This is an odd time of year for me, has been most of my adult life. Before that, in fact; as a student it was the time of year when the weather was beginning to beckon us outside, maybe even to the beach (my college was right next to one of the UK’s most beautiful islands), but the calendar insisted on a heavier workload than usual because end of year exams loomed a month or so away.
Now, the garden is ablaze with daffodils, I’ve been able to shed a layer of scarves, woolly hats etc when I set out on my daily walk. This morning, en route for a lunch appointment, I even ransacked my wardrobe in search of a jacket to replace the gorgeous scarlet duffle coat that’s kept the chill out all winter. But my mind keeps demanding to know where nearly a third of yet another year has gone, and when I realized the London Book Fair had begun, I even got a pang or two of, yes, nostalgia.
There’s so much I don’t miss about publishing. Not that I was ever really part of the gang; for that to happen, you need to be being doing it on a much bigger scale than I could ever have contemplated, and you need to be in London, where all the networking goes on. But I did make friends with one or two of the cool kids, though I’m not one of nature’s cool kids myself, and I’m not really a networking sort of person. I tend to hide in a corner while other people work the room.
I certainly started to enjoy the few events I attended. Book launches were always fun, and a chance to put faces to e-mail headers. CrimeFest, the UK’s version of Bouchercon, was a place to make new friends and meet up with the ones I made the year before – and a lot of them turned up during my one visit to Bouchercon too. Making new friends was arguably the best thing of all.
And for a day or two each year at the London Book Fair, I almost began to feel as if I belonged in that world. I’d book meetings with an agent or two, someone who might buy subsidiary rights, and almost always our lovely American distributor, put on my smart suit and transfer the contents of my handbag into a briefcase so that I was walking the walk, then I’d spend time talking with the people I’d arranged to meet, saying hi to a few more I recognized, and simply wandering around soaking up the busy, book-laden atmosphere. Over the years I sold audio and large print rights to a few books, learned a few things about the book trade that passed me by up here in semi-rural middle England, even picked up a new sponsor for the short story award I was still running until the publishing company seeped into all my available time.
So yes, there are things about publishing that I miss.
But I think there are more things I don’t.
Trying and mostly failing to convince bookshop managers that our books weren’t self-published (anathema to them even now) despite the different authors’ names on the covers and the bona fide distribution company they ordered them from.
Going into bookshops and not finding our books on the shelves, especially after an author had made a monumental marketing effort and maybe achieved some newspaper coverage, or in one or two cases, a mention on TV. Disheartening for any small publisher, and surely a chicken-and-egg argument for the shop; books are often impulse buys – how do they know it won’t sell if it isn’t there in the first place?
Being harangued down the phone by an author whose work didn’t meet our criteria.
Having to disappoint authors who were too polite or too realistic to harangue me.
Worse, having to tell an author whose work I loved that his/her books simply hadn’t sold well enough.
So when the weather is beautiful, the London Book Fair is in full spate and those nostalgia pangs strike, I think I can be forgiven for damping down my usual positive nature and deliberately thinking of the things I don’t miss.
If I didn’t, I might miss the rest just a little too much. And who knows where that would lead?