Visit to London Book Fair: MA in Publishing 2024

Part of the reason that I decided to enrol on the Northumbria University Publishing MA was due to the rich industry insights that the programme offered – thanks to the partnerships with both New Writing North and Hachette UK. A trip to the London Book Fair was, therefore, an exciting prospect.

The London Book Fair is a crucial part of the publishing industry calendar. It allows publishers from all over the world to come together to sell rights to foreign territories, meet with agents and scouts, and pitch to TV and film productions.

We got the train down from Newcastle at 8am and arrived in London around 11am. Traveling across London, trying to keep a group of 20 together on the tube, carries its challenges, but we managed it and arrived at the London Book Fair excited for a cup of tea. The thing that struck me as we first walked in was how international the fair was. Stands representing diverse countries such as China, Korea, and France; as well as educational stands from around the world, like a publisher specialising in teaching the Qur’an, demonstrating the global reach and significance of the publishing industry.

The size of the place is immense. Walking into the Olympia National Entrance, we were shocked twice by the size. First, entering what we thought was the main room, we were impressed. Then again as we ventured further and stumbled upon the grand gallery, realising we’d barely scratched the surface of the space.

The book stands were all very striking, obviously trying to fight for viewer attention in a saturated room. The publishers brought their brightest and most innovative covers in an attempt to catch the attention of those around them.

As we had nothing to either buy or sell, we elected to go and listen to some of the talks put on by the Book Fair. The content of these talks reflected the contemporary concerns of the publishing industry. Sustainability, AI, and diversity were all hot topics. In terms of creativity, there was a focus on translation and translated texts that spoke to me as someone who has a fascination with the artistry it takes to reproduce the essence of a text in a different language.

Sustainability has been a huge talking point in publishing over the last few years. The Publishers Association, Sage, and Penguin Random House all had a representative talking about how they feel the industry could improve. The main takeaway that I got from this particular talk was that there needs to be a drive for communication and collaboration between all of the big five (Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan) and also indie publishers. Sharing ideas and resources to help eradicate challenges especially for the smaller publishers is vital. Secondly, the importance of speaking the language of capitalism when tackling sustainability. Publishers need to be able to make the prospect of sustainable products attractive to the consumer so that the sales figures can create the drive needed at the top of the chain.

For me, one of the highlights of the fair was a talk about translation from small languages with authors Pol Guasch and Balsam Karam. They both talked extremely eloquently about their experience of having their work translated from Catalan and Swedish respectively, and what it meant to them. The enthusiasm of Pol was completely infectious, and Balsam’s honesty about what it meant to her to be considered as a Swedish author as well as a Kurdish one was eye-opening and enlightening.

At 4pm we were invited to the Hachette UK stand. Members of the rights team ran us through what a typical day looked like for them at the fair. Their meetings ran back-to-back as they attempted to sell as many rights as possible. Being fairly new members to the Hachette team, they also talked to us about their career progression so far and it was really lovely to gain some insight on the different ways into the industry.

We stayed at the fair for near to 6 hours in total, leaving with a greater understanding of the industry, and, of course, a vast array of tote bags.

Eleanor Garibaldi is currently studying for a Master’s in Publishing at Northumbria University, where she has a particular interest in children’s fiction.