The London Book Fair is an event for people interested in publishing. It’s three days worth of events surrounding the publishing industry and the book market, things like workshops and discussion panels, and I was lucky enough to go this year. I also walked around London quite a bit and went to some bookshops, and I took a lot of pictures!
The fair took place in the Olympia building from Tuesday (March 14) to Thursday (March 16), but I unfortunately couldn’t stay for the last day because I had seminars to go back to at university. I still managed to attend quite a few events on Tuesday and Wednesday though, and I thought I would share what the whole thing was like for me!
On Tuesday, I attended three workshops: ‘Promoting literature in translation’, ‘India at 70’, and ‘A career in publishing’. The first one was (as the name suggests) all about how to get people excited about translated texts and how to market them. I am a big fan of translation in general, I did a module on it last year and absolutely loved it, and I also love workshops on marketing, so this was very much something I wanted to know more about. I didn’t love it quite as much as I had hoped, but I think that was party my fault. I was very tired from my journey to London and I got to the event a bit late, so I had to stand at the back. With more energy and a seat, I probably would have liked it better.
The second event was about Indian literature, and I really enjoyed it. The authors who talked about their work mentioned a lot of interesting issues they had faced in their careers, like people assuming that all Indian literature is about the same thing and that it’s all just a big cliché. They had been told that their books need to be adapted to be sold because their culture doesn’t ‘translate’ well, when the truth is that someone who reads a book set in India doesn’t want something that is adapted and watered down, but is more likely to be looking for something true to the country it’s from. My favourite part of the conversation was the question of ‘what is a mother tongue?’, mainly because it’s something I ask myself on a daily basis and something I feel very strongly about. The authors were saying that they all write in English even though some of them don’t see it as their first language, and how this is often seen as betrayal because they are choosing England over India. My parents are Italian and I was born in Germany, so even though I speak German much better than Italian and consider it my first language, everyone in Germany always said I was Italian, and no one ever considered German my mother tongue – even when I said that it was to me. Now I live in England, and English is the language I choose to read and write in, so I often feel a bit lost when it comes to what my ‘mother tongue’ is. You can probably tell why I really liked this event.
The last event I attended that day, ‘A career in publishing’, is a bit blurry to me. I had wanted to go to two other workshops before this one, but I got distracted in bookshops (oops) (I even posted a book haul) (you can check it out here) (my life is a mess), and ultimately missed out on those.
Because of this distraction I also got to this last event late, and only really saw half of it. What I heard was pretty good, but I was very tired at that point, and I kept thinking about finally getting to my hostel and sleeping. It was mainly about where to start if you want to get into publishing, and the people on the panel gave the audience some general advice along the lines of ‘don’t be a snob when you start out and be open to any job in the industry‘.
Finally, the first day was over and I could check in! If you’re curious, I spent the night in the YHA London Central, which is part of the Youth Hostels Association. I shared a room with 5 other girls, who were all very friendly, and the accommodation was clean and comfy. The radiator gave off some peculiar sounds and the shower room had very little space for clean clothes, but other than that it was really nice. I also only paid £18, so I would have been fine with whatever.
After arriving at my hostel, I decided that even though I was very tired I wanted to explore the area a little bit. The YHA London Central is really close to Oxford Street, so I couldn’t ignore that, and I had to at least take a walk down there. I ended up discovering that Oxford Street is just like every other busy street in a big city – full of people in a hurry and with lots of shops that you can find literally everywhere. It’s really not that special. I did find a cute little crêpe van however, and I can never resist a crêpe, so of course I got one.
Day two started out with a lovely walk to the tube station, and I found out that Oxford Street is much nicer and more quiet early in the morning. The sun was shining (surprising but true), and it just put me in a really good mood.
I decided to be more productive that day and went to a total of five workshops, which, considering they’re one hour each and quite dense, is a lot. The first event I attended was ‘Editing matters, doesn’t it?’, and while I love editing, I found it a little bit boring. I think I just prefer workshops and panels that focus on diversity rather than editing or marketing. The guy who was talking was really good though, and me being bored was definitely my own fault, because he had quite a few jokes in his presentation, and everyone else seemed entertained. He talked about the ambiguity that editors face every day, the fact that often you think you are correcting someone’s grammar but then you find out they just meant something else, and you’re the one who’s wrong. He basically ended his talk by saying that the answer to most editing questions is ‘it depends’.
Then came my favourite event of the whole fair: the ‘Voices of London’ panel. This was such a fun, upbeat, and friendly event, and it was the only one where I didn’t feel like taking out my phone half-way through. It starred three authors from London and was all about how and what they write, and how London features in their work. The chosen authors were children’s books writer Laura Dockrill (who was absolutely hilarious), graphic novelist Hannah Berry, and poet Kayo Chingonyi (who was my favourite). When Kayo read some of his poetry, I loved it so much that I went and requested an ARC of his upcoming collection. I didn’t think I would even get a reply, but the publicist was really lovely and I was approved! If you’re interested, the collection is called Kumukanda and will be released in June, and I will definitely publish a full review when I get my copy!
The second event of the day was an interview with the Nigerian author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, and it was really awesome as well. I had wanted to read her novel Stay with Me for some time, so when I found out she would be interviewed right in front of me, I got quite excited. She was really lovely and quite funny in the interview, and I especially loved a story she told about her mother thinking she had been a bad parent because Ayọ̀bámi always writes about dysfunctional families. She also went to UEA, which is my university, so I thought that was really cool!
My favourite part of the event, however, was when she stayed behind after the interview to sign books. There was a small shop selling copies of books relevant to the London Book Fair, and Stay with Me was one of them. Because it was a new hardcover, I paid £14.99 for it, which is a lot of money for someone who always gets books second-hand. But she signed it with my name, so it was worth it! I really hope I will love this book.
The second-to-last event of the day was also a really amazing one, all about diversity in British literature, specifically writers of colour. It was a really great panel, and the authors on it brought up so many important issues. They said that a lot of publishers feel that they can’t have too many writers of colour, so they only have a few bestselling ones and then don’t want any more, but they don’t apply the same standard to white authors. They also said that it’s the publishers’ responsibility to increase visibility for writers of colour, and that good publishers will help them get published and promote them. The idea that diverse books don’t sell is a myth, they only don’t sell because they don’t get the same amount and quality of promotion as books by white authors. They told the audience how they once tried to get some authors to the US to promote their books, but no one would give them any funding because they thought those books wouldn’t sell. Once they managed to pay for it themselves and they spread the word about those books, they sold a lot, and they started to get funded. So basically, people need to understand that if you promote diverse books the same way you promote books by white authors, they can be just as successful. One last thing one of the guys mentioned is that the representation of black men in books and media in general is very limited, and they usually end up being either angry black men or victims.
And finally, the last event I went to was one called ‘How to get into publishing’. It wasn’t super great, especially compared to all the amazing events I had been to that day, and they just ended up saying lots of thing I already knew. But I’m still happy I went, because at the end of the day you can never learn too much. One thing they mentioned is how many different ways there are to gain skills that could be useful in publishing, and while I knew this already, I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Even if you don’t get direct work experience with a publisher, there are a lot of ways you can gain similar skills while doing various different things. They also mentioned the importance of social media in publishing these days, which is a conversation I always love to have, because, well, I freaking love social media.
Aaaand we’re done! This ended up being quite a long post, but it was a lot of fun to write! I just want to add some pictures I took of the London Book Fair in general, so you can get an idea of how huge (and amazing) the entire event was.
Have you guys ever been to the London Book Fair? Or a similar event? Do you plan on going some day? I would love to discuss it.
‘Till next time and happy reading!