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.

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