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.

Nerdism, Escapism and Low-Quality Entertainment – A Fantasy Reader’s Foray Into the Publishing Industry

I’ve been a great admirer of the fantasy genre ever since my mother first read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” to me back when I was still a wee bairn (as they say in this beautiful country).

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who shared my enthusiasm; not all of them identifying as “geeks” or “nerds”, who are often stereotypically associated with fantasy literature. While not everyone enjoyed those strange tales about magical objects, far away countries and foreign creatures, it was never something I felt the need to keep a secret. It was merely regarded a matter of literary preference or personal taste.

So when I walked into class on my very first day at uni (probably wearing a Lord of the Rings jumper or something of the kind), I was quite surprised to discover that being a recipient of fantasy literature was a seemingly shameful thing to be as a “serious” member of the publishing industry.
Words like “escapism” and “low-quality entertainment” were uttered by both my Book Studies peers as well as my tutors, and I quickly realised that most of them had never even read a fantasy novel.

Rather than continuing what seemed like a fruitless debate, I decided to choose an academic approach (this was uni after all, not a high school playground) and dedicated numerous term papers and essays to my cause.
Tolkien himself had addressed the issue in a number of academic papers such as his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which proved to be most insightful.

At the same time I began to wonder whether that view was specific to my course, or the German publishing industry in general.
Science Fiction and Fantasy literature makes up roughly 5,9% of the German book market (2014), which may not be a very impressive number, but is still the equivalent of several thousand new titles per annum – titles that have to be published by people who do not share the opinion of my Book Studies peers.

The question was: Where were they and where did they come from?

I decided to continue my research and found Frankfurt Book Fair to be one of the most peculiar events imaginable.

Unlike London Book Fair, it is open to the public and has become an annual gathering of CosPlay enthusiasts who use it to honour their favourite writers by dressing up as their beloved fictional characters – something I had always enjoyed doing myself.
But all of a sudden I found myself caught between two worlds: The grateful fan who came to honour the artist’s work vs. the Book Studies student who was on a mission to secure a job and gather relevant information.
The irony was – in a lot of ways it was a typical fantasy novel situation.
Choose to keep or destroy the ring. There was no middle way. All of a sudden I had to live in fear of Elric of Melniboné (one of my preferred costume choices) having an encounter with the editor of Rowohlt (one of the most renowned publishing companies out there). Or worse: a tutor.

When I moved to Edinburgh to study publishing, I was a lot more wary of people’s reactions and opinions, but to my great surprise they were a lot more open-minded. Whether this is due to the great success of Scottish works such as Harry Potter I do not know, but it filled me with hope.
I was also very much surprised to discover that quite a few talks at London Book Fair were dedicated to fantasy-related topics, and while the opening statement of the person giving the talk on “RPGs – The Quest for the Real Fantasy” (“I don’t really know anything about RPGs”) may not have been terribly encouraging, I am beginning to think that I may have finally found a place where I can be both – a publisher and a fantasy reader.
 

 

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.

Advice on your new publishing world!

I applied for MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University pretty late on last year. I had graduated with an Honours in English Literature and was a bit stuck on what to do. This course was suggested to me by a careers advisor. I applied after doing a bit of my own research, and was accepted to the course to start in September 2016. Initially, it was daunting, as any would any masters course would be, and in the run up to my start date I began looking online for some more information about what I would be doing.

It’s hard to go through blog posts and material that may not be relevant by the time you start, so here’s a list of what I believe to be important and that won’t change in the near future. Hopefully this will give you a bit of help if you are about to embark on what’s, no doubt, going to be one of the quickest years of your life.

Take notes. There’s a significant amount of information to be absorbed and I took a lot of notes. I managed to get myself into some sort of order, with thanks to my dad who bestowed upon me a diary that he wasn’t really using (in which I found my birthday wrongly recorded. Cheers, dad!). I gave this diary a new quality of life and used it constantly, making sure I wrote down all deadlines and dates. Coming to the end of the first trimester I was so glad I had dedicated a bit of time to getting myself sorted, as it gets hectic. A diary is also great for looking back on if reflective essays are required of you, and it’s nice that past you is taking care of present you in these moments.

Attend events. Go to everything you can. It’s all experience and a great way to meet people, get to know classmates, and begin to understand this massive industry that you’re getting into. I took up work experience in the Scottish Poetry Library, whose events I recommend greatly because they allow for some mingling (wine) before and after the event. It’s a great way to meet people as well as hear some poems in a really beautiful part of Edinburgh. Go to book launches: Waterstones, Blackwell’s, The Edinburgh Bookshop. Look for free events on Facebook and Twitter (if you haven’t already – get a Twitter!). Go to ALL the SYP events and meet publishing people outside of the course. There are SYP conferences, advice seminars, talks, mixers, socials, throughout the year. They are worth going to. Familiarise yourself with the people speaking at these things, you’ll see them around more than once. Finally, go to London Book Fair. You’ll be told about this on your very first day and it’s an important experience. Research this.

More than anything, enjoy it! A year is not a long stretch. The course requires a lot of work, which is difficult at times, but worth it when you get to where I am now. The industry can be intimidating and making sense of it in your own way takes time, but hopefully you’ll enjoy this year as much as I have.

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La vie (du livre) en rose; or: my four-day romance with the Scottish publishing industry

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Strolling through The Meadows, its beautiful cherry-blossoms in bloom, on my way to Luath Press

Nestled in a cosy corner of Edinburgh’s lively Royal Mile and sharing the same stretch of road as the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Deacon Brodie’s Tavern – a pub honouring the chap said to have inspired Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Luath Press seems to be the most happily situated publishing house in its vast UNESCO City of Literature. It is to Luath that I’m winding my way on an unusually fine spring morning in search of publishing experience – I’ve already practically floated through The Meadows, with its dreamy avenue of cherry blossoms just beginning to bloom, and as I cross George IV Bridge, gazing around me with all the awe its impressive architecture is owed, I begin to understand why writer Alexander McCall Smith calls Edinburgh ‘a city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again’. As a publisher who take their name from Robert Burns’ wee collie dog and were set up in answer to a need for good-quality travel guides on picturesque Scotland, I venture towards my placement with high hopes that in Luath I’ll find the heart and soul of the Edinburgh literary sphere; a company that provide a platform for authors who are so inspired by bonny Scotland and its cultural heritage they can do nothing but write of it.

Royal MileAs my destination lies at a stone’s throw from the castle, I battle through gaggles of tourists to reach the door, my plight underscored by the ditties of a long-suffering bagpipe player standing a few yards up the road. I reach a rather plain and unassuming door and begin to second-guess my orienteering skills (and my Google Maps smartphone app). Thankfully I spot Luath’s familiar collie dog logo perched next to one of the buzzers, and tentatively ring for entry. I’m greeted moments later by Rosie, Luath’s brilliant Sales, Marketing, and Digital Projects Coordinator, and she leads me up several flights of stairs that twist towards the top floor where the Luath office resides. Its windows reveal gorgeous views of the Old Town to one side and the New Town to the other, and suddenly I feel I’ve been let in on Edinburgh’s best-kept secret. I sit at the desk I’ll be poring over during my placement, quietly taking in the boxes of freshly-printed books, the newly submitted or marked up manuscripts, and the launch event posters that lie around me, and I can’t help but think I’m going to like it here.

Luath Press LogoOver the next four days, I enjoy a whistle-stop tour of the inner workings of the Scottish publishing sector, beginning with a wonderful overview of Luath’s history and a summary of how it operates today from Director Gavin MacDougall, who is also kind enough to offer hints and tips on getting started in a publishing career. He emphasises the importance of finding your niche within the publishing workflow, whether it be in editorial, marketing, or production, for example, and suggests honing your skills in that area to reach the top of your chosen field. Later, I take calls from keen readers who enjoyed a Luath title so much they want to order additional copies for their relatives, from writers eager to know if their prized manuscript has arrived at Luath HQ, and from Luath’s distributor, HarperCollins, calling to check on an order detail with Gavin. Throughout the week I also meet Jennie Renton from nearby Main Point Books who assists with Luath’s marketing one day a week, and I revel in the achingly well-informed bookish conversations that take place between her and Gavin. I am also introduced to a freelance designer, and a BBC journalist, and later I meet the talented Editorial and Production Manager, Chris, just returned from holiday, who I discover is a fellow alum of the University of Dundee’s Humanities department. I beseech my brain to adopt “sponge mode”, as I’m acutely aware of how valuable it is to be in an environment like Luath and absorb as much as possible of what is playing out around me.

My tasks during the week are wonderfully varied, and I begin with laying the foundations for a Twitter campaign surrounding David Torrance’s culturally-pertinent title, General Election 2015: A Guide for Voters in Scotland.David Torrance_General Election 2015 I set up a list of relevant Tweeters to follow, including the accounts of all the major political parties and their leaders, to be utilised as a marketing tool as the election draws near. I come to know Torrance’s title quite well during my time at Luath, and also compose a blog post to market the product on Luath’s blog, BookBanter.

I likewise get acquainted with Stuart McHardy’s Scotland’s Future History, and draft an example blurb, an advanced information sheet (which includes creating an ISBN barcode), and a press release around this title, all intended as an exercise in good marketing practice. Keen to gain editorial experience, I am given the opportunity to proofread Rosie’s monthly digital newsletter and suggest changes. Perhaps my most important task, however, is to work on the design and production of a Luath catalogue intended for circulation at the upcoming London Book Fair, and I devote much of my time during the placement to this assignment, aiming to create a publication that represents the values and objectives of Luath, while showcasing their diverse backlist and frontlist titles.

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The ‘Books from Scotland’ section at the London Book Fair, which includes a number of Luath titles

I alight again onto the Royal Mile on Friday evening, lamenting the rapid speed at which my time at Luath passed over, yet triumphing in the great wealth of experience I amassed during that same short spell. Passing once more through the grandeur of George IV Bridge and onto the long cherry-tree lane that skirts through the Meadows, I think again of Edinburgh’s great literary heritage, and I feel privileged to have been amongst people who devote their time to both preserving and growing this beautiful tradition.

London Book Fair: of getting lost and getting things done

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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.

Visit to Dennis Publishing

As part of our southerly excursion to the London Book Fair, last week our MSc Magazine Publishing and a few MSc Publishing students had the privilege of a visit to Dennis Publishing, based in Central London.

As the 6th largest magazine publisher in the UK, Dennis also has offices in Glasgow (home of The Big Issue) and a strong  footing in the USA, where they are best known for their current affairs and news magazine, The Week. Throw into the mix their own subscription company and you can imagine how excited we were to be welcomed into their board room, with stunning views over London and a delightful selection of refreshments.

The first part of our morning was dedicated to a matter close to our hearts – how to get past the eagle-eyed recruitment officer and into the world of publishing employment. Leti Taylor supplied us with ample advice, from the structure of our CVs to the best ways to make early contact with the companies you want to work with. The importance of having some kind of online portfolio and social media presence was highlighted (and yes, it’s ok to be occasionally tipsy in those Facebook photos). Even interviews that don’t work out are a positive experience. Remember you’re essentially networking and any feedback you can get from an unsuccessful interview will serve to make the next one more impressive.

Next up in the packed schedule was Tim Danton, Editor in Chief of PC Pro and Editorial Director and Deputy MD of Dennis Technology. Tim talked us through the challenges and pitfalls of starting a new venture, in this case, an online magazine that Dennis will be launching in the near future. We discussed the essential check boxes for pitching a new magazine to the bosses (one of the most important being ‘is it economically viable?’), how digital magazine audiences differ from readers of print magazines and how it’s always good to make a decision “even if it’s wrong”. Ultimately, readerships and maintaining a trusting relationship should be put ahead of all other considerations when running your magazine.

Joel Snape, Acting Editor of Men’s Fitness gave us an intellectual workout as we discussed the challenges of adapting magazines to meet the needs of evolving audiences and compensate for the internet being the font of all knowledge. Introducing readers to new ideas and new products, asking questions that they might not have even considered asking and presenting data in digestible and fun ways were highlights. Picking your battles and not meeting competitors head-on were interesting considerations for the students, as we were encouraged to identify what we do best and do it well, whilst filling niches and keeping in touch with the readership.

Back to digital with Holden Frith, Online Editor of TheWeek.co.uk, as we discussed how editorial, writing styles and the types of news reported differs a great deal between the print and online editions of this popular international magazine. We discussed the loyalty of readers in print and online and how though a readership might be much greater on the internet, it can be more difficult to connect as many of them may be one-time hits.

Finally, brains well-past full, Julian Lloyd-Evans, MD of Advertising, talked us through the importance of creating communities for readerships and advertisers alike. Encouraging us to love media, engage fully with our passions and  to have an opinion, it was food for thought when we considered the £6bn spend on UK advertising every year and our £2bn worth of media exports overseas. A short personality test later, we were all keen when we heard about Dennis’ 12 week paid internships.

We’d like to express our thanks to the team at Dennis Publishing for making us so welcome and sharing such valuable insights into the world of publishing.

This was one of many fantastic opportunities provided by the course leaders of the MSc Publishing and MSc Magazine Publishing courses at Edinburgh Napier University.