There were over 20 Canadian publishers at the London Book Fair this year, as well as some agents. I asked a few of them if it was worth their while, given the size and the not inexpensive venue at Earls Court Exhibition Centre. For Linda Cameron, Director, The University of Alberta Press, “The London Book Fair provides an important opportunity for me to meet with our UK distributor and publishers from other countries to discuss rights and territorial sales.” She also goes for “the latest innovations in the publishing industry.” Alana Wilcox, Editorial Director of Coach House Press, admits that her primary goal of selling rights keeps her busy in meetings with agents and publishers. Wilcox emphasizes the importance of repeat visits to the Book Fair: “It’s always valuable to spend time with colleagues from around the world — you can’t always measure it in dollars, but it’s important to talk with fellow publishers, especially when our industry is changing so quickly. Selling rights requires a very long view — it takes years to build up a good network. That’s the most important thing about the fair — the chance to meet up with everyone.”
I didn’t meet up with anyone, but I did go to a panel discussion in the airy and not crowded Thames Room, called “Gloves Off! How Are Writers, Editors and Readers Feeling About Digital?” It promised to “explore the creative and collaborative relationships that need to happen to move publishing forward in terms of the creation of innovative content and engaged communities.” Commissioning editor Katharine Reeve tried to get the gloves off over whether editors or marketers should make the decisions in the digital future of books (editorial vision vs. technological predictors) but in the end spoke up for cooperation between the two departments. Reeve is also Head of the Department of Creative Writing and Publishing at Bath Spa University, and she had some startling statistics to cite: Last year there were 32 million books with ISBNs, a huge increase from less than a million because of self-publishing – and that does not include writers who did not bother getting an ISBN. Some best-seller lists now include self-published books. Self-publishing and print-on-demand services are changing the book market dramatically. Reeve said, “Print alone is not going to save the industry. That’s just one platform.”
How on earth can writers draw attention to their work in this avalanche of words?
Hint: haven’t you read something about Bath Spa University recently?
Kate Pullinger (Canadian writer abroad!) and Donna Hancox both talked about the importance of making the most of digital technology for creative work. Pullinger is publishing her next novel with a digital supplement. They talked about the importance of trans-media fiction, of combining your chapters with perhaps a blog by a character and short films of people your characters meet, for example. Non-traditional media should add dimension to your written/printed work.
I can tell you, after a year and a half of running CWA, that there are a lot of blogs out there. A deluge, a swamp, a morass of blogs. Getting yourself an online presence might not happen with just a blog. So I sat up and took note when Hancox started talking about digital collaboration. She urged the writers in the audience to submit to online journals, or to create e-sites with other writers. She used the phrase “boutique niche journals.” Hey, wait a minute. That’s Canadian Writers Abroad!