With flights from the U.S. to the U.K. virtually impossible to find after last Wednesday due to the volcanic ash cloud hovering over Europe, the American contingent at this week's London Book Fair will be dramatically reduced from what was originally planned. As the number of canceled flights soared, would-be fairgoers have found it impossible to rebook their flights for arrivals later in the week, with most resigned to the fact that they will miss the fair.
Among the major U.S. houses, Hachette Book Group was able to get six of its planned 12 people to the fair, including rights and international sales staff. As of Sunday, only one of Simon & Schuster's team had made it to the fair and it was unlikely any more would find their way to the event. Random House's fair presence will be led by the U.K. group and it was unclear over the weekend how many staffers from Random U.S. will be in attendance.
Dozens of personnel from smaller and independent houses canceled their trips as did numerous agents. Among indie publishers unable to get to LBF are Quirk Books, Midpoint Trade/Beaufort Books, Pegasus Books, most of Oxford University Press' American arm, and the rights team from Kensington Publishing.
One agent forced to cancel was Kent Wolf of Global Literary Management, who noted he was particularly disappointed at being unable to get to LBF since his firm is repping foreign rights for Paul Harding's Pulitzer winner Tinkers. Wolf said he has no plans to try to arrange phone meetings to take the place of scheduled appointments, although the U.K. auction for Tinkers will take place as planned via e-mail bids.
Among the agents hit hardest are those who run their own small offices, since they face the prospect of paying for trans-Atlantic flights, and hotel stays, they can no longer use.
Denise Bukowski of the Bukowski Agency spent the weekend arguing with customer service representatives about her canceled flight. "I'm being held hostage," she said of her dealings with her airline. When asked how she would be doing business since she can't get to the fair, Bukowski said she's going to do what she can electronically, conducting business the way she does the rest of the year. Nonetheless, the situation is difficult. "London is a dead loss, and we need face-to-face contact to do better business. That's the point of it all, no matter the wonders of technology. And all the pressure is off potential buyers to act quickly."
Joe Regal of Regal Literary was more sanguine about the turn of events, in part because his agency has an office in London. Explaining that this kind of disruption would have been catastrophic 10 years ago, Regal said the nature of the business now makes it less so. "Today, we're all in frequent, formal and informal contact with each other, and all our subagents (and many foreign publishers, through their scouts) know exactly what's going on with our list. It's disappointing not to be able to convey in person the passion we feel for our books, or particular books in particular territories, but it's just that: disappointment."
In an attempt to help publishers and agencies that couldn't get to LBF, fair management set up free business card/inquiry form boxes on stands where exhibitors were absent. The boxes are accompanied by a 'Sorry we're currently unable to man our stand' sign. At the International Rights Centre, LBF was providing inquiry forms which visitors can leave with the help desk staff if a table holder is not present.
For information about industry members' updated travel plans, click here.