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Are Book Fairs The Right Place For Indie Authors? With Orna Ross And Dan Parsons: Foundational Self-Publishing Podcast

Are Book Fairs the Right Place for Indie Authors? With Orna Ross and Dan Parsons: Foundational Self-Publishing Podcast

Today on the #AskALLi Foundational Self-Publishing podcast: Are book fairs the right place for indie authors? Recorded at the London Book Fair, this podcast focuses on how indie authors can make the most of publishing conferences like this one. ALLi Director Orna Ross and Production Manager Dan Parsons talk about networking for indie authors. What you should know before walking into the chaos and crowds of a book fair.

Dartfrog BooksThis podcast is brought to you by specialist sponsor Dartfrog Books. ALLi Partner Member DartFrog Books provides indie authors with opportunities for bookstore placement and promotion to more than 27,000 book clubs. Their self-publishing, hybrid,  traditional, and single-service publishing platforms are designed to engage authors of all types, at every stage of their journey. We'd like to thank Dartfrog for their support of this podcast.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

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On the #AskALLi Foundational Self-Publishing #podcast: Are book fairs the right place for indie authors? @OrnaRoss and @dkparsonswriter report from the London Book Fair. Click To Tweet

About the Hosts

Orna Ross writes and publishes historical fiction, inspirational poetry, and nonfiction guides for authors. She is director of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Dan Parsons writes the Creative Business series for authors, bestselling fantasy and horror novels (under Daniel Parsons), and a weekly blog for The Self-Publishing Formula. While pursuing his author career, he has worked for three traditional publishers, managed two bookstores, and listened to an unhealthy number of podcasts. Now he manages ALLi’s book production schedule.

Read the Transcripts: Are Book Fairs the Right Place for Indie Authors?

Orna Ross: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Self-Publishing Podcast, our beginner's show. You may have noticed, it's a little different than usual. I'm here with Dan Parsons.

Dan Parsons: Hello, everyone. Yeah, we're live in LBF, so this is extremely different to the regular one.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, we are actually here. I can't believe it. The team has flown in for our 10th anniversary. So, we're celebrating, you've been hearing about it for a couple of weeks now, and it is here, and we're all very excited. And we thought it would be a really good topic for us to talk about, how to actually make the most from a book fair. While we're here, we can talk about that.

Dan has done a great book himself on networking for authors, and we have a couple of posts on the blog, but just to kind of have a chat about that.

I think the first thing that comes up for an author when they think about book fairs is, is that the place for me? Is it a place that I need to be? And also, it's full of scary people.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, I think what you've got to remember is that there are lots of people at book fairs that are all at different levels of their career. So, whether you think it's for you at a beginner level or at an advanced level, you're right, because it depends on who you're going to meet. As a complete beginner, you may just be turning up and meeting one person, and that's enough networking for you because you've started from zero and you got a hundred percent growth in one meeting. But for someone who's got a slightly more mature career, they might be going for specific reasons. So, yeah, you can completely tailor it to your business and the stage that you're at right now.

Orna Ross: I know, for example, that lots of ALLi members have actually met for the first time at the London Book Fair. We launched here 10 years ago, and we've been here every year since. We started taking a stand, I think in 2017, and we have a party every year, and longstanding author friendships have come out of coming to London Book Fair. So, that's one thing, you can actually just make friends. But of course, you can do it much more formally than that.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, I mean, due to the fact that there are so many different things going on at book fairs, there are panels, there are talks, there are also networking and {inaudible} events, there's actually quite a lot of stuff that you can do. So yes, there's a lot of ways to educate yourself. You can go and you can talk to speakers while actually watching the speakers and asking questions. But they're also the more organic networking things like after-parties.

You can also showcase your books. So, this is one great way to see right buyers, and actually talk to different companies if you want to go into the licensing route. So, there are lots of different things you can do at book fairs.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I have experience of the licensing thing. My very first London Book Fair, I was a literary agent, back in another life, and I actually came here to buy rights. So, I know what it's like to, well, not to buy rights, but to be an agent for rights. So, I know what it's like to actually have publishers come and see you. And unlike years ago, when authors were extremely unwelcome in the rights arena, publishers-only please. Now, with indie authors doing so well, and having really good publishing companies, then they are coming and having rights meetings as well.

However, I stress that is for those with a developed author business who are already selling well, who have a good story to tell to a rights buyer, or who have been approached by a rights buyer, because sometimes you've done the deal, you've signed the agreement, but at London, or at any book fair, that's the time when you can actually go and meet the people face to face. So, that happens a lot too.

Dan Parsons: I mean, if you're listening to all of this, then you may feel like you're a little bit overwhelmed, as a completely new author, which 99% of authors are new authors, because it's the 1% that go on to publish their books. You may be relieved to discover that most people here are feeling the same sense of overwhelm. Most people have imposter syndrome. Everyone deals with these self-doubts. So, what you can do is, if you're worried that you're a little bit too introverted for a book fair, then you can go and just talk to other introverts. Introverts tend to gather together, and you can sort of fake it till you make it by using extroverted tendencies, even if you don't feel extroverted. And generally, the momentum will carry you through to becoming more confident, and once you've met a few people, then yes, you will be more confident, and you can walk into the bars and restaurants in the area and see people that you already know from the year before. So, yeah, it is an iterative experience, where you get better and better at it every year.

Orna Ross: There's no doubt about that. I was talking to a few members already this morning, this is just the first morning of the fair, and a few members have already said to me, “the first time I came here I was petrified, and this year I just couldn't wait, I was so dying to see everybody again.” So, it definitely does change across the years.

And I think the key to enjoying the book fair is to have low expectations, don't come thinking it's going to be a hugely beneficial experience. Just know what you want to achieve, something small, and just bring that with you. And if you get that box ticked, then use the rest of the time to enjoy yourself. And what happens a lot at the fair is unexpected, serendipitous things, that you just didn't expect. So, one of the most interesting relationships that we have at ALLi actually, was from bumping into somebody. I recognized her from online, she recognized me from online, we didn't know each other's names even. It was just, I know you, and then we got talking, and we are still working with that person six years later. So, there's lots of things you didn't expect to happen that happen.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. I mean, one of the good things you find out when you come to a book fair like this is that there is a lot more going on than you think of in your own bubble. So, it contextualizes you in relation to the rest of the industry.

So, there are lots of authors that think they're just writing books and then trying to find a publisher. You meet other indie authors, and you realize that there are lots of other avenues, and then you can actually talk to people from different areas of the publishing industry that you didn't think you could originally talk to, because as an indie author you own lots and lots of different intellectual property rights that you can then exploit in different ways, talking to different partners at different companies. So, you've actually got a lot more scope than you realize.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it's really, really useful to do just one trip for just that express purpose, which is about contextualizing yourself within the industry and seeing, first of all, how enormous the book fair is. So, it's a smaller fair this year because there's things happening in the Olympia, so it's not quite as enormous as it usually is, but it's still enormous. So, first of all, just seeing the size of the books business, the international books business, is a bit of a wake up. And seeing where you fit in that. So, all the big publishers have their stands, and you see the different kinds of genre and the different kinds of things that are happening.

And you also see, I think, where authors as part of the industry, where we are located as a group, as well as where you are located within the actual book publishing world; where does your genre fit in, what micro-niche part of the genre are you? The one thing that there's here is lots of books, everywhere you go, books, books, books. And it's really interesting to just go and walk around the stands, and see who publishes what, and how they do it, and what's important to them. There are big, fancy billboards from some of the big publishers and stuff, and then there are tiny little niche publishers who are just publishing one kind of book, and we've got authors here, some of our members who have their own stand, they've started to publish other people.

So yeah, just wandering around and seeing what's going on is actually an education in itself.

Dan Parsons: I think by doing this, you'll actually get more and more knowledge of the industry over time, and your business will develop.

What you need to know though, is that a lot of early authors, the first time they come here, and they know nothing of this, they don't know what they don't know, so I think they make quite a lot of early mistakes.

One thing is coming in with extremely high hopes, expecting to get lots and lots of meetings with film agents, and people like that, and all these glamorous contacts, and not actually doing the groundwork to line-up these meetings and schedule them, which often need to be scheduled more than a month in advance.

So, what you should really do is look at the catalogue that's associated with each event that you go to, find out who's going, and possibly contact them on social media well in advance, go in just to get your foot in the door, have the person already sort of know who you are, and then you can go in and talk to them on the day, having scheduled a meeting, rather than walking in and expecting to introduce yourself when they've got 10 back to back meetings already lined up for the day. It's a thing that you need to put in some preparation for.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. Doing that, and doing that well, means having actual documentation that you can hand them. So, you need to prepare an author information sheet, a book information sheet that has your book description, the price, the rights that you might already have licensed if you have licensed rights already; all the information that they might want to know about you and your book should be handily available. Bring that with you and have it in your bag, but really ideally, as Dan says, the chances of you actually getting to hand that over to any kind of important influencer in your niche or genre is very low. But you do the work in advance, you send that information by email, and then you also bring a printed copy with you, because they probably won’t be able to put their hand to it.

So, the more preparation you can do in advance, I think, the better. But I think it actually helps, before you do that preparation, it actually helps to come to a book fair as a scouting, just to be here and see it, and get a sense of it, and then plan for the next book fair to get those meetings lined up.

I think it's quite difficult to have the confidence and the awareness to light up meetings if you've never. I mean, if you are confident, fire ahead, but for a lot of people, it's quite difficult. If you can't envisage what's going on here, it's quite difficult to actually set up a meeting in advance.

Dan Parsons: I mean, yeah. I've made a lot of the classic mistakes myself. When I first came to ALLi, which I think at this point was seven years ago, something like that, I turned up, I came on a long-haul bus ride, 4am, setting off really early, and I didn't allow any flexibility for after-parties and meals, and things like that, because I had rigid hours, I had to get back the next day because I was in a day job. And building in that flexibility, so you prepare in advance for the things you know you need to prepare for, but you also need to have that flexibility to do these impromptu, like you said, the serendipitous bumping into people and they invite you to something. It's something that you need to be both rigid and flexible at the same time, which sounds counter-intuitive, but you need the double-pronged approach.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I think that's quite similar to everything we do. Be prepared, but also be prepared for the unexpected.

The last thing you want is that your dream person says, “come and have a drink” and you go, “sorry, I can't. I've got to catch the train, but I'll write to you next week.” You have blown it, really, as an opportunity. Maybe not complete, depending on how much they want to talk to you, but possibly.

And also, very practical sorts of tips, wear flat, comfortable shoes, you will be doing a lot of walking. These are huge, huge, huge exhibition halls, and even just going to get a coffee or to get some lunch requires a bit of a walk.

And build in time, you know, if you know that a lot of people energy and a lot of noise going on affects you, and makes you stop enjoying life, then do build in time to get outside and get some fresh air, and all that kind of thing.

You will need to bring some author information sheets and things but keep what you're carrying to a minimum. You will be handed a lot of things when you're here, as well. People will be trying to give you books and magazines. We're pressing our magazine on everybody who passes at the moment. So, there's a lot of stuff to carry.

So, yeah, have a backpack that will allow you to carry stuff with ease. Anything else on the practical front? Hydration, bring water.

Dan Parsons: Bring water, bring business cards. So, Orna has already mentioned the advanced information sheets to hand to rights buyers and things, but also bring business cards, because not everybody is a rights buyer, they just want your contact details. And I've done this myself where I've turned up to an event without business cards, and I often can't remember who I've spoken to because they also didn't have business cards, so we never followed up. But if you bring business cards, and you also take everybody else's business cards, then you can do a follow-up after the event in the next few days.

Orna Ross: And preparations, what you do before you come and what you do after you've left, are actually the most important things in terms of getting, you know, whatever your mountain is, of scaling that, and of you succeeding in whatever goal you set for the book fair. So, do follow up.

I mean, I have to confess to guilty in the past of having opportunities that I didn't follow up on, just because I got busy when I got back from the fair and then it all faded from my mind, or whatever. So, allocate the first day or two to follow up.

And if, while you're going through and if you are talking to a lot of different people and you're interested and you know you're going to want to follow up with those people, just make notes. Get their name down, get the spelling right, and make notes as you go. Add little memory notes for yourself, oh yeah, that was the guy who wore the pink shoes, or whatever, you know, whatever will help you to remember people, just write that down, because afterwards you can look back and it can feel like a bit of a blur.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. I mean, taking selfies is a great thing. If you bump into people and you get on well, or someone you already know from social media, then a lot of people take selfies at the after-parties, and even here in the hall. That helps you remember who they are, what they look like especially, and if you post those things online afterwards to show all the great times you've been having at the event, then those people will recognize themselves in the photos and will remember you. So, it's a great little idea just to have a bank of selfies throughout the event, and then post them all online later. Which repurposed as author content and helps your networking.

Orna Ross: Working and brand, all in one.

So, that's it really from us. We have a few resources that are helpful for this topic. So, on the blog, there is the Ultimate Guide to Book Fairs for Indie Authors. You can Google that, or just use the search box on the blog, selfpublishingadvice.org/bookfairs, I think, should get it for you. But as I said, search if I got that link wrong.

There's also a chapter about book fairs for rights-selling specifically, in the rights licensing book, that's worth a read. And of course, there's Dan's brilliant book, Networking for Authors, which is essential if you're going to do this.

So yeah, that's it. We'll be back to normal next month, back in our little black cubbyholes, talking to each other from hundreds of miles away, but it's been great to be able to do this live with you this week. So, thanks for tuning in.

Dan Parsons: Thanks everyone and see you next time.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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