London Book Fair Part 1: Author Takeaways

By Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, Publicity Manager

The London Book Fair. Self-published authors, book publicists, and book publishers attend for the latest book industry trends. At the London Book Fair you can find all parts of the book industry represented – paper and production, design services, publishing companies, distributors, apps and all kinds of tech for reacting to the ways we consume content now and predicting how we’ll consume (and create) it in the future. Editors and agents and publishers and all the people in between scramble from panel to meeting and maybe to the pub across the street. But the thing I found missing was authors. Are they not the “means of production” that keep the whole industry afloat?

While there weren’t a lot of authors at the LBF, I considered it my job to sniff out all the information and services that would be useful to authors. I attended panels on keeping up with social media, book events, influencer marketing campaigns and more. I scribbled notes and created social media content (shoutout to @SmithPublicity on Instagram!) during enigmatically titled talks like The Future of Publishing and highly specific ones dropping data on how much self-published authors earn (median gross annual income? $12k). Here are some of my biggest takeaways for authors from the London Book Fair:

“Authorship is not a career anymore, it is a business.”

The Alliance for Independent Authors dropped the data on how much authors earn from self publishing, and the results were clear. The authors earning an income were making self publishing their full time job before they started earning an income.

There was much talk about how in general in the book industry author income is going down. This is reflected in smaller advances at traditional publishing companies. The theory they were trying to prove was that author income is actually going up for self-published authors. A survey of indie authors spending 50% or more of their time on writing and publishing included 2k respondents with 60% from North America. The median income (adjusting for outliers both high and low) reported an increase in income to the $12-13k I dropped above. But as an audience member pointed out this was GROSS income, so this was not profit. This was oftentimes money the author had already sunk into the publishing process itself and all the editing and proofing that comes before and all the marketing and publicity that comes after. Not to mention the idea of paying oneself a wage for one’s own hours spent. The general sentiment from the panel was that if you’re looking at authorship as a career and not a business, maybe your income is going down.

It was interesting to note that the most lucrative genres were genre fiction like romance, scifi, fantasy, etc. 75% of books sold are in a series. Memoir and other nonfiction were the lowest earners.

Traditional media isn’t the “be all, end all”

It was noted that authors often come into the publicity process expecting traditional media to be the only part of their marketing strategy. Top industry professionals reinforced that while traditional media coverage is still a part of a comprehensive marketing plan, so are other avenues: the impact of bloggers and influencers, engaging with your readers via a newsletter and social media, and being a team player when it comes to opportunities that may be perceived as “lower tier.” Book and arts coverage may feel like it’s diminishing in a traditional sense, but there are still a lot of exciting ways to reach your readers.

Some things to do for your book launch week included:

  • Events – even small events for family and friends can have an impact. Even if a bookstore event isn’t well attended, your book has been on display in that store, has been advertised by the bookstore on their social media or in their newsletter, and will be hand sold by booksellers for months or years to come. Making that personal connection with booksellers is invaluable.
  • Stay engaged with your readers – however you do that. Whether it’s a blog, social media, or a newsletter be sure to interact with their posts and comments and share their reviews. Don’t just broadcast information – make it a conversation. We’re always here to help with ideas of how to do that.
  • Say yes to everything. A lot of folks on the panel expressed frustration with authors who didn’t want to do interviews or guest posts for smaller blogs or folks with a moderate social media following. It was great to hear someone else advise authors to “say yes to everything.” As a publicist, if we’re bringing you an opportunity, it’s because we believe it has merit.
  • Book marketing doesn’t stop after publication week and building a community of readers can take time.

Keep up with trends

I’m not saying every author needs to be in TikTok or Lemon8 (which has grown to 5 million users worldwide, it’s still newish in the states) but you need to be conversant with a technology (or have a conversation with someone who is) before you can evaluate if it’s a good way to reach your readers. The founders of the Redcards app which pushes serialized content (just like Charles Dickens used to do it!) as the wave of the future had some eye opening stats.

  • 1 in 15 9-18 year olds do not own a single book. Textbooks are a thing of the past – all my 13-year-old’s homework – even for English – is on the computer, so I believe it. (Naturally we are still a physical book household. Get off my lawn.)
  • Reading gains in this demographic during the pandemic have already been lost
  • 68% say #BookTok (the hashtag for book posts on TikTok) inspired them to read a book, but a lot of those books were consistent-selling backlist and runaway hits BEFORE getting big on the app
  • 55% rely on #booktok for reading recommendations. A lot of these recommendations are being driven by booksellers and librarians – another reason to keep engagement with these groups top of mind.
  • Despite all this only 3% of total book sales could be traced to booktok. If you narrow it down to ebook sales it might be a bigger piece of the pie.
  • GenZ is actually LESS interested in front list – new release titles – than previous generations.
  • 67% prefer reading on their phone. (Oof – shot to the heart!!)

This is a lot of information, and it can be hard to sort out what is relevant to your book, your publishing process, and your promotional efforts. But that’s what we’re here for! We’d love to talk to you about this or any other questions you may have. Reach out on social media – @smithpublicity on all social networks or vasb@fzvguchoyvpvgl.pbz.