|Posted by Mark Cantrell on September 3, 2017 at 7:55 PM|
So let’s hear it for the #indiearmy
In a marketplace dominated by big publishers, indie authors and small presses often struggle to be heard, writes Mark Cantrell. But last week’s UK Indie Lit Fest in Bradford provided a friendly forum for them to find their voice – and some readers
YOU can take the man out of journalism, but it seems you can't quite take the journalism out of the man. There I was, attending the UK Indie Lit Fest, with a new novel – Citizen Zero – hot off the press, but rather than seek eager readers for my book I kept breaking off to interview authors.
Well, I've never claimed to be great at selling myself – or my work – but that's the curious thing about the Indie Lit Fest, if that round of interviews is anything to go by: it's less about the selling, more about the shared experience of literature.
Actually, it's not all that curious, if you think about it. Nobody likes a hard sell, but we were all bibliophiles, so by definition we like books; of course we're going to natter about our mutual affection. A literary festival, then, can be a great forum for readers and authors alike to shoot the breeze and get to know each other. Selling a book or two there and then, well that's just making a social occasion all the sweeter.
“Obviously I hope to sell books, but if I don't, I don't,” said paranormal fiction author Joshua Sutton. “For me it's more about meeting authors, finding books I like, and developing more friendships, really. It's not just about the selling: it's also about the meeting people.”
Author, Joshua Sutton
Author Razwan Ul-Haq explained he was looking for “inspiration and some friendly natter”. “I came along to meet authors and other publishers and just talk and see what's going on,” he said.
For Irene Lofthouse, events such as the Indie Lit Fest are good venues to “have a chat” – “meet people I haven't seen in ages” – and see what people are doing. “I never expect to sell. It's always a bonus if I do,” she added. “It's a way of upping your profile; it's a way of talking to people; it's a way for people to find out what you do.”
Irene is no stranger to the festival scene, but others were newcomers to the whole public event thing. In my case, the Indie Lit Fest was my first time 'flying solo' (and by the seat of my pants). A couple of years earlier, I'd ventured down to the Nine Worlds convention in London, so I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with what to expect, but I'd been accompanied on that occasion by some of the crew from my publisher, Inspired Quill; they ‘held my hand’ and helped quell the 'stage fright'.
Even with this experience behind me, though, I could still relate to fellow newbie Ian Woodhead when he confessed to being somewhat nervous. “I've wanted to do this for a number of years but I've never had the courage to do it,” he said. “Because it's in Bradford, it gives the correct incentive to actually get my arse in gear. It's weird, being here, because I'm introverted. I'm sure most writers here are exactly the same.”
Authors Ian Woodhead and Irene Lofthouse
Yep, I know exactly where Ian's coming from with that one; no doubt my own introversion is one of the reason's I took to accosting fellow authors for some quickie interviews, strange as that may sound. The comfort of the familiar helps us come out of our shells; so too does catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, and the UK Indie Lit Fest certainly proved itself a friendly event.
There's a serious note to all this, of course. Raising and maintaining awareness is critical for any author; most of us are wrestling with the realities of obscurity, so making those human – rather than straight-forward commercial – connections matter. In a publishing industry dominated by a few big players and celebrity names, however, it can be difficult for newcomers, indie authors and small press publishing houses alike to carve out a little space where they can make that happen. This is where the UK Indie Lit Fest comes into its own.
The event was held at the Kala Sangam Arts Centre in Forster Square, Bradford, which is a testament to how it has grown since its début in July last year. A not-for-profit community interest company, the festival has been built from the grass-roots up precisely to create some space for indie authors to make themselves heard. As it says in this year's festival brochure: “The sole purpose of [Indie Lit Fest] is to promote indie authors, smaller publishing houses, and to allow writers to reach new readers.”
“A lot of the literature festivals are very exclusive, and the ones that aren't cost a fortune for authors to come along,” said festival director Dawn Singh. “I applied for one and was accepted. They wanted £70 for a table. Now, to have to travel to another part of England, pay for travel and then possibly stay overnight, and then pay £70 for a table when you're an indie author and don't have much money – it's ridiculous, really. So we wanted a festival that was going to be affordable for indie authors and free for the public.”
The issue isn't just about alleviating the cost burden for indie authors and small publishing houses, which don't tend to be flush with cash; there's also the element of exposure. In part, as mentioned, it's about helping authors find an audience but it's just as much about exposing the book-loving public to voices they might otherwise never encounter in a retail ecosystem geared towards the commercial requirements of the big publishers.
Events such as the Indie Lit Fest are “critical”, Razwan said. “Sometimes, if you go to the commercial [festivals], it's not the authors that you are meeting; it's not the publishers – it's the reps,” he added. And if you do get the meet the authors, he goes on to say, it can be a rushed affair; not exactly what you might call quality time.
“If we just leave things to companies and corporations who are doing things for a profit, then we're only going to have a very narrow set of views that people can read,” Razwan said, pointing out that tomorrow’s mainstream works arrive from the fringes and can be easily overlooked. An increasingly commercialised industry risks become uprooted from its creative earth, you might say.
It's worth noting at this point that for an industry looking out for the next Harry Potter, say, it was blind-sided by the phenomenon that the series became. For all the industry's marketing virtuosity, it never saw that one coming. And J K Rowling's startling 'lucky break' is hardly an isolated example. But as the mainstream industry becomes increasingly difficult for new, unknown voices to gain a hearing, it's the bustling indie scene where tomorrow's talent gathers in all its diversity. Another reason, then, why an event like UK Indie Lit Fest matters rather more than it might at first appear.
Author Razwan Ul-Haq
“It's difficult for people to get published, by the big publishers or by small, independent presses, because there's such hoops to jump through these days,” Irene said. “And of course they're all looking for the big blockbusters, so this is a way to network with people, to see what they're doing, and to see books that I wouldn't normally see in a bookshop and I can go, 'actually I really like that'.”
There was certainly much for visitors to take in. The range of books and authors was satisfying in its diversity, with plenty on offer for just about every taste. With 40 authors attending, including an international contingent skyping in for a chat with festival visitors, one should be careful not to infer too much from a handful of ad-hoc interviews, but going by the sights and sounds on the day, the UK Indie Lit Fest brought a real book-loving buzz to Bradford.
Joshua summed it up perfectly: “Really there's no better way for a book nerd to spend a weekend.”
Author, Mark Cantrell
About the event…
THE UK Indie Lit Fest 2017 took place on Saturday 26 August at the Kala Sangam Arts Centre, Fortser Square in Bradford. It was organised by Dawn Singh, festival director, and her team, along with a host of volunteers – the ‘indie army’ – who worked tirelessly to ensure the day proved a success for all concerned.
Supported by Follow This Publishing and Ingram Spark, it featured 40 attending authors, with guest appearances from international authors who skyped in to talk about their works and the writing process.
Attending authors included Felicity Snowden, Helena Fairfax, Michael Wombat, Marie Laval, P R Ellis, Chris Turnbull, Rose English, Sharena Satti, Roger Barton, K S Marsden, Meg Cowley, and so many more. On the international front, skyping in were Tima Maria Lacoba, Deb McEwan, J S Burke, Jo Roderick and others.
Away from the packed exhibition hall, where authors displayed their books, the event featured a range of readings and workshops, where visitors were able to hear some of the works on display, or learn about aspects of the craft of writing and publishing.
“It’s gone really well,” Dawn Singh said of the day. “Everybody has had a good time: everyone has been smiling. The people visiting have said they’ve enjoyed it. The authors have liked it. We’ll be back next year. We’ll be bigger – it’ll be brilliant.”
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Bradford-born author and playwright J B Priestley