In April 2018, a group of third-year Publishing students from Bath Spa University travelled to Olympia London to visit the London Book Fair to learn more about what is going on in publishing, the future predictions for the industry, and how to navigate their way into a fulfilling career. milk writer Abi tells us all about the day.
For the last 47 years, publishing professionals from around the world have descended upon Olympia London to negotiate rights and the distribution of content across print, TV, film, and the digital sphere. The London Book Fair is used as an opportunity to “learn, network, and kick off their year of business”.
Walking around the fair you can find hundreds of publishers, including the big names such as Penguin Random House, Bloomsbury, and Amazon. But you’ll also see some smaller brands, including a booth for seven Welsh publishers who attended the fair for the first time this year.
As thrilling as it is to see the publishing industry from its heart, the London Book Fair is exhausting for an introvert. Surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people and trying to network with publishers can be overwhelming and a daunting experience if you’re not prepared. Latvian publishers Latvian Literature understand – the country is one of most introverted in the world, as they show in their poster (pictured right). They were also giving out pins and pens saying “Hello, I am introverted” and encouraged visitors to their stalls to “dress like an introvert” by wearing a coat with a quote from Latvian authors.
A microcosm of the publishing industry
There was an underlying exhilaration to the experience knowing that hundreds of important deals were being created as you walked through the fair. Walking around demonstrated how big the industry really is and how it works.
From the event I learned that not only is the publishing industry much larger than I originally anticipated, but there is also so much that goes on behind the scenes. To get into the industry, it’s not necessarily your degree that matters, but the work experience you’ve gained. Work experience shows more initiative and ambition, which will put you ahead of other candidates.
I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to find career opportunities growing up in the Welsh Valleys, so to witness first-hand the increasing importance of promoting Welsh culture and the stories of its people was inspiring to me. The industry in Wales is growing, largely through the Welsh Government’s greater emphasis on youth learning the indigenous language and there is more confidence for producing and demonstrating multilingual cultures. Stories in Welsh establish that the language is valid in the literary world, and the literary works are for an international audience, not just for Welsh readers.
I also learned more about the Young Adult (YA) book genre. The commissioning editors for this genre have found that many of the submissions they receive are combining and subverting genre tropes and tackling important subjects such as LGBTQ+ and mental health issues. They also commented that readers of YA are more politically aware and that the boundaries between the brackets YA and adult fiction are becoming blurred.
Top tips for next year’s fair
If you’re considering attending the fair, I highly recommend you take the opportunity – especially as student tickets are free and the Publishing department at Bath Spa University often try to organise a trip. Every year the fair grows, with more exhibitors attending and more talks on offer that delve into what is going on in the publishing industry.
Just do not forget to take plenty of snacks and water with you as the food is pricey and you’ll need to keep your energy up throughout the day. The fair can be overwhelming, what with the thousands of people attending, but it is important to stay calm and do not be afraid to find a quiet spot if you need to take a break.
There are many talks going on throughout the day, so find out what is going on beforehand and what may interest you. Make sure you not only go to talks that seem important, but also ones that cater to your interests. If you’ve arrived with a group, do not be scared to split up – as long as you have the means to contact each other – and cover more ground with the stalls and talks.
Finally, do not be afraid to be friendly and approach publishers where you can. This is a great opportunity to network, but don’t stress yourself out if it doesn’t seem to work. Just focus on making a good impression and hopefully they will remember you.