Diversity, equality and representation in London Book Fair

Conspicuous by its absence – where was the LGBT+ representation in the 2017 programme?

When I went to London Book Fair (LBF), I thought long and hard about which talks I wanted to attend. I was determined to learn as much as possible in the time available, but that meant making every moment count. While attending talks I couldn’t network – and vice versa. So I needed to focus. I decided to target talks focusing on diversity above all else, while fitting in as much about children’s and YA, technological innovation, translation and fantasy as I could.

So what was on my shortlist for diversity? There was a wide range of talks to choose from, but due to timing constraints and moving swiftly from room to room between talks  I ended up with the following:

  • Religion – ‘Publishing for Muslims: Representing their Experience Authentically’
  • Race and ethnicity – ‘Megaphone: Introducing New Voices of Colour in Children’s and Teen Literature’
  • Different approaches to literacy levels, education and technology in other countries – ‘Leveraging Mobile Technology for Early Childhood Development’ and ‘Digital Nation: Beyond the Book in Indonesia’ and ‘Experience from Poland: Children’s Books and Educational Learning Resources Supported with Technology’
  • Disability and accessibility – ‘Creating an Inclusive Bookshop’ and ‘Making Books Accessible: Collaboration between the Publishing Industry and the Accessibility Community’
  • Female representation – ‘An Equal Share: Women’s Writing from Poland’
  • LGBT+ representationer… well, surely there must be something… did I miss it?

As far as I could tell, nothing in the programme featured any keywords indicative of LGBT+ themes or issues, and the few ambiguous titles that I looked into turned out to have nothing to do with this either. Perhaps some of the talks I didn’t have chance to attend may have touched on LGBT+ matters, but none of them appear to have been advertised as doing so. This is a serious omission and one that I hope will be rectified in future.

Now, it’s important to note that LBF recently started a whole conference titled ‘Building Inclusivity in Publishing’, and its programme for the inaugural conference in November 2016 contained ‘Make You Think Snapshot’, a talk by Stonewall‘s Joey Hambidge on LGBT+ inclusion. Clearly they’re willing to start conversations about LGBT+ representation and inclusion in publishing… but more needs to be done.

One can argue that it’s not enough to just put a single talk on offer in the dedicated inclusivity conference. Aiming for coverage within LBF itself will have more impact, since the event is so huge. On the official website, LBF is described as “the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels”, where “more than 25,000 publishing professionals arrive in London for the week of the show to learn, network and kick off their year of business”. That’s a huge potential audience that could benefit from talks about LGBT+ representation and inclusion… And clearly the programme is built to take advantage of this for other areas of diversity, so the people who organise it must be aware of the power they hold to raise awareness and generate discussion.

If there isn’t increased visibility and awareness-raising discussion going on during LBF itself, how are the kinds of people who most need to learn about this going to have it brought to their attention? Going to a conference about inclusivity is a deliberate effort to become more aware of relevant issues – it implies a willingness, or even determination, to learn and adapt one’s best practice accordingly. As such, it’s more likely to attract people such as myself, who already take an active interest in diversity, equality and representation within media. For someone who’s comfortably ensconced in their mindset of ‘oh, that’s nothing to do with me – it’s not my problem’, or worse, in a more bigoted mindset, it’s less likely they would invest the time and money to travel to a conference that they feel has little or nothing to offer them. And it is people such as this that are complicit in maintaining the status quo of inadequate representation, or even deliberate lack of any representation, in mainstream media. It is people such as this who we need to get into conversations about why accurate, adequate and respectful representation is important if we want to change the culture both in publishing and beyond.

So how could we reach them? Well, I would suggest that adding clearly marked LGBT+ talks to the LBF programme would be a good way to start. It would signal that this is ‘important enough’ to be discussed in a huge event such as LBF. Furthermore, it would be taking place in an event that very high-ranking professionals with limited time are likely to attend for their own commercial gain, rather than simply turning up out of a sense of altruism or curiosity. This is almost certainly a different audience from those who choose to attend a conference on inclusivity – though of course there’s likely to be some overlap, as LBF is such a major event that it’s highly likely to attract the attendees of the inclusivity conference it helped to deliver. If LBF could deliver content to make publishing professionals at every level think more about the current state of LGBT+ representation in media, surely this could help to build a culture within the industry where more people would be willing to speak out in favour of equal treatment for LGBT+ individuals, both in the workplace and in the content we publish.

At the time of writing, LBF has not yet released its programme for the 2018 conference’s talks. Let’s hope that this year there will be something to address diversity, equality and representation regarding LGBT+ people.

Work experience at Luath Press

Luath Press – learning about marketing, editorial work and the importance of day-to-day tasks in a small publishing house.

After a space opened up on the Luath Press waiting list at short notice, I found myself preparing to go on placement a few days later. I was delighted to get the opportunity to see what Luath Press was like for myself, since a friend of mine had really enjoyed a placement with them a while beforehand. When she showed me the A4 checklist of varied tasks that the team gives to people on work experience, I became determined to apply for a placement with them and experience it first-hand. Over the course of my two weeks at Luath Press, there was certainly a lot to do.

I had no previous experience with marketing, but they encouraged me to build up my skills by drafting blurbs and AI sheets for books they were working on. I also found myself researching hiking groups around Scotland and ceilidh dancing groups worldwide to create spreadsheets of their contact details, since they would be potential target markets for niche books. In addition, I faced the somewhat daunting task of calling up a popular TV programme about the UK countryside to ask whether we could get some coverage for a relevant non-fiction book – it turned out that, although it took me a while to get connected to the right person, they were very friendly and helpful once I had explained why I was calling. Initially I was surprised that someone so important and high-profile was willing to listen to the request, but it really boosted my confidence to realise that such ambitious marketing strategies might actually pay off. (Besides, the worst that could have happened was that they’d say ‘no’, losing less than 20 minutes of my time. Definitely worth the effort to try!)

I also read, assessed and wrote a brief report about an unsolicited manuscript. This was a task I was familiar with from previous work experience, but the oddity of the manuscript I read really made an impression on me. It wasn’t so much the quirky content as the fact that the author had seriously mistaken which genre it fell into, so their cover letter felt completely mismatched with the story itself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good match for Luath’s list and it would have required far too much editorial work to be viable. This was my first experience of being involved in the rejection process. I was surprised by the use of standardised rejection letters at first, since I wondered how any author was supposed to improve their work or select more appropriate publishers to target without constructive feedback. However, it was explained to me that many authors would only be upset or offended if we gave them more details about the reasons for rejection, or would get the impression that it was now a dialogue which they could persuade the publishers to change their mind about – which would only be a drain on the publishers’ time and give a negative impression to the authors in question. I’m still not sure that I agree with the use of standardised rejection letters, but I can appreciate that the issue could get very complex if personalised ones were used.

As a word of advice to anyone considering going on placement there: Luath Press is great, but since it’s just off the Royal Mile there is a tendency for nearby bagpipe music to reach the office, so consider bringing headphones with you. I found that doing so let me focus a lot better on my work, but I really wish I’d known to bring them on my first day!

There were also more mundane tasks, such as carrying boxes of books downstairs, filling envelopes for mailouts, answering the telephone and even taking a sack of mail to the Post Office. I also volunteered to fetch a handful of display books from a different part of the city, which was certainly no hardship on a glorious sunny day – and better still, I was saving Luath’s actual employees a trip, enabling them to get on with more urgent tasks. All these little things highlighted the realities of being a small team with limited time and lots of physical books and mail to move between locations. It demonstrated the positive attitude and teamwork of everyone involved as they stepped away from their desks and usual workloads to ensure that the practical side of things was also handled smoothly and efficiently.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Luath Press. My colleagues (including another person on work experience) were all very friendly and supportive, helping me feel like part of the team in no time. They took care to get me as wide a range of tasks as possible during the time I was there (including meeting an author and editing his manuscript from start to finish) and the two weeks seemed to fly by.

Nerdism, Escapism and Low-Quality Entertainment – A Fantasy Reader’s Foray Into the Publishing Industry

I’ve been a great admirer of the fantasy genre ever since my mother first read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” to me back when I was still a wee bairn (as they say in this beautiful country).

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who shared my enthusiasm; not all of them identifying as “geeks” or “nerds”, who are often stereotypically associated with fantasy literature. While not everyone enjoyed those strange tales about magical objects, far away countries and foreign creatures, it was never something I felt the need to keep a secret. It was merely regarded a matter of literary preference or personal taste.

So when I walked into class on my very first day at uni (probably wearing a Lord of the Rings jumper or something of the kind), I was quite surprised to discover that being a recipient of fantasy literature was a seemingly shameful thing to be as a “serious” member of the publishing industry.
Words like “escapism” and “low-quality entertainment” were uttered by both my Book Studies peers as well as my tutors, and I quickly realised that most of them had never even read a fantasy novel.

Rather than continuing what seemed like a fruitless debate, I decided to choose an academic approach (this was uni after all, not a high school playground) and dedicated numerous term papers and essays to my cause.
Tolkien himself had addressed the issue in a number of academic papers such as his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which proved to be most insightful.

At the same time I began to wonder whether that view was specific to my course, or the German publishing industry in general.
Science Fiction and Fantasy literature makes up roughly 5,9% of the German book market (2014), which may not be a very impressive number, but is still the equivalent of several thousand new titles per annum – titles that have to be published by people who do not share the opinion of my Book Studies peers.

The question was: Where were they and where did they come from?

I decided to continue my research and found Frankfurt Book Fair to be one of the most peculiar events imaginable.

Unlike London Book Fair, it is open to the public and has become an annual gathering of CosPlay enthusiasts who use it to honour their favourite writers by dressing up as their beloved fictional characters – something I had always enjoyed doing myself.
But all of a sudden I found myself caught between two worlds: The grateful fan who came to honour the artist’s work vs. the Book Studies student who was on a mission to secure a job and gather relevant information.
The irony was – in a lot of ways it was a typical fantasy novel situation.
Choose to keep or destroy the ring. There was no middle way. All of a sudden I had to live in fear of Elric of Melniboné (one of my preferred costume choices) having an encounter with the editor of Rowohlt (one of the most renowned publishing companies out there). Or worse: a tutor.

When I moved to Edinburgh to study publishing, I was a lot more wary of people’s reactions and opinions, but to my great surprise they were a lot more open-minded. Whether this is due to the great success of Scottish works such as Harry Potter I do not know, but it filled me with hope.
I was also very much surprised to discover that quite a few talks at London Book Fair were dedicated to fantasy-related topics, and while the opening statement of the person giving the talk on “RPGs – The Quest for the Real Fantasy” (“I don’t really know anything about RPGs”) may not have been terribly encouraging, I am beginning to think that I may have finally found a place where I can be both – a publisher and a fantasy reader.
 

 

My work experience with Alban Books

An important part of our publishing degree is securing and conducting a placement with a company in the industry in order to gain hands-on experience. I was lucky enough to arrange six weeks of work experience with the Edinburgh-based distribution service, Alban Books. Initially wary of how I would juggle the placement alongside my studies, it ended up serving as a perfect accompaniment to the theoretical and design based work I was being introduced to during my course.

My own mentor for the six weeks, Elaine, kindly arranged a meeting with me at Waterstones to provide a quick brief of my on-going role as well as to answer any questions. This one to one chat beforehand, a much more relaxed version of an interview, allowed me to understand what was expected of me before I started. This open, helpful environment remained throughout the six weeks. It was a great comfort to know that I could ask advice regarding my course as well as well as the industry at any time.

Additionally, Elaine and the whole of the Alban team were very open to supporting my own learning by encouraging me to pick tasks that I had little experience of but wanted to master. For example, I was interested in the marketing aspects of publishing and wished to know more about how it’s carried out by different publishers. I was then given insight into how Alban conducted their own market research using online data.  Alban Books Pic

 What was great about my placement at Alban was the flexibility. I was given the chance to pick days that best accommodated my university schedule. Having my lectures and classes at the beginning of the week and then being able to inquire about what I had learned during placement hours was a perfect arrangement.

 As a newbie to the design aspects of publishing, having to create sales flyers at Alban alongside delving into the ways of InDesign in class provided me with a thorough and well-rounded understanding of a skill I had little experience of before my course began.

My placement at Alban Books proved informative and essential for my professional and personal development. It was also encouraging to be constantly surrounded by a supportive network of people. As previously expected, publishing is an industry full of helpful professionals on hand to offer advice at any time.  My time at Alban is still something that I reflect on during my studies, and I regularly apply the skills I inherited from it.

 

So what’s next for Children’s Digital Publishing?

Over the past few years e-book sales in the UK have been on the rise, in 2015 e-book sales grew by 4% based on the previous year, although this increase has slowed compared to double digit increases in 2013 and 2014 according to Nielsen BookScan data, so although slowing, there’s life in e-books yet. More impressively however are the sales of children’s print books which were on course to increase by around 12% in 2016, the biggest increase in over a decade.

I’m interested to explore the opportunities are available to publishers regarding children’s digital publishing; what the barriers are, from attitudes of consumers, as well as digital limitations. By exploring these things I hope get a sense of what might be next for children’s digital publishing.

This ‘digital debate’ has been hotly contested at recent publishing events over the past few years, The London Book Fair, Bologna Children’s Book Fair and The Bookseller Children’s Conference all have digital streams to their programming. Speaking at The Bookseller Children’s Conference, Nicolette Jones, Children’s Book Editor for the Sunday Times, despite regularly and enthusiastically reviewing children’s apps claims she’s never seen a picture-book app doing something a book cant do better.

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Public attitudes towards digital publishing and the use of digital devices is tenuous with nearly half of parents surveyed in a recent Channel 4 poll fearing their children were ‘addicted to screens’. A sales boom of cheap digital devices means that British children have ready access to the online world more than ever before. With this comes fears of unsecured access to sexual and violent material, as well as the potential for online bullying and online grooming. Despite this 74% of parents strongly agree or agree that it is important for their child to learn to use technology from an early age to get on at school, according to National Literacy Trust survey.

Like Nicolette Jones I agree wholeheartedly that children’s digital applications should not and simply cannot replace the picture books, however, I still believe that they have have the power to enhance the reading experience for some. In particular adding a dual modality to children’s stories, adding sounds to the reading experience can be useful for children and/or parents with visual impairments who can enjoy an enhanced version of the story together, as well as families who perhaps have low literacy levels could be read to by an app, potentially translated into other languages for families who first language isn’t English, who perhaps can’t get good quality book in their native language?

Tom Bonnick of childrens publisher Nosy Crow (who have been praised for their children’s digital products) has said because digital apps are expensive to make publishers need a lot of faithto see the succeed in the market. He says A good app uses interactivity to enhance a story and to drive a narrative forward. And a bad app would be one where interactivity distracts from the story, where you can move away from story and reading, and just kind of play a little game on the side.I agree its not the job of digital apps to retell the story or simply add unnecessary flourishes as Tom mentions, but to provide more accessibility and diversity, making the reading experience available to all.

I’m excited to see where these digital opportunities take children’s publishing over the next few years, many publishers have already dipped their toe in the water but I want someone to take the plunge, perhaps get in over their head, to explore what the possibilities really are.

Live Publishing Project: Turadh

Since January, I have been part of a wonderful group who have been working hard over the last few months to get Turadh, an ethical and wellbeing magazine based in Edinburgh, ready for publication. This experience has been incredibly worthwhile and not only will we soon have the first issue as a physical copy, but it has also helped open my eyes to another side of publishing.

At the beginning of the Publishing MSc at Edinburgh Napier University, when I thought of a career in publishing: I thought of books. Magazines weren’t something I had ever considered, despite spending a small fortune on them every month. However, within the first day of the course we had already been given the opportunity to attend MagFest, the international magazine festival held in Edinburgh, later in the month. Fast forward a few months to where we were given a choice in modules, and I immediately chose the newly structured Magazine Publishing option. So, why the change in heart?

The Magazine Publishing module now gives students the opportunity to work in a much smaller group than previous years, meaning we would have a more practical experience creating our own magazine. The Turadh team is made up of five students, meaning that we were all able to pitch in and got more of an opportunity to improve upon the technical skills that we had built in the first trimester of the course. Our small group now have experience creating a layout for a magazine, checking resolution of images, communicating with collaborators, and editing content so that it suits a house style, among other skills.

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Given that one of the aims for Turadh was to give local artists and businesses a platform to showcase their work, the fact that we have been able to use content from so many amazing local contributors has been unbelievably exciting. Seeing how this magazine has transformed from obscure ideas of pastel theme colours to a magazine full of recipes, guides to the city of Edinburgh, and much more, has been such a rewarding and educational experience.

I will soon be beginning a placement at Foodies magazine in Edinburgh, an exciting opportunity that the Magazine Publishing module has helped me to prepare for: both with technical skills and also with the experience our team now have in working with collaborators, such as illustrators and writers. The skills I have learned creating Turadh have been vital in acquiring this placement and have also opened my eyes to the magazine publishing industry, and the opportunities it presents.

To get a sneak peek of our magazine and for any updates on publication details, you can visit turadhmag.wordpress.com

Learning to Understand the Publishing Industry

So far, MSc Publishing has offered me many opportunities to in and out of class to learn more about how the publishing industry works and how to navigate it. At Magfest, The SYP Conference, and London Book Fair I had the opportunity to hear from many different people sharing their own insights and of the industry and how they work within them. Each speaker was mightily passionate about their work and spoke so energetically about upcoming projects, underscoring the importance of having passion to work successfully within this industry

Of the many talks I attended at London Book Fair, one which stands out for me was that of Guy Gadney discussing his upcoming project, adapting John Wyndham’s 1953 sci-fi novel The Kraken Wakes into an interactive game. A columnist for The Bookseller, Gadney explored the ideas of storytelling and narrative and discussed his project’s website toplayfor.com, and using AI characters as a storytelling device. During the session’s Q&A portion, Gadney was asked to give advice on how to be noticed in one’s preferred industry. Gadney stressed that it was always important to speak up to your favourite creators and let them know of your passion for their work and the industry. Furthermore, he stated that it is important to be aware of what you’re good at or where most of your skills lie, even if you have not yet had any experience working in the industry. Knowing what you can do despite a lack of experience highlights your passion for the industry and the effort that has already been put in for selling your skills to employers.

When it came to applying for placements this trimester I consciously put Gadney’s advice to use as I found it was a great starting point for structuring my emails. I did my best to come across as enthusiastic in my applications, but I found that could be difficult when I was contacting a publisher’s generic email address and I didn’t have at least a contact name to work with. Fortunately, I did have a recognisable contact in the form of Fraser Allen, CEO of White Light Media, content creators, marketers, and publisher of their very own project Hot Rum Cow. I had recently witnessed Allen talk during a marketing session at The SYP Conference, as well as previously buying a copy of Hot Rum Cow at Magfest. I explained how I enjoyed his talk and the magazine. I then explained that I believed my skills were mostly editorial, but I was open to any placement opportunities they could offer. I thanked him for his time and sent the email. The next day I received a reply thanking me for my email and my interest in the company while offering to pass on my email to the editorial director to try and arrange something. A few emails later I had secured a two-week placement in June.

Suffice to say, I am very glad of the opportunities and advice I’ve been given so far during this course. Putting professional advice to practical use as I have just described is a validating experience and makes me more aware of my own development in understand how to communicate within the publishing industry.