I Want to Be in the Room Where it Happens – #LBF16

Title above is Hamilton meets London Book Fair; when I think about it, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical actually suits my publishing career quite nicely. Thanks Lin! Well, the ambition and the feminism, the politics and the death, not so much.

But what does that mean? Well, aside from being the title of a song sung by Aaron Burr (third vice-president of the USA and responsible for Hamilton’s death), it encapsulates how I feel about London Book Fair. Walking into Olympia on Tuesday morning, despite having examined the map extensively, I found myself in an overwhelming grid of stands – some two stories high – of trade publishers, children’s publishers, foreign publishers, academic publishers, recruitment agencies, basically anyone and everyone connected to this thriving, creative and bustling industry. And me? I was just a small fish in a very large pond, but I knew I was just happy to swim along and be part of the current. I wanted to be in that room where meetings and negotiations and connections are constantly being made – the room where publishing happens.

I spent both mornings of my time at the Fair working for The Bookseller putting Bookseller Dailies on stalls and standing at the front entrance handing out the magazines to everyone coming into the Fair. By 1pm every day the words ‘Bookseller Daily’ were starting to blur into one, but with a cheerful attitude and an assertive nature, we managed to pass out the majority of the dailies.

Once I was finished working for The Bookseller, I was free to enjoy the Fair as I pleased. As I said, it was quite overwhelming to be there on my own, as a student, with no real purpose. So many people were busy with meetings and business it was hard for an outsider to get a real look in at the goings on. But I hung around the stands, checked out the popular titles and assessed the popularity of the stands, to get a sense of how well the companies are doing at the moment. It was useful to be there without anything to do so that I could find my feet; therefore, if I ever do get to go once I actually have a job in publishing, it won’t be so overwhelming.

I was lucky enough to bump into my old friend Callum, who is basically me but one year ahead: we both went to the same school, did the same(ish) degree, and want the same career – he just has it first (but he graduated before me, so there’s hope for me yet). I got some really great advice from him about job applications, being part of the industry, and book recommendations. And it was nice to have a friend at the Fair!

Aside from wandering around looking at stands, I went to some interesting seminars in the afternoons. On Tuesday, we heard from Charlotte Bush and Emma Finnigan, from Cornerstone; author Nikesh Shukla; Alan Staton from the Bookseller’s Association; and Daniel Dalton from Buzzfeed on a panel called ‘Making Books Trend’, chaired by the wonderful Cathy Rentzenbrink. Each of the speakers had interesting and different insight into taking books beyond established platforms and make them part of a bigger conversation.

Charlotte and Emma spoke about their incredible Go Set a Watchman campaign, setting out their strategies and making the most of every opportunity to market Harper Lee’s second novel. It was inspiring to see how they utilised various ideas to generate conversation about the book and rocket it to the top of bestseller lists.

Nikesh discussed his book Meatspace and how a simple idea with friends became a critically acclaimed work. To him, the key is a combination of timing, plus mates (or word of mouth) plus luck.

Alan spoke about Books Are My Bag, a campaign for bookshops, which puts books and bookshops at the centre of the publishing narrative. It’s a genius idea and I can’t wait to see the newer Books Are My Bags, like the Bard is my Bag – a celebration of the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Finally, Daniel spoke about making books go viral – except, books don’t go viral. Stories go viral, controversies go viral, people go viral and stunts go viral. To Daniel, an emotional message is far more important than a rational message to get people to share your message.

In the ensuing Q&A, an interesting topic was raised: whether a book can be publicised through word of mouth alone or if an advertising campaign is always needed. In some ways one can lead to another; Charlotte cited Fifty Shades as an example of something that became a phenomenon primarily through word of mouth. More recently, I have seen an example with Jem Lester’s Shtum, which though it is a fantastic book with a great marketing campaign, came to my attention through a Facebook Book Club, and then suddenly seemed to be the book that everyone was talking about. So perhaps, it is equally important to be sharing conversations and recommendations as devising marketing campaigns.

I also went to Inspired Selection and SYP‘s ‘How to Get Into Publishing Seminar’, which was a must for anyone looking to break into the industry. The Speakers, Stephanie Hall from HarperCollins, Helen Youngs from Inspired Selection and Sam Perkins, editorial assistant at SAGE (chaired by Eleanor Harrison), all gave out invaluable advice about first jobs, how to stand out and perfecting your CV and cover letter. They also answered lots of questions that I’m sure many of us have about salary expectations, when to apply and how to find jobs. I made TONS of notes in my handy BookBub notebook, which I got at FutureBook in December.

On Wednesday, I slipped into the end of a discussion on Diversifying the Industry, which is so interesting and so topical at the moment. Later, I went to ‘The Book as Brand Platform’, where Jeff Norton, author, writer-producer, and founder of AWESOME; Joshua Davidson, Managing Director of Night Zookeeper; and Guy Gadney, CEO of To Play For (chaired by Shana Jackson) spoke about how we tell stories on platforms other than books, how books can transcend the page to become films, games and TV shows. It was such a fascinating discussion on how our industry has gone beyond print to put characters on screen, in games and various other platforms, identifying how stories and characters become more than just an author’s word but become a brand.

And after the seminars, I was lucky enough to be invited to a couple of parties, one with The Bookseller and one with SYP and Maria’s JobsInBooks. I went to the latter and got chatting to some lovely MA students from UCLAN, who gave me some valid reasons why an MA is a valuable next step after your undergrad, but I still don’t think it’s for me!

I also spoke to Emma Stokes, who runs PubInterns and is just lovely, Fran Roberts, who works as in Marketing at DK whilst also being SYP’s Social Media gal, Zara Markland, Chair of the SYP and Producer at DK and Ben Bisset, digital publisher at Hachette and Prince of Twitter, according to Fran.

I’m just so grateful that I have these opportunities to build up my network and get to know more people in publishing. So far, everyone I have met is absolutely wonderful and I’m kind of quietly hoping that one day, people will be talking about me in the same way, as a person to know and love in publishing.

So what would be my top tips for a first-timer at #LBF?

  • Try and get involved in one way or another, either by volunteering or interning. It’s a lot more fun to have a purpose whilst you’re there and you’ll probably get invited to more parties that way.
  • Plan your days in advance. Even if they all go wrong, plan anyway, and know what seminars you want to go to – additionally, try and get to your seminars at least 10 minutes early to guarantee a good seat.
  • Make notes in seminars! You won’t remember everything. Or you can live-tweet, which is helpful for everyone else there as well.
  • Tweet the speakers in the seminars if you like what they said – they will appreciate it and there’s more chance of them remembering you that way, and don’t feel afraid to go and speak to them afterwards so they can put a face to the tweet.
  • Wear comfy shoes!! CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. I wore my comfiest converse and was still in agony.
  • Bring your own food if you can – queues are long and food is expensive. Us students can’t afford it, let’s be honest.
  • Take a minute to just sit down and absorb it all. I took this picture just as I was leaving, to remember just how brilliant it really was:
  • LBFTake every opportunity you can. I was walking past Bonnier and saw they had career cards to fill in, so I gave them my CV as well.
  • In that sense, speak to anyone you can. I know it’s overwhelming and scary – I consider myself sociable and an ambivert, and even I was terrified to speak to anyone. But it’s so worth it when you do.

And now, to return to Hamilton, I am ready and energised to take my next step in my career. I’ve done so much so far to build steps for myself, but like the man himself says, there’s a million things I haven’t done. So just you wait… it’s all out there waiting for me.

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