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The Alternative Book Fair: on accessibility, breaking down barriers & independent publishing


If you have attended the London Book Fair you'll know it's an expensive and overwhelming behemoth. So when we found out that Hackney-based publisher Indie Novella and Islington Librairies were launching The Alternative Book Fair this year, we were really excited to find out more.


The inaugural Alternative Book Fair, London, is a week of publishing and author events coinciding with the end of London Book Fair to bring the world of publishing and literature to a wider audience.

 

All events are completely free and designed to connect big name, established and up and coming authors with readers and aspiring writers of all different backgrounds, leaving no one excluded. There will be a series of headline events, with award winning crime writer Ajay Chowdhury speaking about his Kamil Rahman series and his new book The Spy; authors Chloe Ashby, Kate Maxwell, and Rose Diell discussing the themes of womanhood and motherhood in their writing; Marieke Bigg and Phoebe McIntosh

discussing how writing can boldly tackle societal issues; and panels including Mira Marcinów, Musih Tedji Xaviere, YA author Emma Brand, graphic novelist Sarah Airriess and more. To make the event possible, each author and panellist has waived their fee as part of the Alternative Book Fair’s commitment to bring the world of publishing to more people in a way that everyone can access and promote writing at a grassroots level.

 

The Book Fair seeks to make both reading and publishing more accessible to book lovers and writers of all backgrounds, especially underrepresented readers and writers, and bring together people from all socio-economic backgrounds. The aim is to demonstrate that there should be no barriers to publishing and writing, and that great literature is for everyone.

 

The Alternative Book Fair also hosts The Indie Press Fair on Saturday 16 March, in collaboration with the newly formed Indie Press Network, with a series of exhibitions and bookstalls by some of the most influential independent publishers in UK publishing, including multi award winning publisher Dead Ink Books, Jacaranda Books, Weather Glass Books, the Republic of Consciousness Prize, Heloise Press, Renard Press, Indie Novella and many more.


 

We spoke to Damien Mosley (Indie Novella) about this exciting new book fair, what it will offer attendees and why it's so necessary.


The Alternative Book Fair features events and an Indie Press Fair, throughout which writers will have the opportunity to hear from, and speak to, writers and publishers. The ethos of this event is accessibility, and authors have even waived their fees to be a part of it. Can you speak about why The Alternative Book Fair is so necessary, and why accessibility is at the forefront of it?


I think publishing has tried to become so much more inclusive in the last few years, but there are still large gaps, especially when it comes to everyday readers and people who don’t consider themselves literary being being able to access literary events. Largely because they're called literary events. We want to bring great authors to a wider audience. We want people to get a chance to meet authors, get to ask questions and get to understand what makes them so passionate about writing. Unfortunately, when you go to see big name authors speak, it’s often at a high-end literary festival or a posh venue like the Charlotte Hotel or the London Library and a lot of these events either cost quite a lot or never filter down to ordinary people — the crowd is still pretty much the upper echelons of the middle classes. And we, and a lot of other people partnering in the Alternative Book Fair, didn’t think this was either fair or representative to so many voices in publishing, who want to see greater diversity in reading, and more readers interacting with great authors. We, Indie Novella, Islington Libraries and Watson, Little literary agency love fiction, be it great literary fiction, or great crime fiction, and we want as many people to enjoy it as possible. We have this amazing refurbished library, a great venue for talks and events in the heart of a really diverse borough. And it's right next to Hackney, the borough we’ve been working in for the last four years. We want to put on this big free event with amazing authors who also believe people should be able to access amazing talks for free. 


I think sometimes, especially in publishing, we forget what it’s like not to be able to access things, either due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of money, and that’s why accessibility is the heart of this book fair. Our authors want to inspire other writers, to make them feel anything is possible. We want as many people as possible to attend this book fair, and perhaps later this year do another one that’s even bigger, has even more events and which even more people can attend.


What do you think are the current barriers to publishing and writing, and what do you think the industry can/ should be doing to topple them?


You will see a lot of stuff saying publishing is getting more representative and that is true, but we forget what a horrifically low base we started from as little as five years ago. One of the biggest barriers is how monetised publishing and writing has become. Courses run by Curtis Brown are amazing and have led to so many writers getting a publishing deal, but those writers have to be able to afford their massive tuition fees. There are a handful of scholarships, but there’s something wrong with saying you’re addressing a barrier that you have created in the first place. To address these barriers we need to level the playing field and offer free, accessible and high-quality opportunities for everyone. Literary agents like Watson, Little, David Godwin and Georgina Capel are offering their time to create content for free writing courses that do exactly that, proving it is possible. We also need to get out there and tell people from all different communities that we want to hear their story, that their story really matters. We need to make people feel that they are part of this world of publishing.


You've lined up a really exciting group of indie publishers for the fair on Saturday 16th May. Why should people be excited about the world of indie publishing, and where it could take their writing?


I think indie publishers often get overlooked when it comes to authors submitting their work to agents etc. But we forget how many mainstream novelists had their breakthrough book through an independent publisher, and how many independent publishers have won major awards such as the Booker Prize. I think it was the year before last, when the Booker shortlist was dominated by indie presses with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida being published by Sort Of Books, The Trees published by influx press, and Small Things Like These being from one of the biggest independents, Faber. You can also look at authors like Deborah Levy, who joined forces with And Other Stories to publish Swimming Home, also Booker shortlisted. Small presses are also by their very nature diverse, focusing on all these niches, that mainstream, large publishers aren’t able to focus on, from dyslexic friendly text to marginalised, underrepresented authors, and poets, they unearth talent and get incredible stories out there. To bring all these publishers into one venue is so exciting, both for readers and writers alike.


Do you have any advice for underrepresented writers struggling to get their work out there?


Keep going. It’s a cliché, but the more we write, the more we learn, the more we improve, and if those in publishing continue to make the right resources available, getting rid of those cost barriers, then something really exciting is going to happen. Don’t be discouraged by set backs. Look for a peer group to join where you can talk about writing with other writers. The Hackney Writing Circle began last year and we’ve got so many talented writers who meet once a month just to talk about writing and the challenges they face and it really helps especially when it comes to information sharing and making writing a little less solitary.



The Fair has been curated by Islington Libraries and Indie Novella – Islington Libraries runs events and workshops promoting reading and literature across one of the most socioeconomic diverse boroughs in London. Indie Novella founded the Diversity in Publishing Partnership in 2023 to create a new breed of writing course which provides industry insight from established literary agencies such as David Godwin Associates and Watson, Little, all completely for free.


The Alternative Book Fair is also being supported by an array of key partners including Watson, Little Literary Agency who have a long history of representing some of the world’s leading and most exciting authors and have been providing pro-bono support and content to the Indie Novella writing course, as well as setting up the Watson Little x Indie Novella Prize, a writing prize devoted to celebrating emerging voices from underrepresented communities. 


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