Monday, 20 April 2015

Reasons I had a great London Book Fair

Why did I decide to exhibit at the London Book Fair this year? Unlike Jamie, it's never been on my bucket list, and, like Jamie, I don't have a huge amount of money to be splashing out on ventures which will definitely not lead to sales. The LBF isn't a book-selling fair but a trade fair, where publishers go to buy and sell international rights for books. There's networking too, and different countries representing their literary output, but the main business is securing book deals, which doesn't really apply to small poetry publishers.

Rachel, me and Jamie mid-roam at #LBF14
At the risk of sounding frivolous, I think the main reason I decided to fork out for a stand at the LBF was that I wanted my own table and chair. Without the offer of a stand on the Inpress Poetry Pavilion, I would have gone anyway and roamed around like I did last year, but I liked the idea of not having to sit cross-legged on the floor for meetings. As a small, new publisher, my rightful place at the LBF probably is as a bottom-feeder, but it's nice to try on a bit of grandeur once in a while. The other reason I decided to exhibit at the LBF was so I could tell people I'd done it, because I thought it might sound impressive.

So, from the moment I sat down in my chair last Tuesday and sent my first #LBF15 tweet, I'd achieved all my goals. I had low expectations about the fair and was prepared to spend a lot of time sitting quietly at my table or chatting to Jamie (who was sharing the stand with me, naturally), and I would have been perfectly happy with that. Over the course of the fair, though, there was a lot of discussion about how the brand-new Poetry Pavilion concept was doing and lots of people asked me if I was having a 'good fair'. I think I answered every time 'I'm having a great fair!', which was such an unexpectedly superlative reaction that I thought it would be good to share why.

Reasons I had a great London Book Fair 

ONE. Being part of the party. 

Me and Jamie with our table and chairs at #LBF15
Small poetry publishing often feels set apart from the rest of small press publishing, let alone from the big leaguers in the publishing world. I liked having a stand at the LBF because it felt like being part of a huge display of the health of the book industry. I like the optimism and passion on the small poetry publishing scene, but I also like to be reminded that some publishers are producing blockbusters and making deals which the Bookseller and even mainstream newspapers count as Real News. That'll be me, one day!

TWO. Publisher Skills 101. 

Never have I had to explain the concept of the Emma Press to so many people in such quick succession, and on such dwindling reserves of energy. Contrary to my fears, people did actually stop to chat at the Poetry Pavilion and I had to summarise the origins and aims of both the Emma Press and Valley Press (when Jamie wasn't around) to authors, bloggers, printers and other publishers.

I was also pleased to get a bit of practice in slapping down patronising people. Usually I'm taken too much by surprise to react, but at the LBF they came regularly enough that I was able to experiment with varying degrees of hostility.

A fine panorama of #LBF15 by Jamie

THREE. The Inpress Poetry Pavilion. 

The LBF isn't really geared towards unpublished authors, even though the Author HQ hosts talks from editors and agents and being part of the party is important for writers too. For an unsigned writer, I think the LBF is more like a sweets museum than a sweetshop (don't try extend this analogy too far, or at all), which is why the Poetry Pavilion was such a treat. As I sat on the little row of small poetry publishers, I thought about how this was a genuinely useful section of the fair for unpublished poets, where they could come and get to know the editors of some ambitious small presses which might actually be interested in publishing them. I hope the LBF decides to run with this in future years, because it's a valuable resource for unpublished poets and small presses alike.

FOUR. The talks. 

I went to most of the talks on the Poetry Pavilion, partly to take a break from explaining the Emma Press to people, and I'm delighted to report that Inpress did a fantastic job of whipping up a programme of readings and discussions at incredibly short notice. Again, I found myself musing on how genuinely useful these talks were, especially to young publishers. When else was I going to hear Michael Schmidt and Simon Thirsk weighing up the differences of Carcanet and Bloodaxe, and Jo Bell and Judith Palmer evaluating the Canal Laureate scheme and the value of arts partnerships?

I especially enjoyed the panel discussion on translating poetry from Susan Curtis-Kojakovic of Istros Books, with Damir Šodan, Ana Brnardić and Pedro Serrano, and felt quite enthused to start dabbling in translations myself. If you're a translator and think you have something which is just right for the Emma Press, get in touch!

FIVE. Hanging with my peeps.

What really made the fair for me was that several of my favourite – and soon-to-be favourite – small publishers had also decided to come along. I wouldn't say that my life as a publisher is particularly lonely, but I do miss the sociability of working at Orion, with all the tea breaks and chats across desks. The three days of the LBF were a great chance to have proper chats with Katherine from Ugly Duckling Presse, Jane from Nine Arches Press, Clive from Burning Eye Books, Mick and Sarah from Seren and Tom from Penned in the Margins, as well a rare catch-up in person with Jamie from Valley Press. I also got to meet Michael from Carcanet, Jenny from Candlestick Press and Shane from Wrecking Ball Press.

SIX. Pens.

It was a good excuse to get some promotional pens done.