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London Book Fair 2011

I have probably neglected my blog since it’s creation a few months back. University course work has taken priority but now I am on the brink of my Easter holidays (yes, I am 26) and having just returned from The London Book Fair I have the perfect excuse to get writing.

    So, what have I learned from my first trip to the fair? Well it’s not all candyfloss and no need to scream if you want to go faster. This industry is progressing fast enough as it is! Seriously though, the three main things I’ve picked up on; the future of publishing is digital, I must learn XML and metadata and finally, networking is much more difficult in person than it is online.

    We all know that the digital age is upon us and this came as no real surprise. What did, however, is the fact that digital is moving so fast that publishers are in danger of being left behind. They (I still struggle with saying ‘we’ although technically I am now a publisher) are now expected to learn new skills in an industry they have already got a place in. If they don’t adapt there will be other people from other industries ready to take their place. John Makinson, Chairman and Chief Executive of Penguin, put it into perspective by saying (during the CEO Keynote Book Publishing: Digital Revolution or Digital Evolution seminar) that whilst recruiting for a summer intern, Penguin received applications from Harvard graduates. As he put it ‘Publishing is sexy’ other industries are keen to get in on the act. It is becoming increasingly clear that new recruits need to come with a whole new skill set, as well as the ones originally required! Danuta King, Publishing Analyst and Cultural Commentator spoke at the How to Get into Publishing seminar and suggested that new recruits should now be able to demonstrate entrepreneurial ability, the capability to spot a gap in the market and exploit it to it’s full potential and of coarse, have an interest in digital media.

    Easy? Maybe not, we graduates also need to decide what sort of company we want to work for. The smaller, independent publisher may offer the opportunity to learn every aspect of the publishing process. With fewer bodies it is all hands on deck to see a book through from concept to consumer. Whereas in a larger conglomerate, chances are and intern or graduate will get pigeon holed, with little or no room to manoeuvre. On the flip side, with the industry on the cusp of digital revolution the smaller publishing houses may not have the money to invest in accessing the technologies necessary to survive these new advances. Something the larger companies have no problem with.

    To be able to get a job in the industry, I know what I need to do. Learn the technologies required, understand XML and HTML coding and I should probably find out what metadata actually is. None of these things are taught on my course but thankfully I have the time to learn them. What if you are already in the job? Who is going to fund the retraining of staff within the industry?

    I feel I can demonstrate an entrepreneurial flare, a passion for the industry and I understand the importance of multi platform delivery and the impact this has on territoriality. However, to secure employment I feel that it is necessary to pull out the old adage; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. One of the other themes running through the fair was the prevalence of social media and networking. The seminar ‘Tweet Smell of Success? How to Use Social Media to Best Effect’ was so popular many attendees had to be turned away. Sadly, I was one of them. Although people on the inside were tweeting the highlights to those of us stuck on the outside. Rather appropriate if you ask me! Both Zoë Collins, head of Fresh One Productions, and David Wright, Manager of the Book Publishing Sector at PFJ Recruitment, emphasized the need to be involved in social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Being a part of discussions and groups will get a name noticed. On this front, I feel one step ahead and quietly smug that I already tweet. I cottoned on to the potential of Twitter some months ago, although now I am somewhat disgruntled that this information has been passed on to the 200+ student attendees of the ‘How to Get Into Publishing seminar that Mr Wright spoke at. Those students are my competition and I need to stay one step ahead!

    Then of coarse there is the opportunity whilst at the fair to speak to the professionals of our industry in person. Now, this was somewhat harder than simply following them on Twitter. To do so in real life would get a person arrested! Coming from a theatre and drama background this should have been easy. The speaking to people not following them I hasten to clarify! I have lost count of the number of times I have appeared on stage. I’ve stood under the bright lights and performed Shakespeare, Chekhov and many more greats to theatres full of expectant audiences. There is no reason I should find approaching the Little Brown desk difficult! I liken it to standing in a bar trying to get the courage to go and speak to the attractive guy on the other side of the room. You want to make a good impression, you want them to like you, you want to sound intelligent and you want to swap numbers. Well this is exactly the same except its business cards you want to swap.

    If I have learned anything from networking at the London Book Fair it’s; be prepared. Just like the good Girl Scout I never was. Take some of your work with you, use it as an opener which will not only show off your skills but also help you in a little market research. Do your homework! You want to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Talking to Penguin about how they published a book which was actually done by Harper Collins won’t endear you to them! Finally, be brave. These people may never see you again and may never remember you crossed their path. But they just might. When you are applying for jobs they might recognise your name as the intelligent student they spoke to at the London Book Fair earlier this year. Surely that’s worth the risk isn’t it? Rikhi Ubhi, Publicity and Marketing Assistant from Tindal Street Press even suggested crashing an after party at the event! He may have just been joking but if you can blag an invite, why not? As students of the industry, we are the future of publishing. We will bring with us the new ideas and new skills necessary to survive the digital revolution. Why shouldn’t industry professionals want to speak to us?

     Now I am home from my adventure inLondon, how do I feel? Exhausted. My legs ache, I have blisters on my toes and I want to sleep for the next week. But I will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival and maybe evenFrankfurt! As for London Book Fair 2012, too right I will be there!


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