Publishers waited three years to reconvene at the London Book Fair, and the level of enthusiasm for a near-normal book fair was high among those who attended. On opening day, lines formed outside the venue for the obligatory Covid vaccination checks, and throughout the event the largely mask-free crowd had to find a way to navigate the new layout, as the fair was held in the still-under-renovation Olympia hall. Though the presence of the large American publishers was mostly limited to small groups or U.K. employees, British publishers crowded the floor, and numerous international stands—ranging from the United Arab Emirates to Indonesia to Turkey—took up even more prominent positions.
Though the fair had not released official attendance numbers as of press time, attendance was notably sparser than in years past, especially among the general public, and some key venues, such as the Literary Translation Center and Authors HQ, had notably shrunk. That said, the International Rights Center, having moved to a new location adjacent to the ground floor, was full and far more active than the LitAg in Frankfurt was back in October.
Ian Millar, managing director of Canelo, a U.K.-based publishing house focusing on commercial fiction, said that his fair was full of back-to-back meetings. “We have had several good years,” Millar said, “and there has been a strong appetite for our books.” Canelo, which publishes 300 titles per year, of which approximately half are reprints, has partnered with Printers Row and will be launching in the U.S. later this month. As far as trends, Millar has seen increased interest in mysteries and thrillers with diverse characters, as well as in books for people who have outgrown young adult fiction. “I don’t know what that genre should be called, but ‘new adult’ makes me uncomfortable,” Millar said.
One major topic addressed by the fair was the future of publishing after Covid-19. There was agreement that publishers and managers will need to standardize their hybrid work practices. Everyone is going to have to become better at communication, said Tsedal Neeley, professor at the Harvard Business School, during a session on the hybrid workspace. “Older managers are going to have to get accustomed to using technology, including that to which they are not accustomed—like newer forms of social media, while younger workers are going to have to get used to coming into the office a couple of times a week.”
Covid is also affecting the types of books publishers are acquiring. “At first, the only way authors knew how to handle the pandemic was to set all their novels in 2019, but I am encouraging people to change that and write about current events, as they are,” said Jenny Geras, managing director at Bookoutre, a British digital publishing company.
“I’m looking forward to getting all those submissions of novels set in the pandemic,” said Eoin Purcell, head of Amazon Publishing in the U.K. and Germany.
The fair saw a number of key deals with big-name authors, including Quercus’s acquisition of the English-language rights for the next three installments of Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo series, this time written by Swedish author Karin Smirnoff, and Canongate acquired Son of Nobody, a retelling of the Trojan War by Yann Martel, the Booker Prize–winning author of Life of Pi.
The war in Ukraine was a topic of discussion during the fair, and author Andrey Kurkov, president of PEN Ukraine, traveled from his home on the Slovakian border to implore publishers to stay vigilant and cease working with Russian publishers. Representatives of several Baltic countries were offering similar advice. State-sponsored Russian publishers were barred from participating in the book fair by Reed Exhibitions, the organizers of the event, but questions were raised as to why none of the largest publishing groups in the world have made statements that they would stop working with Russia. There were even reports that some subrights agencies were continuing to sell rights on behalf of large publishers for bestselling authors into Russia.
The overall feeling, though, was that it was good to be together to exchange views and news. London Book Fair director Andy Ventris said, “It has been fantastic to see the global publishing industry come together in person at the London Book Fair over the past three days, reconnecting and doing business.”