A journey to a strange land – The 2014 London Book Fair, by Katie Haworth

I left my job in New Zealand early this year to move to London and I arrived here only three weeks ago. Right now I’m looking for publishing work, getting used to the city and finding out as much about the book industry here as I possibly can in a very short space of time.  I was very lucky then that the 2014 London Book Fair took place on the very week I arrived. So I bought a ticket and rolled up to Earls Court for the grand event. London_book_fair_front

Oh, and it is a grand event.

I began my visit to the fair by just wandering through the stands. Imagine! Several playing fields of indoor exhibition space and all of it packed with publishers, agents, booksellers. I was as wide-eyed as a child in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and I certainly looked like a stunned mullet. I needed to sit down after half an hour, breathe deeply, have a (stupidly expensive) coffee and switch my mind from the New Zealand publishing industry to the global one.

You understand the Fair a little more if you watch the crowd. It’s an event that spans continents: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America were all well represented. And in ten minutes you can move from a stand featuring Swedish noir crime to one of a New Delhi educational publisher to an entire display of different editions of the Qur’an. And just when you think everything is from every part of the world but New Zealand, you suddenly stumble upon the audacious little gecko of Gecko Press, New Zealand.London Book Fair Exhibitors - Penguin

The big publishers’ stands are a little like fortified castles. Behind the high reception desks are walls of bookshelves, brightly glossy logo-embossed screens and tables at which small armies of suited rights buyers and sellers operate.

And the money they have to spend! Six figure deals are gleefully reported in The roslund_thunberg_largeBookseller Daily (a daily publication with London Book Fair news) every morning  and it’s a poor show if there aren’t two of three of these to talk about. At this year’s fair news was that Made in Sweden, the latest novel of Swedish crime-writing duo Anders Roslund and Stefan Thunberg (right), was being chased by UK publishers; film right have already been optioned by Dreamworks. Another novel The Truth and Other Lies by German writer Sascha Arango was also attracting considerable attention and according to the German Random House website world English rights have gone to Australia’s Text. And look out for a new Patrick Rothfuss novel, The Slow Regard for Silent Things. It was another six-figure deal, so it’s gotta be good, right?

And, you know what? Kiwis weren’t doing badly as book-deal high rollers either. Most notable was the six-figure deal struck by Quercus for David Hair’s fantasy series The Lodestar Quartet, which follows on from his Moontide series. Publication is scheduled for 2016, so watch this space . . . and congratulations, David! And in our favourite cooking category, Orion Books has bought the rights to New Zealand sisters’ Amy and Julie Zhang’s cookbook The Dumpling Sisters, which will appear in May 2015. The Zhang sisters (pictured below) came to prominence when they were finalists in Jamie Oliver’s ‘Search for a Food Tube Star’ contest. dumpling-sisters

For the newly-arrived New Zealand publisher in London on the job hunt, the fair was also a chance to sell things – in this case myself. I had several meetings with publishing recruiters (they have specialist recruitment agencies for publishing over here, just imagine having an industry big enough for that!) and I won’t bore anyone with the details, suffice to say that everything at the LBF is for sale in one way or another.

pp_malorie_blackmanMuch, much more exciting was the wonderful series of seminars and talks on offer with so many experts on so many subjects. A favourite speaker of mine was Malorie Blackman (right), the current Children’s Laureate. She is outspoken on many issues, and spoke on everything from Library closures to the lack of ethnic minority characters (still) in children’s literature. It was an absolute pleasure to hear her speak and I had to stop myself cheering loudly several times. Over two days of events I learned about BookTubers (YouTube about books – some of the people doing it now have vast followings), recovering Harry Potter for grownups (again), middle-grade fiction, how to throw an amazing children’s book event and what the statistics say about kids and digital books – apparently print is still very much favoured. My main area of interest is children’s books, but you could learn more on just about every aspect of the book trade here. There are seminars on translation, self publishing, cover design, digital everything, different nations’ book markets, different genres of book and hard and dry industry statistics.

It’s a dynamic, fast-moving, brash, money-making industry when it gets to Earl’s Court. But if you do get the chance to go to the London Book Fair, take it. For me it was the best initiation to the industry over here possible but it was also an immersion in a book world that is global and bursting with information, new ideas and very familiar problems and questions. You may not sell a title easily here for that six-figure dream, but you will learn so much. After being overwhelmed on the first day, I didn’t really want it to end.

by Katie Haworth, former Commissioning editor for Children’s books and Fiction, Penguin Books NZ

1 thought on “A journey to a strange land – The 2014 London Book Fair, by Katie Haworth

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