Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sheffield Saturday

Nottinghamshire presses were heavily represented in Sheffield at the local independent book fair on Saturday, and three of the day's events were based round Five Leaves writers. On the day we sold £140 of books. The stall fee was £20, we hitched a ride with our chums at Candlestick who refused petrol money, but had to pay about £12 in taxi fares to shift books around in Nottingham, so our actual income was £118 for effectively a twelve hour day, except it wasn't really income as it was the sales of books. And none of the writers were paid for their labour. Two of the other Nottingham presses took about the same amount. So why do we do this?
Firstly, we are out for a good time and we like hanging round with other publishers and writers and readers. We pick up trade gossip. We were given a recommendation for a printer which might save us money on our hardbacks. We supported our writers and our writers got an audience. We met an interesting couple who explained new developments in technology that might mean our books can be adapted to reach more people with little or no sight. We learned about the way that Sheffield's Bank Street Arts Centre works financially, and helped bring more people into their building.
There are more and more of these fairs and we are part of creating a slightly different literary culture. Presses are being proactive, reaching out.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll make some money.
Of course there's always the chap with the dog-eared manuscript who wants to speak to everyone, but never wants to listen to answers because in some way he is happier never being published. Inevitably the best attended session is about how to be published, with many people streaming in and streaming out without glancing at the bookstalls, and the people who do that too are perhaps happier that they will never be published or feel the need to read the odd book along the way.
But there are moments like gold.When our writer John Lucas gave a too-early-in-the-morning talk about his memoir of the 1950s, Next Year Will Be Better, the most interested people in his small audience were two young female students, one black, one white, who came up at the end with just enough money to buy a book between them. They were going to share, but of course we offered two for the price of one because those two students were the real reason why John and I got up at 6.30 on a Saturday morning to spend, let's face it, a not completely economic day in Sheffield and that's why the other publishers had done the same, and that's why the authors had given up half of their day too. Because once we were just like those students and in thirty or forty years they will be just like us.

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