“You will not believe how full this place will be once the Fair starts,” Katie Morris, the event manager for the London Book Fair (LBF), told us when we first visited the Olympia venue two days before it started. She was right: no one could have prepared any of us, the four NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students who were helping at the 2017 London Book Fair, for what happens during those three amazing days. On Sunday, Olympia was completely empty except for the crews setting up stands. As soon as LBF started, the halls were filled with publishers and agents talking about the latest news in the industry: Penguin Random House’s $65 million deal with the Obamas, what Brexit means for the British publishing industry, and all the titles that were generating buzz in the International Rights Center.
Morgan Garces, Jacey Mitziga, Adriana Duval, and I arrived in London on Sunday morning, tired but ready to help the LBF events team and learn more about the global publishing market.
Our work started at Monday’s Quantum Conference, a one-day event that focused on how audiences discover and interact with content. After assisting with registration, we got to listen to Louise Vinter from Penguin Random House; Lauren Romeo, from Tekstum; and Nick Wells, from Flame Tree Publishing discuss how they are using data and market research to make better publishing decisions and improve their companies’ performance. While they all agreed that social media statistics are important to shape metadata and discoverability, publishers shouldn’t depend on one source of data to learn about their audience. They should also perform market research and test products before launching.
Later that evening, the four of us had the opportunity to attend a special performance of “Austentatious,” an improvised comedy play in the style of Jane Austen, based on the hypothetical novel Trump and Trepidation.
The next day we truly got to experience the size and breadth of the fair. While we handed out sweets to the visitors who were lining up at the entrance, we heard people talking in many languages in different accents. Publishing professionals from all over the world were there, ready to network and do business.
Later on, while Jacey and Morgan were assisting at the What Works? Education Conference, Adriana and I got to sit in at the “Creatives Across Media” seminar and listen to director Gurinder Chadha talk with writers David Nicholls and Louise Doherty about the challenges of adapting books into film and television. Nicholls, who started out as a screenwriter and became a novelist later on, said the most difficult part for him was trying to condense all of the stories and character from a 300-page novel into a two-hour movie.
During the next two days, the four of us helped out promoting various events on social media, including for London Book & Screen Week, one of the programs managed by LBF. This was the perfect opportunity to explore the fair and attend various events and talks: Adriana live tweeted the conversation between Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk and journalist Rosie Goldsmith. “I was impressed by Tokarczuk’s complexity and intelligence, and will certainly include her works in my upcoming reads,” she said after hearing the poet talk about her writing process. Morgan and I were asked to pile into the official London Book & Screen Week taxi, a bright pink cab with the logo of the fair, and sent to visit different venues around the city to take photos to promote upcoming events on social media. “It was empowering to be trusted with such a hefty task as reaching out to fans of the fair, and taught us a lot about how to create engaging content,” said Morgan.
We also had the opportunity to meet leading professionals in the industry including Liate Stehlik, Senior Vice President and Publisher at HarperCollins Publishers; Carrie Thornton, Editorial Director of HarperCollins’ Dey Street imprint; and Reagan Arthur, Publisher of Little, Brown, and Company at Hachette Book Group. “It is always exciting to meet the people who have such an influence on what we read. Getting to talk with them and learn more about the books they like to publish provided us with a major insight into the industry as a whole,” Jacey recalled.
On the third day, we ventured into the International Rights Center, a room the size of a football field where agents and editors from all over the world negotiate international publication rights for thousands of books. We met with Josh Getzler, NYU Center for Publishing Professor and founder and literary agent at HSG Agency. Getzler spoke to us about the meetings he had planned for the fair. Then two of us listened in as he spoke to the editor of a German publishing house about his client list.
By the time we left the fair on Thursday evening, we were exhausted, but had a new understanding of the global publishing market. As publishing students, we are always asked if we think books will survive; people only need to see the excitement and optimism that permeated the 2017 London Book Fair to know that books (print and digital!) are gaining new audiences all over the world, every day.
by Natalia Becerra