In which I muse on London Book Fair

Last week was London Book Fair, the UK’s annual gathering of the publishing industry where agents, publishers, and booksellers come together and do vast amounts of publishing industry type stuff. Essentially LBF is a massive trade fair, where agents and publishers tout their wares. Rights sales are the main order of business, and it’s a thoroughly busy and buzzy place to be, but the wisdom in times of yore was that LBF was most definitely for business not for actual writers.

Recently, however, the good people behind LBF have been making a concerted effort to lure more authors along, setting up a section of the show headed ‘Author HQ’ with specific events aimed at writers rather than publishers or agents. This year, for the first time, I bought a ticket and headed to the Big City to see what it’s all about.

So was it worth it? Well, yes and no. I had a fun time. I went out for lunch with my publisher and editor, and a fab group of authors who either write for Choc Lit as well or are chums through the Romantic Novelists’ Association. It’s always nice to go out for lunch, and it was particularly nice to meet my editor, who, despite have worked on for four separate books, I’d never actually met in real-not-on-the-internet-life.

I also went to a Dragon’s Den style pitch-the-agent event where ten very brave authors pitched their books to a panel of agents and editors in front of a live audience. It was interesting to see the sort of feedback the agents gave, and also hugely impressive to see the authors involved lay themselves and their book-babies out for criticism so publicly. However, I’ve been to a number of talks by agents and editors, and I follow quite a few industry blogs (Lizzy Kremer’s Publishing for Humans is my current favourite) so there wasn’t a huge amount in the feedback that was unexpected.

Apart from that the Author HQ talks I saw were fine, but at a fairly introductory level. There would probably be some interesting stuff for new writers trying to decide whether to pursue a traditional publishing route or self-publish, but for as an already published author looking for progress my career further still, I didn’t find a huge amount at Author HQ for me. So my personal conclusion on LBF for writers: go if you think the price of the ticket is worth it for the buzz alone, but it’s probably not the best place to pick up information and ideas for developing your writing or writing career. Personally, I think I’d probably only be tempted to go again, as an author, if I had a specific must-see event to go to, or specific people I needed to meet. Of course that’s just my opinion- here’s an alternate view from Liz Fenwick.

So that’s London Book Fair. ‘What other interesting events for writers are coming up?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s jolly funny you should ask that, because I myself am in the process of plotting an awesome event for developing writers. This October, I’m teaming up with Janet Gover to tutor a weekend writing retreat at the beautiful Farncombe Estate in the Cotswolds. There’ll be lots of writing time, one-to-one tutorials, group workshops, and the price also includes your accommodation and plenty of lovely yummy food. The full cost of the retreat is £350, but if you book in before the end of May we’re offering a 10% early booking discount, so you pay just £315. All the details and the retreat booking form are here. It would be lovely to see some of you there.

In which I think about ChipLitFest and this very blog

So, lovely blog readists, I have had a delightful weekend. Simply delightful. The sun was out. The cake was chocolately. The wine was pink and sparkling, and there was a literary festival to attend. Really, what more could a prematurely middle-aged and unapologetically middle-class girl ask for?

Saturday was spent at Chipping Norton Literary Festival, stroking lovely books and eating excellent cake. We even managed to squeeze in a couple of talks. Both were aimed at writers, one discussing why writers still need agents, even given the self-publishing boom, and the other looking at social media for writers.

To be 100% honest it was really the agent talk that I was most interested in. The Social Media session was something I’d booked because it fit in well with the other things we were doing and I thought it might be mildly time-passingly interesting, but actually, that was the session that provided the most food for thought. Liz Fenwick, who led the session, is a fellow RNA member and a published novelist. She talked, interestingly and with great humour, about a whole host of social media platforms – twitter, facebook, pinterest, goodreads etc.

She also talked about blogs, and what we, as writers, should and (perhaps) shouldn’t talk about on our blogs, tweets and facebook pages. She suggested, quite rightly I suspect, that talking about religion and politics risks alienating at least some potential readers. Now, as the observant amongst you may have noticed, I do, on occasion, get a tiny bit political on this blog. I, it has to be acknowledged, Have Views. Now I try to ensure that those views are reasonably measured and researched, but I’m not entirely above having a little rant about Michael Gove either.

Now lots of you won’t find that off-putting at all, and I, of course, think all the views expressed here are entirely normal and  rational and right-thinking. So how could anyone find them off-putting? But then, if I found a writer who regularly blogged very right wing or reactionary material, I would probably find that somewhat tiresome myself. Generally, we are all much less prone to consider a person ranty and over-the-top if we tend to agree with what they’re saying.

So I guess the question is, what is the point of this blog? Is it just a place for me to write what I like in the hope that you might be interested, or should I be viewing it more definitely as part of my writerly brand? When I started the blog I said it would “be filled with whatever thoughts pop into my brain. My only commitment to you is that I will endeavour, whereever possible, to think only interesting thoughts.” The idea was that this would be a little corner of the internet where I could write things about stuff that seemed interesting or worth mentioning and that possibly there would be people (I was thinking anywhere up to about eight of you) who would find some of those things interesting too.

But I also want to be a published novelist. I have a full novel manuscript out under consideration with a publisher as I type. When that publisher (or any other in the future) googles me I want them to find someone who doesn’t look like a potential liability. So do I need to put a pin in the bigger rantier opinions and create a blogland more in keeping with the wannabe professional writer image I’m trying to project? Or is a bit of opinion welcome? Would losing it make for a duller blog or is it better when I don’t rant anyway? I have no conclusion today, so please, tell me what you think…