London Book Fair 2010: Take me to the Book Fair

The London Book Fair was a bit of a sad spectacle this year, with so many exhibitors prevented from flying in by aeroplane-stalling volcanic ash from Iceland.

The saddest sight was the South Africa pavilion – every year the London Book Fair picks a country as a focus and this year South Africa was it. But the flight ban made it impossible for many publishers to come over – empty stalls were a common sight.

Still, it was far more relaxed than the usual elbowfest, and the famous serpentine queues at the various eateries were not too bad. This correspondent ate well (despite the ahem catering).

A book fair as such is not really designed for writers or illustrators but for the businesses that underpin the publishing industry. The publishers exhibit their wares and hold meetings – but they are scoring deals with other publishers, not with authors. It’s all about rights, technology, etc etc zzzz.

I used to come to the book fair with a roller bag to collect catalogues from the various publishers I was stalking. These days the receptionists turn up their noses and say with holy zeal, “Please download the catalogues from the internet to save the environment.”

So if you can’t stalk publishers, what is there to do?

Three days of spotting, bumping-into and stalking opportunities

In recent years LBF organizers have cottoned on to the need for children’s book events. The seminar programme now has a dedicated series of talks and panels targeted at people from the children’s book industry. These are attended not just by us writers, illustrators and wannabes but by rights people, publishers, editors, reps, librarians, and booksellers.

It’s three days of good stuff plus good spotting, bumping-into and stalking opportunities (if you know what your targeted agent/editor looks like) – at the very affordable price of £40 … and if you are a member of the Society of Authors, it’s only £10!

This year’s seminar programme seemed to focus on the looming onset of  Digital (apparently it’s now turned into a noun). All the panels I attended appeared to feature innovating people doing something digital plus one dinosaur (ie. someone who’s not made the digital leap).

For example, at a talk called Children’s Bookfutures: Children’s Literature and Digital Imagination they had a publisher making picture books for the iPad, an author writing online novels and computer games, and the managing director for Templar arguing the case for pop-up books.

At a talk about New Opportunities: Graphic Novels and Digital they had webcomics people and digital comics people up against David Fickling (my publisher btw), who is publishing good old fashioned comics with pages you have to turn. Fascinating.

The LBF appeared to be making an effort to boost its appeal to illustrators, with a corner devoted to Artists working live at a stall stocked with Foyles’ graphic novels department.

And a keynote event for the children’s publishing featured Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne with illustrators Marcia Williams and Martin Brown arguing the case for The Importance of Illustrating for Older Children.

I ran into many authors scurrying around to meet up with publishers (one of them explained that it was the one time they got some face time with their publishers, a chance to get their publishers to buy them a meal or a glass of wine – which made me sad, thinking about LBF catering).

But it was also a chance to meet up with other writing friends – some of whom I knew only via Facebook.

I’m sure the publishing industry will look back at the 2010 London Book Fair as a disaster. But I attended a lot of good events, saw cool stuff, met friends – I for one will remember this as a great LBF. Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay’s debut novel Tall Story is out in June

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