Notes from the London Book Fair

 

I went on the Tuesday and Thursday this year using the SCBWI members three day ticket. Fellow SCBWI’s have been asking if the Fair is worth it and I would say, yes, if you are gearing up for submission, if you want to meet/hear/talk to well known authors and publishers and if you want to find out about new releases and the publishing world in general.

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Little Tiger stand, The Children’s Hub @LBF

There are agents and editors about but unless you know them or have pre-booked the 15 minute pitch slots, it’s unlikely you’ll get time with them. Their priority is selling rights and networking, not new authors. Having said that, I did manage to get 20 minutes with an editor I’ve been having an email conversation with about one of my stories. It is always good to put names to faces.

YA & MEG ROSOFF

Meg is one of my favourite authors and I found her in the Penn Literary Salon talking about writing and her new adult screwball comedy, Jonathan Unleashed. Meg has also just won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Prize for her YA novels and deservedly so, her characters are quirky and original, and she is superb at first person voice.

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Meg Rosoff: Winner of the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Meg says she “writes on the edge of reality, where the strange might happen,” weaves into her stories the two big questions teens and young adults are preoccupied with. Will anybody love me? and What will I do with my life?

She says her stories reflect her “cape crusader personality”. She believes in “being good in an unconventional way,” and that life is not about finding happiness, “it’s about being useful and being loved.”

She spends a lot of her day thinking and a small part writing and then rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, until her characters resonate.

Seminar Notes: The Power of Pictures: Working with Picture Book Creators in Primary Schools.

I stumbled upon this talk and I’m so glad I did!

This is a three year Arts Council funded project, from Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), where nine author illustrators have worked alongside teachers to help them understand the creative process that goes into writing picture books. The teachers use this experience to support the children in their classes to become better readers and writers. Author/illustrators taking part included Mini Grey, Nicola Davies, Alexis Deacon and Benji Davies.

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“Good picture books are complex”

Charlotte Hacking, the CLPE programme leader, demonstrated the complexity of the picture books chosen and how they communicate subtle layers of meaning through: body language, expression, line of vision, background, context, colour, page breaks, page turns, rhythms and rhymes, the contrast between words and pictures, and so on.

With a teacher or parent’s support, picture books not only entertain children, they encourage them to use their imagination, organise their thoughts and look for deeper meaning in stories. When children engage fully with a story it can help them learn life skills; one of the most important is EMPATHY.

The CLPE aren’t the only ones thinking like this. Agents/editors are currently seeking picture books that feature a life lesson, e.g. loss, worries, standing up for yourself, finding love, etc. Take a look at the latest SCBWI Slush pile challenge; this is exactly what Helen from Bell Lomax Moreton wants.

I asked the sales reps at some of the  children’s publisher stands: “What’s selling well in picture books at the moment – in the UK and aboard?”

And guess what! Books with a life lesson, stories that make children think, stories that evoke emotion and resonate with both children and adults do, and importantly, they must be humourous.

And bonus! They export well, especially in the Far East’s growing markets.

There was a lot of talk about picture books being relevant to ALL ages. Why do we frown on 7+ year old children reading picture books and push novels on them as soon as possible? Charlotte Hacking advocates breadth of reading for all ages: magazines, digital, comics, picture books and novels, because, “breadth of reading builds reading stamina for life.” 

Seminar: The Future of Children’s Publishing

In this later session, there was a warning and an opportunity. Children’s market are still growing, buoyed in part by adults buying children’s books (seeking what they loved as a child and recognizing the great new writing in this market) and super child readers (from affluent middleclass backgrounds) who are consuming more than their weight in books. Overall though, children of 6+ years are spending less time reading due to digital platforms (YouTube and Apps) becoming more accessible and more attractive. Ensuring diversity and breadth of appeal in children’s publishing is key and creative concepts, which can cross formats are a real opportunity.

INSPIRING AUTHORS

I also attended talks by crime author Peter James, children’s writer Judith Kerr, and watched a ‘Dragons Den’ style panel event called the Write Stuff where five brave authors pitched their novels to agents.

Listening to them talk, it was obvious that successful authors pour their life experiences and passions into their books. Peter James enjoys accompanying the police on raids and his real life tales are every bit as fascinating as his fictional ones.

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Peter James, crime writer

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Judith Kerr, 93

Judith Kerr’s novel, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, was based on her childhood experiences as a jewish refugee narrowly escaping Nazi persecution. The winner of the Write Stuff pitched a book about the fallout of a relationship after a soldier arrived home from a conflict zone, psychologically damaged and irrevocably changed. Both the author and her husband have been deployed in the Middle East and it was a story she needed to tell.

This kind of passion is catching and inspiring and sells lots of books.

Lastly, here’s my pile of children’s publisher catalogues featuring current lists and what’s debuting spring and autumn this year!

I wonder what the gaps in the market are…..

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Is the London Book Fair a worthwhile visit for budding authors?

My morning at Olympia started at 9:45 at Authors HQ, listening to Rebecca Swift from the Literary Consultancy, chairing a discussion with agents, Juliet Mushens, The Agency Group, and Iain Millar, co-found of Canelo Digital Publishing, on how they find new talent.

Some of their advice I have heard before but it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of the high standards expected of manuscripts.

Juliet said: “Succinctly summarise what your novel is about in your covering letter. Tell us why your story is going to be attractive to publishers and readers. It’s amazing how many authors don’t do this.”

Iain said: “A lot of manuscripts are rejected because they start too early and don’t establish character, setting and conflict in the opening chapters skilfully.”

Juliet advised: “Send your first three chapters to 5-10 agents. If they ask for the full manuscript this does not mean they want to represent you and not all agents respond with comments, alas.” Though Juliet said she does send feedback if she reads a full manuscript.

Agents and publisher, Juliet Mushens and Iain Millar answering questions.

Agents and publisher, Juliet Mushens and Iain Millar, answering questions.

I then headed over to the Children’s Hub to listen to Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New children’s writing, and her publisher Samantha Selby-Smith and agent Louise Lamont from LBA. Laura’s novel, Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse, is to be released in October. I was lucky enough to be given a free proof copy.

I chuckled when Laura confessed she had only written the first five thousand words required to enter the first stage of the competition. When she was shortlisted, Scholastic asked if she had the full manuscript (which was expected!), she said yes, and then wrote her novel in three weeks. “It was the most stressful three weeks of my life. I wouldn’t recommend lying to your publisher,” she joked.

Laura Wood signing, Poppy Pym and the Pharaohs Curse

Laura Wood signing, Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse

I had time to look at all the publisher stands in the Children’s section before heading to the next talk. My objective was to: collect trade catalogues, handy for idea creation (and spotting what has already been done), publisher styles and market trends; and also to discover new or relatively new publishers, who are expanding their lists and accept unsolicited manuscripts. I found a few!

I located the Pen Literary Salon just in time to hear Anthony Browne talk about his long career illustrating and writing picture books. He was my favourite speaker of the day – articulate, wise and creative.

He takes ideas from his childhood, from familiar objects, other artwork, toys and games. He twists and changes them into something else and plays with point of view.

"Picture books are like works of art, they can be poured over, paused over, thought about and revisited." Anthony Browne

“Picture books are like works of art, they can be poured over, paused over, thought about and revisited.” Anthony Browne

“There should be different layers in picture books. The child doesn’t have to know what everything is or what everything means. Conversations between children and adults are generated by the story and illustrations. Parents sometimes move children on to quickly from picture books, thinking they are for young children and therefore babyish.”

Anthony believes the picture book is for any age. “We live in a visual world of moving images, there is only a few seconds to appreciate an image before it is gone. Picture books in contrast are like works of art; they can be poured over, paused over, thought about and revisited.”

After lunch, I did a quick reccy of the larger publishers stands, which sprawl across the grand hall, collecting more trade catalogues. I also checked out the self-publishing stands. There’s a lot of info available and at least one talk a day.

Olympia's Grand Hall.

Olympia’s Grand Hall

Then I headed back to Author HQ to hear some very brave authors pitch their books live to a panel of agents and publishers. They had one minute to introduce themselves and two minutes to pitch their book before being critiqued. The panel had pre-read one chapter.

It was interesting to watch people’s style, hear about their background and watch mistakes. The biggest takeout from the panel was a warning about marketability. “Where does your book fit,” they kept asking, a couple of authors received the more depressing news, “I like the writing but I can’t sell it.”

This it at odds with the advice often given, “right what you love” – the caveat clearly is, as long as it is marketable.

There is definitely a lot more going on for authors this year at LBF. I’ve got a stack of information about the market and a few publishing leads.

Yes, indeed, it’s definitely worth the ticket.

(SCBWI members are eligible for a half price flexi ticket)