Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Future of the Author

Yesterday was the first day of the London Book Fair. To behold the site at Earls Court is awesome: hundreds of book people, book services, book sellers, book publishers, book printers – you get the message – not the place to go if you aren't interested in books.

After visiting my publisher I had a peek inside the Film & Rights area – lots of little tables with confidential meetings between publishers and producers about to make that novel into a blockbuster. Actually, I'm told that many studios or stars simply buy up Film & TV rights and just sit on them to stop anyone else getting their sticky little fingers on them. Only about one percent of those bought ever get made into anything visual.

Details about my novel are on the book fair site so it's just possible that some Big Noise Hollywood Exec might see the potential. I mean, who wants to follow the herd, grab the latest Richard & Judy book or secure the latest Book Prize Winner and make it into a movie. So obvious. Boring. Go with something fresh and new – that's my advice. And I have just the thing.

But back to the show: although LBF is primarily a trade show for publishers, printers, librarians and so forth it, nevertheless, sometimes has interesting seminars for the likes of authors. And this year quite a few of these were about publishing or marketing online: Web Accessibility, Amazon and Google Book Search, The eBook Challenge, Net Results, Digitize or Die.

Hold on, what have I just spent years writing a novel for? And why have my publishers and their printers used hundreds of kilos of paper mush - sustainable and re-cycled of course - making it into a book. I could have by-passed the whole thing: gone straight onto the internet with an eBook.

But you can't curl up in bed with a computer can you – not comfortably anyway – I mean, what happens when it falls onto the floor because you dropped off yourself after the first chapter? And you can't take an eBook onto a crowded tube train with you, read it on a park bench or carry it down to the beach.

Although it now seems that the eBook doesn't even need a screen to be read. I won't go into all the technical stuff – mostly because I can't understand it – but that's the latest I've heard. But no Luddite me, I can take the digital revolution: the first seminar after I arrived – The e-Book Challenge - might be informative.

But there was nothing for authors in it. By the time I'd worked out that STM was not a rather naughty online romp – pity, the seminar would have been sexy - it was too late to politely leave. I managed to stay awake through all the academic science, technology and math stuff and it did at least get me into internet/publishing speak mode: aggregates (no, not road materials), one-time purchase, unlimited online concurrent usage, etc, etc.

The next one - Net Results: Promoting books online - was hosted (well) by David Freeman of 'Meet the Author' fame. Rose Wilde, the Book Editor who looks after The Times Online, gave a resume of their role in a pleasant, measured way and Anna Rafferty from Penguin kindly shared her knowledge and was very enthusiastic (especially about the latest book she's promoting on the web).

But it was Mark Thwaite of Ready Steady Books (www.readysteadybook.com) whose observations were most informative. He encouraged publishers to loosen the editorial reigns - 'give up control' - and open their publications to the web. And he urged everyone to embrace the bolgosphere wholeheartedly, improve their sites, widen their horizons and therefore their audience.

Finally, the one I'd been waiting for - Digitise or Die? What is the Future of the Author? – not so much for the content by this time, more for the panel. Made up of an agent, a publisher, a bookseller and that essential cog in the wheel, an author: Margaret Atwood. Yes, THE Margaret Atwood. And then an unexpected, brilliant bonus: Tracy Chevalier was chair. And what an excellent job she made of it too.

I guess when you're a talented author and as famous as Margaret Atwood you can afford to be very dry if not a tad eccentric. However, although bon mots can be very amusing they don't make for a good interview or informative discussion. There was only one positive thing that Margaret had to say about the web: she has details on her website that mean she's no longer bothered with requests for information, help or advice. Not a fan of the digital world, obviously.

The publisher and bookseller on the panel exhibited quiet optimism whilst accepting that inevitably (and unfortunately for them) digital growth means they have to work harder. But the agent, Clare Alexander, seems to have got it: she embraced the best of digitization whilst cherishing the value of personal contact and the printed word.

But then Clare's a mum – she has teenage sons who are au fait with everything digital – and mums know, that they must get to know, what their children know. They are the future.



Mark Thwaite said...

Ooh, thanks for the kind words Lucy. I'm glad that some of my nonsense was useful to you ...

Warmest regards


Mark said...

That's a nice overview of the LBF experience Lucy, thanks very much. The next best thing to being there...

My own view (for what it's worth) on what Mark Thwaite said, is that the more publishers *do* open up the web, the more books become waypoints or 'markers' in what is the very fluid medium of the web.

Good luck with the book launch - I noticed that Gardners already have your book in stock, so I've ordered one in from the shop.

So who is it aimed at, and why should they read it???