by Bill Kirton
I’ve only ever been to one major book fair (as opposed to book festivals, of which I’ve attended many) but I imagine they’re all pretty similar.
It was the London Book Fair, around which I wandered aimlessly for two of its three days. We all know how many hundreds of thousands of books are being produced each year but, sitting in our studies or kitchens or attics or yachts or sheds or wherever as we scribble our masterpieces, we still manage to persuade ourselves that readers will snap up our babies the minute we let them out. But when you see row upon row of stalls, with crowds milling round them all, smartly dressed people sitting at tables with impressive document holders before them deep in earnest discussions with other movers and shakers, huge adverts for books by people you’ve already heard of and who hardly need the PR, you start to think that the wee label you’ve pinned to yourself which identifies you as an AUTHOR is the equivalent of wearing a yellow sack, ringing a bell and shouting ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ as you move through it all.
At the same time, it gives a sort of smug satisfaction that all these people are only here and only earning a living because writers write books. When it’s laid before you in this way, with translators, little independent publishers, foreign rights, niche markets, huge publishing empires and God knows what else, it’s a pulsating proof that the industry is enormous and dynamic. So vast, in fact, that you get this ambivalent feeling that your ambitions are presumptuous and yet there must be a wee corner in it somewhere for you.
But it doesn’t feel like the place that you can go up to someone on one of the stalls and say ‘Hey, I’ve written this great book. Want to read it?’ The response would range from a puzzled, concerned look to an old Anglo-Saxon invitation to go away. My impression, in fact, was that this wasn’t about books, but about deals. And that’s fine because that’s how it works. We just have to make sure one or more of our books is/are part of those deals.