The last 10 days have been an especially busy period for all parts of the publishing industry, with major events taking place in London, Minneapolis, and Austin.
The biggest meeting, of course, was the London Book Fair, which ran from April 14 to 16. In its first year back at its refurbished Olympia home, LBF got mixed reviews from attendees; fair officials said they were eager to hear more feedback about problems and concerns. Jacks Thomas, London Book Fair director, noted that organizers were listening closely to comments. Visitors and vendors could leave feedback at six kiosks at the fair, and through the Twitter hashtag #letlbfknow.
“For the most part, people have been really patient and good-humored,” Thomas said, noting “lots of compliments” about the light and airy atmosphere of Olympia. But the natural light only did so much for those who got lost in the narrow aisles of the revamped show. One agent compared the connecting halls and levels of Olympia to “the maze from The Shining.” Thomas said that she was particularly looking forward to sitting down with children’s publishers, many of whom complained that their area was too far removed from the center of the action.
But overall, the show came off well. After a tough opening morning in which lots of attendees had trouble navigating the show floors, moods improved steadily on days two and three, as visitors got their bearings. And the lovely spring weather—it was sunny and in the 70s—silenced many concerns about transportation getting to and from Olympia. Many were more than happy to stroll through London in spring, and spirits generally ran high at the fair—had it been raining and cold, things could have gone much differently.
From a business standpoint, Rebecca Gardner, rights director at the Gernert Company, observed that the show had been “incredibly positive.” Unable to cite a single “doom-and-gloom meeting,” she said a positive mood in the International Rights Center was “a sign of how editors are feeling about sales in their market.” While there was no big single title that emerged as “the oxygen-sucking one absolutely everyone is talking about,” there were a number of good sales. And though there had been speculation that the strength of the dollar might have an impact on foreign sales, Gardner said the exchange rate had “barely come up.”
LBF will be back at Olympia in 2016, with the floor opened April 12 to 14.
Back in the U.S., the Association of Writing Programs and Writers held its annual conference from April 9 to 11. Independent publishing’s answer to corporate publishing’s BEA was a cacophony of sights and sounds across Minneapolis, which, coincidentally, was named last week in Central Connecticut State University’s annual survey as America’s most literate city. More than 12,000 writers and industry professionals attended hundreds of panels and checked out the AWP book fair inside the convention center, where 700 exhibitors displayed their wares.
AWP 2015 kicked off with Mayor Betsy Hodges welcoming the conference to her city, a major hub of literary publishing, by promising there will be poetry in her administration. AWP 2015 ended, appropriately enough, with a panel of publishing-industry heavyweights speculating on the direction the literary publishing will take in the 21st century. The general consensus of the panel, as summed up by Milkweed Editions’ Daniel Slager, was that “while technological innovation (the Internet, e-books, social media) has changed the way publishers all operate, in ways that are both challenging and exciting, the essence of what excellent literary book publishers do—curating a list of books and authors, developing manuscripts into books, and connecting published work with readers—has been much the same since Gutenberg invented the modern printing press.”
Down in Austin, 280 independent publishers and self-published authors gathered for IBPA’s annual Publishing University, held from April 10 to 11. In addition to dozens of sessions that featured panelists giving practical advice, the conference featured an exhibit hall where companies such as Lulu, Ingram, Thomson-Shore, and Rose Printing displayed their services.
In addition, the IBPA conducted its annual Benjamin Franklin Awards ceremony at the conference, the first time the two events were held together in three years. IBPA received approximately 1,400 entries in the competition, which gives awards to the best books in 55 categories. The finalists competing for the prizes reflect the diversity of the association’s approximately 3,000 members, as established indies including Berrett-Koehler and Insight Editions competed with newer companies such as Blue Dream Books.