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.