Thursday, 19 April 2012

Book Fair in Five Farthings and today

Home from the London Book Fair now and still sifting through the catalogues, sweets, pens and assorted business cards collected at the London Book Fair. It was just as enjoyable, exciting and overwhelming as I’d imagined. Monica Redlich wrote Five Farthings in 1939 with an imaginary Book Week and Book Fair. I’ve added a couple of excerpts below, but first, some photographs of a wonderful day. I photographed what caught my interest and what I could focus on between the crowds, so I have lots of photographs of individual covers and nothing that shows the sprawl of it all. Romania’s stand with books suspended in the air appealed along with sofas to enjoy sampling, so it’s today’s illustration.

The great Book Fair Week was coming near very fast. Behind the scenes in the bookselling and publishing trades preparations for it had been going on for months. It was to be something bigger and more exciting than anything of the kind had been before, though it would of course be based on the experience of past years and have the same experts to run it. It was to be not only the huge Book Fair at Earl’s Court, with its innumerable stalls, side-shows, lectures, plays, and special exhibits. All the London booksellers were joining in, as well as nearly all the publishers, and in each of their shops there would be a display of books for the whole of Book Fair Week, with competitions so thrilling that they almost obliged everybody to take the next bus or tube train out to Earl’s Court. There were Book Galas at many of the restaurants. Special Book Buses would be running from Piccadilly and Oxford Circus, with a book lent to each passenger to read during the drive: there was no end to the ideas which had been thought of to make Book Fair Week the most exciting show of the year. [...]

When Vivien got back to the exhibition at ten the next morning she could hardly recognize it. She had been much too tired the night before to take in the fact that other parts of the Book Fair besides Broadstreet’s stand had been progressing, and now, as she showed her card of admission and got her first glimpse of it all, she was quite bewildered to think that this was the waste of scaffolding and dust-sheets and chairs she remembered from yesterday. The whole place was bright with colour, and full of life. There were posters, banners, pictures, signposts: the Fun Fair was being tried out by some very young assistants, who seemed to find it good: and everywhere, as far as the eye could see and beyond, there were books.

(Chapter 8. The Fun Begins).

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wired weekend

Two things made this last weekend memorable: Pottermore opened to muggles everywhere (I suppose that should be general public, but you get the idea) and I listened to an exhaustingly informative Digital Minds Conference as part of the London Book Fair in an otherwise deserted Westminster. This meant that all the tourists could photograph themselves in front of the House of Commons near red telephone boxes without causing civil servants to bump into them. It seems that the publishing industry remains one where technological expertise is as valuable as strategic partnerships between authors, readers and booksellers. The formats change and the technologies available may update, but the simple relationship between buyer and seller remains at the heart. I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of book collectors, buyers, fan sites and bloggers, all of whom have made The Whicharts and Five Farthings successful titles.

Much of Sunday’s debate centred on the changing reading experience from page to e-book and how publishers might use this change in reading culture to their advantage. I have to compete in a crowded marketplace and persuade the reader to give up both their money and their time to buy and read my books. That’s an awful lot to ask, especially as I’m not terribly well-known and can’t exactly do author tours or request that my authors open a Twitter account. For anyone coming to the site for the first time, please note that both of my authors are dead and that I specialise in vintage fiction. My books are rare and, I hope, set out beautifully with wonderful cover art, but they don’t have an interactive website or ‘extras’. So, where do my customers come from? Fan sites for readers and book collectors have helped, as has fan fiction for Noel Streatfeild and many readers are understandably keen to read ‘Ballet Shoes for grown-ups’ as The Whicharts is. What else? Well, mentions of the books on Twitter can result in extra sales, but word-of-mouth recommendation is also useful. I’ve found success on blogs to be some of the most lasting publicity. Random Jottings mentioned The Whicharts in 2010 and it seems that people are still finding their way to my website from the review.

If thoughts become more coherent, I may continue this with how authors and publishers use Twitter, but I have books to pack and another title to edit.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Solitary Sunday's proof-reading

It’s a rather solitary Sunday for me today as I’m sitting (not hunched) at the desk proof-reading and fact-checking two of my next books. I’ve dealt with the most urgent emails and am eagerly waiting for a few replies. The morning sped past in a blur of misplaced commas and I took an early afternoon walk in the sunshine that was too bright and tempting to ignore. Back in front of my computer now and I’m trying hard to concentrate on getting through the text, though as my neighbour is hammering away at an unpredictable syncopated rhythm, it’s proving difficult to ignore. Still, the texts are improving in their appearance and some pages look reassuringly clean, bright and printer-ready. I make notes in the margin in hard copy and highlight anything in blue in the word-processed version that looks a little odd or where words might be missing. Checking through both seems to eliminate almost all errors. Both texts are very keen on food and feasting, so I’ve taken a quick break to put together some banana bread for a cut and run breakfast next week. Not that the books do banana bread, they concentrate on pink-iced cakes (are there any other kind in vintage fiction?), scones, jam, cream (clotted or double), sandwiches with elaborate fillings, chocolate and tea. They do make you feel hungry, especially for scones, jam and cream.