“Christmas for Book Lovers“ at the London Book Fair

Student volunteers Alexis Palew, Christina Licud, Daniela Dib Arguelles, and Alex Borbolla at the London Book Fair
Student volunteers Alexis Palew, Christina Licud, Daniela Dib Arguelles, and Alex Borbolla at the London Book Fair

Fierce rights negotiations, a members-only elite club, lively panel discussions, and the presence of renowned authors and thousands of publishers from across the globe—these are just a few things that NYU publishing students experienced at the London Book Fair (LBF) and Publishing for Digital Minds Conference (PDMC).

NYU Touches Down in London

M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students Alex Borbolla, Daniela Dib Arguelles, Alexis Palew, and I arrived at the site of the London Book Fair and Publishing for Digital Minds Conference, the Olympia London, on a surprisingly (for London!) sunny and warm afternoon. The inside of the building was a construction site—hard to believe that two days later it would be a polished and bustling book fair.

In its 44th year, the LBF returned to this recently renovated and expansive space in part to better suit its roughly 1,500 exhibitors, representing 60 countries. As we debriefed and toured the building with Conference Manager Sheerin Aswat and NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing Director Andrea Chambers, the Olympia staff worked tirelessly—building structures, adjusting lighting, painting, and posting signage. We left with our marching orders for the next day and a budding sense of excitement about what the week would bring.

First Impressions

The next day, we split off into pairs. At the PDMC, Alex and I directed guests to panels, answered queries, and assisted with Q&A sessions. Of course, we also listened to lectures on the ever-evolving digital publishing landscape, where an interesting thought was posed: how much longer will we have conferences on digital media instead of focusing on what’s innovative and new? In other words, isn’t it time we stopped treating digital as a separate conversation?

While Alex and I listened and learned at PDMC, Alexis and Daniela helped set up the International Rights Center (IRC), where publishers, agents, and authors would soon be busy buying and selling global rights to forthcoming books. They also decorated a comfy lounge space where clients could wait for their appointments, as well as ensured that publishers had all of the materials necessary (including a chocolate supply!) to make their meetings run smoothly.

“It Felt like Christmas for Book Lovers”

Alexis Palew answers questions at the International Rights Center
Alexis Palew answers questions at the International Rights Center

Alexis captured the essence of the book fair with this statement, as the LBF buzzed with activity. For the duration of the fair, we continued to work in the IRC, assisting participants with tech needs, supplies, directions and other requests. Helping out at the IRC provided valuable insight into the inner workings of global book publishing.

“Working in the IRC was a good way to get a sense of what happens without the stress of doing it,” says Alexis. “What I witnessed could come in handy in the future if I ever have to attend a rights session on behalf of a company.”

Alex echoed similar sentiments: “I really enjoyed just walking around the fair and taking it all in. There are so many publishing professionals in one space, and I feel that as a volunteer I could learn so much just by observing.”

Daniela Dib Arguelles assists The Club at The Ivy
Daniela Dib Arguelles assists at The Club at The Ivy

In addition to the IRC, we also worked at a pop-up version of The Club at The Ivy, a private members’ club based in London, with affiliate locations worldwide. Publishers who wanted fancier space than the IRC used the Ivy to hold important meetings with agents and authors. As volunteers, we greeted guests and assisted with the schedules, appointments and other matters.

Says Daniela, “Our responsibilities allowed us to interact with the LBF staff and participants and that gave us a very good idea of the complexity of an event of this magnitude, and how important it is to the book industry.”

Panel Discussions

When we were not helping out, we were encouraged to attend the many lectures and panel discussions, including sessions on new forms of storytelling, “wearables” and other digital advancements, the benefits of publishing studies, book cover design, and book-to-film adaptations.

Rob Newlan, Regional Director for EMEA – Facebook Creative Shop, urged the audience to “think people over pixels,” a statement that stood out to me. With the industry changing rapidly, publishers often rush to new platforms as soon as they arise. Instead, publishers should focus on strategy and using digital not merely as a tool, but to create value for readers and serve them well.

Famous Faces

Alex Borbolla and Christina Licud meet Book Expo America Event Director Steve Rosato
Alex Borbolla and Christina Licud meet Book Expo America Event Director Steve Rosato
Grand Central Publishing's Jamie Raab speaks to NYU volunteers
Grand Central Publishing’s Jamie Raab (center) speaks to NYU volunteers

As volunteers, we also had the chance to meet key players in the industry including LBF Senior Executive Director Jacks Thomas; Jamie Raab, President and Publisher, Grand Central Publishing and a member of the NYU Center for Publishing Board of Advisors; Steve Rosato, Event Director of Book Expo America; and George Slowik, President and CEO,  Publishers Weekly. 

Mexico was the “Market Focus” country at the fair this year. Hence, there were a number of panels on Mexican publishing as well as visiting authors. Daniela, who is Mexican and has worked in publishing in her native country, was excited to meet Elena Poniatowska, considered “Mexico’s grande dame of letters” for her work in literature, journalism, and in denouncing political and social issues. Daniela also met Juan Villoro, another prominent Mexican author.

Mary Berry, the famed cookbook author and host of Mary Berry Cooks, Chris Evans, comedian and author, and David Nicholls, screenwriter/author, were also in attendance; I was thrilled to speak to David about how he adapted his bestselling novel “One Day” into a screenplay.

Personal Impact

The LBF allowed us the opportunity not only to volunteer, but to develop our knowledge of the publishing industry and our approach to challenges the industry faces as we grow in our careers. For Daniela, the LBF helped her to see “how the industry is embracing and experimenting with new platforms for delivering content and reaching new audiences.” The LBF prompted Alexis to think about diversified skill sets in the workplace. “Publishing is so integrated that it is no longer effective to retain only your specialized small scope,” she reflected. “The more you learn about different parts of publishing and connect with people who are challenged by different tasks than yours, the more you have to offer to your company and to yourself.”

Alex, too, related the LBF to her career, as she aspires to an executive-level position: “The book fair was a motivational tool…it will take a lot of my time, energy, and dedication to get where I want in the publishing industry.”

For all of us, LBF 2015 was a great way to see how publishing operates on a global scale, and to feel not only needed but inspired. What we learned at the fair, through interactions with publishers, volunteering, and panel discussions, will serve us well as we continue our studies at the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing and develop in our careers. It was an eye-opening experience and one that we are all very thankful to have had.

by Christina Licud

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