Parties, Hollywood deals and Conchita – What really happens at the London Book Fair

LBF Media

As you’ll have noticed, we didn’t have a blog last week, and that’s because of the London Book Fair!

For those not in the know, London Book Fair is one of the biggest publishing events of the year. It’s a big gathering of people across the book trade, this year in Kensington Olympia, and as a new imprint it was incredibly important for us to spread the word about our new company, and also to set up relationships with important publishing people.

In the run-up, it was crucial to make sure we got the right information into the book trade press. The big players are The Bookseller and Bookbrunch (who are affiliated with Publisher’s Weekly in America), and during the fair they each publish daily magazines with all the latest news. These are distributed really broadly at the fair, and are the perfect way to communicate news – of which we had lots!

Bonnier Stand London Book FairThe challenge was working out what to announce, and in what order. We’d organised a big interview in The Bookseller with Mark Smith (our CEO) for Thursday, the final day of the fair, which seemed the perfect way to launch Twenty7 and Zaffre. We’ve obviously got more authors to announce than would fit in one news report, so we chose to only announce four of our books which are all publishing this year, keeping the press release brief and exciting enough to guarantee a space in the paper.

The other big pre-fair concern was organising meetings. There are so many different types of people at the fair from all around the world – publishers, agents, scouts, authors, typesetters, printers, digital start-ups – and the challenge is fitting them all in – and also persuading them to take the time to meet with you. Mark and I were both there, ably assisted by Mark’s assistant Rob, who co-ordinated the timetables and made sure there was space on our very busy Bonnier stand. A lot of the meetings tend to be about buying and selling international rights for books, but since we’re so new our plan was to wait until later in the year to get started on that, once we had more books to sell. Or at least, that was the plan…

With just a week to go before the fair, out of the blue we heard about a potential film deal for one of the books on the Zaffre list – Maestra by L.S. Hilton, which is a really special new thriller. It’s no exaggeration to say that we heard at the beginning of that week that a film deal might be likely, and by Thursday a massive Hollywood deal had been concluded – and in between we started getting calls from American publishers who had heard that we had something special on our hands.

So suddenly the plan changed. We scrambled to send the book to all the big scouts (who are brilliant for spreading news about an exciting book to international publishers), hoping that the momentum of the film deal might create some interest – although it’s notoriously hard to predict, since every publisher and agent is trying to achieve the same buzz for their books, and most of them had a head start.

Things could hardly have gone better – the whole week our stand was swamped with scouts and publishers who had heard about Maestra, and wanted to know more. The interest snowballed, and by the end it had spread from western Europe all the way to interest for the Complex Chinese rights – all managed by our unflappable rights team, Ruth Logan and Alex Dickinson.

Conchita London Book FairThose impromptu extra meetings filled every spare moment in Rob’s meticulously organised timetable, so sadly there was no chance to go to any of the brilliant events and seminars that happen across the fair. These ranged from detailed seminars about the future of digital publishing to a very well-attended talk with last year’s Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst (interviewed by our Hot Key friend, James Dawson), who has a book of her own on the way.

Luckily though, the meetings end at 6pm (and, if you’re very lucky, the last ones come with champagne!), and that’s when the social side of the fair kicks off. Lots of publishers and agencies host parties, and even if you aren’t fortunate enough to score an invite, the pubs and bars around Olympia provide hearty consolation. One of the great things about the fair is catching up with publishing friends – and we’re lucky to be in an industry full of brilliant people who love what they do.

All in all, it was totally manic, and a real reminder of how wonderful working with books can be when it goes to plan. One quote that stuck in my mind from the week, from the email footer of Ziv Lewis, a brilliant Israeli publisher, was Cass Canfield’s ‘I am a publisher – a hybrid creature: one part star gazer, one part gambler, one part businessman, one part midwife and three parts optimist’. I think we filled most of those roles across the week.

And that’s it, for another year at least. Or it would be if I didn’t have a pocket full of business cards to follow up with (at least some of which came from ever-so-slightly hard to remember conversations late at night in the pub…), and an inbox full of all the new books we promised to read!

Business Cards

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