Fair Play – why book fairs?
To stand at a stall, offering my wares, might seem a very Mediaeval way of going about things in the days of internet ordering and e-books. Besides, what are bookshops for, if not to provide any book that anyone is looking for? Literary festivals like Hay, with big names addressing crowds of fans are all very well, but why bother with book fairs?
The reason is that for most of us authors, such events are the only occasions when we get to meet our readers in the flesh, to discuss our work and hear their opinion. We write for ourselves, mostly, and perhaps to please a publisher or agent, but ultimately, since we choose to be published, rather than storing our work in notebooks under our bed, we write for “the reader” out there, who will devour our polished words. It becomes a somewhat surreal situation if our readers never materialise in the flesh. We need the contact to keep it real.
A fair also allows us to meet our fellow authors, in an atmosphere where everything is all about books, and sometimes it’s very healthy to escape the private isolation of writing and remind ourselves that we are not alone. There are other people as obsessed with writing as us.
For indie authors, who self-publish, and who want to rely on more than Kindle sales on Amazon, fairs can be almost the only way to put their printed books out there, for people to see. Many bookshops simply don’t stock independent authors. An ISBN number is not enough to get you on the “List.” And for us conventionally published authors, there is no guarantee that bookshops, even their local bookshops, will pay them any attention whatsoever. If you are lucky, you might find a copy of your book, buried in a dark corner, out of sequence, while the front displays concentrate on the highly promoted big names. If you are in the hands of one of the mega-publishing houses, which sees you as a potential block-buster in WH Smiths or on airport concourses, then they might send you off on tour round the country or the world, to meet your readers. They might flaunt your book cover on billboards for you. 99% of authors don’t get that treatment, so we have to put ourselves out there.
And that’s what book fairs are for. So do come. We’re a rare breed and well worth gawping at.