Some post-London Book Fair 2023 thoughts
*Gasp, is it really the middle of the year?? Where has all the time gone since April!!?? (admin is suddenly feeling very guilty for not finishing this post earlier…).
It’s been two months since the London Book Fair, jet-lag has long passed, follow-ups have all been completed and enough sand has slipped through the hourglass to digest on SCLA’s first international fair. Some thoughts if you will:
- While Zoom/Google Meet are wonderful tools, nothing beats a first face-to-face meeting with a new contact. A shake of the hand, a friendly tap on the arm, sharing a coffee together; the interwebs just cannot replicate this. At its heart, publishing is such a personal business with relationships and friendships cultivated organically over time playing such a vital role – long live book fairs for bringing publishing professionals together!
- The UK publishing landscape is gradually becoming more diverse in terms of staffing and published authors. When I (Agent R) left the UK in 2003, publishing was still considered a very white, middle-class industry – I can count on one hand the number of non-white professionals I’d either worked with or met in London, myself included. Things definitely look different now – which is not to say there isn’t a long way to go. I was very excited that 2 ‘books of the fair’ were by young Asian women, ‘Yellowface’ by RF Kuang and Kaliane Bradley’s upcoming speculative novel, ‘The Ministry of Time.’
- While it’s absolutely wonderful to see Asian writers based in the US/UK sign huge deals we also need to see Asian writers BASED in Asia and WRITING about Asia get a piece of the pie too.
- Speaking of which, at all our various meetings at the LBF, Devina and I usually led with “What do you know about Malaysia/Malaysian writers?” “What’s your impression of Malaysian writing?” Surprisingly, the responses were a big, fat kosong. Either our government needs to rethink what it’s doing to promote Malaysian culture internationally or Geography needs to be mandatory at GCSE level in UK schools (I think a bit of both wouldn’t go amiss). Drollery aside, this is really an excellent opportunity for Malaysian writers to grasp and international publishers and editors looking for new, different voices definitely need to keep Malaysian writers on their radar.
- In terms of what was hot/not it was a fairly mixed bag:
- “No romantasy please.”
- “Do you have any Asian romantasy?”
- “The market for cosy crime is saturated.”
- “We’re definitely on the lookout for cosy crime.”
- Etc etc.
In a nutshell, only the very brave/foolish should attempt to predict future trends and as someone who juggles agenting with running a small press I have to admit that the word ‘trend’ makes me queasy. I love the joy of discovering new writing that defies trends and would hope to work with more like-minded professionals looking to break away from the mundane and take a risk (this sounds like a personal ad…).
- On the topic of trends and best-seller lists it was interesting (sad/tragic/choose your adjective) to see that Anglophone publishing still has such a strong hold on the rest of the publishing world’s imagination. Many a time we were told by EU/Asian publishers – “Yes, this is an interesting book, come back to us after it’s published in the UK.” Adooooi. The book already written in English what, no need to translate lah. The takeaway – when it comes to buying translation rights many EU/Asian publishers are still extremely cautious. If the book’s not on the NYT best-seller list, it’s not worth the risk. Where’s the joy in such predictability eh? Let SCLA spark joy!
- Finally, on the off chance that Reed Exhibitions are reading this 🙂 please do consider putting in more seating and having better F&B options next year. While it used to be fun camping out munching over-priced sandwiches on the fair floor in one’s twenties, as two middle aged agents with a dodgy knee and ankle, this year felt like a Spartan course.
Till 2024 London, we heart you!!