State of Independents

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Our trip to the London Book Fair

Posted on April 22, 2010 by

The LBF is huge and mostly about selling rights – UK and foreign – in books; agents are there to talk to overseas publishers, publishers want to talk to the big buyers in the UK such as book clubs and the like and so on…

However, an increasing number of seminars are being run such as the Booksellers Association’s programme for independent booksellers, and some events for budding authors as well as events run by the British Council, PEN and Booktrust to name just a few.  Booksellers are increasingly being seen as an important group of attendees (even more so this year when there were few foreign buyers for publishers to talk to) and it’s a useful way for us to see what’s new and forthcoming, especially if you’re somewhere like Edinburgh where it’s easy to feel that we don’t exist apart from the three weeks in August when the book festival sets up camp in Charlotte Square.

On two of the days, there were presentations by publishers to independent booksellers of their titles for the latter half of 2010.  In theory, publishers had about 20 minutes to present the books that they thought would be of particular interest to us – in practice, some had little idea of time-keeping and took a rather scattergun approach but on the whole it was really useful, especially as we’re already starting to think about the titles that we’ll include in our Christmas catalogue (do I win a prize for the earliest mention of the dreaded ‘C’ word?).

Whilst listening though, I did make some notes and thought it might be interesting to share them with you, dear reader… Apologies for the length of this post in advance.

Monday morning…

Not many people here which seems odd – so useful to know about forthcoming titles and see jackets etc and as it seems every publisher is drastically cutting their rep teams meaning that we see them less and less frequently.

Random House up first and seem on the ball… new Kate Atkinson title is something to look forward too and will do very well for us.  New Salman Rushdie; lovely looking book by Simon Heffer about the correct use of English – could be this year’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves; new Nigella Lawson – will be so discounted everywhere that we may well not bother getting any in.

Headline  on next… Daisy Goodwin’s new novel My Last Duchess looks fun – might ask for a proof of that; Andrea Levy’s new book will be out in pb in the autumn; Grumpy-Old-Women type book from Jenny Eclair might do well as Christmas gift if really funny as so much of that market seems to be aimed at men.

Time for a coffee – I think.  It’s hot and wet but I genuinely can’t tell whether it’s tea or coffee.  Maybe we should just refer to it as a cup of ‘brown’ rather than be too definite.

Pan Macmillan next out of the blocks.  Oh no, these chaps want to be funny.  Saints preserve us from unfunny presentations…

Some interesting titles – collected letters of Nelson Mandela will do well and a biog of Obama by a Pullitzer Prize winner should have the necessary gravitas to sell well to our customers; book about beer; new Bret Easton Ellis; new book by Kate Morton is apparently all about a country house, time slip, part thriller, part ghost story, part romance – so that would be just like her first book, The House at Riverton then?  Oh well, if it ain’t broke…

Even the publishers feel the need to apologise for the forthcoming Jeffrey Archer (and well they might) but I think if I was Colleen Nolan I might be a bit miffed at the sneering at my forthcoming novel – whether she’s written it herself or not (and I expect the latter), they’ve signed it up and shouldn’t snigger about it.  It didn’t look enticing to me, but it is what it is and some people will enjoy it.

Little Brown next – Shirley Williams’ autobiography, Margaret Atwood and Jane Gardham into paperback; book on cheese by Alex James of Blur fame (seems to me that his name has become Alex-James-of-Blur); new David Sedaris will be a treat as will Sandy McCall Smith’s new Isabel Dalhousie in October.

Next comes Sam from Faber, presenting the whole of the Independent Alliance – we always look forward to her visits because the IA publishers are so in tune with our type of customer and Sam’s so aware of our market too.  And she often brings coffee which is always welcome.  Very much looking forward to the second Simon’s Cat book and the quirky and beautiful The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham.  Also, book on the history of Ordnance Survey maps (my father-in-law’s Christmas present); new Herta Muller title and Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre should be interesting.

Day 2,

A few more booksellers today; coffee/tea – let’s just stick with ‘beverage’ still dreadful.

Bloomsbury on first and they’ve got some interesting books – new books from Sue Miller, Lisa See, Howard Jacobson.  Four new titles in the Bloomsbury Group series although the covers seem to be getting progressively worse in this list; new cookbook by Monty and Sarah Don looks lovely but will be so discounted elsewhere that I’ll probably just get one in for myself; another title in the River Cottage Handbooks series – Hedgerow – which will be great for the autumn.

Bloomsbury shouldn’t have pointed out that they were going to be promoting one of their kids’ books mainly through schools and libraries – doesn’t indicate that independent bookshops are going to see a lot of sales and isn’t terribly helpful to mention to a roomful of indies.

HarperCollins on next – Louise Rennison’s Withering Tights, her new series after Georgia Nicholson, looks brilliant and I can’t wait to read it; biographies of Roald Dahl, Edward Heath and Coco Chanel look good; The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner will be great. And a new Oliver Jeffers children’s book is always a treat.

Russell Brand’s follow up to his Booky Wook – This Time It’s Personal has a missing apostrophe on the cover so let’s hope that was a draft image… and the HC chap is dreadful – a last minute stand-in due to the volcanic ash problems but he just read the Powerpoint slides out to us in a dull monotone – might as well have just emailed the slides to us all.

Penguin’s got some interesting autumn titles – new Moomins books, new Dick and Felix Francis title – have sentimental memories of my gran enjoying those so will read it as soon as it comes out because of that; new le Carre,

The Hodder chaps are great – sitting down at the table to talk to us, noticing our reactions and asking us questions – they seemed really interested in the books and in us.  Which is nice.   Dawn of the Bunny Suicides will be huge at Christmas; biography of Debo Devonshire will be great but no doubt heavily discounted on-line so not a huge seller for us; Awkward Family Photos from the blog of the same name is a perfect Christmas humour book and there’s a new Jill Paton Walsh/Dorothy L Sayers book out which I’m looking forward to.

Orion next – Keith Richards autobiography; Marco Pierre White; Pink Floyd The Wall illustrated by Gerald Scarfe; new Maeve Binchy; new book from Bernard The Reader Schlink.  They’re also bringing out a special edition of Ballet Shoes in hard back – cloth bound etc but bafflingly they’re pricing it at £6.99, rather than the £8.99 I would have expected.  It just goes to show how mad pricing is – over-inflated for the cookery, thrillers etc which will be hugely discounted and some real gems are underpriced.  Still we’ll sell dozens of that Ballet Shoes in the run-up to Christmas are whatever price they put on it.

General points re success of presentations – you know, just in case any publishers read this (and yes, I can see your IP addresses and know who you are Penguin, HarperCollins and Waterstone’s…)

  • Don’t tell indie booksellers about all your new books – just pick out the ones which will be of greatest interest to us.  I know Nigella/Jamie or whoever will sell shedloads but they probably won’t sell masses for us when Tesco are knocking them out for a fiver.
  • Be interesting.  An over-heated conference room and a really dull presentation means that we start drifting off.  Or Tweeting about how grim this is and then it flashes up on the screen in the foyer because of the LBF10 hash-tag and then everyone knows how bored I was… Oh yes, that happened!
  • Make sure the coffee’s decent.  Or at least recognisably coffee.
  • See it as an opportunity to tell us about your new authors, or your authors who are more indie and less Amazon oriented.
  • Don’t flash up a mock-up of your super-duper on-line marketing campaign with its prominent link to Amazon in the corner – it isn’t going to move that book to the top of my list.

Overall though – some really interesting books coming out during the rest of 2010 and lots of ideas for our Christmas catalogue and some authors to try to organise events with.


3 Responses to “Our trip to the London Book Fair”

  1. Cat Anderson
    April 22nd, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    Good summary and good points for publishers to take note of. In these challenging times one would hope that publishers are doing a hell of a lot to support the Independents…where I firmly believe the future of bookselling lies.
    Very saddened by the “mostly schools and libraries” approach.
    Can’t wait for the Louise Rennison and Moomins. Best publisher presentation I’ve ever been to was by Egmont – a quiz with a prize to wake us up followed by genuine enthusiam for the books due out. Oh and real filter coffee 😉

  2. Cat
    April 22nd, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

    Hmm…if you think Edinburgh is out of the way try my place at the very end of the a*** end of the world (as once famously described by a former Prime Minister). It comes alive writing wise for a week every second year. They are thinking of making it every year but I am not sure that will work.
    To add insult to injury if we do the right thing and support our local indie it takes months and months to get books because of our publishing laws. Sigh….you really are at the very centre of the universe compared with us!

  3. helen
    April 27th, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    New Dorothy L Sayers book? How so? Thought DLS passed on a while back. I say that with respect.

    Glad trip was fruitful.

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Welcome to State of Independents. I'm Vanessa Robertson. I live in Edinburgh and my husband and I run a tiny publishing house. We also used to own the award-winning Edinburgh Bookshop. This is where I write about the book trade as I see it and I'm not always as diplomatic as I should be...

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