Well, I hoped to learn a few things… but the amount of useful information I took away hugely exceeded all expectations. If you want a model of an intelligently put together, well-run, stimulating conference, with something to offer everyone no matter how new or, er, not-so-new to the writing business, this year’s Self-Publishing Conference at Leicester on Saturday 7 May was it.
Keynote speaker Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of the Bookseller, set the tone. Self-publishing was no longer the poor relation of traditional publishing; instead, it’s producing books of top literary, design and production values. Of the titles that have caught her eye she showed us 8 self-published ones, in a range of genres, whose striking cover designs match the high quality of their contents, all of which deserved as much recognition as the best of books produced by more traditional methods. Her enthusiasm was echoed by Professor Alison Baverstock of Kingston University in the plenary session later in the day, whose research into the effect self-publishing has had on the book market in the UK has led to some fascinating results.
In particular, Alison demolished that old, tired slander: ‘self-publishing is publishing without an editor.’ On the contrary, her researches show that authors independently seeking critiques and other editorial services have opened up a whole new area of employment to delighted freelance editors, no longer solely dependent on traditional publishing companies.
Arranged around these two addresses were four individual sessions to choose from and that’s where the difficulty started. How to select from the several talks on different aspects of writing, editing, designing and promoting offered for each session? At least my first choice presented no problem: I’ve long wanted to know about audiobooks and the chance of an hour’s instruction from James Peak, owner of Essential Music, was too good to miss. He did a brilliant job – with a kind of engaging scattiness – of describing the process, including tips on how to save money by reading your book yourself – gulp. I filled four pages of notes.
Then came the Historical Fiction session, and – gulpissimo – my first ever experience of speaking at a conference, rather than just making notes and eating cake. Luckily a maximum of 5 minutes was expected from me and the panel audience listened kindly to my dos and don’ts when writing historical fiction for children, agreeing that this was now a sadly neglected genre compared to the great days of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Renault, Roger Lancelyn Green and Henry Treece. Helen Hollick, heading the panel, gave illuminating insights into the historical fiction market for adults, both in the UK and the USA, while Lucienne Boyce’s contribution was a truly awe-inspiring lesson in serious, detailed research, from Real Books In Libraries (away with Wikipedia!) to original magazines, newspapers, site visits and railway timetables.
Two more sessions followed lunch (which included macaroons!* Bliss).
Mike Bodnar’s amusing talk on Self-promotion for Self-publishers provided a wealth of ideas, some standard, some cheerfully quirky, on how to get your books flying off the shelves (actually, trundling steadily would do for me); while Clive Herbert of Nielsen’s explanation of metadata and ISBNs proved much more interesting than you might guess from those rather scary words, and gave information that every author, however published, should know.
In between sessions it was great to mingle with other attendees, eat cake, make new friends and meet lots of lovely Matador people whose names I knew well but who I’d never spoken face to face with before. All in all, congratulations to Troubador for hosting a super conference and looking after us all so well, not least with the many refreshments provided throughout the day, right up to delicious, restorative canapés at the end (wine too but alas I was driving).
And did I mention there was cake?**
*The First Rule of the Enid Blyton school of writing: tell them about the food.
** See note above.