London Book Fair: Students’ Cup of Tea

M.S. in Publishing student volunteers Kelsey Lawrence, Danielle Prielipp, blogger Chloe Goodhart, and Nicole Estrin with a palace guard
M.S. in Publishing student volunteers Kelsey Lawrence, Danielle Prielipp, blogger Chloe Goodhart, and Nicole Estrin with a palace guard

“We’re on the move!” proclaimed the signs all over the 2014 London Book Fair. While these referred to a new venue in 2014, they certainly related to this year as well. With all the informational seminars and panels and important meetings, the fair was a flurry of constant movement. And in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, learning and deal-making, were four excited NYU-SCPS M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students.

Nicole Estrin, Kelsey Lawrence, Danielle Prielipp, and I were lucky enough to be selected by the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing to attend the fair and support the London Book Fair (LBF) staff as volunteers. Upon landing in London, we were whisked off in our own private black London taxi for a tour of the city. We got to see more of London in one afternoon than any of us would have guessed possible, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. As our knowledgeable cabbie relayed to us the history behind these icons, we were thrilled to think that after all these years, they are still standing and their stories are still being told. And stories were on our mind as the fair started Monday with the “Publishing for Digital Minds” conference in the Queen Elizabeth II conference hall.

There’s really nothing like sipping tea while admiring the sights of Westminster out the window and listening to some of the great minds in publishing debate the future of stories. The theme for the day was insight, innovation, and inspiration. Anthony Horowitz, author of House of Silk and the Alex Rider series, opened the conference with a rousing keynote, proclaiming: “EBooks are on our side.”

Lawrence working the Children's Hub
Lawrence working the Children’s Hub

The following day, we arrived at the Earl’s Court convention center, ready to start work. Over the next three days we rotated among four different areas: the Children’s Hub, Author HQ, marketing, and the International Rights Center (IRC). The Children’s Hub, where numerous panel discussions and talks took place, provided the opportunity to learn about many diverse topics: from the value of awards in the children’s book market (high!) to the possibilities offered by augmented reality. At author HQ, which was one of the areas where talks on adult publishing took place, we assisted conference attendees and answered questions; it was wonderful to talk with the publishers, agents, and authors from around the world who stopped by.

The highlight of our time working with marketing or in the IRC was our stints in the Ivy Club, an exclusive members-only lounge where publishers and agents set up private meetings. We assisted the main staff member (an actual trained butler!) in guiding clients to their meetings. It was so interesting to observe the deal making and discussions, and it was thrilling to meet people like Jacks Thomas, the Director of the London Book Fair, and her American counterpart, Steve Rosato, the Executive Director of Book Expo America. One of the best surprises was seeing Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. She stopped by the Ivy Club and also toured the fair, where her husband Prince Charles’ book on Highgrove, their private estate, was exhibited by the Orion Publishing Group.

Estrin, Goodhart, and Prielipp with Harry Potter illustrator Andrew Davidson
Estrin, Goodhart, and Prielipp with Harry Potter illustrator Andrew Davidson
Author Hugh Howey chats with NYU student volunteers.
Author Hugh Howey chats with NYU student volunteers.

We loved hearing about the redesign of the new adult Harry Potter covers from Val Braithwaite, the Art Director at Bloomsbury Children’s, and Andrew Davidson, the wood engraver behind the new covers. We also got to sit down and chat with Hugh Howey, author of the huge bestseller Wool, which started as a self-published short story and grew into a series which was later bought by Simon & Schuster.

Bloomsbury USA Publishing Director George Gibson talks with volunteers.
Bloomsbury USA Publishing Director George Gibson talks with NYU Publishing students.

After the fair ended, we were invited to meet with George Gibson, the Publishing Director of Bloomsbury USA, who was in London for the fair. We joined him in the company’s gentlemanly British headquarters in a Bedford Square townhouse to talk about publishing. Gibson described U.S. and British publishing as “two different industries with a shared language”. He talked about the challenges facing the British market, particularly the lack of bookstores, which has led to an even greater dependence on Amazon. We learned a little about Bloomsbury, with its long and storied history, including how it acquired the U.K. rights to Harry Potter! Overall, the London Book Fair was a fascinating look into international publishing. Our biggest surprise was the British publishers’ optimism about the ebook market, which has leveled off in the U.S. “It was nice to see how positive the attitudes are toward the future of digital, though I think the publishing industry abroad would do well to take cues from what has and hasn’t worked in the U.S.,” observed Danielle Prielipp. We also noted that the fair itself was much more business-to-business oriented; there was less of the marketing that goes on at Book Expo America. While BEA offers big-name guests and author signings, the London Book Fair puts more emphasis on meetings and rights negotiations.

Finally, we were surprised to see the variety of resources for authors. “I found it interesting that there was such a focus on new and self-published authors,” Nicole Estrin noted. “A large portion of the activities at the fair were dedicated to helping new authors break into traditional publishing, from the panels and workshops at Author HQ to the Writers Fair on Friday.”

The week was full of interesting opportunities and great chances to learn more about the publishing industry, and we all agreed this was an amazing week. As Kelsey Lawrence put it: “Not only was it fascinating to see people from so many different aspects of our industry converging, but also to understand how the publishing industry is rapidly growing and changing.”

by Chloe Goodhart

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