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.

Reflecting on LBF ’17

The London Book Fair was a tremendously valuable experience. Certainly, I was a little overwhelmed at first by the sheer number of stands, the scale of the Olympia and the deals and important conversations between publishers that I saw taking place as I wandered the aisles. But as a learning experience, a place to hear up-to-date and in-depth knowledge directly from the publishing professionals themselves and a chance to be a part of the buzzing and beautiful city of London, I took away many points to reflect on.

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I was particularly looking to explore the uncertainty that the publishing industry faces in an ever-changing world of new technologies and shifting political climates (Brexit being the obvious concern here) and how publishers are challenging and looking to overcome this. This was of course a major topic for debate across the fair, addressed in the majority if not all of the talks I attended.

The very first seminar, ‘Brexit: Good or Bad News’, explored just this. DK’s Ian Hudson and Charlie Redmayne of Harper Collins voiced concerns over Brexit’s impact on recruitment in terms of freedom of movement, issues in copyright frameworks and implications of the weaker pound on printing for example. While many in the room also voiced concern, (upon a vote, most felt that Brexit would have a mainly negative effect on the industry), the general feeling was however positive – we’ve been dealt this scenario and now we have to work together to move forward and overcome. The Bookseller quoted Will Atkinson of Atlantic Books, commenting on the day: “A bright spot is that it might be a good time to be writing and publishing, as people seek truth and try to make sense of our difficult times” (‘Hudson slams ‘inhuman’ May’s EU dallying’, 15 March 2017).

Another intriguing seminar was ‘Reportage in a Post-Truth World’, taking place on the second day. With a panel of reporters and analysts, the discussion focused on positions of authority, fact-checking and gatekeeping knowledge. Have the fact-checking media become too elitist as President Trump tweeted, becoming irrelevant and losing out to more populist media? To what extent can you influence the readers’ emotions? What does post-truth mean for publishing? – important questions to consider in assessing publishing’s role in our shifting world.

Other highlights include various talks in the Cross-Media section – we heard from Andrzej Sapkowski, the author of The Witcher series, in adapting literature to different forms of media, and the We.Latvia project, a new collection focusing on storytelling reassessing history and memory to inform the present.

Meeting other publishers during our time in London, albeit briefly, was also extremely valuable, the Publishing Scotland whisky social an example of this, reconnecting with professionals and introducing myself to new individuals. We also attended the Borough Book Bash at the end of the final day. A more informal setting than the fair, I met further new faces and discussed opinions and routes into the industry. Twitter handles and details were exchanged and I’ll certainly be looking to keep in contact.

A thoroughly enjoyable and fruitful week to a be a publisher (and an MSc Publishing student!), I feel significantly more aware and understanding of industry trends, issues and developments and I look forward to visiting the London Book Fair again in the future.

#LBF17 – Translation from Outside the Metropolis

This year, as part of my studies on Edinburgh Napier University’s MSc Publishing course, I attended The London Book Fair for the first time. Now in its 46th year, LBF defines itself as ‘the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels,’ and is therefore a crucial event in the publishing calendar for professionals and students alike. The sheer scale of the fair is incredible, both programme-wise and geographically, and can be borderline overwhelming for first time attendees, but also presents great opportunities for learning and networking.

This post will not review or recap the fair in its entirety, but will instead focus on my favourite seminar of the 200+ that were on offer for visitors. As I read a lot of translated fiction and am hoping to write my dissertation on minority language publishing in the UK, I spent a lot of my time at LBF at the Literary Translation Centre, which featured a stellar programme of events by speakers working in the translation field. The seminar that interested me the most was ‘Translation from Outside the Metropolis,’ where the focus was on the underrepresentation of a ‘variety of national voices and perspectives’ in contemporary fiction and media. In the same way that white and middle-class authors are an overwhelming majority over BAME and working-class counterparts in contemporary Anglophone publishing, urban voices tend to dominate English-speaking literature to the detriment of regional and rural voices and identities. The panellists were tasked with discussing this issue in specific relation to translated works.

The discussion was chaired by Theodora Danek, Programme Manager of English PEN’s ‘Writers in Translation’ programme, and the panel comprised voices from three different stages of the writing process: Alys Conran, a Welsh author and creative writing lecturer; Mary Ann Newman, literary translator and expert on Catalan literature and culture; and Ra Page, founder, CEO and Editorial Manager of Manchester-based Comma Press. All three spoke eloquently and in some detail about the challenges facing translated fiction in the UK, and specifically about the lack of voices from outside major cities being translated into English.

Alys’ views were of particular interest to me as Welsh is one of the Insular Celtic languages I am planning to focus my dissertation on; it was fascinating, if a little disquieting, to hear her speak about the difficulties she faced getting her latest novel published. ‘Pigeon’ was released in 2016 and thrived immediately in Wales, but took longer to start gaining any traction in the English market. She eventually released English and Welsh editions simultaneously through Parthian Books, but beforehand was told by more than one publisher that her story was ‘too Welsh’ to succeed in the English market, and that the rural stereotypes of Welsh culture and writing would make the book to difficult to market. Ra, speaking as a publisher, thought this a ridiculous position to take. An author and book’s background and origin, while being useful in flavouring the text, should never be the be-all and end-all for marketing a book. The example he offered was that if Comma was to release a book of Polish short stories translated into English, merely targeting Polish immigrants and second-generation Poles as a target market would be absurd; the market simply isn’t big enough. A book’s content is more important than its background. If a novel or short story is of good enough quality, its provenance should not matter and it should be able to connect with readers regardless of regional heritage or allegiance.

Ra emphasised that publishing companies should be more prepared to take risks when importing fiction into English and commissioning from abroad, as Comma itself has done with books like Hassan Blasim’s ‘Iraq + 100.’ He also earmarked the English short story as a particularly and predictably urban, even London-centric, format, and contrasted it with Ireland’s tradition of quality rural short stories, dealing with small, localised communities. The diametric country-town relationship in Britain is very entrenched, and this prejudices the view of rural identity and culture, and therefore writing, in other countries. Mary Ann, who has translated a great deal of Spanish and Catalan literature into English, agreed with this, and related how, in her experience, the vast majority of work commissioned for English translation comes from the great urban centre of the city Barcelona, with comparatively little interest shown in work from, or set in, the massive rural areas of Catalonia.

The panellists ultimately agreed that there is a certain prejudice placed against rural works when commissioning English translations, and that the stereotypes of rural texts and areas are as inaccurate as they are unfair – rural communities, both within the UK and abroad, are much more cosmopolitan than many people think and have a great deal to add to contemporary literature. For this reason, among others, it is vital than publishers take more chances on rural and regional fiction, where regional identities, far from being too niche to attract mainstream audiences, are actually best expressed in multi-cultural and multi-language societies. Developing new voices from outside the metropolis and the mainstream is essential in the current political climate, especially in post-Brexit Britain, where many need reminding that hearing from other cultures can help enrich our own.

SYP & Publishing 101

Becoming a member of the Society of Young Publishers has been one of the highlights of my time on Edinburgh Napier’s postgraduate MSc Publishing course so far, and has also been crucial in developing my understanding of the industry. The SYP’s stated aim is ‘to help assist, inform and encourage anyone trying to break into the industry or progress within it,’ specifically for those with less than ten years’ experience in the world of publishing. The Scottish branch has hosted several valuable events since I began my membership in September, including October’s ‘Editorial: First Draft to Finished Book,’ November’s ‘Freelancing 101’ and ‘Agents Uncovered’ in February. All of the SYP Scotland events have been extremely interactive and informative, as well as providing great opportunities for networking, but the largest in scale and impact was March’s second annual conference, Publishing 101: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

 

This post is intended as a brief overview rather than an exhaustive account of the day, and, as such, will hopefully provide an insight into the conference for those who were unable to attend, or a quick re-cap for those who did. The different seminars on offer during the day covered many perennially key areas within the industry like marketing, book awards and self-starting, as well as addressing more current issues like increasing diversity and the impact of Brexit on the publishing world. A fiery keynote speech by agent Jenny Brown set the tone for the day, one of optimism and defiance in the face of changing and uncertain times. Jenny also emphasised the strength and importance of Scottish publishing, urging everyone present to have faith that there is life outside London for the publishing industry, and to remember that ‘passion costs nothing.’

 

One of the most intriguing sessions of the day, and my personal highlight, was the Brexit panel discussion which followed Jenny’s opening remarks. The diverse panel featured representation from publishers, printers and retailers alike, as well as Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, who focussed on the potential long-term impact of Brexit on funding for the creative industries in Scotland and Britain as a whole. Derek Kenney from Bell & Bain spoke about Brexit from the printing industry’s point of view, and was refreshingly optimistic about the opportunities it may bring, both for his own company and industry-wide, and stressed the need to accept the result, regardless of political position, and adapt to make the best of the situation. Timothy Wright and Gráinne Clear, of Edinburgh University Press and Little Island Books respectively, gave industry reflections on Brexit from the contrasting viewpoints of academic and children’s publishers, with the overriding tone being a juxtaposition of optimism and uncertainty. The final panel member was Alby Grainger, owner of the independent and family-run store Little Shop of Heroes, specialising in comics and graphic novels. Whilst Brexit’s impact is usually thought of as a vague but disquieting spectre looming in the distance, Alby’s testimony showed the immediate influence it has had on book retailing. The costs faced by his store rose by an incredible 26% within three days of the Brexit result, and the only way to bare this increase was to release a long-term member of staff who was almost like a family member to Alby. Publishing and bookselling is very much a people business and it was distressing to hear about the impact Brexit has had on real people from independent businesses. Alby’s passionate claim that ‘principle is much more important than profit’ struck a chord with the audience and showed why independent businesses are still so important in the industry.

 

The next session offered attendees a choice between watching some product pitching by aspiring young publishers in ‘Pitch Wars,’ and discussing the pros and cons of various internships and work placements in ‘Internships Anonymous.’ I chose to attend ‘Pitch Wars,’ which featured four excellent and diverse pitches. As these products are all still in the embryonic stages it would not be fair to expand on them in-depth, but, without giving too much away, the contest was eventually deservedly won by my MSc Publishing colleague Lauren Nickodemus, for an extremely confident and well-thought out presentation proposing an innovative new series of adapted fiction classics.

 

The afternoon’s activities also included ‘Marketing 5×5,’ a run-down and explanation of five successful marketing campaigns, and a further choice between sessions on crowdfunding publisher Unbound by Joelle Owusu and publishing entrepreneurship by Hannah Taylor of She Is Fierce magazine and 404 Ink’s Laura Jones and Heather McDaid. The last main session was a fascinating panel discussion on the merit of book awards and whether they still matter in this day and age, again featuring Gráinne of Little Island as well as Sandstone’s Robert Davidson and Heather Collins from the Scottish Book Trust. The discussion gave a lot of food for thought, especially on the different effects different awards can bestow, with most being about delivering credibility rather than any real increase in sales. There was also debate on the controversial issue of publishing companies having to pay significant sums of money in order for their books to feature on the shortlists of certain awards, before closing remarks and a reading by Chitra Ramaswamy, which again reinforced the ever-increasing importance of diversity in contemporary publishing, and ended the day the same way it began: with unapologetic optimism.

Publishing Scotland Conference 2017: An Overview

It’s been 24 hours since the Publishing Scotland Conference left me equally overwhelmed and excited by my chosen career path so I hope this overview will give people who weren’t fortunate enough to attend a taste of what the day was like.

After a welcome from Publishing Scotland, the Booksellers Association and Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, the day started with a key note speech from Barry Cunningham . Not only do I hope to work in children’s/YA publishing one day, but I am a long-time fan of Chicken House. I was all ears on the necessity for fueling “book growth by providing a wider variety of book of all kinds” and how readers can discover these books. ‘Book huggers’ became an integral part of my vocabulary and Barry’s business card a coveted addition to my wallet.

Next came a statistical breakdown of 2015/16 retail market trends courtesy of Nielsen BookScan data, and while your eyes may have glazed over just reading that sentence, believe me it was one of the highlights of the day. Who would have thought there was a marriage to be made between David Bowie and bar charts? Steve Bohme for one (apparently it was Star Wars last year!)

Sam Eades, Editorial Director at Orion Books, shared her innovative ideas for creating debut novel buzz without the benefit of a big publicity and marketing budget. With materials even Blue Peter might struggle to craft together, she revealed the roles a dismembered mannequin and Portsmouth bus lane played in two successful campaigns. She also stressed the importance of spear-heading trends, from psychological thrillers to cosy crime; and of recognising the opportunity for partnerships – even if those opportunities come in the form of two ice sculptors. After all, “publicists are great blaggers.”

I gained a whole new appreciation of the art of the book cover from the Creative Director at Penguin Random House, Suzanne Dean, whose journey between the hardback and paperback editions of Paul Kalanithi’s, When Breath Becomes Air, was paved by 70 rejected covers. And I’ll never look at the negative space and allusions of Haruki Murakami’s covers the same way now that I know a little of the complicated effort masquerading as the effortlessly simple.

When it comes to working better with authors (and selling more books), Lucinda Byatt from the Society of Authors reminded us that, despite falling advances and royalties, “authors remain the only essential part in the creation of a book.” How must it make them feel to often earn less than their editor?

We heard from the front lines in sales and bookselling where the successful bookstores are the ones with “experiential content that’s not available on the internet”, Kevin Ramage, The Watermill: “booksellers that diversify … throw in a bit of coffee … offer as much as possible to the customers”, Sabrina Maguire, Bright Red Publishing.

For my elective breakout session I was glad to have chosen to learn from Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, about editing narrative openings (but sad to miss out on the three other workshops that sounded equally fascinating). With the “artifice of the narrative most evident in the beginning” and a tendency for authors to begin the story before the action, editors can choose to alter the structure, chronology and/or voice. In other words (Eleanor’s words): start with the Ballroom instead of the Country Walk; or reference it and the Conversation during the preparation for the ball.

One of the most inspiring parts of the day, however, was an introduction to OWN IT!, London from founder, Crystal Mahey-Morgan. Crystal’s goal is to tell stories using books, music, fashion and film, starting with the multimedia book, Don’t Be Alien. Above all I respected her recognition that we have to see the commercial viability of diverse authors instead of just the moral necessity.

With people and pioneers like these, I’m happy to say that the future of the book does not look as bleak as it is often believed to be. Many thanks to Publishing Scotland for making the MSc Publishing students of Edinburgh Napier Universirty so welcome.

In conclusion, prep your calendars for 2018 and place your bets on who/what Steve Bohme will use to front his market data next time.

 

By Kellie Jones

Meet our PhD research students – Helen

HSW ID photo 001Helen Williams is currently undertaking PhD research on Scotland’s regional print economy in the nineteenth century, investigating aspects of the circulation of personnel and knowledge across Scottish print union networks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at Edinburgh Napier University’s Scottish Centre for the Book.

Helen is the Secretary of the Scottish Printing Archival Trust, and was the Programme Manager for the celebrations of ‘500 years of printing in Scotland’ in 2008.

She holds a Masters degree in Librarianship and has worked for the London Library, the British Library and the National Library of Scotland.

As part of her research, Helen recently attended the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of Canada / La Société bibliographique du Canada (as part of the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences), at the University of Calgary). Helen also attended the Moore Institute at the National University of Ireland in Galway for the much smaller 2016 Print Networks Conference.

Watch this space for her reports on both.