Sunday, February 26, 2006

London Book Fair

Also in today's blog

"A book is not a tin of baked beans"
Registering at StoryCode
The People's Choice, a possible problem
£10,000 award shortlist
The last of the pen pushers?

I have always wanted to visit the London Book Fair. This year the Fair runs from next Sunday to Tuesday [ 5-7 March ]. There will be over 1,900 exhibitors at its new location at ExCel.

Unfortunately I can't manage those dates so will have to be content with reading about the LBF in the book trade press. Of the talks on offer, the one which particularly appeals to me is on the opening Sunday : E-Marketing and Effective Website Design for Booksellers by Hannah Reich-Levbarg of Secession Books in the Georgian part of the city of Bath, my favourite place to go on days off when I was a reporter on the Western Daily Press at Bristol.

"Secession Books Limited is owned and operated by James and Hannah Reich-Levbarg. A husband-and-wife team with eleven years of combined experience in bookselling and professional services, Hannah and James are committed to providing a stimulating range of books in a comfortable, friendly and tasteful environment. The latest technology in booksales allows the store to fulfill orders and answer questions quickly and expertly. Secession Books aims to be an enjoyable alternative to high street chain booksellers. We are peacefully and artfully breaking away from the practices and structures that have led to deterioration of customer service and range of stock, and that adversely affect the whole of British publishing today, while still providing value for money.
Publishers cannot pay to dominate our window displays...
There is no Muzak...
The books in our promotions will not be endlessly repeated..."

On The Bookseller's Opinion page in the 16 December issue, James Reich-Levbarg wrote a rousing piece which included this -
"We are seeing the headless chicken years of UK publishing and bookselling: the brain has been killed off, but the body is still staggering around looking for a branch of Tesco. Our own shop merchandising revolves around the motto: "…because a book is not a tin of baked beans." "

I should have liked to meet him, and also the team who will be manning the StoryCode stand, No K870, at the LBF.


"The history of StoryCode is one of patience and determination to succeed, driven by the simple desire to solve the perpetual problem: "What am I going to read today?"

The first step towards StoryCode was taken over a pizza in July 1997, when Steve Johnston [left hand photo] and Christopher Norris [right hand photo] realised that a millennium project called "Utopia" that they had worked on for the UK book trade in 1994-95 could be revived as an internet concept."

I first heard about StoryCode when Christopher Norris emailed me -

"I was prompted to visit your weblog, and then to write to you, by your recent piece in The Bookseller 'Nothing to buy'. As a longstanding reader of The Bookseller, and having worked in the book trade since 1990, I remember your regular column about the internet well, especially as I was then in the process of putting together a book-related dotcom business with a team of colleagues.
Last year, at the London Book Fair, that work came to fruition, as we launched StoryCode in beta. (We currently have two sister sites: caters for North America, whereas is aimed at the UK and Commonwealth.) This year we are not only launching the full version of StoryCode at the LBF, but we have also launched in beta and shall be offering StoryCode products and services for sale for the first time.
If you are coming to the LBF in March, you would be very welcome to drop in on us. It would be great to meet you and perhaps explain in more detail how the sites work, and how they might help find 'Something to buy'. Chris Norris Co-founder and Research Director

I have registered at StoryCode's UK site and plan to code some favourite books as soon as I have time..

£10,000 prize shortlist

This year an association of which I'm a founder member has taken a step which could possibly land them in an awkward situation. On a page of their site you will read the following -
The Romantic Novelists' Association has organised a Romantic Novel of the Year Award since 1960. Its objective is to demonstrate that there is excellent writing and emotional truth in romantic fiction. These notes are offered as a guide to reading groups and others for whom exploring romantic fiction may be a new experience.
The final judges will announce the winner on 20th April at a Savoy lunch. The results will be announced here. If you would like to vote for you own favourite, you may do so here. The People's Choice will be announced as well on 20th April.

We also learn that the seven shortlisted titles were "chosen by our panel of over 100 general readers for the 2006 Award from 211 entries."

Roger Tagholm, the deputy editor of Publishing News has kindly allowed me to use the photo of five of the seven shortlisted authors which appeared in PN's Industry News column on February 17.

What happens, I wonder, if there is a massive online vote and several thousand readers vote for a title other than the one selected by the final judges?

Isn't the winner of The People's Choice likely to feel rather miffed that someone with far fewer votes has pocketed the cheque for £10,000?

A judgment based on the notes

As regular readers of this blog will know, my longlist "favourite" for the shortlist, Douglas Kennedy, didn't make it. Now, having read all the notes provided by the RNA for reading groups, my favourite for the prize is Audrey Howard who has won it before in 1988.

As far as one can judge by the notes, some signed and some not, hers is the only story I would classify as a romantic novel.

Another book on the short list is said to run "the gamut from high farce through social comedy". It may be most entertaining reading, but it doesn't sound like my idea of a romantic novel.

Another book on the shortlist was described as having "excellent punctuation". Surely that should be taken for granted, not considered a plus point?

If I can get hold of copies of the shortlisted books locally, I will do so and share my opinions of them with you.

The last surviving pen-pusher?

Astonishingly, one of the UK's most popular authors writes novels with a pen.
I shouldn't have thought there was a writer left alive, certainly not under the age of 90, who wrote books by hand in an era when computers have taken all the drudgery out of correcting, re-writing, etc.

But this is what I read in a magazine interview.

"You start to write, in longhand, using a Papermate pen, medium point, blue ink. The computer is a useful tool, but you regard it as an inhuman, inflexible, intractable thing and simply can't use it for creative work."

You can discover who this die-hard is here.