This week, our course was incredibly lucky to have the chance to go to the London Book Fair. Obviously we had some idea of what to expect before leaving, but I don’t think any of us had fully grasped the scale of the event until we got there.
The Fair was held at Earl’s Court, and took up the entire place – two massive halls the size of arenas, plus all the conference rooms around. And I don’t know why, but the way it was described I was simply imagining rows of tables, with publishers having a set space in which to set out the work they’d been doing that year. The Big Six would have considerably more space than others, considering the amount of imprints belonging to each, while groups like ours would get about a metre’s worth of table to show off.
Yeah, it’s not like some primary school fair day.
This is one third. Of ONE hall:
See Penguin’s space alone? Unbelievable! You can imagine the bigger publishers have a bit of rivalry when it comes to the Fair, a bit of ‘my stand is bigger than your stand…’ going on. That photo also gives you a sense of the international presence. So many countries were represented – France, Spain, Italy, through to Turkey, Greece and Lithuania to name a few. I was desperate to try practising my languages by talking to one of the French or Spanish publishers but I really didn’t know what to ask them, short of, ‘Can I have a job? Please?’
At first, the Fair’s like an odd kind of treasure hunt or game of bingo, going around and checking off your favourite publishers and spotting publishing celebs – Jamie Byng, check! Then you have a different kind of ‘celebrity’ spotting, i.e. looking out for the famous book covers and characters dotted around the exhibition centre. My favourite was probably Allan Karlsson.
I attended a few of the talks to try to get some ideas for the future, even for my dissertation, but the best part was just talking about books all day. Obviously there was plenty of talk about technology, and about social media as well, which interests me a lot. We heard from so many people who had had such varied, often odd careers that I just can’t wait to get started on mine. A couple of speakers who stood out were the owner of Peirene Press, who publish fiction in translation in the form of beautiful, branded books; and Eric Huang, whose career I would just copy given the opportunity. These presentations also gave you the chance to get talking to people from the industry, which was one of our aims in attending.
That’s something I think most of us were quite unprepared for about the Fair: it’s hard to network. You get it in your head that you’ll be going and speaking to potential employers, possibly former students to get some advice, but once you’re there you realise how busy and manic this time is for publishers. They have hundreds of meetings to get through in the few days, some of them negotiating rights deals worth thousands of pounds.
It was lovely on the last day to find some of the smaller publishers’ stands looking a bit quieter – some of them only had one person sitting at their table. We were lucky to be able to go round and get chatting to some of them. A couple of women weren’t much older than myself, and were really happy to give advice and chat for a while. Far, Far Away Books and Egmont (though not exactly one of the small publishers!) were particularly great. I even managed to give out a couple of business cards, which felt ridiculously grown-up.
It was possibly the quickest three days ever, and yet if I covered everything this post would be too long. Suffice to say that I can’t wait to be back there next year – future employer permitting!