TThe Burning Chair team were at the London Book Fair this week. And what an interesting time we all had. There were some great talks and debates and some interesting stands from all across the industry and around the globe.

After much discussion, we think we can boil down what we learnt this week into five broad lessons, and, because sharing is caring, we’d like to share those with you.

1. Indie Publishing is hot

OK, so you’d expect us to write this, but it’s true: the real buzz at LBF this year was about the rise of independent publishers.

The IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) stand was packed across all three days with lots of great independents taking part. Where independent publishers offer most value is in offering something different from traditional publishers, whether that is focusing on one, under-represented, genre or on offering a far more intensive and collaborative process to the author, like we do at Burning Chair.

2. Debut authors shouldn’t waste their time going direct to trad publishers

One of the panels was an excellent discussion from four commissioning editors on how debut authors should aim to get a publishing contract. The overwhelming advice was: submitting your manuscript directly to a publisher is a waste of time as they often only accept submissions from literary agents or people they already know.

However, before you get too downhearted, take solace from the fact that this is a great time to be an author. In particular there are three other highly realistic options for you and your book:

  1. Find a literary agent – A good literary agent could help you find the right home for your book—and that could be either a trad or indie publisher—but be aware they will expect a significant cut of your royalties to do this.
  2. Self-publish – This is a great time to self-publish and there is a lot of information and support to do this – we’ve tried to distil some of this in our free guide to book publishing. Just be aware that the production and marketing of your book will take a significant chunk of your time, especially as you get up to speed.
  3. Find an Indie publisher – We’ve already sung the praises of indie publishers like ourselves, so we won’t repeat that. Do try and find an indie publisher that focuses on your genre – if they say they don’t publish romance then don’t try and ‘convince’ them that they’re wrong and your book should be their first romantic epic. Also, bear in mind that they will often receive hundreds of books a month and may take time to get back to you. Finally, and we cannot stress this enough, make sure you submit a killer synopsis for your book –see our recent blog:

3. Connecting authors and readers has never been so important – and so easy!

It’s been a long time coming, but technology is finally making its impact on the publishing sector. There was a great deal of debate about the need for less established authors to create a real community amongst their readers. This is not just about using social media to promote your books, this is also about offering something of real interest to your readers and in some cases creating a real community feel – Barry Hutchison provided a great example of two of his fans who met on his Facebook group and are now about to get married!

So, how do you this? Well, as a minimum you need a website so that people have somewhere central to access your content, a mailing list so that you can build up that community, and then a Twitter and Facebook account to get the word out. Then, and this is the key, offer real content, not just photos of your books and retweets of cat videos (although we all do love a good cat video…). For more advice on building your online profile, see our blog: Seven top tips for social media.

4. You can’t judge a book by its cover… Oh, hang on…!

If you don’t want your book to sink without trace, a good, eye-catching cover is critical. Even—especially—if your book is only going to be released as an ebook. Regardless of whether you’re self-publishing, trad publishing or going with an indie (did we mention how hot that is right now? ?), think of your book cover as your shop window. If it looks rubbish, then no-one is going to stop and come in to buy your lovely words.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on what’s good and what’s not, but there are genre conventions and a good book designer will take those into account. If you want an example of an absolutely first-class cover designer then pop over to Serifim, one of the UK’s leading cover designers.

5. Lastly, some words on book trends

There was some really interesting commentary across the whole conference from lots of people on trends across the publishing market. Now, we should start by saying that we strongly believe that authors shouldn’t try and target ‘trends’, as by the time their book will be ready the trend will probably be over. But just out of interest we thought we’d share what we learnt (a lot of this came from a presentation from Neilsen – so huge thanks to them):

  • Women are still more likely to buy books than men;
  • In the UK, the North has overtaken the South in terms of volume of book sales;
  • Audiobook sales are still increasing rapidly, but readers are far more discerning about who is narrating;
  • Psychological thrillers are still a growing market;
  • Key non-fiction growth categories are still biography, history, and self-help, with vegan definitely on-trend;
  • Children’s fiction is in decline at the expense of non-fiction and brand licensed books, although unicorns are a strong current trend;
  • And, surprisingly, YA is now in decline both standalone and series.

So, if you have a psychological thriller with a strong biographical element, featuring a vegan unicorn detective and a strong inspirational message then don’t hesitate to submit to us, here at Burning Chair…!


In terms of people who said the most inspirational things, there was so much to choose from. But honourable mentions have to go to:

  • Karin Slaughter: “When I’m told not to do something, I immediately want to do it…”
  • And Robert Davidson of Sandstone Press (as quoted in The Bookseller): “…it is the small independents who take risks on authors they believe in. It is the small independents who reach out most intimately to the public. It is small independents who go against the grain. Independent publishers are the soul of publishing.”

But then we would say that, wouldn’t we…?


So those-and how to not to spill your drink in a busy bar-were the main things we learned from the London Book Fair this year. Agree/Disagree? We’d love to hear from you…


As always, stay lucky
Burning Chair

Photo by Pete Oxley on mobile (sorry everyone!)

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