Exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Glad I wore trainers, heaven knows how those power dressers survived 3 days in 3 inch heels!
From the viewpoint of a reader, it was a wonderful window shopping exercise. Couldn’t do too much damage to the credit card, but the wishlist grew … exponentially … And a purchase or too may have been made since I got back. You’ve seen the pictures – aisle upon aisle of publishers known and unknown. Discovery of the fair for me The History Press – took more pictures of their books than any other, which is probably in keeping with the fact that I’m really enjoying my non-fiction this year. Expect a review or two from their catalogue sooner, rather than later.
Plenty of talks too to break up the day. I attended events at the Literary Translation Centre snd the Pen Literary Cafe. (Brilliant programme but not enough seats.) There were so many different streams of talk and seminars on bookselling, digital, international and self-publishing. Also and unfortunately, I discovered this on my way out, the Russian stand had its own separate literary festival – including at one point a talk by the legendary translation duo Pevear and Volokhonsky. (Really sorry to have missed that.)
The air was thick with book talk – not my kind, but the wheeling, dealing kind, as agents met publisher and pitched their titles, book distributors met sales people and placed their orders, foreign rights editors tried to sell translation rights to their books. At least that’s what I, a member of the public interloping for a day, imagine was going on. Or was it?
A funny happened at the pub (to which I retired in need of liquid refreshment at the end of day one). I’d forgotten to remove my badge (and my promotion to literary agent!). How was the book fair for you?, asked a disgruntled overseas visitor. Our man had come to the fair with a not insignificant book budget – £40,000 – and the objective of getting the best deal for the educational establishments he was supplying. Perhaps his mistake had been to think he could do business without an appointment? What he found on the stands he visited were publishers represented by temporary PR staff unfamiliar with the product. Also publishers who had sub-contracted order taking to other publishers, who wouldn’t then take his order! At the end of a long and frustrating day our overseas visitor was taking his entire budget back with him. Seems to me that some publishers had missed the point. Can they really afford to lose orders like that in these austere times, particularly when they must have shelled out thousands to exhibit at the fair? Or is £40k not worth getting out of bed for?
I did, of course, offer to relieve him of his burden – I can just imagine a £40k splurge around the London book shops – unfortunately he wasn’t biting. He returned home to do business elsewhere. And I don’t see him visiting again next year.