States of Independence
After stating we wouldn’t be sitting behind any stalls selling comics this year, we found ourselves doing just that last Saturday. We were tempted by the offer of a free table at a local independent book fair at DeMontfort University in Leicester. States of Independence was organised by Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Publishing, in association with the Creative Writing staff and students at the University, and a jolly good job they did too.
We arrived, were shown to our table and quickly had a very lovely student, Chris, go and fetch us free tea and biscuits. We were actually supposed to go and get it ourselves, but weren’t going to turn down being waited on. In fact we think this service should be instigated for stallholders at all events!
The fair had a wide variety of indie publishers present, ranging from crime to poetry to literary to local history. Comics and SF&F were represented by ourselves, Timebomb Comics, Comma Press and TTA Press (Interzone & Black Static). It was nice to see plenty of people from the local writing communities. I also got to meet and chat to Catherine, who is one of the organiser of Alt Fiction, which we’ll be attending in June.
It was difficult to tell how well attended the event was, (the organisers estimated around 400), but there was a steady stream of people passing our table throughout the day. Lots of people stopped to chat, and were pleased to see comics available. This didn’t translate into huge sales, but we were there more as a public relations exercise and to advertise the webcomics.
A frequent question was whether we made our living out of comics, though people weren’t surprised when the answer was no. As one lady put it “It’s your passion then.” The exhibitors seemed to be split between those who did make their livelihood from small press, and those, like us, who published out of passion.
One interesting venture we were introduced to was the Online Alternative Bookshop, which other indie publishers should check out as another place to advertise their stock. They have created a portal for the public to buy indie publications through. Publishers using them receive orders directly (minus 30% of the cover price) plus a standard postage fee. We would certainly look into using them if we weren’t running out of print stock (hint, get your lovely hardback Girly book while you still can!)
One gentleman exclaimed on seeing us that “comics must be on the rise, as they’re even reviewed in The Independent now”. Others took the time to reminisce on their childhood love of comics and the heyday of Bunty, etc.
Everyone I spoke to was polite and interested. Jay had a few other reactions, including several people trying to pitch novels at him!
Alongside the stalls, there was a good programme of talks from writers, publishers and other interested parties. I only made it along to the one run by Crème de la Crime publishing. Lynne Patrick is quite possibly the only female crime publisher in the UK, and specialises in publishing debut authors. Crème de la Crime came out of Lynn’s frustrations with her novels being rejected because she was an unknown author. This led her to abandoning writing in favour of giving new authors a chance to get their foot in the door.
It was interesting to hear from Chris Nickson, one of Lynn’s latest novelists about his decision to go with Crème De la Crime. Lynn actually told him that she thought his submission was so good that he ought to take it to the bigger publishers, who would be better placed to do it justice. However, Chris started his non-fiction writing career as a music journalist in the punk era, and maintained the punk/DIY ethos of going with a publisher who genuinely cared, rather than being a small cog in a big machine.
Jay went to a few of the other talks, so I’ll hand over to him for his impression of the event…
It was certainly a change to our usual madcap preparations for exhibiting at a convention. Being local, it was a fifteen minute car journey, if that. Having abandoned print publications for the online world, I didn’t have the last minute preparations of printing, folding and stapling new issues, something that at the time of writing, I can empathise with fellow small press comics folks who are getting ready for the two comic events that are happening this weekend (Hi-Ex! in Scotland and the UK Web & Minicomix Thing in London).
Selina and I tag-teamed manning the table, going round the tables and to talks. I sat in on an intimate chat led by Rod Duncan on the subject of book groups, based on his explorations of a lot of different groups throughout the East Midlands. It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to meet Rod, despite owning his trilogy of crime novels. It was an extremely friendly group, chatting around the subject and exploding the myths about book groups being made up of middle class ladies of leisure over 40. Rod found a lot of common ground, but also some interesting variations, including a group that specialised in manga. He punctuated the chat with interview clips from the DVD to accompany the project.
After lunch, I toddled along to see David Belbin’s talk about literary forgery, with specific regard to his novel The Pretender. I wasn’t familiar with David’s work before the talk, but after he read some excerpts from the book, and talked about how he came to write it, I made a point of tracking down a copy from the Five Leaves stall afterwards.
A lot of interesting discussions were had with punters and fellow publishers across the day, trading war stories, but the most amusing one of the day was with the elderly gentleman shepherding his wife around, that I can only presume was going to every table attempting to convince publishers to take on his wife’s short stories. Despite the big green Factor Fiction banner and the entirely comic-related wares on our table, he pressed on with the pitch without blinking. “I’m sorry, but we only publish comics”, I told him. “Ah, she only writes ‘proper’ stories. Perhaps you could add another string to your bow?” In other circumstances, I might have been offended by his dismissal of comics as ‘proper’, but I couldn’t help but smile. I did say that I’d take issue with the word ‘proper’, and another punter who had been earwigging took that as an opportunity to jump in to my defence: “I don’t have any interest in that stuff either,” he interjected, “but I’d take issue with that description too.” In an extended chat with him, he told me about his own work, involving a married pope.
I got a chance to look through the promotional advance pages of Timebomb Comics’ upcoming titles, which look interesting as usual, particularly one featuring one of the artists from Commando Picture Library. I also got myself caught up with the most recent issues of Black Static and a Gary McMahon novella.
I’m not sure if I’d want to do non-comic shows too often. Too many people for whom comics hold no interest at all, but every so often, it’s good to shake things up and do a bit of outreach. It’s easy to just stay in the comics box and get to know pretty much all the other publishers, and see the same punters time after time, but we’ve found that by going to non comics-specific shows, we’ve learned a lot of tricks and found a lot in common with our prose publishing peers.
You can see a few more photos from the event on our Flickr page.