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.

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.

 

 

The Importance of Print: Neilsen Book’s UK Children’s Summit

Back in March I was able to attend the London Book Fair. This is staged annually where Publishers from all over the world can interact. Alongside some of the most prestigious international publishers negotiating sales, there is also a number of extremely interesting talks and seminars going on from various industry officials over the course of the three-day event.

Children’s publishing plays a major part in the fair, with many prominent publishers in this industry present (pictured above is Usborne’s amazing stall). On the final day of the fair the Neilsen Book’s UK Children’s Summit, which I was lucky enough to be able attend, was held. They presented the latest data concerning the children’s book publishing industry and we were able to gain an insight into how the industry is progressing in this area.

The day was packed with insightful talks: from industry experts like Steve Bohme, the Research Director at Neilsen Books, to Joanna Feeley from TrendBible, who detailed how trends such as how our house layout can affect reading habits. These all gave a specific insight into a different area of the industry, and one that made a particular impact on myself was Cally Poplak’s, of Egmont Publishing, presentation on their research project ‘Print Matters More’. This presentation detailed Egmont’s most recent study, which was conducted in partnership with Foyles, in order to gain an insight into how children can be encouraged to read more.

The project was aimed at fifteen families with a child who was a reluctant reader. They were given a £10 voucher for their local Foyles every week for six weeks, during the summer holidays. In return, the families promised that they would spend 20 minutes every day reading together. According to Poplak “Being read to is a key factor in becoming an independent reader” and this was evident in the data presented.  The children throughout the weeks went from being reluctant readers, because of factors such as a disinterest in books or struggling with the level of content, to clearly engaging with books and enjoying the time that they spent reading.

Seeing the way these children began to connect with reading in such a short space of time, not only within the allotted being ‘read to’ time but also individually, was unbelievably heart-warming. It was a showcase of how both being read to and the whole experience of choosing a physical book contributed to their enjoyment of reading overall.

The take away from this talk was definitely that given the opportunity, all of these children began to not only enjoy reading so much more but also their reading skills improved vastly. It was clear to see the connection in how well readers connected with books when they were also being read to by an adult regularly. It was incredibly interesting to identify how the experience of picking a physical book from a bookstore affected these children’s desire to read, not only with parents but eventually on their own. These children were not only reading more but also for enjoyment, rather than finding it a chore as they had often found before. ‘Print Matters More’ gave an inspiring insight into the barriers behind children’s reluctance to read, and what the Children’s publishing industry can perhaps do to remove these barriers.

My Placement at Luath Press

Over the two-week Easter break, I was given the opportunity to complete a work placement at Luath Press, a small but established publishing house based here in Edinburgh. Named after Robert Burns’ collie Luath, the press is located just a few steps away from Robert Burns’ first lodgings on the Royal Mile. For a small, independent publisher, Luath publish across a diverse range of genres; they cover fiction and poetry in their titles, as well as art, history and guidebooks — their sole aim being to publish well-written books worth reading.

On my first day at the placement, I was greeted by Jennie, who has been taking care of events and publicity at the press, while also running a second-hand bookshop in the nearby West Port area. Jennie guided me up to the office, which is based on the top floor of the building, and is brimming with stacks of books and paper. After allowing me time to get settled into what was to be my working environment over the next couple of weeks, Jennie explained some of the work I might expect to be doing during my time on the placement, before setting me off on my first task as an intern. I began with some design work on some bookmarks which were to be used for an upcoming launch event for Anne Pia’s Language of My Choosing. With guidance from Jennie, I tweaked the text and layout of the bookmarks in InDesign, and checked that the measurements were correct before they could be sent to print. This allowed me to put some of my InDesign skills from the course into practice in the publishing workplace, while also receiving useful feedback and advice along the way. After the bookmarks were approved by Jennie, I was then given a manuscript to proofread. As I have a particular interest in the editorial aspects of publishing, this was a brilliant opportunity for me to practise my skills and learn as much as I could about the process in a hands-on way.

For the rest of my first week, I continued proofreading the manuscript between other tasks that required more immediate attention. Alongside continuing my editorial work, I also drafted an invite for an event taking place the following week, and collected the required contact information to which the invites were to be sent. After the invites were approved by Jennie, I then emailed them out to the list of contacts I had compiled, including a link to the Eventbrite page to allow recipients to register to the event. I was also given a poetry manuscript to proofread by Jules, a former Napier student now working at Luath who always made the time to answer any questions I had. As the poetry manuscript was to be sent out to the typesetter that day, Jules asked me to check for any possible minor errors before it was sent out. Therefore, I checked that the page numbers in the contents page matched up to the corresponding page numbers within the body of the text, and likewise with the titles of the poems. In the run-up to the events taking place the following week, there were also several smaller tasks that required immediate attention in between my ongoing editorial work, such as delivering books and posters to the venues in which the events would be taking place. Through this variety of tasks, I began to better understand the importance of prioritising workload in the publishing environment; it can often be a balancing act in which the most immediately urgent tasks must be given priority over less pressing work.

As I began my second and final week on the placement, I was introduced to Luath’s director, Gavin MacDougall, along with a fellow intern who had just started at the press. After providing an overview of Luath’s history and development, Gavin checked up on my progress on the placement so far, and provided me with a checklist of tasks to focus on for the remainder of my time there. As this was a lengthy checklist considering my limited time at the press, it was agreed that it would be most useful for me to focus on certain tasks based around the manuscript I was currently proofreading. Over the course of my final week, I finished my proofreading of the manuscript (helped along by continuous one-to-one feedback with Jennie), drafted a press release for the title, as well as an AI sheet and a blurb. I also wrote a reader report for the manuscript in which I detailed what I considered to be the strengths and weaknesses of the work, and any improvements I thought could be made going forward. By focussing the majority of my work on this one particular manuscript, I felt I gained a well-rounded, practical insight into the various elements involved in the pre-publication process of a single title.

Over the course of my time at Luath, I was given the perfect opportunity to put all I have learned so far on the publishing course into practice. I feel I gained a well-rounded insight into the day-to-day dynamics of a small, independent publisher, and learned that no day is ever the same — adaptability is essential. And also, you will get used to the sound of bagpipes everyday!

Many thanks to everyone at Luath Press for this wonderful opportunity.