Like any industry, publishing has a calendar of events around the world at which creatives, facilitators and executives can meet, exhibit their wares and do business.
One of the biggest gatherings of the year is the London Book Fair – a three day event, centred on Olympia, but with a handful of related conferences scattered across nearby venues.
It was at the London Book Fair, back in 2018, that I first met my publisher, Graffeg. They’re a Welsh firm, so the London Book Fair is always a good opportunity to catch up with them in person. This year, it was particularly exciting to do so, with the publication of my next book, A Zoo In My Shoe, just two months away.
The Fair gave us a chance to talk about how to promote the book, how plans are going for the next publication, The Mittens With No Thumbs, which is due out in October, and to discuss other works I have up my sleeve to see whether we can extend our working relationship.
The world’s biggest publishers also have stands at the Fair, with Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury and Simon & Schuster among those with vast displays and meeting areas close to the entrance. Upstairs are some of the bigger publishers specialising in my area – children’s books – among them, Little Tiger, Nosy Crow, Andersen Press and Walker – but none of the bigger companies will take meetings with writers who don’t have agents, such as me. There was one that made me wonder whether they might be curious to see what I could offer them; the children’s publisher Usborne has adopted the slogan “Be Curious” – but it turned out that it didn’t practice what it preached.
Anticipating writing this article, I decided I needed to get a photograph of myself at the book Fair, specifically in the upper area of Olympia, where many of the children’s specialists are based. Until I decided to try a smiley photo, it clearly looked to many exhibitors as if I was trying to take a picture of their stand. One such publisher, Award Publications, had a quick tidy up and jumped into the shot; when they realised I was actually taking a photo of myself, they laughed, asked who I was and what I was working on. An unconventional first meeting, perhaps.
As well as meeting exhibitors, the Fair provides many opportunities for learning and hearing from established authors. I went to an interview with the children’s author Robin Stevens, who used the session to reveal the cover of her next book, The Body In The Blitz.
I also attended the Writers’ Summit – or possibly the Writer’s Summit, depending on which sign you looked at – at which literary agent James Spackman guided authors on how to pitch to agents, while a panel discussion gave advice on how to publish independently, for those who wanted to bypass that step altogether.
Over the years, I’ve attended a large number of panels discussions, and many, while interesting, don’t seem to teach you much more than “if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write.” But on the day I attended the main Fair this year, there were two particularly enlightening sessions.
I couldn’t not go to the panel entitled “Children’s Spotlight: How To Get Noticed in a Crowded Market” and it didn’t disappoint. There was unusually useful advice from the Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Carla Hutchinson, Simon & Schuster’s publicity manager Eve Wescoki Morris and children’s author Elle McNicoll, whose debut novel A Kind of Spark has just been adapted by the BBC into a children’s TV series.
There was also a fascinating insight into the past, present and future of children’s illustrations from professor Martin Salisbury, from Cambridge School of Art, Sue Buswell, who’s the Editorial Director, Andersen Press, and the award-winning illustrator Nicholas John Frith.
London Book Fair also provides opportunities to meet others involved in the industry, such as printers and sellers. I was delighted to stumble across Love Reading 4 Kids, who’ve added sales to their reviews. They offer all the books you could want – including mine – at a discounted price and give 25% of the sale price to a school of the buyer’s choosing, for them to buy more books.