Last week Ascribe made a guest appearance at the London Book Fair with a two-pronged mission in mind: to consider the potential of exhibiting there in 2016, and to study movements in the self-publishing sector.
Probably the most vibrant area was Author HQ which held a variety of talks on a range of subjects hour by hour, and what quickly became apparent was that while the audiences were largely made up of self-publishing authors, there was little representation among them from within the ranks of the traditionally published.
Warnings were regularly sounded by panelists representing booksellers on the standard of self-published books that they are regularly presented with and how off-puttingly amateur their finishing invariably is, regardless of what may be found inside the covers. One speaker was actually hissed for stating that he never accepts books from self-publishers at all, and a buyer from a high street chain went to some lengths to explain that what really counts is the first impression of a book's physical appearance because they have no part in the production process and can only deal with exactly what is put before them. A result of that particular talk was the suggestion for the following year's fair of a pitching service enabling self-publishers to bring their completed products for consideration. With this in mind, a strong emphasis was put on the need to hire professional editing and production services as what is obvious to them is that authors are rarely competent in those fields.
The Tuesday edition of The Bookseller Daily carried an article highlighting the rise of the consumer within the world's major book fairs, of which Author HQ is just one symptom. Roger Tagholm writes on how "digital trends and the boom in social media have catalysed the breakdown of many of the old barriers" and how "the 'us and them' situation that existed for so long [is now] 'all us'... Would-be authors can choose to self-publish; agents can be publishers; publishers can be booksellers: the whole industry has become much more fluid." It seems that everybody now has a fair chance at contributing on one level or another, and regardless of who emerges victorious in five and ten years' time, the overall feeling is that most prefer the opportunities presented by this generally more democratic system.
And in the same edition there was bad news for writers and readers of literary fiction, with one editor declaring that "literary fiction appears to be dead in this country. Booksellers won't take it, agents keep it in quarantine as if it were a leper... and publishers won't touch it with a barge pole." Where to next, then, for those who appreciate this craft? Literary has always been the most popular category on Ascribe; could this be its next stronghold? If the trade will no longer buy it, where else will consumers be able to find it?
As for the London Book Fair 2016, it was decided that an Ascribe stand would be worthwhile if the right location can be secured: anywhere within sight of Author HQ.