When you arrive at the London Book Fair, everyone around you seems to know exactly where they are going and why. They are at a business fair, and they are there with a purpose.
I, the Publishing student, a little less so.
As I made my way through the crowd on the first day I fidgeted with my badge, which so clearly stated “student”, wondering if there was a way I could hide it and make it less apparent that I wasn’t part of the bustling, business-savvy crowd around me. At the same time, I was trying to figure out where the Literary Translation Centre was hidden, because the first of the many seminars I planned to attend would take place there.
In the weeks prior to the fair, I had combed through the dense programme event and had emerged victorious with a list of all the seminars, talks and events I wanted to attend. The objective was one: narrowing down the vast array of possible dissertation topics floating through my head and coming out of the London Book Fair with a clear plan in mind.
Since my initial idea was to write about literary translation, I more or less lived my three days in the corner hosting the Literary Translation Centre – which was just as well, because, tucked away from the main crowd routes, were several tables and chairs, a hard-to-come-by commodity at the fair.
While there, I found out with pleasure that my student badge was not as much of a black mark as I’d feared: if you gather up the courage to just approach the professionals attending the talks, they’ll be more interested in what you have to say rather than in your badge. After the first few talks I began to recognize a few familiar faces, and some of them got used to seeing me there and took me for one of the gang. I was not about to contradict them.
It was thanks to one of the random conversations that I ended up attending, on the Wednesday morning, a talk that was not on my list: Publishing: Meet the Innovators. The London Book Fair is a great place, but the quality of the seminars depends mostly on the quality of the panellists, and although I have to say most talks were engaging, some topics that looked interesting on paper were just not that much once you actually attended the talk.
Luckily for me, I was convinced to go to the Publishing: Meet the Innovators seminar, because that was the talk. Twenty minutes into it, I was so engaged by the panellists and the topic they were discussing that I knew I had my dissertation topic. At the end, I made my way trough the crowd and approached the speakers, now relaxed in opening my introduction with “I’m a Publishing student”. They were charming and willing to chat with me for a while, and more importantly agreed to answer a few emails in the future, once my dissertation was under way.
After that, all the seminars I attended were focussed on gaining more information about the topic I had chosen, and getting contacts in the industry who might help me come research time.
It was just when I left that it occurred to me that, although not a member of the industry (yet), I had come there with a plan, got business done, and was leaving London satisfied of what I had accomplished. Just like someone who knows what they want from the fair and go get it.