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A Visit to LBF 2011

London Book Fair

editors and proofreaders

A visit to LBF 2011

I’m on their email (no hyphen now) list so I’ve been bombarded with info for months so I decide, with my freedom pass and the reduced price of an ‘in advance’ e ticket, I can just about afford to go to the London Book Fair and have one cappuccino.
I hit the buttons, print, cut out and fold my e badge, put it in last year’s plastic holder and hope the scanner beeps me through the entrance. In fact it doesn’t but the queue has been snaking round the Earls court Exhibition Centre like a slow-moving intestine for so long that the scanner-wielder shrugs and winks me in.
I head for the Digital Zone Theatre where I can at least sit down; it’s been sardines on the Piccadilly Line and a long walk after that. Inexplicably, my badge beeps this time. An American, Bill McCoy, from IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), excites us with EPub which promises a whole new brightly coloured audio/video reading experience in any alphabet, left to right, vice versa, top to bottom or backwards, plus pronunciation lexicon support. DRM (Digital Rights Management) will happen at point of sale. There’s a lot of other technical stuff, not all of which is clear to me, but I understand you can’t get it on your Kindle just yet and if you have published a paper book, you would need a new ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for an e book.
It’s time to move on to the English PEN Literary Café where the Russian author, Andrei Bitov, at 74, looks tired but tells us he wants his readers to work as hard as he did when he wrote his books. His interviewer is Gillian Slovo, president of English PEN, who grew up in the shadow of South Africa’s apartheid –and wrote about it. Together they explore the importance of creative freedom and the power of literature to break down barriers between cultures. This I understand and I’m inspired. He hopes that young writers will ‘cage this enormous bird called The Russian Novel’ and write about what is happening in Russia today. He feels that without rebellion against the Soviet regime, a writer has ‘an empty mouth without words’. Perhaps our world has many new causes to fight for and I resolve to come and listen to a couple of new, young Russian writers..
I can’t bear the thought of another ‘getting published’ or ‘how to find an agent’ seminar, so I head for ‘The Great Debate: Will Publishers Soon Be Irrelevant?’ I’m asked to cast my vote beforehand and it is suggested that I might change my vote by the end. I’m particularly impressed by James Bridle’s reasoned entreaty to the traditional publishing world to embrace the digital world and I’m equally unimpressed by Andrew Franklin’s arrogant assertion that free is far too much to pay for anything posted in a blog, or self published without the help of a trade publisher. There are some other good and bad arguments on both sides and the consensus is ‘roughly’ that publishers will survive but they DO have to change. We cast our votes again. There is a slight increase in the FORS from 39 to 45 and, oddly, an increase in AGAINSTS from 150 to 204-ish.
I cut day one short as I want to go home for a rest before going to Manuscript Night at Watford Writers. I’m reminded of digital progress as after the usual handwritten or printed off contributions, one writer stands up to read from his Kindle, followed by another who shares ‘something he’s been messing about with’ on his phone. Inevitably, our Brian comes up with, ‘I think I’ll read mine off my watch.’ I get time to ask the members to impression mark and grade some book reviews for a competition I’m judging. I’ve read all the books and stressed over the comments and have finally decided on the best three but not the order. It seems to have taken ages. The group agree with my selection. Why did I need all that effort? Never mind, I’ve written what I hope are useful, incisive comments and I can tell one competitor that I’m going to see Kazuo Ishiguro tomorrow; s/he (pseudonym ‘Emily’) has reviewed ‘Never Let me Go’.
A delay on the Piccadilly Line gets me to the LBF Author Lounge in time for ‘Dispelling the Myths of Self-Publishing’ by Simon Potter who tells us his initials are the same as those for Self Publishing and that he has written 9 books. Google comes up with 25 Simon Potters on linkedin alone, some of them writers, but no image that fits, so I haven’t found out what he’s written. His company FastPrint www.fast-print.net offer a complete eco-friendly Print on Demand publishing and distribution service which must be good as LBF have adopted them as their major contributor. Authors keep their rights and don’t risk their books being changed beyond recognition. We are persuaded that this is not vanity publishing and that ‘mainstream’ publishers are not perfect and are unable to handle all the good writing that is being produced.
Next, there’s an overlap. My mate Kate is a speaker on a Self-Publishing Masterclass with Acorn Independent Press but I’d really like to listen to Kazuo Ishiguro. Kazuo wins but I’ll manage the first half hour of Acorn’s presentation. I rush because I need to apologise in advance for rudely walking out in the middle of a class. At the door I bump into a very young, pretty Asian girl in a smart, pink dress. She turns out to be Leila Dewji, Editorial Director of Acorn, Oxford graduate in English, well-connected in the publishing world, who has launched this ‘high end’ self-publishing company with her brother Ali Dewji, Sales and Marketing Director. They are very impressive and I’m tempted to hang around. My mate Kate’s their example of a successful self-published author. I know this, so I don’t mind scooting off to listen to Kazuo, except that she hasn’t yet said anything at all.
It’s a bit of a trek to the other end of Earls Court 2 and I have to stand up behind a large camera man with an even bigger camera and dodge under his elbows to catch a glimpse of the famous man. He’s telling the world he’s not aware of digitisation changing his writing but he’s bought the new iPad for his daughter to save her carting mountains of school texts around. He also says, ‘If we can’t sell our stories, what will we authors do?’ I want to tell him to go to some of these EPub presentations. He feels there must be a proper relationship between serious novels and serious films. Is he saying he wasn’t impressed with the film version of ‘Never Let me Go’. It’s not mentioned, so this is pure speculation on my part. Then the interviewer asks him a question he likes and he’s off into an inspirational spiral; he loves the first person which can make the huge historical themes intimate and full of emotion; there’s no bigger theme than cloning; he thinks of the depth of an issue rather than the size and the more universal across cultures and history the better. This is stirring stuff. Finally, he tells us he wants to write about memory – about the uncomfortable things in the past which have not been addressed. When is it better to forget and when to remember? He’s going to set his story during the unknown 200 years between the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons. I am imagining him at work on his new manuscript. Will he find out what the Romans have ever done for us? The author has to rush off so I’ll have to take my copy of ‘Never Let Me Go’ home again, unsigned. And I don’t get to ask him to be a speaker at our Writers’ Week.
I race back to Westminster Room for Tweet smell of Success? How to use Social Media to Best Effect. The queue from the lift would fill the room three times over so I set off back from whence I came, again.
There’s time for a hot turkey sandwich with stuffing, cranberry sauce and salad and that expensive cappuccino before I take a seat for ‘The Top 10 Challenges for the e Book’. I’m mainly there for the comfy seats in the Digital Zone theatre, and I’d be due for forty winks at home, so not everything sinks in. I do remember that the PDF format is now problematic as it can’t support all these audio, visual, singing and dancing while you read things. Nowadays there are many e formats (nodded off here so don’t know how many) available from 83 resources (woke up here) to date. Sadly, each e format of a book needs its own ISBN. Expensive. Publishers can’t decide what to digitise; back lists? Front lists? Where do they put the book’s info? Some have decided to put it at the back of the e book. Then there’s facebook and twitter for advertising; you simply HAVE to tweet. Pricing too is a problem, ranging from 99cents in USA (OMG, how could they?) to 200 for elaborately illustrated volumes. We are informed that e books should be 20% cheaper than physical books. Then of course, there’s piracy. But DRM is on the case.
Refreshed after a ‘tiny’ undetectable power nap, I plonk myself in the front row of the literary café. I’m early and young Russian journalist and author, Dmitry Glukhovsky doesn’t have the pulling power of Kazuo Ishiguro. Somehow he’s on the programme as Dmitry Bikov, an error which is being quickly rectified by Robert Sharp, campaigns manager of English Pen. This detracts from the magic of the large screen display. It’s only typing by an imperfect human. Perhaps I ought to join International PEN; I really do believe in all this creative freedom and the power of the pen to build bridges.
I like this young Dmitry. His English is far better than your average English author’s Russian, I dare say. (I’ve since discovered he also speaks French, German, Hebrew and Spanish plus his native Russian.) He wrote this book Metro2033 about life in the Moscow subway, the world’s biggest nuclear bunker, after a global nuclear war. 20 years later there was still no suitable land for survival. Ten rejections along, he posted the entire book on the internet for free. The young readers loved it and even got him to change the end so the hero could have more adventures. (Sorry, that’s a spoiler.) Now the book is published in 35 languages, has spawned video games and generated a worldwide project where writers from countries including UK Italy, Cuba and India are writing their own post apocalyptic stories. Metro 2034, a sequel, is being written interactively – a chapter at a time so the readers have a say in what happens next. Dmitry believes we live in a more dangerous world than when only the West and East had nuclear weapons. Then they were a safety valve but now there is Korea v USA, Iran v Israel or India v Pakistan. The pre apocalyptic phobia has replaced anti-Soviet revolution and political journalists are exploring ways of reducing the vulnerability of civilisation. ‘Perhaps, we will need to go to Mars, especially if scientists learn to stop ageing,’ he says. I join the short queue to buy his book (I have a nephew (grand) who would love it more than I would) and he says he might like to come to the Writers’ Week and writes his e mail address next to his signature.
I’m conscious that I’ve been haring about at such speed that I haven’t looked at many books. There are around 2500 exhibitors of books, from huge, exquisitely illustrated art books right down to plain mini dictionaries. This year the focus is on Russia, the Far East, Cook Books and Children’s books but there’s such a huge variety of other stuff that I decide to go with the flow. I end up at the travel section and narrowly miss spending too much on a world map too big for any of the walls in our house.
I’m out of energy and want to beat the rush so it’s time to head home. Everybody at LBF seems to have similar ideas so rush hour comes early and it’s another armpits job. I’m not sure I can make day three.
But I do. I leave late and wait at Hendon Central for an empty carriage so I can sit down to proof read an excerpt for a member of our FTN (Finish That Novel) group. I like the story and don’t want to suggest too many changes; everyone has different suggestions and that can really bamboozle.
The trouble with pausing at exhibits is that you run the risk of collecting little bags containing pens, notebooks, chocolate bars or chewing gum and always cards, bookmarks or leaflets promoting some service you are unlikely to want. I forget my ‘It’s rude to say no’ upbringing and head for what I hope might be a couthy chat with a piper in a kilt who’s written a book. I’m wondering where he’s from so try, ‘Aye Aye, fit like,’ hoping it’s Aiberdeenshire. It turns out he’s not from ‘Scaatland’ and has never even visited. He and his colleagues are extremely keen to tell me what I need from them but I walk rapidly away before I find out.
By this time it’s 11:30 and Jonathan Miller is talking about e books in the Author Lounge and I have a real book that I might like converted, if the price is right. While we’re waiting a trendy young incipient writer tells me all about ‘Tweet Success’ the seminar I missed and points me to a podcast from Oxford Brookes University. And she takes a ‘Win Your Way to Swanwick Writers’ Week’ leaflet too. Why am I moaning about people promoting their services? I’ve dished out nearly all of my leaflets, which is partly why I’m here at LBF.
Jonathan Miller seems to be Simon Potter’s sidekick; they look like brothers. He tells us that an e book should be a companion to a paper book, not a threat. E books can be linked back to websites which can be accessed on mobile phones and tablets. Free extracts can be used as a sales tool, as can synopses, author biogs, social networking, book communities like Book Shelf or Love Reading, online book reviews such as on Amazon and even chat rooms. However, writers need the help of a digital partner (like FastPrint – again) to make full use of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and sort out essential Meta data, floating HTML, PRC and DRM. At this point, I’m technologied out. I’ve tried but have to admit to still being a techno-wally, albeit not as big a wally as some who have reached my stage of life. I’m not sure I want to find out how much conversion of a physical book to a fully functioning in all formats, and widely advertised e book will cost. I do, however, and it doesn’t seem too extortionate so I collect another business card.
It’s back to the English PEN Literary Café via a quick snack. Again there don’t seem to be enough people or am I too early? I get the front seat again and award-winning Russian author Alisa Ganieva, b. 1985, is asking for her surname to have a y in it to make it Ganyieva. Her entourage of youthful fans, middle aged minders (female) and elderly mentors (male) are descending on seats.
‘There’s nothing back there to sign,’ A pen rep whispers loudly enough for me to overhear.
‘I have 2 copies in my bag,’ a woman, who might be Alisa’s mum, whispers back. I suspect she wasn’t meant to witness the panic in the voice. Alisa is serenity personified, tall, slim and pretty. She apologises for her poor English and proceeds to dazzle us with her articulate answers to questions. Her novel, Salam Dalgat, written under her male pseudonym, Gulla Khirachev, is set in her native, troubled Dagestan in the North Caucasus. Partly in young people’s slang it tells the story of confusion and lack of identity, since the collapse of the Soviet regime. Young people go to ‘the forest’ and form gangs based on different forms of Islam, including mystical Sufism. She talks of Islam never going deep in the older generation while young people are now blaming all evil on the lack of Islam. Islam she says is no longer a philosophy but now stupidity, where family members blow each other up and see Islam in tomatoes. She has been accused of spoiling her country’s name but she hopes that the many factions in her country might begin to understand each other through discussions inspired by her book. The lady sitting next to me wants her to talk about her children’s stories and her new fantasy book so she does and we learn that she is a literary reviewer in Moscow. At question time, however, she returns to the big discussion of the generation torn between East and West, confused and upset, thinking of Islam as a fashion, not a faith. The effect haunts me still.
To end my three days at LBF on a conventional and sedate note, I take myself off to a seminar on The Partnership between Author and Editor; perhaps something new will transpire but if not, some good solid advice will come our way via The Society for Editors and Proofreaders www.sfep.org.uk . One young writer works closely with his editor while writing, while another writer makes contact when her first draft is completed. Communication within a good relationship is the key we are told, as writers need an independent voice to cut down on the number of words and need structural changes to be suggested rather than imposed. The copy-editor removes typos, anachronisms and other flaws, sending a PDF file, which, crucially, can no longer be changed by the author. The suggestion from the audience that scripts are changed for commercial reasons is denied (with some reservation). One editor recognises that sensitivity is required regarding author’s scripts. We learn that agents do tighten up scripts before sending them to publishers, but, as agents and publishers are like gold dust, most of us won’t find out how true that is.
I rush off to find a seat on the tube to finish off overall critiquing the manuscript for our Finish That Novel group. It’s ‘can’t fall down’ time again so I’ll have to wing it.

E.J Goes 25/4/2011

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