My first year at the London Book Fair

On March 12, I made my way into the big city to attend the annual London Book Fair. I was feeling extremely excited as the fair had always been a gathering I had wanted to be part of, just never quite made it. When the overground arrived at Kensington Olympia, I knew I was in the right place. Exiting the train were editors, authors, translators, publishers, and book enthusiasts. We had all come together to celebrate books. And what a truly great thing to celebrate.

I felt proud as I made my way into Olympia, holding my badge up for everyone to see. It felt like the proof I needed to convince myself that I had finally made it into the publishing industry, I was here!

Boydell & Brewer have had a stand at the London Book Fair for many years. Among the other fairs and conferences we attend, it allows us to meet our reps, our buyers and our authors. It allows us to show the publishing world that we are here, stronger than ever. This year it was especially exciting since the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

As anything, it is extremely different every year and things you may not have planned for may occur. There was one year when our stand was missing a vital piece…

“One year the stand was built without its outer wall, leaving us open to a busy corridor. After more than an hour of false-starts finding helpers who didn’t help, I got to an organiser who could fix it. “Did you book it without the wall?”, she asked, apparently in all seriousness. Yes, because of course I’d order shelves but not a wall to hang them on, I was going for that bombed-out look. She assented to having the lost wall installed because it was simply easier than having me hang around her office all afternoon. It took hours.”

As with this memory, the fair has a feeling of frenzy around it, yes it is stressful, but you don’t feel the stress as negative. Granted, I wasn’t involved in the setup of our stand, which is stressful for any company, but there wasn’t a sour look as far as the eye could see. Feeling stressed at LBF is like being stressed during a bath, it’s still relaxing.

I felt happy as I saw our stand: our colourful 50th anniversary logo stood tall and proud, a vast collection of all the different genres we publish were visible for everyone to see. We looked big for a small publisher, which we are.

I think one of the things that stood out most to me on the day was how excited everyone seemed when they came to see us for a meeting. Whether they were reps, buyers, authors, old employees or simply passers-by, everyone was happy to say hello to the team at Boydell. I felt proud to be part of this excellent reputation we have as a publishing house.

In between my meetings I had the chance to wander around and to explore different stalls. Making my way into the main hall, I couldn’t quite believe how big it was and how many companies were there. I spent a good hour or so just walking around, trying to take in as much as I could from the other stalls. Some stalls had candy, some had water or coffee, a few even had bars.  

Once back in the safe chair of the Boydell stand, I couldn’t help but notice how nice it was to come back. We may not have had chocolate to give out or Nescafe to tempt our meetings with, but we had the material they wanted. A buyer who came to see us about our African studies books found a new interest in our music list, medieval literature enthusiasts marvelled in the local history books we publish and did you know that we have Indian and Nordic studies lists? At Boydell there is something for everyone.

As my day ended and my meetings wrapped up I couldn’t quite believe how quick the day had gone. But at the same time I was excited to get back to the office and to go over my notes and ensure I was on top of all my meetings. After 6 years of wanting to be part of LBF, I am glad my first fair was representing Boydell & Brewer.

My day at the London Book Fair was everything I had hoped it to be. But I couldn’t help wondering how it must have been extremely different, even just 5 years ago. The publishing industry, like most industries, is changing dramatically in many different ways. I wanted to try to understand how it had been a few years back, and my colleague put it well:

“How has the fair changed over the years? There’s much more tech and rather fewer books. It doesn’t quite seem as busy as it once was – until you try to take one of the main walkways at midday and realise it would have been quicker and less stressful to have taken the nearest exit, hail a cab and just re-enter the building from the other end. And of course it’s now back in Olympia again after a spell at Earl’s Court and a very unhappy year at ExCel which seemed to coincide with a hairdressing expo in an adjacent hall. That was odd.”

It’s an understatement to say I can’t wait for LBF 2020!

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