The London Book Fair
A recollection of my first Book Fair visit. By Miller Caldwell SoA 51649
The train conversations from Dumfries in rural south west Scotland to Euston were ominous. Frantic mobile rings revealed plans to get a foothold into Europe by any means. ‘If I get to Berlin I can get a train to Austria. We must be in Istanbul by Thursday.’ Another call behind me rang. ‘Great. Then we should get the ferry to Roscoff instead.’ If flights were down, the London Book Fair was bound to suffer too.
I had decided to visit the LBF with an agenda. I needed to replace an alcoholic Literary Agent, I hoped to secure International Rights for translating Operation Oboe, and I hoped I could network and make some meaningful contacts. After all everyone told me since I became an author in 2003, I should get out more and make connections at Book Fairs and the London Book Fair was the most convenient.
Did I succeed? Well, on reflection, I made some progress but by and large it was a disappointment. Depression was the theme on the upper floor. Rows of empty tables made the game of thumbing through the official Directory pointless, yet I was required to select three publishers and bring their codes to a table where the staff rang to see if they were available. It was like fishing with no bait. Time and time again I selected an empty table. The system was not working. I gave up and headed off to lunch. But I did so by walking through the tables and noting which ones were occupied!
I sat down to eat a salmon sandwich beside a lady eating hers. We got talking. Serendipity had led me to Susan Yearwood, Literary Agent of the SYLA! So when I return to Dumfries I have to send her 30 pages of my new novel. Lunch had been inspiring. I ascended once more to the Rights Tables. Somehow beyond the facilitator’s
imagination I had selected three occupied tables this time! They rang through. ‘Yes, he’s a published author; yes...fiction and non-fiction.... (it was looking favourable) ...publisher? Yes in Denver, Dumfries and Hemel Hempstead. Yes, Self Published’. The conversation stopped.
The triangle of the Book world has a very solid base. It’s the authors. Those who work above the base are dependent on their productions but set mainstream publishing as the watershed. To be a mainline author is not impossible. ‘Get an Agent first.’ But if Agents recoil at hearing that the author is self published, then there seems to be no meeting of minds. The economic determinates also prevent agents taking the occasional risk. They are not, after all, entrepreneurs.
On the second day I toured the ground floor and came across the Saudi Arabia Publishers. One young lady staffed the kiosk. ‘Salaam Alaikum’, I said. Bright lights hit the rabbit. ‘I’m not a publisher,’ she said. ‘I am a Saudi lawyer, born in London but I gave that up and now I work at the Saudi Embassy as a legal adviser. I’m here because they could not fly in from Riyadh and they told me to staff this kiosk.’ I put her at her ease. ‘I’m a bit of an interloper too.’ She smiled. ‘They are not interested in self published authors.’
Suitably relaxed she then provided me with a DVD of her country’s tourist board and a musical CD. I thanked her and moved on to the Willehalm Institute Press Foundation where Professor Robert Jan Kelder was promoting one of his Serbian Dutch authors, Slobodan Radojev Mitric. He has written a Fairytale entitled Help They’ve Kidnapped Me, Lady Di. This author is a former top Yugoslavian Counter Intelligence agent whose Dutch wife, the artist Iris de Vries, was murdered in hospital in 2006. After discussing this book Robert asked if I would review it and this was my reading matter on the rather sweaty journey home. The carriage was inundated with unwashed British families returning from European holidays after being days on the road.
I have also returned with several German and British pamphlets to consider who might be interested in publishing my contemporary crime novel when it is completed. But just maybe, that moment of serendipity sharing a sandwich, made the London Book Fair 2010 not such a disaster for me.