Greetings from Cozy Single Room 17 of the London Lodge, otherwise known as the Cupboard Under the Stairs (Where's Hedwig?).
I'm here for the London Book Fair, having arrived Monday morning off the red-eye and leaving Thursday noon. So it's 2 1/2 days full of meetings, followed by beers and the occasional curry. Ive always said that, other than New York, the city I could most easily move to would be Rome. But after visiting with the family this summer and returning now, there really is no contest. I've taken to London--rain, expense, tiny hotel rooms and all--and...well, I guess I'll have to go to Rome soon to compare...
OK, so how is this Fair different from all other Fairs (sorry, Passover hangover)? Well, let me start by saying that my comparisons are the BEA in New York, writers conferences both regional and national, and professional baseball winter meetings from my other life. I've not yet been to Frankfurt or Bologna, which my sense is this most closely resembles. But from my experience, this is actually closest in atmosphere to a baseball winter meeting.
The first thing is that this doesn't at all resemble any writers conference, most notably because there simply aren't many authors visible. This is a working conference for publishing professionals--publishers, agents, international rights managers and reps, suppliers and other vendors. It's incredibly commercial--it's a trade show, where the product (sorry authors for using the word!) is books. In that respect, there are similarities to BEA--big convention center, with booths for all the publishers. But in New York, there's a real sense of the presence of writers, and also of the Public. Librarians, booksellers, and fans buy tickets and travel the floor, picking up ARC's (though fewer and fewer each year) and seeing what the publishers have to offer. Here everyone seems to be associated with a house, an agency or a supplier.
Another difference between this and every other conference I've attended is that I am constantly hearing other languages--moreso than at BEA. Of course, this is the first time I've attended a conference where I'm specifically selling translation rights. But the International Rights Center is very large and well-populated, and in any five square foot area I'm as likely to hear Chinese or German or Dutch, French, or Spanish. Today, for example, I met with (consecutively) a German publisher, our Italian co-agent, a Brazilian publisher, a foreign literary scout, a British editorial director, our British co-agents, an American editor and his British counterpart, our German co-agents, and another British editor. Yesterday I met with French agents, Korean agents, and had drinks with a bunch of film folks. Tomorrow is six more, plus an author schlepping in from Manchester for coffee.
I'm beat, but also exhilarated. The people have been simply wonderful--smart, productive, all excited to talk books. I've been pitching and re-pitching, seeing what's getting nods and what blank stares. I'll go through that analysis next week, when I've had the chance to recover and really consider what I've been hearing. And yes, there's lots of talk about ebook pricing and distribution, and belt-tightening etc that we always hear and complain about. And of course folks who've been to a bunch of these fairs say that it feels, you know, DIFFERENT from the good old days. But that's not the way I see it--and not simply because I am, as ever, looking for good things. It's because there IS a sense that books can sell--whether because of or despite the growth of e-publishing. Publishers are looking at opportunities to grow or expand lists to reflect and exploit this new reality. They are, among other things discussing launching e-original imprints (almost all the publishers are doing this, particularly for their genre fiction).
And the other reason I've been enjoying this trip so much is that it has given me a chance to meet people I've sometimes never even spoken with, but only communicated via email. There's a ton of two-cheek kissing and "so THERE you are" in the entrance to the rights center, and good-natured complaining about sore feet and inability to navigate the cavernous Earl's Court convention center.
I can't wait till tomorrow.