Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend Author Day organised by The Bookseller and Future Books. It was one of those events that I just happened to see the email about at the exact right time and just happened to get a place - funded by my local library. Three cheers for them. Otherwise it would have completely passed me by and that would've been a real shame.
It was so encouraging to spend the day listening to movers and shakers within the publishing sphere talk about the issues faced by the writer - and indeed the publisher - and how those issues could be addressed. Yes, there were a few horror stories and yes, negative aspects were mentioned but despite that, there was an air of positivity and excitement for what the future holds.
The host for the day, Porter Anderson from Futurebooks, was excellent - introducing each speaker with great warmth and interest, making you want to listen and find out more and become truly engaged with the day. And it was a long day but I did my best to use my dusty old brain to soak up as much as possible and try not to think about my husband at home with our toddler - alone - all day - including meal times....
To be honest, I didn't really have time to panic about them. I was too busy listening. Nicola Solomon, Chief Exec from The Society of Authors gave a passionate opening talk about the state of the author in traditional publishing. She raised all the scary details and then explained ways these could all be improved. It seemed that there was a real drive by her, and others, to make these things happen. And how did I not know about The Society of Authors? Writing is a very isolated profession. I often take far too much pleasure in the news that my other half has to work late when I have ideas bubbling in my head. It means I can be alone and I can write without any disturbance. But that very isolation has meant that I know nothing about The Society of Authors or indeed the Alliance of Independent Authors and yes I know I can Google but I am supposed to be focused, not procrastinating. I am already very good at that.
Prior to this conference, independent publishing was something that I viewed with vague discomfort and concern. Surely if I were to publish independently then no-one would take me or indeed my book seriously. Orna Ross, Founding Director at Alliance of Independent Authors and Jane Steen, an independently published author, dispelled those negatives feelings. In fact the whole day made indie publishing much less scary and much more desirable. The next time I hear someone tell me 'you don't want to publish independently' I will tell them that they really should do their research. Obviously it's not for everyone but if you're driven and passionate about self promotion including dancing with social media then indie publishing is certainly a very positive direction to take.
It was so interesting to hear the different viewpoints and experiences from the two authors Jane Steen and Kamila Shamsie. Kamila focused on her trad publishing journey in her talk on industry unity and spoke with warmth about her editor. I wish I had made more notes because I remember enjoying her talk immensely and yet my toddler atrophied brain will not let me recall every fine detail.
I do remember Authors Anonymous telling us about the common doubts authors have - it is comforting to know that you are not the only one having negative thoughts. Harry Bingham's survey of authors was interesting in that whilst most authors had the same grumbles they also had loyalty to their publisher. Ian Ellard for Faber Academy received an extremely enthusiastic round of applause when he suggested an end to unpaid internships and Emma Barnes from Bibliocloud & Snowbooks highlighted something I have seen many times in my previous career life - the tools are there for publishers to streamline and improve admin etc but the understanding is not and self-made databases will NEVER get the job done.
The second portion of the day was given over to panels, with one before lunch and two after. Literary agents and authors spoke to us about their current experience in the industry and again I was left with an overall positive impression that despite challenges there are opportunities to improve. The fact that agents and publishers and authors were so willing to come together at Author Day and voice their opinions so openly can only be a good thing. Lunch was amusing. I had expected sandwiches but oh no, we were given a delicious hot buffet. I had chicken with gnocchi and weirdly, cauliflower cheese. I wondered whether such a yummy lunch would then encourage the mid afternoon snooze but the afternoon panels remained well attended and even though I missed a portion of each due to pitches, I think I got the general gist.
We must always remember that writing a book does not begin and end with the author. True, they do wrestle the words into submission but often there is an unsung hero in editing, a massively talented illustrator and should you go international the translator who is very often unmentioned and those are only a few of the potential team behind you. The general feel for the day, in my mind, was that we are all in this together and so we should stand tall and fight for equality and fairness across the board. I still feel like the tiny goldfish in the big lake but at least now I know a little more about this monstrous industry I want to be part of.