I attended the London Book Fair this Monday just past… Here’s what I learned in three seminars there. Enjoy!
Assess Your Manuscript – Rebecca Swift, The Literary Consultancy

Several Bang2writers have used this service for their own novels and spoken highly of it, so I was keen to hear what Rebecca had to say. I was a little disappointed to hear what I felt was essentially a extended sales pitch for the full half hour: I’d have liked to hear about Rebecca’s own experiences with the slush pile and HOW she might assess a person’s manuscript (as the title of the seminar seems to suggest to me) as well. Here’s what she had to say:

– Of 100 people writing novels, 99 won’t get published. Publishers are fighting for space on book displays. It’s not automatic that agents will sell to a publisher; sometimes they bypass the traditional side and go for e-books (via the likes of Google and Amazon).

– Writers are often writing in isolation and NEED feedback, it makes a work better… but only if it’s honest. As with all serious crafts, the writer needs to know what is working and what is not.

– The Literary Consultancy reports will look at the creative side AND the market side – whether your book will “sell”.

– Online mentoring is available.

– There are bursaries available for those writers on low incomes.

– The Literary Consultancy can help a writer decide if self publishing is a viable option – and steer the writer away from those less honest self publishing houses.

– Remember: markets are READERS.

– QUESTION: Does The Literary Consultancy accept works for translation? ANSWER: Can assess for translation, yes.

– QUESTION: What if my agent isn’t able to sell my book and is only looking to the big guns, without looking at smaller publishers too? ANSWER: Change agents. (If only it were that easy).

– QUESTION: When is the right time to get feedback? ANSWER: When you feel you can’t go any further.

– QUESTION: Does The Literary Consultancy read screenplays? ANSWER: Yes.

Insight Into The Business of Making Films

Matthew Baker, The Recorded Picture Company; Andrea Calderwood, Slate Films; Chair: Quentin Falk

Falk first asks: “What is the state of the business?”

Consensus – rotten!! All media suffering. Surplus of films, not enough distribution… But hasn’t that always been the case in the UK? Buyers want confidence NOT JUST FROM THE SCRIPT – a key decision is who is attached, such as actors and directors (as I mention in this post, here). It’s a lot tougher than it used to be: where once it was possible to get a sizeable chunk of your finance from ONE place, it’s not possible any more. Producers have to get the money to make films from many different sources, or else your film won’t get made.

Next Falk asks Andrea, “As an indie, is it tougher?”

Andrea used to work as an executive for BBC Scotland and at Pathe. She confirms it is MUCH tougher as an indie; she says she used to make 25 HOURS a year, she makes much less now.

Sources of finance are mentioned. Internet/download returns nothing to the film industry. Baker asserts, “We all believe in a digitial future – but no one knows how to monetise it effectively yet”. Traditional ways of distribution are going, new avenues are opening up, like iTunes. The internet is much more democratic – Falk: “Could the internet do for film what it did for the music industry?” BOTH: “Yes”.

Falk: “Is promotion/marketing decided by the distributor?”

Verdict: most of the time, but not always. Distributors will often have the most sway over release dates, but the maker will usually have *some* say.

Apparently, it often costs more to RELEASE a film than MAKE IT — usually 2.8% more than the budget… Baker makes the point that if we look at something like Avatar, this then means it had to make a whopping £600m to make a profit!!!

Andrea confirms this: involved in The Last King of Scotland, it made six times its budget — yet is still not in profit!!

Question from audience member: “Are there certain genres “easier” to sell?”

Both confirmed everyone has “rules” on what NOT to do… which they then go and break. But generally speaking:

Drama is universally reviled at the moment. Quentin Falk: “Drama is a dirty word!”

No political thrillers or stuff set in the past!

Thrillers and comedy ALWAYS good.

Falk: “Is there a dearth of good material?”

Answer — absolutely. Baker: “The really great scripts and books are not on the market for long.” Andrea: “The good books are nearly always optioned for film rights long before they are published.”

BUT: if your idea is REALLY good, they will take it. Andrea posits it’s easier to get a meeting in LA than London — LA too afraid to miss the really good ideas.

Finally, a last question from an audience member: “Is social media changing the business model?”

Verdict: it makes crowd sourcing a LOT easier and more of a reality. Andrea still like to have content, then look for the money, the more “traditional” way. Baker said there was no “secret” but that “Twitter is changing the game”. People still need content, Producers still need talent. Social media makes it easier to find talent AND money.

360 Degree Marketing

Julian Friedmann, Blake Friedmann & Kate Adamson, marketing guru

Julian and Kate rather bravely took on this seminar with no prep after the people meant to take it, Open Road Media, were prevented by the ash cloud.

– THE STATS: 760,000 books self published in the USA last year. Increasing number of e-books in both territories. SO MANY BOOKS — what’s the point???

– Readers want to be connected across ALL screens — 360 degree marketing. ANSWER: make sure people KNOW YOUR BOOK IS THERE. Bring people to you, make them insterested in WHO you are, WHAT you’re doing.

– Make a tiny brand – YOU. The consumer navigates by brand. The advent of social networking has CHANGED EVERYTHING — particularly Facebook and Twitter. Use a Viral process to get YOU and YOUR WORK out there — but most importantly, DO IT WELL. Too many blogs, tweets, facebook fan pages out there that are RUBBISH. Too many writers have primitive knowledge of how Twitter, blogs, facebook etc works — and how it can work FOR THEM.

– You can reach people you would never have reached before. You need a proper strategy, don’t rely on luck.

– Dominance of print decreasing: the physical book is changing, even chain bookstores are in trouble. E-reader screens like Kindle/Sony on the rise. Mobile content – the *forgotten* screen: can you access it? Content needs to change ACROSS screens. Would you want to read a 190,000 word novel on your iPhone?? No way. We need to adapt.

– Never give content away… Because that is what you think your work is WORTH. Instead, what about: the first 30 pages of your e-book free instead? Or what about sponsorship?

– Here I ask: “What about content on blogs? That’s free.” Both Julian and Kate says blogs aren’t content in the traditional sense – used properly, they are a form of advertising. blogs are about opinions… if readers like what you have to SAY, they’re more likely to buy what you have for SALE.

– Crowd sourcing: Julian says this is most likely to be “issue led” (ie. people want to support the message, such as the anti-bullying film Julian is exec producing, INNOCENT?, at the moment) or “cult led” (people want a part in something that will be the “talk” of a niche group). I personally would add the idea of “give and take” crowd sourcing too — ie. people gave me money for SLASH because they liked my blog and/or wanted the PDF I gave in return… Danny Stack did similar with his own film, ORIGIN.

– Twitter is again mentioned. Consensus: if you don’t use Twitter to promote yourself properly, you will be left behind.

– To finish: Julian says — “You need a virtual personality.” Kate chimes in: “Yes, it’s called a brand!!!”
A VERY interesting day… Thanks to all the speakers for your time.

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2 Responses to The London Book Fair, Monday Apr 19th – Notes

  1. Jared says:

    Thanks for this, Lucy, it was a good day with much on offer, least not the oh-so fragrant back-stage toilets where we staged our impromptu synchronised effort of voiding with ease that which one is glad to be rid.

  2. Lucy V says:

    Wow, that conjures up quite an image for everybody — thanks Jared!!!!

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