London Book Fair 2015
When I was working in-house in Book Publishing the London Book Fair had fairly limited appeal. It was an excuse to get out of the office for a few hours perhaps, and there was always the chance a friendly printer would buy you a pint (arriving in the mid to late afternoon therefore being the best tactic). It usually resulted in bumping into a former colleague or two, which could be either joyous or awkward.
At some point in the last decade most stands stopped putting many books within easy reach, removing much of the ‘research’ justification for Production people to attend. There are some books dotted around as dressing, but not usually available for a casual flick, and there are certainly very few freebies on offer. It’s a strictly business affair these days, not like the Ideal Home Exhibition or car or motorbike shows where there is lots of product to look over, sit in or otherwise ogle with the expectation of having goodie bags forced upon you at every turn.
This year was the first time I had rocked up as a freelance with particular aims in mind, to put myself about a bit and glean hints and tips for identifying potential prospects or collaborators. I’d finished my website a couple of weeks prior and broadcast its launch to friends and associates, which produced some kindly responses and invitations to meet up.
Paying your £35 (which I was also doing for the first time) to just have a wander around and you’re probably wasting your time. At the very least you wont get good value without a number of appointments made. Unless you are very pushy or extremely lucky with your timing you won’t get to see the people you want. As I criss-crossed the venue I passed the Penguin Random House stand a couple of dozen times and saw a number of people I know well, but I failed entirely to catch their eye let alone manage even a quick hello. I did manage to sneak onto one stand and nab ten minutes with an old friend whose 11 o’clock hadn’t shown up, but that was a freak occurrence.
Most of the big stands are protected by a reception desk where admission is by appointment only and the expanse of small tables resemble some kind of record attempt for smartly dressed speed-dating. Plenty are more open but for the big publishers this isn’t a PR exercise at all, but rather a key part of the annual sales cycle. The stands are usually adorned with posters of books yet to be published, and that’s a large part of the point of the Fair. A lot of the same people will meet up again at Frankfurt in the Autumn, to do it all over again with the next season of books, and repeat.
Aside from the publisher stands there are dozens, if not hundreds, of interesting talks and panel discussions. Like Glastonbury there are many stages and the things you want to see frequently clash, or you run out of energy at the point you need to be at the opposite corner of the site.
Having been out of the London Publishing bubble for a while it was lots of fun to catch-up, whether by accident or design, with various former colleagues, many of whom were doing completely different things to when I saw them last. Meeting mostly people I already knew has led to contact with others I didn’t, which all helps to cast the net wider.
Amongst all this was one triumph of spontaneity over planning. On my way in on the train on Day 1 I tweeted about going to the Fair. This led to an impromptu meeting on Day 3 with someone who, having been told of my existence by a friend of his, checked out my site, and then in turn my Twitter feed, and asked if we could get together. This has led to some work on a project which is right up my street.