Monday, 10 September 2012

After the book fair

For me, the joy of last year’s event was that no one knew what to expect, and the consequent surprise when it all seemed to work – something that couldn’t be replicated for a repeat show. Does this explain my slight feeling of anticlimax, dissatisfaction? Something of that, something to do with how lousy I am at organising myself – far too much bell-ringing, and checking of watch for the half-hours, with result that I hardly got to graze, even to see, many of the tables, let alone the people behind them. There were particular tables I’d been looking forward to – Like This Press, for one – but I never got round to. Apologies to those people. My loss.

Among the things that worked, I think:

- The volunteers: brilliant, they just sensed what needed doing and got on and did it. It was hugely important that the publishers who made the effort – in many cases a long-range effort, involving hours and hours of travel – weren’t stuck behind their tables all day: a main thing the volunteers were there for was to take up the reins, let the publishers wander. This happened, and could happen more, could be pushed further. (It’s the books that matter, not who’s behind the table; I wasn’t once behind the CBe table myself, not even for a few minutes, but 40 books were sold.) One of the volunteers, unprompted, took a wadge of programmes and went out onto the street to lure strangers: necessary, and brave.

- The venue: the space afforded much better display room for the publishers than last year; on a hot day, the courtyard café space was perfect; the readings room – right size, not blandly functional.

- The range of publishers: as Ross Bradshaw says on his own Five Leaves blog, ACE support enabled us to ‘pay the fares of out of London presses. And this meant many presses that could not have afforded a train fare and stall hire were represented. So as well as being the biggest gathering of presses, this was probably the most representative, with people from Manchester, Norwich, Edinburgh, Hastings, Bristol, Bridgend - everywhere, really, including three from Nottingham.’ And one from Belgium. And A Midsummer Night’s Press, from (I think) New York via Spain, and selling another 40 books.

(Parenthesis: the point was, and still is, the full range. ((Sub-parenthesis: introducing Christopher Reid to open the day, I did manage to stutter the word inimitable, but on the way lost the word I’d wanted: indivisible. Reid has published with OUP, Faber, and with Arete, Rack, Prospero, Ondt & Gracehoper, etc. One world.)) We invited Picador, and got enthusiasm, and they came. We invited Cape: prevarication over whether the table hire should come out of the sales or the marketing budget, and that’s where it stuck. We invited Faber, since before last Christmas: unanswered emails and phone messages, and twice when we got through were told they’d have a meeting and would ‘get back’. Huh. Someone finally phones in late August from one of their branded offshoots, Faber Factory, which represents Bloodaxe and Carcanet as well as Faber, and wants a table, but there’s going to be some difficulty staffing that table, I should understand, because the fair is on a Saturday. Bless.)

Among the things that didn’t work:

- Too much bell-ringing, as I’ve mentioned. We can sort this.

- More people came than last year, many more, but still more would have been good. The more publishers participating, the more there is, as Ross Bradshaw neatly puts it in his blog post, ‘competition for sales’. At the very least, every single person from the growth industry of creative-writing courses has to feel it necessary to come. Has to want to come. (Unless books are bought, publishers kept alive, their work won’t see daylight.)

- The workshops, run by the Poetry School and taking place in the upstairs cafe, were sold out long before the day and though those taking part also called by downstairs, I hope, the workshops were not integrated into the main event.

We’ll be sending out forms asking for feedback from the presses who took part: what was bad, what was good, how much sales, how better, etc.

The photos above are courtesy of Véronique Dubois – see more on Flickr and contact her if you want to use any of them. I’ve an inkling to make the second one the signature photo: for the infant clinging, for the fine red dress, for the lovely Donut Press books in the foreground. Beneath that one, Eddie Linden. The last one shows a buyer getting out her cash while the seller looks bashfully away - many of us are embarrassed by money, while at the same time in desperate need of it.

There are more photos – of wine & ham as well as books & poets – on Helena Nelson’s HappensStance blog. There’s another report on Todd Swift’s Eyewear blog. The latter needs this essential correction: while I’ve been humming old tunes in the background, it was Chrissy Williams who took the lead on organising this year’s book fair, single-handedly battling the railway networks and spurring the whole thing on. She could run the whole country. She has better things to do.

1 comment:

Fiona Moore said...

Thank you Charles and Chrissy for a great day out. It was a rare chance to satisfy my hunter-gatherer instincts as a reader / buyer of poetry. Bookshops don't do that, because of their limited range. Being able to chat to publishers was good too. The venue was lovely, especially the cafe and reading room. As for the bell-ringing, I rather liked the way everyone had to stop and listen for a moment.

I wonder if you've thought of making it a two-day fair next year, maybe with an event in the evening? But I appreciate that might be too much to take on... Anyway from that question you can see I'm assuming the fair will happen again!

Interesting comments on the big publishers. At this rate we'll have to start awarding (or not) the poetry-publishing equivalent of a fair trade mark.