representation once the novel was properly launched? It’s something, up until now, I’d not been invested in pursuing. I’ve enjoyed being in charge of my own process, but I am now thinking about it.
The main thing I’ve achieved, which I am proud of, is publishing Gunshot Glitter 100% authentically on my terms and showing the narrative works and that people have loved it for its originality. I did that. That was important to me. And the book looks gorgeous. Yesterday, I took a copy of the novel into The British Library for their archive, an intensely happy moment for me. So now, I feel okay about reconsidering my stance for the sake of my novel’s future.
Q: Did You Know . . .?
At the London Book Fair, I asked questions at all the seminars, but I will narrow things down to bullet-points findings that I hope you’ll find useful and throw in a few ‘discovered at a stand’ facts:
- If you want to negotiate your script/novel directly with a producer hire a lawyer who will check the contract through for you, they cost £250-£350 an hour. Protect yourself. Or, Julian Friedmann says you can download a standard legal contract from the Writers’ Guild. He also suggests joining a professional writer’s association; your submission will be especially respected for that. And the stronger your brand as a writer, the better your negotiating power with a producer: e.g. big Twitter following, popular blog, visible social media presence.
- You can meet producers at film festivals but don’t bother with Cannes for networking. Try Edinburgh or the London Screenwriters festival. Read trade titles such as Screen International; learn about the industry! Use IMDB.com to find producers who’ve worked on films you love.
- If a producer takes an option out on your novel expect to be paid 2.5% of the production budget as payment, the rest, merchandise, back-end profit etc, you negotiate.
- 19 out of 20 books optioned never get made
- When you option your book, producers depending on your contract, will expect to have 18-24 months to do something with it, then unless your extend/renegotiate the rights come back to you.
- Unless you are JK Rowling or E L James, you won’t get much of a say in the film; producer contracts often try and get as many of the rights from you so they can create the film/show their way. As the author you should try and hold onto some, so you can still legally use your own characters on your own site your way else your hands might well be tied.
- Screenwriters get paid really well. Viz royalties, TV can sometimes pay better than film!
- Agents and publishers expect authors to have a social media presence, many will not sign you unless you do, so get on Twitter, Facebook, establish a website/blog and communicate!
- Book distributors Gartners and Bertrams charge between 60-70% of the RRP of your book to carry and distribute your title to retail and library vendors ( ouch!) Basically, unless you’re a goliath you’re going to struggle to make anything on those margins. They’ll also expect you to deliver the stock and will only register you for stock account if you shift thousands of books.
- If I’d published Gunshot Glitter with Createspace, at £9.99, I’d have taken home the princely sum of 64p a copy. Also your only choice of cover is a laminated glossy, I didn’t like it much.
- Screenwriters, professional ones, can often produce a first draft script in less than a month if it’s 20-30,000 words long.
Advanced Online Marketing with Joanna Penn
I went to so many seminars, I didn’t even get to the main hall until my very last day, most were useful. One, not so much – ‘How To Set Up a Publishing House’ run by the Independent Publisher’s Guild, unfortunately didn’t really do that, but did provide some handy info from ISBN sellers Nielsen about a free online facility launching in August called Title Editor where authors can directly input their metadata and thus make their books more visible and drive sales. There is an advanced version which allows you to add in more detailed information which they charge for, it’s only truly handy though I expect if you use multiple retail channels.
Joanna Penn’s seminar on Advanced Marketing, though, that stretched me and that pleased me. It was great to finally meet this lassie, who’s a self-confessed introvert, but has pushed herself hard to self-educate herself on this rapidly morphing industry. She’s a speaker and author, and her seminar on tailoring your existing Marketing was brilliant. Her key focus was on using Amazon’s mysterious algorithm system to make your books more publically visible. Her presentation can be viewed here:
The crux is, that, if your book descriptor keywords attract a high hit rate overall when crosschecked with Google’s adwords and then also perform well when you type them into Amazon’s search bar, by viewing if they appear on the automatic drop down list, then they are best included in your book description that support your novel. Because you know they’re strong words. See her presentation for the step-by-step breakdown to get your head around it.
She made an excellent point I’d not previously considered and will think about, about how it makes more sense to point the majority of sales to Amazon as those sales rankings are far more visible to the ones on your own website for a broad selection of speculative customers. You may make a bit more money selling from your site per unit, but you will probably shift many more books via Amazon and thus make more money overall – in theory. I guess it depends if your book takes off? Once people see you in the Top 100/200, you straightaway have greater chance of being spotted by the speculative moocher be it in the paid for chart of the free chart. Fair point Ms Penn! I definitely agree on all this viz eBooks.
- At the end or start of your book, point to a website or blog, fans of your work can stay in touch with you at, you want to hold onto people once they’ve read your work if you are a career writer
- Build a mailing list to keep in touch with readers – give then an incentive to that works for them, be it top tips for self-publishing, a short exclusive story, other freebie or a competition entry to win something for signing up. You need a static page for this.
- Use social media intelligently, work with the mediums you enjoy most yourself. You might hate Twitter, but love recording videos of yourself on You Tube talking about XYZ – get people interested in you and then they’ll be engaged with your creative offerings too. There is little point using social mediums you detest or feel unnatural with, but you do need to communicate if you want to be known.
All good stuff I hope you’ll agree? One of the highlights of the London Book Fair for me was the people I met along the way and not just in seminars. Meeting Facebook friends and fellow writers Sue Fortin and Mandy Baggot for the first time was aces. I also met a lovely Turkish translator with a sprained ankle in the ladies loo called Zeycan who told me if I ever came to Turkey to look her up as she knew good tour guides, Mike, a student who loved The Clash and good punk music, Holly Ice, a young writer who gave me the most exquisite hand-made business card, Jim Parks (Adele Parks husband) who is involved with the Guildford Book Festival , Celine from the Netherlands who is in the thick of writing a young adult trilogy and lastly(former) Yugoslavian architect-turned-writer Milena who smelt amazing ( seriously, amazing!!) who makes her own scents and has written a stunning book called Memento. She and I met in London on Saturday and she showed me her book. If you are interested in geometry, philosophy, religion, quantum physics, check her out.
To close, let’s talk about the last day, I’d arrived a little late at the How To Get An Agent seminar, I’d decided to attend after my chat with Christine Glover from Blake Friedmann, and had been bummed when I realised I’d missed out on all the pre-bookable 1-2-1 slots organised by Authoright.
I’d looked at the agent list and visited the Luigi Bonomi site and thought they actually have a fantastic ethos, a great client list and seem really supportive of debut authors. I looked at the agent profiles and clicked through to read Thomas Stofer’s blog on crime and book reviews as that’s Gunshot Glitter’s predominant genre. It amused me he’d last reviewed The Night Circus as I’d just finished reading it myself and the book had caused some debate on my Facebook Bookshop Café. I thought when the London Book Far is over maybe I’ll contact them. They sound good to me.
I’d expected this seminar I’d walked into on Wednesday to be a two-hour talk and discussion about the topic. How wrong I was. On my immediate arrival I was asked by an organiser if I’d like to have a speed-date with an agent. She gave me a raffle ticket and said authors were being seen in blocks of four. Luckily for me, I’d bought a copy of Gunshot Glitter in to show trade in discussions on services, I hadn’t on the previous days. This was to me a most pleasant surprise. I had a great time talking to people, so when my slot reared its head, I was delighted to be placed with none other than Thomas. The first thing we did was discuss The Night Circus, and then the fastest four minutes in the history of time ended with him giving me his card and telling me he’d like to see more and know more about Gunshot Glitter. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.
At the start of the fair, an agent was the last thing on my mind. I honestly hadn’t gone to the London Book Fair looking for that, I’ve been self-empowered for a year since deciding to follow this route, but I want to see my novel on screen, everyone who reads it, feeds back to me that they see it as a film. I do too. But first things, first – it launches in print on mail order at £9.99 +P&P via Venus Fiction ( my brand, the logo is my very own lip-print, for real) on May 4th, details to come. But email GunshotGlitter2012@yahoo.co.uk to register your interest in the first edition, it’s special. You can also buy Gunshot Glitter on Amazon for Kindle/App and enjoy a free sample here
May 4th is also my birthday. Ooh yeah! I still have a lot to do before that day arrives, but the London Book Fair really did put some fire in my belly, it felt so good to learn, debate, question and think. Publishing is no longer rigid, but some people still don’t wish to recognise that. Mel Sherratt pointed out in the Author Lounge, the Crime Writers Association won’t accept her as a member even though her debut sold over 50,000 copies, but as of next year Crimefest will; result! So, see, there’s hope for everyone, if this much can change in two years since my first visit, who knows what the London Book Fair 2014 will be like? Time will tell : )
If you went, what did you make of the London Book Fair? If you didn’t go, but have any questions about the event, pipe up and I’ll do my best to answer them!
P.S HUGE thanks to fellow writer and blogger Nick Sheridan for the use of his photos throughout this post. Click on this link to check out his Facebook page Crap Looking Books. Genius here didn’t take a single one the entire time she was there, even the one of my pass was taken this morning! Doh!